Musicians starting out might not be able to afford top of the range equipment so it’s important to consider your musical needs when choosing an instrument. The fact that Clapton plays a Strat doesn’t mean that it’s the right choice for you. Try out different makes and models of your instrument to get an idea of what suits your style of play.
Budget will often be the main factor when choosing your equipment so there’s no point looking at vintage and rare classics if you can’t afford them. However, there is a strong argument for spending more on good gear to get reliable and long-lasting instruments.
A bit of research into the equipment you need will help. Ask other musicians and producers what they use. Looking in music shops and asking for information will help and if you get to know the assistants well they might even offer discounts. Shop around and ask about price matching deals. You can often find the best prices through online stores and sellers on sites such as eBay- just beware that there are some bad sellers out there.
The Arts Council’s Take It Away scheme allows individuals to apply for a loan of up to £2,000 for any kind of musical instrument and pay it back in nine monthly instalments, completely interest free.
Guitars, Amps and Effects
The guitar you choose will depend on the sound you are after. The classic popular electric guitars like the Fender Strat and Telecaster, and Gibson Les Paul each have their own distinctive sound and different levels of tone and sustain. Try out various makes and models to find a sound that matches your playing. Sometimes you pay over the odds for the bigger named brands but it’s worth considering that the more you spend, the better the sound will be and the longer you can expect your guitar to last. Solid top acoustic guitars made with the finest wood will sound better to start with and even improve with age so it’s worth considering spending more to save yourself money in the long run. But you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to find the guitar you love.
Look at what your favourite guitarists play and try out different guitars in the shop to see what works for you. Consider that some guitars are perfect for playing in your bedroom or when recording but don’t sound so good live- choose a guitar to suit your needs.
When choosing an electric guitar, it’s also important to think about what amplification you will use. Classic valve amps like the Marshall Bluesbreaker or Vox AC30 are great for nice clean tone but you might prefer the beefier sound of Marshall’s JCM range. As with guitars, it all depends on the tone and sounds you need so shop around for the most suitable amps.
Effects play a big part in many guitarists’ sound. Although you can’t rely on effects alone, they can completely transform your playing. It can be an expensive pastime though if you are after boutique classic individual pedals. Again, shop around for the pedal that suits your sound and budget.
The bass guitar is the four-stringed cousin of the six-string guitar. You can get electric and acoustic basses of all shapes and sizes but generally bass guitars are tuned an octave lower than other guitars and provide the backbone, alongside the drums, to most music.
Bass players have options of guitars with more strings (many jazz and metal bass players prefer more), fretted and fretless guitars, etc. Your musical style will help you to decide which bass you choose so again, it’s down to trying out a few makes and models of bass and bass amps to help you to decide. Depending on your style, you might also want to consider using bass effects too.
Most bands will tell you how important the drums are to the overall sound of a band as they drive the rhythm and set the mood of the music- without a good drummer you will never be a good live band.
Drum kits are relatively expensive as there are many components needed to complete a kit. It’s worth investing in reliable drums so that you can get years out of your kit and not have to replace different parts often. The make, model and size of each drum or cymbal you buy will depend on the sound you’re after and the amount you have to spend.
The quality of electric drum-kits has really improved over the last few years, many drummers are using them live now and they are perfect for practicing quietly.
Although most venues and sound techs will provide microphones for live gigs, every serious vocalist should look into buying vocal mics for rehearsals, singing live and for recording.
Mics are also needed for acoustic instruments such as some acoustic guitars, drums and percussion. On the whole, the sound tech will be able to provide these for the live environment.
For advice on mics, see our information on Recording
Other common instruments in bands include keyboards, synthesisers and percussion. When choosing an instrument, it’s always important to try them out to find out what different sounds they can make and to see how easily you can manipulate sounds when recording and when playing live.