Gadgetry: Essential Live Accessories

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In the music world, accessories are invaluable pieces of gear designed to make your life as a gigging musician easier. As always, the final choice often comes down to personal taste.

Capos

kyser quick change capo

Capos are excellent for enhancing your performance and inspiring creativity. They can also help when a song needs to be transposed for vocal reasons. Finding it hard to sing a song in its original key? Slap on a capo and move it up or down the guitar neck until it works for you. Capos are based on either adjustable tension (tightened or loosened by the user) or non-adjustable tension (a spring clamp trigger across the neck). Certain capos allow for some creative tunings depending on how they are placed on the guitar neck. In recent years, capo manufacturers have created models that partially cover several strings or glide up and down the neck. And don’t believe the purists who call it a ‘cheater.’ Some of the most popular songs (“Here Comes The Sun,” “Landslide,” “Wonderwall”) owe their unique signature sound to the capo.

Recommended: Dunlop Trigger, Shubb C1N, Kyser Quick-Change, Planet Waves NS Tri-Action, G7th Newport, Paige Capo, Dunlop Victor, Spider Capo, Glider Capo

 

Tuners

tune2

“Hold on, wait a minute. I’ve got to tune up.” These are words that will surely make your bandmates fidget and your audience lose interest in your next song. Fortunately, with advancements in digital technology, you can now find tuners small enough to fit on a headstock and make the transition from song to song so smooth your fans will be asking for an encore. Tuners come in various styles: Rackmount, Stompbox, Headstock, built-in to the guitar, and now as an app on your phone. There are also different means of tuning: Chromatic, Strobe and Polytune. Some tuners have the added bonus of a metronome included.

Recommended: Korg Pitchclip or TM50, Boss TU-3 or TU-12, Peterson Stroboclip, Planet Waves NS Mini Tuner, TC Electronic Polytune, Intellitouch, Digitech Hardwire Polyphonic

 

Picks

pick

In the early 1900s, D’Andrea was the first manufacturer to mass-produce picks, using tortoise shell to form a heart shape design. Today, guitar picks come in many different shapes, sizes and styles: plastic, ivory, celluloid, thumb, finger and more. Thin picks typically are .69 millimeters or less; mediums range from .70 to .84 millimeters; heavy picks .85 to 1.5; and extra heavy 1.5 millimeters or greater. Each size will produce a different sound, so experiment until you find one that brings out your personality. Fingerpicking without a pick is great for alternating bass and a softer playing style, but for strumming and creating a robust, full sound, you can’t beat the guitar pick.

Recommended: Dunlop Tortex or Nylon Standard, Planet Waves Nylflex nylon or Standard Celluloid, Steve Clayton custom designed picks, D’Andrea Delrex or Thumb picks, Fender nylon 12-pack

 

Pickups

pickup

Chances are your guitar already has a built-in pickup, but if not, there are several options. You could mic the guitar through the PA, though this can be a difficult task in finding the sweet spot and also depends on the microphones available on your gig. You could have one permanently installed. Or you could purchase an inexpensive soundhole pickup with a ¼” jack for about $60 or less. These pickups generally use a magnetic field coil structure. Combine this with a preamp and you’ll have enough juice and tone to cut through any chatter from the audience.

Recommended: Dean Markley ProMag Plus, Seymour Duncan Woody, LR Baggs M1, Seymour Duncan Woody, Fishman Neo-D, DiMarzio DP136, Lace California, Bill Lawrence A245C, George L’s Pop-in

 

Preamps and Direct Boxes

Di box

A Direct Box (commonly known as a DI Box) converts a Hi-impedance 1/4” input (your guitar) to a Lo-impedance balanced XLR output. A guitar preamp is a type of direct box that adds other features, such as EQ, volume and tone to further shape your sound, beef it up and add warmth. There are other technical differences between a straight DI box and a preamp but for most guitarists, you just need to know both are used to connect the output of your guitar to the mixing board. They’re also indispensable if the mixing board is located across the room. The DI (with an XLR cable) acts as a connector between the two.

Recommended: LR Baggs Para DI and Venue DI, Fishman Aura series preamps, Tonebone PZ-Pre, Radial JDI Passive Direct Box, Countryman Type 85 Direct Box, Whirlwind IMP 2, Ultrasound DI Plus

 

Cables

cords

No sound coming out of your guitar and you’ve checked the battery and the PA mute switch? It could be a bad cable. Most times the defect lies in the connection on the ¼” jack. Cable prices vary widely depending on construction and components. And they definitely contribute to the tone and overall output of your instrument. Make sure the one you use is properly shielded and insulated, and has solid, quality jacks or you’ll get lots of noise interference. You also have the choice of a straight or a right-angle jack, or one on each end. You don’t have to go ultra high-end to get a good cable, but you don’t want to skimp on cost.

Recommended: George L’s .225 Prepackaged Cable, Planet Waves American Stage cable, Fender Performance Series, Bullet Cable Silver Bullet or Coiled Cable, DiMarzio Instrument Cable, Whirlwind Leader

 

Straps

straps

The guitar is an awkward, unbalanced instrument. Typically you’ve got it in your hands and you’re standing for most of the night. You might as well look and feel good. Straps are all about style and comfort. Similar to cables, strap pricing depends on various factors, including material used and handmade vs. machine made. And for the rock star in you, have your name embroidered on the strap.

Recommended: Levy’s Leathers Super Soft, Planet Waves Acoustic Quick Release, DiMarzio ClipLock, Get’m Get’m Straps, Franklin Strap, Ernie Ball Poly Strap, Fender Vintage Tweed, Mono GS1, Dunlop BMF Leather and D-38

 

iPad holder/ music stand

ipad

Face it, there will be times you’ll forget the lyrics to a song. If you are a solo act playing three hours in a bar nightly or attending/hosting an open mic, a music stand or iPad holder can be a handy piece of gear. Someone will undoubtedly call out for an obscure song or one you last played over 10 years ago. An organized binder of sheet music and lyrics is a great way to keep things fresh. Or better yet, if you have an iPad or other tablet, programs like OnSong and Unreal Book will make your life easier. Just don’t wind up staring at the iPad or sheet music all night. The Airturn is a hands-free pedal turner that works via Bluetooth. If you’re showcasing or are a touring band, you may not want to have a music stand front and center on the stage. But for most working musicians an iPad holder or music stand is very useful.

Recommended: Music stand: Ultimate Support JS-MS200 Tripod Music Stand. For iPad:  Peak SPC-20 or SPC-22, IK Multimedia IKlip 2, The Gig Easy Mic Stand Side Mount, Airturn BT-105 page turner

 

Strings

strings

It makes sense to always have an extra set or two of strings with you in your guitar case. The popping noise of a string breaking in the middle of a song is one of the most frustrating sounds in all of live music. And who would have guessed that strings come in all different flavors: coated, non-coated, phosphor bronze, 80/20 bronze, nylon, acoustic electric, steel-string, flatwound, nickel, and more. Strings aren’t accessories in the true definition of the word; they are absolutely essential.

Recommended: D’Addario EXP series, Dean Markley Helix or Blue Steel, Ernie Ball Slinky Acoustic or Earthwood, GHS Doyle Dykes or Laurence Juber Acoustic Phosphor Bronze series, DR Strings Dragon-Skin or Rare Phosphor Bronze, Martin SP Lifespan or Traditional, Dunlop 80/20 Bronze or Phosphor Bronze, Elixir Nanoweb coated series, Cleartone EMP Series, Rotosound Jumbo King

 

 

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