Teaching Artist Glen McCarthy Talks Guitars

Glen McCarthy teaching guitar

Posted on October 06, 2017 by Matt Geske

Academy Teaching Artist and Mason School of Music Guitar professor Glen McCarthy wants to know “Why aren’t you playing guitar?” He says that you just need the right tools. He was recognized in 2014 from over 32,000 nominees by the Grammy Foundation as one of the Top Ten Music Educators in the United States, so yeah, he knows what he’s talking about!

So why should you take guitar?
“I’d like to think that having me as your teacher would be a major influence in your decision,” says Glen. “My teaching experience includes instructing elementary school children to senior citizens. I teach privately, in the classroom, and conduct professional workshops nationwide as well as internationally. My approach is simple. What do you want to play? I will do my best to give you the tools to master that song. From strumming chords to playing a finger-style solo all styles are welcome.”

What’s the best type of guitar?
“No matter what, the best guitar for a beginner to use is a classic or nylon-stringed guitar,” Glen declares. “The strings are much easier on your fingers than a steel-stringed guitar. Note that three of the six nylon strings appear to be metal, but they have a nylon-filament core. All genres of music can be played on a classic guitar.”

What if you inherited a steel string guitar?
“If you have to use a steel-stringed guitar, your fingers will soon become sore and tired during their lessons and practice,” warns Glen. “The worst culprits are the high E and B strings that are a single strand of steel, contributing most to the ‘ouch’ factor. There are ways to deal with this. You may choose ‘extra-light gauge’ steel strings. They aren’t as loud, but they are easier on the fingertips. Another type of string is the hybrid ‘silk and steel’. Yes, it is perfectly okay to put nylon strings on a steel-stringed guitar, but not vice versa. Some steel string guitars may require a little filing of the nut to gain a good fit for nylon strings. Other adjustments may be beneficial too. Never put steel strings on guitar made for nylon strings. The stress on the neck is too much for a guitar made for nylon strings.”

What if you want to play steel string?
“If you prefer to play on steel string, that’s great,” Glen says encouragingly. “Traditionally steel string guitars are played with a pick, where classic guitars are played with fingers. ‘Rules are made to be broken’, as they say. Willie Nelson uses a classic guitar and plays it using a pick. ‘Dust in the Wind’, a popular song by Kansas, is played on a steel string using fingerpicking. Just realize that you’ll have to build up some callouses on those finger tips when you play a steel string!”


Diagram of guitar parts


What’s the best guitar size and construction?
“Manufacturers make guitars in a variety of sizes. They are ergonomically designed to be comfortable in the arms of students of all ages. Less expensive entry-level guitars of good quality are made with laminates that are able to tolerate temperature and humidity changes. Some have a shiny, lacquer finish; some have a dull, satin finish. Choose according to your taste and budget. The action (height of the strings over the fingerboard) should be consistent up and down the entire length. Are the metal frets comfortable with no sharp edges? Put your hand around the neck and move up and down to make sure. Do the tuners adjust easily? Tune the guitar and try some open chords. Does the instrument stay in tune? Play up and down the neck to make sure it plays in tune. Examine the interior to see seams and braces with no excess glue.”

What is the first step?
“If all this seems confusing, go to your local ‘brick and mortar’ store,” says Glen. “I recommend you use a store that has numerous guitars at various price points. Using the suggestions above, preview different brands of guitars with a sales associate.”

What else will you need?
“A padded ‘gig’ bag or ‘hard-shell’ case is recommended. Other items to consider purchasing include a music stand, foot-rest or other type of guitar support, tuner, capo, metronome, and guitar stand. In the winter when it’s extremely cold/dry you should have a humidifier in your guitar or case.”



“I guarantee – with the right tools, playing guitar is a ‘piece of cake’!” exclaims Glen. Along with teaching group guitar classes, Glen teaches private guitar lessons for the Academy.