California Guitar Archives

Prepared Guitar

Since publishing the first comprehensive manual on prepared guitar in 1990 (now in an expanded second edition: Elgart/Yates: Prepared Guitar Techniques), we have provided classical guitarists with solo and ensemble music for prepared guitar.

Tips for Guitar Preparation

Guitar Pick "Gong"
Try this sequence to create this preparation:
  1. Use a pin vise with a very small drill bit to drill a hole in the plastic
  2. Use a hobby knife with a narrow blade to cut the slit.
  3. Use the hobby knife or very sharp scissors to cut an octagon of the correct size.
  4. Use a nail file or 400-grit sandpaper to smooth the edges.
Screwcap "Sitar"
If the cap is too short to stay firmly wedged between the string and the guitar surface, cut some aluminum foil and fold it to meet the required thickness. To avoid scratching the guitar, cut a small piece of typing paper to serve as a shield.
Preparation Stability on Treble Strings
If preparations slide from their positions on the treble strings, try using wound nylon trebles, such as Savarez 520P, which have more "grip."
Handling Lead Fishing Sinkers
To protect your skin from exposure to lead, use finger cots or disposable exam gloves.


Music of the 20th Century (LP and Download)
The first Elgart/Yates album includes two prepared guitar works, Elgart's Laseter and Yates's Lunch Music.
Prepared Guitar (CD and Download)
Most of the music on this album uses preparations.
Original Compositions for Guitar and Mandolin (CD and Download)
This album includes the Modern Arts Guitar Quartet recording of Gravelle's five-movement They Go on Mumbling (An Elegy for John Cage).
Modern Arts Guitar Quartet Recordings 1991–1995 (DVD and Download)
As with the Gravelle recording above, this album includes the MAGQ's recording of Gravelle's They Go on Mumbling quartet.
Theodore Norman Legacy Concerts (DVD)
The DVD includes excerpts of a live performance of Gravelle's quartet.
No Way José (CD and Download)
Music for solo and duo guitar, voice, and chamber ensembles. Includes prepared guitar duo Pong-Ping.
Robot Dream (CD and Download)
The title track and "San Miguel" use prepared guitars.
Ultimate Gazebo (CD and Download)
The entire String Drum Codex is included here, performed by the composer, along with non-prepared music.


Here is a list of our current prepared guitar publications (all available as digital downloads):

Prepared Guitar Techniques, 30th Anniversary 2nd Edition (now available as a digital PDF download)
The original how-to guide on guitar preparations, written by the groundbreaking Elgart/Yates duo. It's now available as a secure PDF download! Chapters and Subchapters:
  1. How to Avoid Damaging Your Guitar
  2. The Anatomy of a Guitar
  3. General Preparation Setup and Principles
  4. Preparation Materials
  5. How to Create Altered Scales
  6. Notation
  7. Preparation Setup for Vortex
  8. Notating the Music
  9. Recordings and Repertoire
  10. Appendix: Two Works for Prepared Guitar: Vortex and Snack Shop
Anyone interested in learning how to safely prepare their guitar would be wise to start with this 32-page manual. The prepared guitar duet, "Snack Shop," was recorded by Elgart Yates on their Prepared Guitar CD; here's "Snack Shop" from that album.
Here's the solo prepared guitar work that appears in the book, Vortex, played by Emily Barrett.
Emily Barrett: Five Short Preludes for Prepared Guitar (now available as a digital PDF download)
A perfect introductory set of short pieces, all written in tablature and all using the same preparation setup, these pieces are very satisfying musically and have consistent rhythmic drive. They do not require virtuoso technique but exploit the possibilities of prepared guitar in an exciting way. Here's the composer performing the whole set.
Buzz Gravelle: They Go on Mumbling . . . (an elegy for John Cage) (now available as a digital PDF download)
A thrilling prepared guitar quartet work in five movements which explores many possibilities of preparations, including atmospheric effects of gong-like sounds, incisive rhythmic propulsion aided and abetted by alligator clip snap percussion, melodic solos using sitar-like buzzers against minimalilstic figures of liquid arpeggios, and use of the performers' lips, hand slaps, and tongue clicks. This is a piece that offers a satisfying challenge to an ambitious quartet who should receive an enthusiastic audience response.
Peter Yates: String Drum Codex: Solo Etudes for Prepared Guitar (now available as a digital PDF download)
String Drum Codex invites the guitarist on a musical quest incorporating a variety of contemporary compositional devices, including open-ended playing (unspecified rhythms) and interpretation of graphic elements. The pieces are written in traditional notation both by hand and with the use of hand-made stamps and found text clipped from magazines and books, some of which include performance instructions, others of which offer Satie-like advice or inquiry: "Savor," "Surrender," "Shallow but smooth," "Badly Played Bongos," etc. The reward for the intrepid guitarist is a suite of oustanding pieces which can be excerpted and played in any order, since all use the same preparation setup. All the works are recorded by the composer on his Ultimate Gazebo CD.


Buzz Gravelle's They Go on Mumbling... (An Elegy for John Cage)
A complete live performance of the stunning 1993 composition for four prepared classical guitars.