From fret wraps to strap locks, the guitar industry has always been home to innovation, with dozens of brands all vying to create the next great guitar accessory. But many of the most game-changing inventions came after a little bit of DIY.
Take the guitar slide, for example. Often a key sonic ingredient of blues music – the slide, now most commonly sold in metal form, was first invented many moons ago by a guitarist who slipped a glass bottle over his finger in order to glide more smoothly over the frets.
Indeed, kitting yourself out with a treasure chest of guitar accessories needn't be expensive – you can do it with objects found around the home. All it takes is a little ingenuity.
Here, we've compiled 10 household items you can use as guitar accessories, from fret wraps to capos and strap locks.
Disclaimer: to the proponents of lemon oil as a dark-wood fretboard cleaner, we've left it off this list as homemade lemon oil solution can easily be made too strong and acidic, causing damage to the 'board. In that case, you're probably better off buying a made-for-purpose lemon-based fretboard cleaner.
1. Sock as a fret wrap
Most recording guitarists have come up against unwanted string noise while trying to nail that sweet riff or intricate lead. And sure, you can fork out $10 or so on a dedicated fretwrap to combat the problem, or you can simply take off your shoe, whip off your sock, and tie it around the lower registers of your fretboard.
We get it: sitting there jamming with one bare foot out is hardly the most glamorous way to get the perfect recording, but take our word for it, the minute you try this, you’ll realize how easy – and cheap – it is to drastically improve your takes.
As a side note, any other soft and tieable piece of material will work here, too, including a scarf, scrunchie, and even an elastic band, so long as it’s not so tight it begins fretting the strings.
2. Pencil and rubber band as a capo
If you’re unwilling to shell out on a new guitar capo – or are too impatient for one to arrive – chances are you’ll have both a pencil and a rubber band lying about somewhere in your home. Locate these items.
To create a makeshift capo, line the pencil up with the fret you wish to clamp, then hold it in place with your left hand. Next, fold a rubber band in half and loop each end over each side of the pencil. You may need more than one band to achieve the right tension.
And finally, ensure each string is sufficiently clamped by plucking each one openly. And there you have it, a DIY capo. Naturally, it’s not always convenient to find a pencil and a rubber band, or to deal with the fiddly business of attaching them to your guitar, so it’s easier in many ways to pick up a relatively inexpensive capo. But this method is super handy if you’re in a pinch.
3. Credit card as a guitar pick
Where other objects can be dropped on the floor, and their trajectory tracked pretty intuitively to locate where they come to rest, guitar picks seem to deny all the laws of physics. You can drop one on the floor between your feet, and find it three days later in another room. Or one can fall in the soundhole of your acoustic guitar, to never be seen ever again.
As such, it’s an inevitability that there will be times you’ll be short of a guitar pick. Thankfully, if you’ve got an old credit card lying around, here’s a hack you can try.
As the corners of credit cards tend to be slightly rounded, this makes for a perfect attack surface for a makeshift guitar pick. Take a pair of scissors and lop off one of the corners of an old bank card. Make sure it’s no longer in use, though, as a slice through the magnetic strip will leave a whole lotta funds stuck in digital limbo.
To go a step further, bag yourself a pick punch, a utensil for punching guitar pick-shaped pieces of plastic out of old cards.
4. Coin as a guitar pick
As we move toward a cashless society fueled by contactless payments, online banking and Apple Pay, this hack will become less and less viable. But as we’re not in the future quite yet, there’s every chance you have a coin somewhere in your home.
And if you’re short of a pick, you can use one of these little guys as a replacement. Of course, coins aren’t bendy, so unless you are a fan of ultra-heavy picks, chances are you won’t enjoy using a coin for long. That said, if it’s good enough for Brian May, who has been using a coin as a pick for most of his career, it’s bound to be good enough for you.
5. Bottle as a slide
This hack is not without its hazards, but boy, is it effective. If you’re looking to get your blues on, and don’t currently own a guitar slide, try using the neck of a glass bottle. Beer bottles work, however their necks tend to taper a little, so the straight neck of a wine bottle is probably a better choice.
Of course, it becomes harder to accurately fret notes if you’re holding a large wine bottle in your left hand – or right, props lefties – but utensils are indeed available for cutting the neck off a bottle.
Essentially you’ll need to use one to score the neck, and then dunk the bottle upside down first in near-boiling water, and then in ice cold water. The rapid change in temperature, coupled with the weakness of the glass at the point of scoring, should make the neck pop right off.
After ensuring the severed neck has cooled down, be sure to carefully file down the sharp edge using some sandpaper to avoid any nasty cuts.
6. Blu/White Tack as a fret mute
So you’re looking to record a riff that utilizes open-string notes, and go straight into a wailing solo in the same take. You can’t use a fret wrap, as it’ll dampen the low strings which need to ring out. What do you do? Locate some Blu Tack or other adhesive putty material, and stick it in the lower registers over strings you don’t require for the riff. That way, you can riff away, and have an ultra-tight solo recording all in the same take.
7. Boiling water as string cleaner
We all know the sound and feel of brand-new guitar strings. You really can’t beat them. You can, however, come close. If your current strings are sounding a little dull and tired, you can take them off your guitar and dunk them in boiling water. This will remove any accumulated dirt that’s having a dampening effect on their sound.
Ensure you leave the strings submerged in the water for at least 10 minutes for maximum gunk removal, but be sure to take them out before 15 minutes has elapsed. Any longer than this and the winding around the D, A and low E strings – and G string for acoustic strings – may begin to unravel.
8. Grolsch beer washers as strap locks
If you live in fear of your guitar strap falling off in the middle of a gig, it’s time to find a solution to put your mind at ease. Enter Grolsch beer. Yep, you read that right.
The red rubber washers that help secure the lids to bottles of Grolsch beer actually work perfectly as strap locks. All you have to do is remove the washer from a bottle, place your strap on your guitar, and fasten the washer over the top. They’re made of tough rubber, so your strap will remain in place.
And for the price of two bottles of beer, the solution is much more delicious than buying conventional strap locks.
9. Sponge in a guitar's rear cavity to reduce spring vibrations
If you own a tremolo-loaded guitar, you might have noticed some unwanted noise coming from the springs located in its rear cavity. The solution: grab a screwdriver, remove the cavity cover, place a washing up sponge right inside, and screw that bad boy right back on. Et voila, say goodbye to pesky spring vibrations ruining your otherwise tight guitar takes.
A word of warning: you may have to trim down the sponge with a pair of scissors in order for it to fit nicely.
10. Foam under strings for a Motown bass sound
If you're both a bass guitar player and a lover of Motown, we've got the perfect hack for you. Assuming you have a piece of foam handy, try inserting it directly under the strings and flush with the bridge, as illustrated in the video above. This will produce a subtle dampening effect for a smooth James Jamerson-esque, Motown-style sound.