I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Accessories and Gear for the Acoustic Guitar
When you play acoustic guitar there are certain accessories you need to go along with your instrument. Some are must-have items that beginners can’t do without, such as extra strings and a tuner. Others are tools and gadgets that can make your life easier as you progress as a guitar player.
In this article, you’ll read about ten of the most important accessories for the acoustic guitarist. Some players use everything on this list, where others pick and choose what works best for them.
I can tell you that in three decades of playing, I’ve found every one of these items useful. However, let your own needs and style be your guide in choosing which gadgets you keep on-hand.
You don’t need to worry about getting everything you need all at once. Typically, guitar players build up their gear stash over the years and decades of playing. This article can not only serve as a reference for finding the right accessories to help you succeed at this point in your playing career but also as a guide for what to look for as you progress in your musical journey.
1. Guitar Tuner
Hopefully, you intend to keep your guitar in tune. (It's kind of important.) You should eventually learn to tune your guitar by ear, with the help of a reference note from an external source. Some players use a piano to get the low-E string in tune, and then tune the rest of their guitar to that reference note.
However, pianos are tough to carry around in your case or gig bag. It’s better to have a reliable tuner. These little gadgets will help you tune the strings of your guitar to perfect concert pitch, or help you straighten out those odd tunings some players like to use. Even once you do most of your tuning by ear, electronic tuners are handy things to have around.
I use a Snark Tuner. It's accurate and easy to operate, and it clips right onto the headstock of your guitar. You can leave it there and check your tuning at any time with the click of a button. It's small, super convenient, easy to read with its colorful display, and can be used on both acoustic and electric guitars.
2. Guitar Humidifier
You probably know that things like temperature and humidity can greatly impact wood. Guitars are made of wood, and can sometimes be damaged when their woods dry out too much. This is especially true for acoustic guitars, as their fragile tonewoods can become warped and cracked under very poor conditions.
This is one reason many music stores have a separate, sealed room for their acoustic instruments, where they can maintain strict climate control. But what happens when you bring your guitar home? One way to keep the wood of your guitar in good condition after purchase is to use a guitar humidifier.
These are inexpensive little devices that fit right in your guitar case and work while your guitar is not being played. Guitar humidifiers are especially important in climates that get very dry during certain seasons of the year.
If you are a new guitarist you may loathe barre chords. This is where your index finger serves as the "nut" of the guitar fretboard, and your other three fingers fret the rest of the notes of a chord. Barre chords can be frustrating, difficult and painful, and one way around them is to use a capo.
A capo holds down all the strings of your guitar at a certain fret, effectively moving the nut where you want it and freeing your fretting hand to form any chord you like. Like a barre chord, this is one way to move chords shapes around on the fretboard.
A capo should never be used as a substitute for learning to play barre chords correctly, but it can be a useful tool, and it’s worth having one in your gig bag or case.
I've used a bunch of different kinds over the years, but I've gravitated to a Dunlop capo. To me, they seem to grip a little better than some of the other brands I've tried, and they are durable. Mine has been around for about 15 years!
4. Extra Strings
There is an urban legend that says all guitar strings come from the same manufacturing plant and are just packaged and sold by different brand names. Actually, that idea isn’t as crazy as it may initially sound, but once you’ve been playing for a while nobody is going to convince you that one brand isn’t better than all the others.
You always need extra guitars string around, especially if you play in a band. If you are a beginner it is worth it to take some time to learn about the different brands of types of guitar strings. You can experiment with different brand names and gauges, but be aware that changing gauge too drastically will require some adjustments to your guitar. Personally, I really like Martin strings and I've been using them for years.
If you aren’t sure what gauge you have on your instrument right now, check with the manufacturer’s specs for your particular guitar.
Here's some advice from Martin:
5. Guitar Picks
Even if you don’t use one all the time, you probably have a few guitar picks in your case or gig bag. But did you ever stop to think about why you use a particular pick? Flat picks are made for strumming and picking individual notes, and this is the basic pick most players first encounter.
When it comes to flat picks, it’s tough to beat the Fender 351. I've been using them for over a decade. They offer a nice edge for attack, and they're affordable. I like the heavy gauge, even for acoustic guitar, but you can experiment with different thicknesses and see what you like best.
I also like Dunlop Tortex picks, and if you are looking for something a little more aggressive they are a good choice.
If you are a fingerstyle player you will want to look into picks that fit your individual fingers. You don't need to use them, but some players feel like they help their tone and playing.
There are lots of options out there, so find the right pick for your playing style.
6. Gig Bag or Guitar Case
Many musicians prefer to keep their guitars in a hardshell case for protection. It’s a smart idea, especially for acoustic guitars, but even if you store your guitar in a hard case you may wish to invest in a good gig bag.
Gig bags have lots of pockets for carrying some of the other things mentioned in this article, and they are easy to sling over your shoulder and take just about anywhere. If you’re just headed to your buddy’s house to jam for the afternoon you may want to pack up a gig bag instead of lugging the hard case around.
When deciding between a hard case and gig bag, think about where you'll be taking your guitar and the odds of something bad happening. Often it is worth spending a little extra money for the peace of mind a sturdy case brings.
7. Guitar Tools
When you first start learning to work on your own guitar it only takes a few moments of rummaging around in your garage before you realize you need a set of tools dedicated specifically to your guitar. These should include, at a minimum:
- Wire snips: For cutting strings. Some players leave the extra string sticking out of their guitar’s headstock, but this is messy, potentially dangerous, and, frankly, looks ridiculous. Snip and discard those extra lengths of string.
- Screwdrivers: You’ll need a good medium-sized and small-sized Phillips-head screwdriver and it is a good idea to have a couple of flat-heads too. These are useful for things like battery covers and tuning machines, and strap buttons on some acoustic guitars.
- Allen wrenches: Many guitar truss rods require a 1/8th –inch Allen wrench to adjust. You want an Allen wrench that fits your truss rod, but it doesn’t hurt to have a set of them, especially if you’ll be working on electric guitars too.
- Pliers: For pulling bridge pins and other assorted tasks. You may want a needle-nose type and another sturdier pair.
- String winder: This is possibly the single greatest invention in the history of the guitar, or at least you’ll think so while you are changing your strings.
All of these items have a place on your acoustic guitar accessories list. There are guitar tool sets available that have most everything you need, or you can buy the pieces one by one. You may want to purchase something like a toolbox, tackle box or art bin to store all of your guitar tools and paraphernalia.
8. Guitar Strap / Strap Tie
If you’ve tried to put a strap on your new acoustic guitar you may have realized you’re missing something. Most acoustic guitars only have one strap button (actually, it's more likely an endpin) on the picking-hand side of the guitar body.
Why? Who knows? It goes back to the early days of the guitar when people hooked their strap between the headstock and endpin of the guitar, which you can still do using a strap tie. Or, you can grab the drill and install a strap button on the heel of your pretty new guitar. (Yikes!)
It would be nice if guitar makers universally made acoustic guitars with two strap buttons (some do) but until that day comes, these are your choices. Or, you could just play sitting down, but where is the fun in that?
9. Guitar Stand
You’re not just going to set your beautiful guitar down any old place, are you? Here’s a simple rule of thumb you can live by that might save you from some heartache down the road.
Your guitar should always be in one of three places:
- Its case or gig bag.
- Your hands.
- Its stand.
Notice that leaning against the couch in the living room or under a pile of dirty clothes in the bedroom are not on the list. Serious players take care of their instruments, and investing in a decent guitar stand is well worth it. Some stands have locks that hold on to the neck of the guitar and keep it in place, while others are more minimalistic but still do the job just fine.
Find one that you like and use it. Investing in a good stand can prevent tragedy for your beloved guitar.
10. Polish and Cleaners
Guitar polish keeps your instrument looking pretty, but it does more than that. Good polish helps to condition the wood, especially fretboards, and used in moderation can keep your guitar in excellent shape for decades.
A few warnings, though: You never want to over-do the polish on your guitar, and you want to stay away from anything that isn’t specifically made or recommended for acoustic guitars. In other words, you can trust the major brands to give you a good product for your guitar, but don’t go looking in the cleaner aisle at the supermarket for what you need!
How Important Are these Accessories?
Do you need all the stuff in this article? Well, need is probably a strong word, but you will certainly benefit from each item mentioned here. They are each important, and they each have their place.
As long as you understand why you are using each of the tools in this article they will help you be a better player, and help your guitar stay healthy too. Most of the items are inexpensive, and it’s worth building a little collection of accessories to keep in your guitar case or practice space.
Of course, playing and practicing is more important than any piece of gear you can find. When it comes down to it, it is you that will make your guitar playing stand out. But it doesn’t hurt to have a little help along the way and to be prepared for any situation that might come along.
Have fun in your playing, and building up your list of accessories for your acoustic guitar.