I've not really picked up a guitar in perhaps about 2 years. Well I have, but not for any longer than about 15 minutes and I haven't learned anything new with it in any of those 15 minutes. I'm a lapsed guitar player and I'm also one of the worst of those: I've never played guitar properly, I think I'm not good and I've never played in any kind of group.
I've recently been talking to someone who's just got a new guitar and it's woken something up inside me. I think perhaps if I note some of this down I might pick up one of my guitars again and make some nice music at some point.
I might as well start at the beginning. You've perhaps just got a new guitar at Christmas or maybe you've promised yourself to take it up in the new year. Let's get started.
You'll need a few things. A guitar with most of the strings, you. If one string goes, you shouldn't need to stop playing and wait two weeks until you get to the music shop. Most of the time you can get on without the full complement of 6, but it is best to have them all really. If you lose one string, it's a good exercise to work out which note you're losing from a chord and how it affects the sound, or you'll have to play your riff on a different section of the neck and how that affects the sound.
I'm already getting ahead of myself. I assume you skipped the back-end of that last paragraph and he your two things. You'll need to get the guitar in tune. One day you'll have a guitar tuner you've bought specifically for the task, but right now, you can go on youtube or get an app for your flavour of phone. Once you've got tuned up you'll have a 6-string with standard tuning. Fat strings closest to your face, thinnest strings closest to the floor. They are most commonly numbered 1 to 6 from thinnest to fattest, but I think it's best to refer to them by their fat-to-thin given-names of: E, A, D, G, B and high-E (even though it's the lowest and nearer the floor, but it's a high note see?). Tune up regularly, even small changes - it's really good practice.
I think learning the notes is going to be a massive help later on. Some people write these kind of things off, thinking that they'll never get good enough to need to know any of it and they just want to strum some songs at parties and whatnot. Knowing the names of the notes will start to be a really useful piece of the massive jigsaw that's playing guitar and music generally.
The first things you're going to want to play are songs you already like. There're millions of guitar tabs about and they're great for getting playing things that sound like things you like, but they're often quite inaccurate and I feel they're only good as a jumping-off point. Go and find some tabs and have a go at playing along without and with the song. Take your time. You might only get 5 notes into the first riff, but keep at it. Play it a thousand times.
You'll have noticed that the tab just contains the numbers. Remember I said before about the notes being so useful? That's one of the reasons why tabs aren't the be-all and end-all. One day you'll really want to learn the names of the notes you're playing. I'll get into that some other time.
If you've had enough fun with a tab and you can get though some riffs, then go and buy a chord book. This series are my favourite. They get you playing and singing at the same time, stuff you already know. The singing's useful (even if you're terrible) because it shows you how much you're stopping and starting whilst playing - you really want to be able to play something through smoothly, even if it's slow.
Some of the chords will be hard, but persevere and try to transition cleanly between chord changes. A lot of the time if you're playing smoothly people won't hear a gap in the chord change and a strum of the odd open string.
Practice some tabs, get a chord book, practice tuning almost every time you start playing. Enjoy the finger pain. Shake off the tension in your clawed-hand every few minutes. CUT YOUR NAILS. Force yourself to play without pauses, slow and smooth, rather than fast and broken.
I've not mentioned, but rocking out like some kind of a bell-end is perhaps the most fun bit. Even if you can't play very well, it feels ace just to turn on some music (loud) and play any old shit along it ... just to feel like you're playing it right. One day, further on down the line, you'll be playing it right.
I'll try and make these as regular as I can. You'll be a good player by summer if we stick at it.