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An American Standard Fender Stratocaster HSS Shawbucker. Photo: Fender
An American Standard Fender Stratocaster HSS Shawbucker. Photo: Fender

Tech up your guitar this Diwali

How to play a guitar over Bluetooth? Pedal, processor or DAW? Single coil or humbuckers? Which amp should you buy? We got it covered

There are several ways to enjoy Diwali—from binging on sweets and Netflix series to buying the latest electronics. But what if you’re more of a person who enjoys music and has an electric guitar lying around in the house? You are in luck because we got you covered on how you can have a productive yet exciting festive season.

Take a look at what you already got

The first thing you need to do before you make any serious decision to purchase things online (and offline) is to take a good look at what you actually need in your current gig.

Is it an electric or acoustic? Are the strings alright? Does it have the correct action? Do you need an amplifier? Is there a static noise when you connect your guitar to an amplifier? Do you need new pickups?

Once you find the answer to these questions you’ll understand if it’s time for guitar maintenance or replacement. A lot of times it’s not that necessary to buy an entire guitar just because it doesn’t sound right.

Guitar maintenance is fairly simple and should be done every couple months, depending on your usage. With the help of online guides and video tutorials, you can easily figure out how to change strings by yourself, clean your guitar and even change the action (how straight your guitar neck is).

Choosing and changing pickups can be a bit tricky though, and should be done only when you’re hoping to get a new tone. If you do commit to changing them yourself, it will definitely make for a fun weekend.

Choose the right pickups

Pickups are self-explanatory—they pick up the sound made by your guitar’s strings and convert it to an electrical signal that is further amplified via an amplifier. Your electric guitar’s tone depends almost entirely on the type of the pickups.

Fender’s guitar line-up comprising the iconic Telecaster and Stratocaster is characterised by a bright, woody and slightly ‘twangy’ tone which resonates, producing a “hum". That’s because they come with single coil pickups that are built around a single coil of copper wire coiled around a single magnet. If you’re going for a tone similar to Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan or my personal favourite, John Mayer, you might want to go for these.

A double Humbucker pickup configuration.
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A double Humbucker pickup configuration.

Gibson’s most popular guitar line-up, the Les Paul, comes with humbucker pickups that produce a warmer, quieter tone. The pickups have two coils or two magnets wound with copper wires next to each other that cancel out the “hum," hence the name humbucker. If you’re into metal music (Metallica, Megadeth, Avenged Sevenfold) that requires heavy distortion to create that really heavy, fuzzy tone, you should go for these.

These are not the only two pickup configurations and there are several hybrid setups consisting of H-S-S (humbucker-single coil-single coil) pickups which give you excellent versatility.

Seymour Duncan, Fender and Gibson are the major pickup brands you can choose from and they can cost anywhere upwards of 10,000. This is a major purchase, so you should really think through the kind of guitar playing style you want.

Amp it up

Once you’ve sorted out your pickups, let’s talk about amplifiers. Amplifiers increase the power of electrical signals coming out of your guitar’s pickup. Picking an amp mainly relies on where and why you would be playing your guitar—at home, practicing or at a concert, shredding.

Once you have got that sorted out, take a look at the power output. A 100-watt setup is an overkill for an apartment; a 10-watt setup is measly when you have Rob Bourdon on the drums. A 15-20 watt setup might be sufficient for most beginners and intermediate guitar players.

A Fender Champion 20W amplifier.
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A Fender Champion 20W amplifier.

Then take a look at other options—pre-amp or gain, overdrive and gimmicks like an in-built BOSS pedal. See the dynamic range of the speakers. Play around with the EQ knobs. If you’re playing solos you’d require a good mid response, if you’re playing rhythm, you’d require great highs and lows. To really get the idea of how an amp sounds, it’s advisable you go to a guitar store and listen to it yourself.

It’s always advisable to get a separate pedal for getting creative with your tone and not rely solely on your amp.

Good beginner amp options include Fender Champion (20W), Roland Cube 20GX and Ibanez IBZ10G V2 (10W).

Stomp pedal, processor or DAW?

A stomp pedal or an effects pedal is a foot switch connected between your guitar and amplifier to provide more tonal creativity. Try listening to any Hendrix song played on an electric guitar—that’s a sound made by an effects pedal.

The types of effects are a function a pedal maker’s creativity (read craziness)—there are pedals that make different notes of a guitar sound like the notes in Super Mario’s intro track. Needless to say, the most popular are the less tacky ones. To begin with, you can choose from overdrive (mimicking the loudest volume on a valve amp), fuzz (listen it out here), reverb (repeating a note again and again every few milliseconds), loop (repeats a phrase you play until you turn it off) and “Wah" (creates a “wah" sound when the pedal is depressed).

BOSS DS-1 distortion pedal.
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BOSS DS-1 distortion pedal.

A pedal has a particular effect with relevant parameters you can fuss around with to get the perfect sound, so it can be a bit expensive to create a “pedalboard".

To fix this issue, you have effects processors—the collection of the most popular pedal effects in a single device. It can be a bit confusing to use initially, but gradually, as you understand the variety of tones, it can prove to be very useful.

By now you may be saying “it’s not all that techy, where is a mobile or laptop in the equation?"

Yep, you can connect your guitar to your laptop, and replace the entire pedal/processor part. There are several applications that can add authentic effects to your guitar’s tone via plugins. You also have the flexibility of editing your tracks on the fly and add drumkits and bass rhythms as well, since all you need now is a MIDI controller. For all you know, you can turn your computer’s keyboard into a Grand Piano to fill out some empty sounding sections of a song you just created. The only downside—they will cost you at least 50,000 to get your hands on truly authentic effects.

Some popular guitar pedals include BOSS Distortion DS-1 (distortion), Holy Grail Reverb, Cry Baby (wah pedal), Ibanez Tube Scream (overdrive) and BOSS Loop Station RC-1 (loop).

Popular guitar processors include ZOOM G1Xon, BOSS GT-1 and Digitech RP360XP.

Popular DAWs include the Apple Garageband, Guitar Rig and Amplitube.

Everything in between

You can turn your electric guitar into a Bluetooth guitar (your “Oh Oh Jaane Jaana" dream might come true) by connecting a Bluetooth transmitter in it. They are great for compact setups where having cords can be a nightmare, but not so for outdoor concerts as range can be an issue. You can try out Joyo JW-01 or Vox Amplug 2 if you want a wireless guitar playing experience.

Verdict

Guitar upgrades are not going to come in cheap, but they certainly reap rewards in the long run. They will also not teach you how to play a pentatonic scale—skill comes only with practice. They are only an extension of your personality and the music you wish to create.

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