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Brands, Strings and Cables Etc: The Unanswered Questions

You often hear the term “There are no stupid questions”, and I happen to think that it is true. There are many questions that beginners, and even professional musicians don’t ask for fear of ridicule, we are going to answer some of those questions today. 


Before we begin, these are all questions that I have been asked by friends and students, and one of them is one I even worried myself over - I’ll let you guess which one!



Do I Have to Use Fender Strings if I Have a Fender Guitar?

Fender are more widely known for their amplifiers and the guitars they have produced for over 70 years. However, they also make effects pedals, plectrums, strings and many other products. If you are lucky enough to own a Fender guitar, there is absolutely no reason that you should exclusively use Fender products for the rest of your equipment - I’m sure Fender would like that, but you don’t have to!


Check out this blog post I wrote about buying guitars - the advice here can be applied to any situation when purchasing equipment. With all that being said, if you make the decision to stick with one brand for everything, then there is no shame in it. 


Should I Spend All of My Money on Expensive Cables?

This is something I discussed specific to guitar in my blog post on buying expensive gear, that you can read here


The short answer is, no. The long answer is no, probably not. Whilst you should avoid cheap cables at all costs, to avoid wear and sound issues, there becomes a point where it is no longer viable to purchase the most expensive cable you can afford. It would be best to use a premium cable that doesn’t have a high price tag - like the Planet Waves American Stage cables. 


Be aware of gimmicks that record a snapshot of the last thing you played, or ones that claim they use space-age materials. Chances are you won’t notice the difference in the end result unless you are expecting it to be there. The only time you can genuinely tell a difference is between a truly bad cable and a good one. 


Am I Good Enough to Play One of the Big Named Brands?

If you have the financial means, and the desire, to spend your money on a particular guitar then it is your choice alone. There are guitars that are labeled ‘beginner’ guitars because they are affordable, but I think it’s also because they are not as big of an investment for someone starting out or a parent that is not sure if their child will stick to the activity. 


I have witnessed both sides of this argument. I know of people that have received an incredibly expensive guitar as their first instrument and it definitely didn’t prove to be that magical key to make them amazing overnight. Similarly, I have seen students of mine play amazing things, and sound great in the process, with a cheap Squier branded guitar.


As difficult as it might be, the trick is to only pay heed to how you feel about the instrument and not other people’s perception of you with the guitar.  I have mentioned this in another post in the past, but having a signature guitar can be great if you are looking for certain specifications, though some people might label you a ‘fanboy/fangirl’ - my response remains the same as always, who the hell cares!?

 

Why Do Some Guitar Have More Strings or Frets?

My wife recently asked me this question, likely owing to the fact that I own three seven string guitars! Many people believe they exist purely for heavy metal and higher notes during solos. This is partly true, but I believe the original reason was to give more harmonic possibilities for the instrument. Essentially, someone needed their guitar to go a little bit further and someone else was there to make that happen for them. Steve Vai is widely appreciated as the person who made the seven string guitar shoot to popularity in the late 20th century. 


The extra frets causes some controversy amongst traditionalists. Older styled Fender guitars tend to have 21 frets, and Gibson Les Paul inspired instruments have 22. The reason for this is the difference in scale length. If you fit a guitar with 24 frets (or more in extreme cases!) then you either have to move the neck pickup further down the body or increase the scale length - I don’t think it matters too much either way. If you like the guitar and it has 24 frets - brilliant! If you love the guitar but feel restricted by 22 frets then you may need to compromise.


I have a few guitars that have different numbers of frets so I can learn or play a specific solo if I need to - that is my excuse anyway!


How Long Should I Leave Between String Changes?

Some famous artists have the luxury of brand endorsements and staff so that they can change their strings after every show. I think this is an extravagance just for the sake of it, personally. 


In my blog post about pain in the fingertips, I discussed how I like to use Optiweb strings from Elixir - these are coated, meaning they last longer, but not so much as to feel weird to play. I haven’t changed the strings on my main guitar for perhaps four or five months, because I haven’t needed to. I wipe them down after I’ve played the guitar in question which probably helps! 


Brands that aren’t coated well inevitably need changing sooner, but there are many other factors to consider. One of them is how much you sweat and how acidic that sweat is (not a nice thought but worth considering!), another might be the general condition of the hardware on your guitar and your playing style. One downside to having a guitar with stainless steel frets is that, because I use Elixir strings, the underside of the string deteriorates and has indentations from the frets - this doesn’t happen with normal strings because they degrade in the normal way first!  


There is no real answer I’m afraid. The best thing to do is keep an eye out for how they look, clean them regularly and change them if the intonation is not quite right, or they hurt when you play. Bending on old strings is also significantly more difficult, so that could be the cause if you are having issues there!


Is the Guitar a Real Instrument?

Believe it or not, I have actually been asked this before! The student in question was young, so they were quickly forgiven. However, it was their understanding that only instruments used in classical music were “real”... whatever that means. 


Of course the guitar is a real instrument! How seriously you take it is entirely up to you as an individual. Many people have the opposite view and think that learning the violin is only for boring people, and the guitar is superior (which it is, but I am biased!). There is no quantifiable factor for determining how real, or worthwhile an instrument is!


Let us quickly look at some instruments that are a gimmick, or joke instruments. Just bear in mind that they can still be used seriously and to create amazing music!


Kazoo


This version of ‘Ode to Joy’ by Beethoven played on the kazoo won’t be selling a million records anytime soon - it is still a bit of fun and clearly a joke!


Otamatone


This video is a cover, and I have to admit I cry-laughed watching it. Even a silly instrument such as this can still bring people joy.


Melodica


The melodica is a cross between a wind instrument and a piano. The idea is that you blow air through it, but change the notes with keys as you would on a piano. The video above is a fantastic cover of ‘Stacy’s Mom’ by Fountains of Wayne, performed expertly by Postmodern Jukebox. Check out Casy Abrams’ solo!


It goes without saying that these instruments are supplementary to one's existing skill set, and not usually what they would focus on!




Final Thoughts

One more time - there are no stupid questions! There are so many more I haven’t covered here, I might answer some more in the future. 


If you are not sure about something, ask a trusted friend or, better yet, one of the amazing team of teachers at The American Guitar Academy - they will set you on the right path!

Alex

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