| December 2, 2009

Stuart Smith, who has been mentored by Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore—and has shared stages with Buddy Guy, Richie Sambora, Slash, Steve Lukather, Bobby Kimball, Howard Leese, Paul Rodgers, David Paich, Uli Jon Roth, Joe Lynn Turner, Glenn Hughes, Keith Emerson, and others—will share his experiences in the industry to help young players through the complex maze that is the music business. Smith is currently guitarist for the reformed Sweet.

So You Want To Be A Guitarist! It happens thousands of times a day. You see your first concert or hear the first piece of music that turns you on and you're hooked for life. You want to be up there on that stage with the guitar in your hand, and the screaming fans at your feet but believe me, for every single one that succeeds and makes a living at playing the guitar, there are hundreds of thousands who fall by the wayside. The pitfalls and lows are many, but the highs and personal enjoyment that comes with being proficient on the guitar can more than make up for them. Through this blog I will try to give you the benefit of my experience so you can try to avoid the traps and work your way to a successful career or even get more enjoyment out of just playing for a hobby.

Get a Good Instrument When choosing a guitar, it's important to decide what music you want to play to begin with. If Slash is your inspiration, then obviously your choice is going to be a Les Paul. I feel it's important to have somebody who knows about guitars to come with you when you purchase your first guitar -- either a guitar teacher or someone you know who has a good working knowledge of the instrument. They will be able to help you make the right choice, as opposed by some salesman cajoling you into something that isn't right for you. One other point worth mentioning on this topic is that if you get a lower-priced guitar, it might be worth your while to take it to a reputable guitar luthier to give it a "once over" tune up, as many guitars right out of the box are not set up properly.

Guitar Lessons There are two things I feel are of the upmost importance when you decide to become a guitarist. The first is the dreaded guitar lessons, and the next is the kind of strap you decide to use. I thank the day my father got me to have classical lessons, as learning how to hold the guitar and finger it properly had a dramatic result on the way I ended up playing. If you teach yourself, it's going to be natural to get into the habit of not using your fourth finger of your fingering hand, as that finger is naturally weaker and it's easier to get the third one to slip over that fret and do what the fourth should be doing. This is something you will regret later on, as you try to play faster and more complex material, as you may end up sounding messy and unpolished. Choosing a guitar teacher is difficult in this day and age, as it seems like anyone who can do a sweep up and down the neck is touting themselves as the next best thing since sliced bread. Try talking to some friends who you feel are making progress with their playing, and ask who is teaching them. The trick is to find someone who not only has the credentials, but also will make the lessons interesting for you. On the rare occasions I've taught anyone, I've always made a point to teach one lesson of technique, and then, as a reward, if they've made the effort to learn that lesson, then I teach them a song that they like, and have picked themselves. That way, it keeps you interested in the instrument, and you'll practice more. Don't be afraid to ask your guitar teacher to do this for you. Don't forget they're working for you, not the other way around. If they don't want to do this, then find someone else who will. There are other options such as Internet lessons that are given by my old friend Wolf Marshall, but I personally feel these should wait until you have had some one-on-one training with a personal teacher before you move over to this type of instruction.

Guitar Straps Believe it or not, the type of guitar strap you use will make a big difference to you later on in life if you continue to play the guitar. You have no idea of some of the big-name guitarists I know who have major back pain, and have even had to have corrective surgery because they used the thin guitar straps when they started playing, which, at the time, were the only straps available. If you're holding a 9-lb Strat for 90 minutes onstage, it's going to pull on muscles that were not designed to take that kind of stress. Any strap you choose should be at least 3 inches wide, and preferably with sheepskin padding in the shoulder area.

Next Blog: Practicing Discipline & Tips

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