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By Jon Chappell, Senior Editor, Harmony Central
Following is my list of essential pieces of gear no guitar player should be without, otherwise known as "Stuff Guitarists Need Besides a Guitar." And if you're in gift-giving mode, consider that if your intended recipient already has one of the following items, he or she could certainly use two. Read on for my list of must-have accessories every recording guitarist should own.
Everyone has to tune sometime, often surreptitiously, so as not to disturb other activities (stage patter, etc.). There are many time-sensitive sessions where you can't even make noise, much less find a break in the action to tune, so you need to have an electronic tuner placed inline with your guitar, effects, and amp, so that you can check your tuning periodically. Tuning visually, when you get the hang of it, can actually be faster than tuning by ear, and is definitely more reliable when ear fatigue sets in.
A capo is a device that clamps around the strings and underside of your guitar's neck, pulling the strings to the fretboard at a given fret—like a permanent 1st-finger barre. This allows you to transpose the guitar chords from the "concert" (true or absolute) key you're in. For example, if you want to play a D chord you can either play it as an open-position D or capo the 2nd fret and play a C chord, which will sound as D. This might seem arbitrary until you consider what happens if the required chord is A♭ major. Here, you can either barre the 4th fret as an F-type chord, or you can capo the first fret and play an open-position G chord. If it's supposed to sound like a ringy, open-string, fingerpicked part, it's better to pop on the capo and play it in G than to grip an A♭ barre chord. Capos can save your life when people decide to switch keys up or down a half step, which often happens when playing and recording with vocalists.
There is a variety of objects that can be fashioned into a slide, from the medicine-bottle type (Duane Allman used a Coricidin bottle) to a length of brass pipe to a wine-bottle neck to an actual nickel-chrome machined guitar slide for a pedal or lap steel. The right one for you is largely a matter of individual taste and comfort (as is the decision to play the guitar on your lap or upright in the normal guitar-playing position), but a well-versed recording guitarist should have some slide facility in several styles.
An E-bow is a nifty little device that fits in your picking hand and uses a battery-powered magnet to excite the string directly under it without making contact. You can then play the guitar as you do normally with the fretting hand, substituting the E-bow placement for picking. This produces attack-less notes, emulating the sound of a bowed string instrument, like the violin, viola, or cello.
I once interviewed Eric Johnson for an article on his guitar technique. As we chatted casually, he picked up his Strat and began to play, stopping almost instantly because it had developed a slight buzz on the 3rd string. In a matter of mere seconds, he reached into his case, pulled out a truss-rod wrench, administered a couple of cranks, and eliminated the buzz—without ever breaking his conversational stride.
This shows what an intimate knowledge of your instrument can bring. You can not only play it, but also make adjustments and minor repairs to it—often on the fly. These repairs can be as simple as fixing fret buzzes and intonation problems, which can happen as a result of an environmental change or some other event causing a misalignment of your guitar. To obviate the negative effects quickly and accurately, you must know the mechanical elements of your guitar and be facile in dealing with them.