Guitars books and equipment

Here we present the products that we’ve tested and recommend for our students, all in one handy place so you’ll get the right stuff straight away!

Bear in mind that these recommendations come with: 

  • 40+ years playing experience and
  • 30+ years teaching of all kinds of guitarists
  • a year as the owner of a guitar shop. 

You’ll notice that all the links are to Amazon (as adverts on the right and pictures and buttons on the left).  Of course these things are sometimes available from your local shop,  but at least you’ll now know exactly what to look for.  If you use the links here Express Guitar will get a small percentage from Amazon at no cost to you.

Where appropriate we’ll put shop details on here too. 

Guitars

For Children

Child’s Fender Squier Mini Stratocaster Guitar, Torino Red

Squier offer a good range of guitars that offer good reliability at low price.

These are usable instruments, not just expensive toys.

For most kids or normal size from around 5 years up to maybe 10 years of age.

You’ll need an ‘amp’ (see below) and a guitar lead to go with this.

 

BOOKS

Fred Noad – Solo Guitar Playing

This is a great book.  It takes you from no knowledge all the way up to some good classical pieces.  The main objective here is to get you reading music.  It is not possible to fully understand what you’re playing without the use of standard notation when you’re playing music in two or more parts.  If you disagree and think TAB will do fine it is probably because you haven’t been taught the difference.

While this book is aimed at learning classical guitar the approach will also make an excellent basis for finger style accompaniment in the singer songwriter and folky veign.

This book shows the basics of through LOTS of short pieces.  This is the big advantage, there are so many pieces to work on.  They get very gradually harder, so there is a steady progression and you won’t even realise how much you’re learning because it all feels manageable.

The exercises are also written as duets – one line for the student and another line for the teacher.  This makes the pieces a lot more fun to play.  It also addresses one of the major issues of reading music – the importance of ‘keeping going’.  Having someone else playing with you will make you continue.

I wouldn’t bother with the version with the CD, frankly there are many other recordings of the pieces on the CD which are at least as good.  Maybe I’ll get round to recording all the teacher parts one day for students to play along with.

The only drawback is that Noad suggests the use of ‘apoyando’ where it is best to get your ‘tirando’ working from the outset and there are some rather dodgy photos of how to hold the guitar.  But then, that’s what getting a good teacher is for!

 

Guitar Basics

After testing sssoooo many books for young beginners this one has now come out on top.

The tunes have great titles like ‘Big Blue Bear’ and ‘Spooky Tune’ with daft lyrics that really appeal to little ones.

There is just enough material to ensure solid learning of the note reading skills at a good pace.

The order of learning the notes is correct – the traditional method of learning the notes on the first string, then the second string and so on leads to poor left hand technique, this method does not.

By the end of the book you’ll be ready to start on graded pieces from any of the music exam boards.

 

GRADE BOOKS

Trinity Rock & Pop Grade 1

Real rock and pop songs for grade 1 players.

Songs:  Mr Tamborine Man (Bob Dylan), Jerk It Out (Caesars), Love is the Drug (Roxy Music), I Can’t Explain (The Who), Oh Yeah (The Subways), Ready To Start (Arcade Fire), September Gurls (Big Star), Sixteen Saltines (Jack White).

 

Plectrums capos and rests

D’Addario Black Ice Plectrums

These are great plectrums.  They have a fairly sharp point which helps in playing fast, but not so pointy that you get a pingy tone.

They’re nice and rigid.  After all it’s the job of the plectrum to move the string, all that time bending is wasted effort and bad for tone.

The plastic is hard wearing, so they last a long time and wont break.  It also slips over the string very easily which helps speed and tone.

They’re quite small too, so easier to hold for smaller hands and they also give a more articulate feel than larger picks.

You should go for 1.1mm thickness- the ‘heavy’ type.

 

Pack of 25!

Music Stand – ‘Conductor’ style

This is a nice stable stand that won’t fall over when you write on your score.

It also has one handed adjustment which is handy.

This is the stand I use for teaching and at home.  It’s not as portable as the standard music stand below as the top is a sheet of metal.

You can even turn it around and use it like a desk.  I’ve even used it as a laptop stand.

 

Music Stand

This is a good quality music stand which is more stable and better adjusting than most I’ve tried.

It’ll fold away and fit in its handy carry bag if, for some bizarre reason, you don’t want your stand set up permanently.

So it’s good for portability, but it’s not as sturdy as the stand above.

 

D’Addario Black Ice Plectrums

These are great plectrums.  They have a fairly sharp point which helps in playing fast, but not so pointy that you get a pingy tone.

They’re nice and rigid.  After all it’s the job of the plectrum to move the string, all that time bending is wasted effort and bad for tone.

The plastic is hard wearing, so they last a long time and wont break.  It also slips over the string very easily which helps speed and tone.

They’re quite small too, so easier to hold for smaller hands and they also give a more articulate feel than larger picks.

You should go for 1.1mm thickness- the ‘heavy’ type.

 

Guitar cushion – Dynarette

 This is a cushion that can be used for electric guitars too, all the other guitar supports are for classical or acoustic guitars.

It sits on your left leg and hold the guitar at the proper angle without you needing to raise your left leg.  So it can be much more comfortable if you’ve got creaky hips or lower back.

It’s basically a dense foam covered in grips materials, but the shape is pretty complex, hence the price.

This one comes in two sizes, we’ll be able to tell you in your lesson which is best for you.

 

Guitarist’s foot stool

At Express Guitar we always teach to hold the guitar on the left leg to make everything easier and the chances of back problems and injuries to hands less.

After owning many different models these are made by Nomad.  They are stronger and more stable than any of the others, have more levels of adjustment and don’t have those silly metal flaps that nobody seems to know the purpose of.

 

Ergoplay guitar rest

At Express Guitar we always teach to hold the guitar on the left leg to make everything easier and the chances of back problems and injuries to hands less.

Some people find the use of a footstool uncomfortable.  Many hours can cause issues with the lower back in some people, or if your hips are really tight you might not feel comfortable with the left leg raised (this is most common in ‘less young’ students.

So this stand fixes with suckers to the bottom of the guitar, so you don’t need to use a footstool.  We can help you set this up properly at your lesson.

 

Gitano guitar rest

This little rest fits on the underside of the guitar with suckers and gets the guitar into a good playing position.

It’s smaller, cheaper and less fancy than an ergoplay, but it’ll do the job, even if with a little less stability and maybe a little less comfort on your leg.

It can fold down so you don’t need to take it off when you transport the guitar.

 

Nail Care

If you play classical, flamenco or folk it’s a lot easier to play with good nails – and it’ll sound tons better too.

In fact for classical and flamenco guitar it is fair to say that the kit shown here as almost as important as the quality of the instrument you’re playing.  Play with bad nails on a cheap guitar and you’ll still sound pretty good.  Play on a great guitar with rubbish nails and you’ll sound pants.

 

Cushioned Nail Buffer

It is essential that the tips of nails are very smooth and polished.  This is what gives a good tone.  It also allows the string to slip off the nail faster – so it’s easier to play quickly.  It also stops the nail wearing away as there’s less friction.  It also stops little nicks in your nail catching on fabric and ripping your nail.

These cost under £2 and have 3 levels of polishing effect, rough (grey), smoother (white) and very smooth (on reverse side).

 

CND Solar Oil

If you have weak nails they’ll wear away quickly, give a thin tone and break easily.

This oil seems to have the best results.  The nail becomes less brittle so it doesn’t break when you bang it on something.  The nail will alsothicken a little over time.

Rub in twice a day to get best results.

Also wear gloves when you do the washing up!

 

Mavala nail strengthener

The human nail is made of 2 layers that are glued together by proteins and stuff.  If this bond is not good you get flaky nails.

This liquid penetrates the top layer and bonds the two layers together to make your nails stronger.  It also hardens the nail.  This can make it slightly more brittle and prone to breakage, but that’s what the Solar Oil will solve. (See above).

 

Strings

Newtone Heritage low tension strings

A regular problem I find with beginners is that they come along with an acoustic guitar with very thick strings.  This can make some guitars really hard to play, especially cheaper guitars.

These strings have really low tension, so they’re much easier to play and make things a lot easier going for beginners.  They are designed for light soundboards, so you may hear quite a change in tone and maybe some reduction in volume.  As they’re much looser the neck position may change a bit too and this can lead to a bit more buzzing of the strings.  They don’t do this at all on my fancy guitar because it’s designed that way.

So these are a recommendation for beginners or anyone with a guitar that’s really hard work to play.

You should go for guage .012 – .051 or if you want really loose ones .011 – .047.

 

D’Addario NY Electric Guitar Strings

I’ve never had a problem with breaking strings.  Fit them properly to a guitar with no major setup defects and don’t let them get rusty and they shouldn’t break.  So why pay a little more for a set of strings – TONE.

Feel doesn’t vary all that much from string to string but tone does.  These strings give a nice thick, crunchy tone and a nice crisp attack.  When you’re playing crunchy riffs these strings make it as crunchy as christmas crisps.  They sustain well too.

Oh, and they’re really strong, so if you happen to be able to bend a major 5th without taking the end of your finger off, they probably can take it.

 

D’Addario EJ45TT Dynacore classical guitar strings

I’ve been using the D’Addario EJ45C Pro-Arte Composites for years.  They’ve been great, see below for details, but I have now found my new favourite strings.

At first playing they sounded a bit grim, a quacky sort of tone, but they soon settled down and then over about an hour and a half I fell in love with the sound and feel of these strings.

The trebles are very bright in a way that I would expect the string to feel rigid to achieve that sound, but they have a lovely pliable feel making fretting feel easier and also giving a greater level of tonal control.  The brightness of the tone does mean that I play a little further towards the neck with my right hand, but this gives a more controlling touch.

The basses are full sounding with a nice punchy sound that really seems to get the most out of the soundboard.  We’ll see how long this lasts as this is often the first thing to go.

They got past the stretching stage very quickly too which is a boon.  Usually it takes about a day for strings to stop needing to be tightened up all the time, but these were good to play within an hour.  This takes away the worry of replacing strings within a couple of days of a performance.  Very cool.

 

Studio gear

Cubase

I’ve used Cubase to record  and mix five full CDs and many other tracks over about eight years.  Having started out with Logic (now only on Mac) I’ve found Cubase more intuitive, less controlling and generally easier to use.

Recently I’ve used it to record a rock track and have plugged the guitar straight into the computer and then used VST Amp Rack to make the guitar sound like it’s coming through a variety of amps and effects.  The sound quality is amazing.  The amount of control of the sound you have is amazing.

I used to use Line 6 gear for recording but don’t have the money for the latest unit and thought I’d try out the Cubase route.  What I love most is that you can tweak everything so much.  You can record a part and then as the mix is going along if you decide to change things you can completely scrap your amp and fx settings and start again.  So much freedom, so much time saved.

Of course it also comes with an incredible amount of other stuff, loads of drum loops and sounds, lots of synths etc.  You only need this, a computer and an audio interface and some reasonable speakers or headphones and you’re good to start your recording career. …. or just have lots of fun making music at home.

 

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

If you would like to record your guitar the best way to do it these days is using your computer.

To get the sound of your guitar into your computer you will need an ‘audio interface’.  It converts your guitar or mic signal into digital info that can then be stored and manipulated by the computer.

This interface is stable (as in it doesn’t stop working or make daft noises), doesn’t need a separate power supply, has enough inputs for home recording and SOUNDS GREAT.

 

Sennheiser HD25

These headphones are comfortable, closed back (really important when recording) and have a wonderful sound.

Can’t afford good speakers?  These will sound better than most speakers worth five times the price.

Great way to listen and record without disturbing neighbours, family,  the dog … ..