The right gear: instruments

Most bands form around a basic line-up of guitar, bass and drums and maybe synths, so we've focused on those. Keep in mind though that exploring other instruments can give you an edge and make you stand out.


Choosing which guitar you use depends on what sort of sound you want and how big your budget is. Normally, a guitarist in a band will own one or more acoustic or electric guitars. Acoustic guitars give a warmer tone than electric guitars. This makes it the perfect choice for understated, mellow tracks. Electric guitars can have a more abrasive and jagged tone than an acoustic.

Choosing a guitar is an extremely personal thing, so take your time to decide and try a few out before you commit to buying one. The majority of guitars are designed for right-handers but there are still plenty of options if you're left-handed. Your local music shop should be able to help you and there are plenty of places worth checking out online like Left Handed Guitars and Guitar Guitar


There are loads of accessories you may want to delve into, depending on your needs and style. Capos are used to change the pitch of the open strings - useful for finding new chords that would otherwise be unreachable - and slides are great for blues guitar work. Pedals come in all shapes and sizes for modifying your sound, but a beginner may want to opt for a 'multi-effect' model that'll give you everything from fuzz to flange. An E Bow is also a particularly nifty bit of kit – allowing a guitarist to simulate playing the strings with a bow. Used by everyone from Metallica to Radiohead, they can help you to create some incredible sounds from even the most budget electric guitar.

A tuner is also a useful investment. You can buy a variety of handheld electronic ones that produce a sound you then tune to. You can also buy ones that display on a screen what pitch you're at when you pluck a string, then you tune until it matches the correct note. If you play electric guitar you can also buy a pedal tuner you can control with your foot which goes on the ground with all your others meaning less fiddling around onstage.

Bass guitars

Deciding on the right bass is dependent on the type of music you're making. Traditionally bassists use a four string but, depending on the kind of music they want to create, it can be the norm to use types with extra strings. For example, five string basses are used by heavy metallers while six string basses are often the domain of jazz and world musicians. The orchestral style double bass, meanwhile, is used by bluegrass, rockabilly and jazz musicians.

Your musical style can also dictate whether you end up using a fretted or fretless bass. A fretted bass is much easier to play than a fretless one and the fact it delivers a clipped, crisp sound making it ideal for most rock music. In contrast fretless basses offer a smoother sound and give the player more freedom to move around the guitar neck. As with other guitars there are plenty of different effects pedals out there for the electric bass. These can include anything from distortion pedals to compression units.


A standard five-piece kit consists of a bass drum, a snare, two toms, one floor tom and hi hat. You can add definition and drama to your playing by adding a crash or ride cymbal to your setup. It’s worth investing in a good stool, it should be padded enough to be comfortable, not inhibit movement in your arms or legs and promote good posture.

Individual drums are normally described in terms of their size and depth - a common snare drum has a diameter of 14” and a depth of 5”. Cymbal sizes vary, depending on how much sustain you want from them and your on personal style and preference.

Keyboards and synths

You can buy synths with as few as 25 keys, up to a full piano-sized 88. They generally don’t have built-in speakers, so you’ll need an amp or something similar to play through. A synth should be your first choice if want to emulate the sound of another instrument, particularly if it’ll be distorted, as you can fine tune many aspects of the instrument’s sound.

Keyboards can replicate loads of different instruments and sound effects, from pianos, drums or bass through to comic helicopter sounds, but generally have fewer functions than synths. In-built speakers are more common, and the amount of keys vary from 61 – 88. Most models will also let you record and arrange tracks so you can play over them in a live setting.

Choosing a touch responsive keyboard will allow more expressive playing – putting you in greater control of how loud individual notes are, while a dual voice or layered facility will let you play one instrument with your left hand, and one with your right. If you fancy a mish-mash of the two options, you might like a workstation synthesiser. These combine the creative potential of a synth with the song-arrangement functions of a keyboard.