I recently had the realization that as of this year, I’ve been playing guitar for 25 years. I thought it might be kind of fun to compile a list of some things I’ve learned through the years. Some of these are philosophical, some are extremely practical. But it’s all meant to be fun. (OK, so this post might be a little bit “off topic” for this blog, but since guitar is my “day job”, I figure I’m entitled!)

  1. Practice does not make perfect. You can practice as long as you want, but if you’re not practicing the right things in the right way, you’ll never get any better. I love what our keyboard player Scotty says about it: “Don’t practice til you play it right. Practice til you can’t play it wrong.”
  2. Emulate, then assimilate. I’ve met so many guitar players who play great, but don’t do anything original. It’s perfectly fine to copy the styles of other players, but at some point you’ve got to do your own thing.
  3. “It will sound different when the people get here” is kind of a copout. During soundcheck, it’s so tempting to say those words. And the saying is half true. When people are sitting in the seats, it will absorb a lot of the higher frequencies as well as any sound echoing off of hard surfaces. If you take this into account when dialing in your sound, it will be better.
  4. People who ask if you play rhythm or lead probably don’t know the difference between the two. Do your thing and let other people categorize it however they want. But be gracious.
  5. ALWAYS be gracious when talking to people. Most people are not as into music as you are, and don’t understand what you’re talking about. Some do not know much about music, but try to talk like they do. But everybody who came to your show gave their hard earned money, or at least their time, to watch you play. Be gracious.
  6. Even if you are a “lead” guitar player, you will probably spend the lion’s share of your time playing rhythm guitar, so go ahead and be good at both.
  7. Even though you will play guitar solos only a small fraction of the time, it requires years of practice and dedication to play them. Better go ahead and practice those too!
  8. If you want to be friends with the people in your band, turn your guitar down. Better yet, point your cabinet away from them. They will thank you, and the sound guy will thank you.
  9. You use your ears for a living. Take good care of them.
  10. Put a capo on as close to the fret as you possibly can. This will keep the capo from pulling the strings too far out of tune.
  11. If you are using a capo for several songs in a row, tune with the capo on. If you are going to pull the capo off after one song, tune with the capo off, then put the capo on (REALLY close to the fret, remember?).
  12. The third of any chord is almost always going to sound sharp on an electric guitar. Tune accordingly.
  13. Whenever you tune your low E string down to D, tune that string a little flat.
  14. When you do a bend, always be conscious of what note you’re bending to and hit that note. This is one of the biggest differences between “pro” and “bro”.
  15. Single coil pickups and stage lights do not play well together. Buy a good noise suppressor. It will become your best friend.
  16. If you want to be the star of the show, by all means. Record a self-indulgent instrumental guitar record and knock yourself out. All thirty of your fans will love it! (Otherwise, learn how to be part of a band.)
  17. The wah pedal is a cruel temptress. If you get one, it will begin to sound awesome on every song! But trust me – it doesn’t. Use it sparingly.
  18. See above regarding phasers, flangers, filters, whammy pedals, POG’s, and delay pedals with a “crystals” feature.
  19. Avoid eye contact with the guy motioning for you to give him a pick on the first song. It’s going to be a long night. This is going to get awkward.
  20. If someone asks for a pick and receives one, it won’t be enough. They will soon decide they want another one for their friend. The later in the show you can wait until distributing picks, the better.
  21. Guitar tone is 99% in the fingers. That being said, you will always feel like you need just one more piece of gear…
  22. When recording guitar, you are looking for three things: timing, tuning, and tone. Try to get really good at all three. Guitarists are notorious for rushing. And always tuning. And always tweaking their tone. Accept it, then try to get better at it. You know what they call the guy that can accomplish all three of the above without slowing down a recording session? A pro.
  23. When playing live, Murphy’s law doesn’t even begin to do it justice. Anything that can possibly go wrong, even things you’ve never thought of, will go wrong. Sometimes it feels like there are whole teams of people at NASA thinking up ways for it to go wrong. But here’s the beauty – 99% of the time, nobody will notice but you. Smile and act like everything’s going great. The show must go on!
  24. Contrary to popular belief, musicians are not required to stand in the back with arms crossed when watching other musicians. You are allowed to enjoy other bands. You can be nice. I promise.
  25. Don’t take yourself too seriously. They call it “playing” in a band for a reason. Have fun!