Easy to use, compact practice gear for keyboards and guitar
October 17, 2017 9:47 AM   Subscribe

I want to practice guitar and keyboards on headphones. Please recommend equipment to do this - including a new cheapish guitar - as easily as possible in a tiny space.

I have:
* a bass guitar
* a Yamaha keyboard with MIDI out
* an iPhone
* a Mac
* Garageband and Band-in-a-Box
* an iMic that I think maybe isn't the right thing

I would like to be able to practice
* bass
* keyboards
* AND guitar, so I need to buy one

... and do it on headphones, so no one else will hear my practice sessions.

* a limited budget and
* VERY LITTLE physical space
* I am a tiny person

... so I want the smallest, reasonably cheap setup I can get away with and still enjoy my playing.

I need:
* an electric guitar - I basically just want something with strings, my needs are minimal, cheap is fine
* some convenient way to hear myself playing the keyboard along with audio, either on my iPhone or my Mac
* some convenient way to hear myself playing the guitar along with audio, either on my iPhone or my Mac

Ease of use - especially ease of use in a tiny space - is probably the most important thing here: I want to have as few barriers to playing as possible.

Things I've vaguely thought about getting:
* an inexpensive Ibanez - maybe a MiKro, since I have small arms and hands? or maybe a hollowbody, for lightness?
* an iRig

I plan to play pretty simple stuff - easier Beatles songs, beginner jazz tunes. Sonically, I'm much more on the jangly and jazzy spectrum; I'm not going for metal sounds.

So: I would like to sit down, in a tiny space, with my keyboards or my bass or a guitar I don't yet own, and be able to play along with ... something, probably in Band-in-a-Box or Garageband - ideally some fake book / play-along type tracks. (A metronome option would be nice too.) I need the easiest, most barrier-free, least-space-taking-up way to get there.

Suggestions? Any and all ideas, including tips for playing along with Garageband or BiaB, are MOST welcome.

posted by kristi to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have the Boss Micro BR-80. It is tiny. Plug in a guitar (or bass or keyboards) and headphones, model the input and play along with the onboard drums or jam tracks (which I think are quite programmable). Or record and overdub. It's surprisingly powerful.
posted by jonathanbell at 10:09 AM on October 17, 2017

For a cheap guitar, you could certainly do worse than a Squier. They're made by Fender, and come in a bunch of different models that are replicas of Stratocasters and Telecasters. You can find 'em for under $200, easily - and closer to 100 or under, on craigslist.
posted by entropone at 11:16 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you have a “very limited budget” and you already have a Mac and Garage Band, then all you really need is a way to connect to the computer. There are numerous methods that are low cost, maybe check out your local music shop and/or Craigslist. As far as a cheap guitar, I always cringe when I see folks get one and then quit playing. Unless you find a real deal, cheap guitars sound crappy, break easily and are hard to play. If you are looking for one that is smaller, Fender makes a ¾ size Squier Mini Strat ($129.00) for younger players.

From your question, it seems you have a lot of musical interests. Are you proficient at bass and piano? Could you sacrifice one or both if you really want to learn guitar? More equipment means more money and less space. I think you’ll find more satisfaction with learning to play as opposed to what kind of gear you have (I have a lot of a music instruments and I find I only play 2 guitars regularly).
posted by jabo at 11:24 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

OMG you want what I have : a Traveler brand travel guitar, the cheapest one (i found it on ebay for $250 and have zero desire to buy a real full size electric guitar now) and a headphone amp from Amazon ($15).
posted by girl Mark at 12:00 PM on October 17, 2017

This is the one I have - it's tiny, so I take it everywhere. It stays in tune nicely. It has a piezo pickup instead of a full size pickup but it sounds good for what I do, and certainly fine for practice: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B000OQI2CI/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1508266827&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_QL65&keywords=Traveler+guitar&dpPl=1&dpID=31HxsxCi7XL&ref=plSrch
posted by girl Mark at 12:02 PM on October 17, 2017

Just a quick clarification - one thing I really want to be able to do is play along with accompaniment, which means being able to get both the accompaniment audio (presumably Garageband or BiaB) and the instrument output into the headphones at the same time. It looks like the Micro BR-80 MIGHT let me do that?

Thanks for all the suggestions so far - that travel guitar looks GREAT!
posted by kristi at 12:11 PM on October 17, 2017

Yes, the Boss will play built in backing tracks or drums and let you play over the top. You can then record your playing and still swap out the drum track for something else.
posted by srednivashtar at 1:32 PM on October 17, 2017

You already have a computer, just get an interface (basically an external soundcard).

Given your needs, I'd go with a Scarlett Solo. You can often find m-audio mbox and the like for cheaper, but I like the scarlett preamps and build quality.

Nthing squier for your guitar needs; they are generally pieces of crap, but that's largely do to lax quality control; there are millions floating around used, so you'll be able to try them out until you find one you like.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:00 PM on October 17, 2017

I recommend visiting the local music stores to try out different cheap guitars and find one that just feels right for you. Yes, you can get cheaper deals online or thru craigslist/kijiji, but there are some problems with this. With Amazon/eBay you won't really know exactly what you get until it shows up. With craigslist/kijiji there's scheduling, waiting, legwork, and awkward negotiating. Visiting the local music store allows you to ponder various options at your leisure without too much pressure, and less fuss for returns if it doesn't work out.

If you are considering maybe an acoustic/electric or semi-acoustic electric guitar, it's worth going to the showroom to try them all out. (I wouldn't try a model in a shop and then go buy it online, for ethical reasons, bad karma, and not getting the exact instrument).
posted by ovvl at 7:05 PM on October 17, 2017

I bought a Squire for my first electric and it was definitely the way to go learning. You'll want to get it set up properly (since they're rarely set up well at purchase), but the body and neck are well made and it feels like a typical Strat. The pickups usually aren't that great so you won't have quite that biting Strat sound, but you can always replace those later if you continue.
posted by downtohisturtles at 1:58 PM on October 18, 2017

Thanks for all these great answers!

I'll be taking a close look at the Boss and the Scarlett Solo (and also I see there's a Roland Rubix22 that might be a good option) - and I'm leaning toward a Squire based on the super helpful recommendations here, but that Traveler is pretty darn tempting.

Thank you so much for your suggestions!
posted by kristi at 5:58 PM on October 22, 2017

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