Rich's recommended guitar gear for beginners
I get asked a lot what I recommend for beginner gear because a lot of beginner players see my videos featuring Squier brand guitars, known as "student guitars" by many, and want to know what they should use to get a sound like I get.
Well, in order to get my sound, it requires a lot of practice. However it is true you should get off to a good start by getting the right gear that's not too expensive.
What I use is a DigiTech GSP 1101. This is a highly sophisticated guitar effects processor. I prefer rack units because everything is in one unit instead of being separated into many pedals.
I honestly don't recommend this for beginners because it's complicated by nature. Everything is in the DigiTech and for a beginner it can be very overwhelming. You are better off going with the simpler stuff first.
The best type of effects to have are those that work with your amp, with your computer or with headphones. Pedals are great and all that but sound terrible when going to the computer, so you want something that can do it all.
My standard recommendation here is the Line 6 POD. There are several models available.
If you're looking for something very inexpensive, start with the Pocket POD Express. This thing is very easy to use.
The next step up from the Pocket POD Express is the Pocket POD Guitar Multi Effects Processor. This one has more features in it and also has an easy-to-read digital display right on the front of it. This POD is arguably the most feature-filled effects processor for the cheapest possible price.
After that comes the POD XT, and then the POD X3. You're getting into expensive territory here, and these are somewhat complicated to use compared to the lower-priced PODs.
Beginners want a practice amplifier that's small, easy to carry around and has some good volume to it.
The first thing to know is to not shop for tube-type amplifiers. Tube-type even in the smallest form are all expensive. You want to go with a solid state combo, or better yet solid state combo with on-board effects to save some money (if you have an amplifier with effects, then you probably don't need the Line6 POD). The "combo" means that the amplifier head and the cabinet are just one box instead of two.
Here are my recommendations for small combo practice amps:
What amp do I use?
I use a significantly larger Fender Frontman 212R. This is a very LOUD 100 watt solid-state combo amplifier and it's heavy - but still smaller than a traditional half-stack and has enough volume to be played in a club easily. It has spring reverb, two channels (clean and distorted) plus an additional "More Drive", meaning this amp can do rock, hard rock and heavy metal easily. It crunches wonderfully at any volume.
I would only suggest getting the 212R if you plan to play out. If you want something for your bedroom or college dorm room, the 212R is too big for that.
What about half-stack and full-stack amplifier head/cabinet setups?
Nice to have, but not cheap. Shop around for them if you wish, but remember that the cabinets are big, even if just a half-stack setup and you need a truck to move that thing around from place to place. If it's just you using it and you have no help to move those big 4x12 cabinets around, you'll regret having bought one.
What about tubes?
I don't recommend tubes for beginners. And personally I'm very anti-tube because the technology is unreliable. Solid state never gives you any problems. You never have to wait for the amp to warm up (turn on and go), you don't have to "juice it" just to get "that sound" out of it and solid state can take much more punishment than tubes can.
You may hear some guitar players blab on about how tubes are the only thing worth using and so on. Remember this: If you've seen my videos, not a single one of them was recorded using any tubes. All of that was solid state. And for you heavy metal fans out there, Pantera's Dimebag Darrel didn't use tubes either as his amps and effects were all solid state.
One of the questions I am asked the most is, "What guitar should I get?"
This answer is based on what type of music you like to play. This will tell you what pickup configuration you should get.
The three most common pickup configurations are SINGLE-SINGLE-SINGLE (SSS), HUMBUCKER-SINGLE-SINGLE (HSS) and HUMBUCKER-HUMBUCKER (HH). This is what SSS looks like:
This is what HSS looks like:
This is what HH looks like:
It does not matter what the color of the pickups are as that does not affect their sound.
Which pickup configuration is right for you?
If you plan to play mostly rock and metal, the best configuration is HH.
If you plan to play mostly blues and jazz, the best configuration is SSS.
If you're NOT SURE what kind of music you want to play, buy a guitar with an HSS configuration, as it is the one that can play the most styles of music. The humbucker in the bridge position allows for rock and metal, and the middle and neck single-coil pickups allow for blues and jazz.
"OK, I know what configuration I want. What guitar should I get?"
For SSS, the Squier Bullet Strat is the best for the money. It's inexpensive and well-constructed. There are also many color choices available.
For HSS, the Squier Bullet Strat HSS is the best for the money. Again, it's inexpensive and well-constructed.
For HH, here are a few you can check out that are inexpensive and well-made:
My suggestion is to try out as many guitars as you can before buying, even if you're not that good of a player. Concentrate on how the guitar feels both while sitting down and standing up.
Is it better to try a guitar in a store rather than order it online from the internet?
YES. ALWAYS. No two guitars are made the same even if they are the exact same brand and model. Whenever you can, try the guitar in the store first before buying it.
Guitar picks come in many shapes and sizes, but what matters the most is the thickness and if it's smooth or textured.
The best thing to do is to go to your local guitar store and buy a bunch of cheap picks. Buy some thin ones, thick ones, medium-thickness and so on. Get whatever is cheap. It is most likely true all the picks you get will be smooth to the touch.
When you get home, experiment with the picks you bought and see which one you like best based on how it feels when playing. It will probably take at least a week before you know which one you like the most.
Does the pick slip out of your fingers when playing?
If the answer is yes, then you need a textured pick. If the answer is no, continue to use smooth picks.
Do you play mostly rock and metal?
If the answer is yes, you will probably prefer thicker picks compared to thinner ones because rock and metal music usually requires harder picking.
What do I use?
I use a medium-thick textured pick to avoid slippage. The pick I always buy is the Dunlop Tortex in .88 size (the green one), commonly known as simply "Tortex 88s".
"I like the Tortex but I don't know which one to get"
If you think getting the Tortex is a good idea but are unsure which would best suit your playing style, buy the .73 size (yellow), .88 size (green) and 1.0 size (blue). One of those three should be to your liking. The .73 is easy to bend. The .88 bends a little, but not much. The 1.0 is very difficult to bend by design and has the least flexibility of the three. Many rock and metal players prefer the 1.0 because of this because it makes for easier "chugging" when playing riffs.
"Will I have to custom order Tortex picks?"
You shouldn't have to. They should be in your local guitar store.
"Is Tortex the only textured pick out there?"
No, there are other brands. The next time you are in the guitar store, ask the guitar sales guy what brands of textured picks he has for sale.
I made a pick out of a CD. What thickness is that?
That's about the size of a 1.0mm pick. Maybe slightly thicker. If you did make a pick out of a CD and said to yourself, "Yes, this is the right thickness for me, but I want a textured version of this", buy the Tortex 1.0 (blue) and the 1.14 (purple). One of those should very closely match the thickness of the CD-made pick.
How do I know when to replace picks?
When the tip starts getting very round. On the Tortex, when you play with it, the lettering will wear off and that's normal - but that's not an indicator you should throw it out when that happens. Only replace picks when the tip becomes so round that it becomes difficult to play with it. Believe me, you will know when it's time to replace a pick.
The first thing to know here is that there is a big difference between ELECTRIC and ACOUSTIC strings. What I'm going to concentrate on is here ELECTRIC, as in the kind that go on electric solid-body guitars like the Squier Stratocaster.
Remember, you should NOT put electric strings on an acoustic guitar, and the reason is because they will buzz like crazy from being too light and have a very thin sound. Acoustic strings are made from different metals (like bronze) so they can ring out more and project better on an acoustic instrument. Similarly, you should not put acoustic strings on an electric guitar because the sound will be "muddy".
If you are just starting out on guitar or you're just unsure which type of string will work best for you, I suggest buying two sets. One set of .009 to .042 (known as "9 gauge") and a second set of .010 to .046 (known as "10 gauge"). The higher the number, the thicker the string. This means 9 gauge is thinner and 10 gauge is slightly thicker.
If you have absolutely no idea what brand of string to go with, I suggest the following:
For 9 gauge: D'Addario EXL120
For 10 gauge: D'Addario EXL111
Which gauge should you try first? The 10 gauge.
"How will I know which gauge is better for me?"
The gauge that hurts your fingers less and sounds best to your ears will be the one to go with.
When you know what your preferred gauge is, try different brands
There are many brands of guitar strings. Ernie Ball, DR, Elixir, Fender, GHS and so on. Experiment with different brands to see which you like best.
Does price dictate the quality of string?
No. What matters concerning price is the technology of the string and what the string is made out of. Some are plain steel (cheapest), some have nickel content (average-priced), some have a special coating on them (expensive), and so on.
Go with the plain and nickel-content strings first like the D'Addarios mentioned above, and don't spend too much until you're sure what gauge and feel you like before any other consideration.
"When I find the brand I like best, should I buy a whole box of them?"
NO. Only buy what you need. If you let guitar strings sit for too long even when still in the box or sleeve, they will rust. On average, a new set of strings in its package left alone even in a perfectly dry room will start to rust in 30 to 60 days. You'll see the rust on the thinner strings first and it will look like dark lines along the string - and that's no good to install on a guitar at that point; they will have to be thrown out and the money you spent on them is wasted.
"How will I know when to change strings?"
When the strings sound dull, or they lose their tuning quickly, or they start to show discoloration/rust.
Special considerations for specific guitars
Stratocaster guitars from Fender or Squier come from the factory installed with 9 gauge strings, and it's generally true that Strats do play best with 9's on them.
Les Paul and SG guitars from Gibson or Epiphone usually come from the factory with 10 gauge strings installed because they suit the neck better.
If you have a guitar that isn't a Strat or Les Paul type, try the 10 gauge first.