One thing I love about being a musician is that unlike brain surgeons, rocket scientists, and bridge architects, if I make a mistake nobody dies. Nobody even bleeds a little. One of my private students is a water treatment plant engineer. He designs the systems that make river water safe to drink despite the millions of people flushing up stream. If he makes a mistake, plagues will infest our land! (S’truth, look it up!) But if I switch the lyrics of a song I wrote and accidentally sing “First time we bit she kissed me”, it doesn’t cause a sniffle.
Arguably, the audience feels a type of pain when I fall on my face on stage, but that’s quickly followed by, at worst, a sense of relief that it happened to me and not them, or at best a hearty belly laugh at my expense. Laughter provides many health benefits as shown in scientific studies. It improves circulation, aids digestion, boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and increases the response of tumor and disease killing cells such as Gamma-interferon and T-cells. So a mistake I make on stage not only doesn’t HURT anybody but it goes a long way toward HELPING people! I’m not saying I can cure cancer by singing the wrong words to Brown Eyed Girl, but it could happen.
So why are we afraid to perform? More importantly, why are YOU afraid to perform? Yes, you might mess up; you might FAIL. Here’s the thing; the only people who never fail are the ones who never try. Failure is a part of any artistic endeavor. Every great artist that you know has screwed up in front of people. The trick is to learn from each failure and improve. The quicker you fail, the faster you achieve mastery. The potential of mess ups are a part of live performance, part of the emotional high for the performer and part of what moves the audience.
Of course I HATE to look bad on stage and that motivates me to rehearse until I know my stuff cold. But, I never let it keep me from performing. Take a chance. Who’s it going to hurt?
The guitar shop that rents me a very nice lesson room at a very reasonable rate would love it if I encouraged my students to buy more accessories, but I can’t. As I’m sure you know, there is gear galore for guitarists. Unfortunately most of it is rarely used and quickly turns to junk and clutter. I’m uncomfortable with encouraging some one to spend their hard earned on a widget that is only going to add weight to their case.
Having thus established my credentials, here are the accessories that you actually need:
Tuner. Even if you can tune by ear there will be situations in which it’s too noisy to hear or the opposite; you have to be quiet back stage. More than once I’ve just been too frazzled by complications leading up to a show and didn’t need the additional brain work. I recommend a contact tuner like the Snark SN-8 Super Tight All Instrument Tuner which works on both acoustic and electric without interference from outside noise. (What is it about the sound of a guitarist tuning that reminds every drummer in the world to warm up?)
Strap. Performing and practicing, it keeps your guitar where you want it. The best one is totally dependent on personal taste; what works for you. I prefer a soft leather guitar strap such as Levy’s Leathers Guitar Strap, M17D-DBR, 2 1/2″ distressed carving leather guitar strap. Slightly more expensive, but it conforms comfortably to my shoulder and stays in place without slipping.
Strings. I always buy two sets at a time. That way I have spares in case of a break and I always remember what brand and size is on the guitar. These days I use Elixir® Acoustic Bronze Guitar Strings with NANOWEB® Coating, Custom Light Gauge on my acoustic and Elixir Electric Guitar Strings with NANOWEB Coating Custom Light (.009-.046) on my electric.
That’s it. Those are the accessories you should buy with a guitar. Could you get by without even these? Sure, but they all solve problems that you are certain to encounter. Is that all that’s in my gig bag? Of course not! But, that’s a subject for future blogs.