This is intended to be a living document, so check back often for new tips and tricks to help your guitar playing. These appear in no particular order.
Use a metronome when you practice. This helps establish consistent timing, accuracy, and synchronization between your left and right hands. Your playing will improve much faster by using a metronome. You can also build up speed by slowly increasing the tempo in small increments such as 8bpm at a time.
Shorten the length of your strap. Sure, it looks cool to play with your guitar hung really low, but it hurts your playing. If you're more concerned with looking cool, then you probably aren't reading this anyway. Your left hand can't reach or stretch as far as it can with the guitar high up. The higher the guitar, the more your thumb can be behind the neck and the more your wrist can be pushed forward and your hand can wrap around the neck. Think of holding the neck like you'd pick up a pencil, not how you'd pick up a shovel.
Pay attention to where you fret. Fretting in the middle between strings has a different sound and feeling than fretting right behind the fret. For accuracy, precision, and tone, you should fret as close to the back side of the fret as possible without muting the tone of the string. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule, as Eric Johnson is quick to point out.
Less is more...in terms of gain. Many beginning guitarists want their sound to be completely distorted because it sounds cool. Surprisingly, a lot of the music you might want to emulate isn't as distorted as you might think. Also, it's important to understand that tone is a big part of playing guitar. If you have too much distortion, there is no tone. No tone, means less distinction between notes, which equals poor dynamic and melodic contrast.
Intentionally order your pedals. While there are many schools of thought on pedal order, and your ears should be the ultimate decision makers, there is a general order to pedals that makes them most effective in the typical setup.
- Guitar - this one should be obvious
- Pre-volume - some people like to run volume pedals or clean boosts before everything else
- Wah - the wah is a tone control, so generally, you want it close to the clean sound of the guitar
- Compression - this is like the pre-volume so you want it near to the clean sound of the guitar
- Harmonizers - pitch shifters, octavers, harmonizers, etc. should be next before the sound is colored
- Overdrive - put the lightest drive first so you can cascade them into heavier sounds
- Distortion - this is heavier than overdrive, so it should go after it
- Fuzz - this is the most extreme form of drive and should be last in the chain of drive pedals
- Noise suppression - if your noise suppressor has a loop, put your drive pedals in that loop to cut hiss
- EQ - equalization pedals should typically go after drive pedals
- Modulation - this is where your chorus, phaser, flanger, or rotary pedals go
- Delay - just like with drives, it's a good idea to cascade your delays in ascending order with slapback first and long delay last
- Reverb - this ambient effect should go last after all other types of delay
- Post-volume - if you don't run a pre-volume, this is another good place to put a volume pedal
- Amp - again, obvious
Alternately, if your amp has an effects loop, EQ, modulation, delay, and reverb often go well in that loop. Ultimately, try out different combinations and see what works best. Stevie Ray Vaughan often ran his wah after his TS9 Tube Screamers, which goes against the general rules to follow for pedal placement.
Play acoustic and electric guitar. These instruments are very different beasts; playing acoustic will make you a better electric player and playing electric will make you a better acoustic player.
String gauge is directly proportional to tone. If you want a big, fat, thick tone, you better not be playing on 9s. A big part of Stevie Ray Vaughan's sound (a surprising amount, actually) was based on the strings he used. He typically played on 13s and he would tune to Eb for easier bending. There is almost no excuse why you should ever play on 9s or, god forbid (no, not the band), 8s. If you need to do a lot of bending, especially compound and oblique bends, try some 10s for country or similar styles. Otherwise, you should be on 11s or better, especially for blues. Once you hit 12s, make sure you look for a wound 3rd (G) string rather than a plain string.
They say that cat Shaft is a bad motha--shut yo mouth! Never underestimate the power of left-hand muted pick scrapes and wah-wah.