The most important gear and accessories for a guitarist

Buying the instrument itself is only the beginning of your financial investment as a guitarist.

Just kidding (but also… not really). While the guitar will hopefully be the item with the biggest price tag, there are so many pieces of gear and accessories that span everything from essential to frivolous in relation to playing your instrument. Today, let’s explore all the additional items you should pick up if you’re a guitarist, whether you’re an absolute beginner or a seasoned pro. We’ll start with the essentials, and then move towards the nice-to-haves.

The gear and accessories you need as a guitarist

First, let’s cover the basics. Below are the non-negotiable, mandatory gear and accessories that all guitarists should own.

1. Picks

Unless you plan on going 100% fingerstyle, it’s worth picking up some picks. Generally, consider buying them in packs, which cost a few dollars at most – this way, even if you lose one or two (which you absolutely will), you won’t have to go through the hassle of making an additional purchase.

Picks from any major manufacturer (Dunlop, Fender, etc.) will do the job just fine. While you should always have a healthy supply of standard picks, depending on the style of music you’re interested in, it might be worth checking out some alternative options like thumb and felt picks too.

2. Tuner

No matter how great of a guitarist you are, you won’t sound good if you aren’t in tune. There are three main tuner types you’ll likely come across most: handheld, clip-on, and pedal tuners.

With handheld tuners, you can either plug in your electric guitar or play into a built-in mic to see how close you are to a chromatic pitch. Many also come with calibration controls and can output reference pitches. Manufacturers like KORG and DeltaLab make a lot of budget-friendly handheld tuners that sit around the $10 – $25 range.

Clip-on tuners attach directly to your guitar’s headstock, and use contact microphones to detect the pitch from your instrument’s vibrations. These tuners are especially useful in live settings – in between songs in your set, you can simply dial your guitar’s volume all the way down and tune up as necessary. You can’t sing or play other instruments into them like handheld tuners, and they’re sometimes not quite as stable in their metering, but otherwise they’re great for both casual jamming in your bedroom and taking on the road.

Lastly we have pedal tuners. Pedal tuners tend to be more expensive than the former two options, but with reason; they often boast unparalleled accuracy, and many veteran guitarists swear by them. While handheld and clip-on tuners are absolutely more than adequate, a pedal tuner could be a worthwhile investment for session and advanced guitarists.

3. Amplifier

If you have an electric instrument, having an amp is a must. There are tons of different considerations that go into selecting an amp (that would require a whole separate blog post), but know that there are quality amplifiers at all different price points – from $100 to well above $1000.

When you purchase an amp, don’t forget to also grab a quarter-inch cable or two. The main aspect you should make sure of is that they’re TS cables – check out this blog post if you’re unsure what that means.

4. Capo

A capo is a nifty device that holds down your strings at a designated fret. It’s used most commonly to quickly change the key of open chords, but it can be used to help achieve some cool melodic tricks as well. Elitist guitarists might think they’re too good for a capo, but it’s honestly an indispensable accessory that won’t break the bank by any means. It’s often a one-time investment as long as you don’t go for the absolute cheapest option on the shelf, and even then it should cost no more than $15 – $25.

5. Spare strings

Sometimes, the current strings on our guitars lose their (visual and aural) shine, and we decide that it’s time to replace them. Other times, the high E string unexpectedly snaps from an impassioned performance. Regardless of the scenario, it’s important to have a few spare sets of strings handy. Experiment with different gauges until you find what works for you (lighter gauges are easier on the fingers, while heavier gauges tend to have a warmer sound), and then purchase as many sets at a time as you please.

If you have a few extra bucks to spare, also consider grabbing a string winder – these go for around $10 and will save you a ton of time in the long run. The ones that double as string cutters are especially handy.

6. Strap

A strap is 100% necessary if you’re ever planning on performing, and even if you’re not, it’s good to have one for the added support (it’s also just fun to play standing up once in a while). You can never go wrong with a plain black leather strap, but there are also plenty with fun colors and patterns, so this can be an accessory where you let your personality shine a bit.

7. Gig bag / hard case

You never want to walk around outdoors with your guitar unprotected, and for this reason, having a gig bag or hard case is a must. Gig bags tend to be a bit cheaper and can be strapped or slung over your shoulders, while hard cases are more sturdy and secure, ideal for situations where your guitar is in a place where it might get bumped around.

8. Stand

Even if your guitar is staying at home, if you’re not putting it away in its gig bag or case after each time you play, it’s worth having a guitar stand that you can keep it on. A-frame stands are lightweight and space-efficient, while tubular stands and ‘premium’ stands offer additional support. Once you start hoarding multiple instruments, you can also start considering multi-guitar stands and racks, and wall-hanging stands can be neat if you’re looking to get fancy.

The gear and accessories you’ll want

Once we’ve satisfied the essential needs, our minds will inevitably start to wander towards the finer things in life. Below are a few of the infinite gear and accessories that are ‘nice to have.’

1. Effects pedals

The world of guitar pedals is truly a rabbit hole; from the iconic Cry Baby to more unconventional effects, there are effects pedals of all shapes, use cases, and prices. Whatever pedal your heart chooses to pursue, just make sure you have the proper power supply that goes with it, along with an adequate number of additional quarter-inch cables. Also, know that you’ll naturally want to connect them all in a pedalboard once you have more than a few.

2. Amp heads

Most casual guitarists will have guitar amp combos, which have both an amplifier and speaker in one unit. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with combos, those who want additional customizability may reach for separated amp heads and speakers. By being able to mix-and-match different amp heads with different speakers, more control can be gained over the tone (typically in exchange for a higher price, of course).

3. Virtual amps

Although not a physical piece of gear, virtual amplification plugins allow guitarists to produce and record some pretty amazing sounds in the DAW for a modest price. Look to Positive Grid’s BIAS Amp 2 / FX 2 and IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube 4 for some of the most popular and effective examples of virtual amps.

4. Slide

The cheapest item on the nice-to-have list, a slide allows you to overcome the chromatic limitations that frets put in place and venture into the smooth world of continuous pitch. A simple tubular metallic object that goes around your finger, slides can be picked up for as little as $5.

5. EBow

Short for ‘electronic bow,’ an EBow is a device that allows you to continuously vibrate a guitar’s strings. It’s somewhat of a niche product, but it’s been used in a surprising amount of songs – check out this video to explore some of the many ways you can incorporate one into your playing.

6. Customizations

After playing your instrument for some amount of time, you might come to the realization that you want to make some customizations to it. Many accessories could fall under the category of customizations – whether it’s swapping out the pickups, installing a tremolo arm, or implementing a floating bridge, modifying your guitar in some way (referred to as ‘modding’) can be a great way to breathe new life into your instrument.

7. Wireless systems

Lastly, if you’ve amassed some pedals, made some customizations, and are still hungry for more, wireless systems can be worth exploring. These systems free you from the restriction of cables, allowing you to travel as far from your amp (within reason) as you please. These systems are not inexpensive, and you won’t likely reap the benefits unless you’re playing live shows at considerably-sized venues – but not having to worry about whether your cable is about to rip out of your amp is definitely a good feeling (I would assume).

Did we miss your favorite guitar-related gear or accessory? Which item on this list should we dive deeper into? Let us know in the comments below.

November 16, 2020

Harrison Shimazu Harrison Shimazu is the editor of the Splice blog and a composer for video games and film.