The Non-Musician's Guide To Last-Minute Musical Gifts

date: 12/25/2009 category: features
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Despite the countless millions of dollars spent on holiday advertising, it remains a fact that christmas eve is the single biggest shopping day of the christmas season. If you'll be battling the crowds this year trying to search for that perfect musical gift, don't go in without a detailed plan and an exit strategy. This guide will protect you from the sea of experienced people in the music store, as well as ensure that you give a gift that lasts longer than socks.

1: Picks, Sticks, and Tricks

Every musician finds himself running out of plectrums almost constantly. Whether your musician is a bassist, guitarist, or drummer, he'll find himself for want of a pick or a drum stick at least once a week (this is documented fact). But this could be so easily avoided by keeping a fresh supply of picks. It's a comforting feeling to know that if you lose a pick, 10 more of its brothers will be waiting for you in the box. Now, many guitarists have a favorite brand, which they have chosen through either countless hours of strenuous testing, or based on what color looks best. If you know one of the latter, buy them an assortment of guitar picks, of varying thickness, material, and shape, and use them as a stocking stuffer. They may just discover a plectrum that works better for them.

2: Strings 'n Things

Most guitarists don't change their strings often enough, resulting in sucky tone. Give the gift of sustain and intonation this year. Get your guitarist some new strings. Again, this is a good opportunity to give a variety of different strings, or a bunch of the same guage. Many guitarists have never tried anything different from what first came on their guitar. Give them a variety of sets (ask the counter guy what he'd recommend for certain styles of music, if you're musically challenged), so that they can experiment. One of the main reasons people don't experiment with different things is cost. If they hate it, they're out 5 -10 bucks and they have to change strings again. But if they receive strings as a gift, they feel free to experiment. String sets make another fantastic stocking stuffer. Be sure to also include, if they don't have one, a guitar multi-tool. These come with string cutter, string winder, a variety of allen wrenches (for truss rod adjustment), a few other things, and it's great to have every tool you need on hand. EXCEPTION: Make sure to ask your musician casually if he has a "Floyd Rose" or other sort of Double-locking tremolo. Those are a royal pain to setup to new tunings and string guages and a floyd rose owner generally wants to stick to what he's got.

3: Safety Equipment

Many guitarists play in their homes, or even in public, improperly equipped. Make sure your guitarist is safe this season. Straplocks, backup cables, extra batteries, a comfortable guitar strap, and a spare guitar or three can make the difference between a contained incident and a full-scale disaster of a performance. Some pre-packaged gig survival kits can be found, but otherwise, find a salesperson who plays live with a band, and ask them about their survival kit. But in all seriousness, many musicians choose to ignore the very real danger of developing tinnitus. Don't let your friends go deaf. Get them a pair of high fidelity earplugs. These will cost from 12 to 20 dollars for a standard pair, or up to 200 dollars for a custom fitted pair. Even if they only attend concerts, high fidelity earplugs make everyone a winner. Many guitarists also ignore the necessity of routine guitar maintenance. Many products are available to help protect the guitar, from string cleaner and guitar varnish, to nut oils and chrome knob polish. If your musician doesn't have a full cleaning kit, give him one. Especially if you bought him the guitar.

4. Oft-Overlooked Essentials

Would a mountain climber climb a mountain without his harness and pitons? Only if he were crazy. Here are a few things that a musician would be crazy not to have: A high quality floor based or rackmounted guitar tuner: It doesn't matter how fresh your strings are if your B string is tuned to F and your E string is tuned to G. Tuning is essential to all forms of music, and is especially crucial to practice. If your ear is learning to play out of tune, your fingers will follow suit, resulting in sloppy playing when the instrument is tuned properly. Tuners run for about 60 to 120 dollars for a good quality, durable, and accurate model. A noise suppresor: If you have a musician that plays live music regularly without a noise suppressor, they are just asking for trouble. If you don't know much about their music, casually ask these questions in conversation: Do you ever get lots of feedback? Do you get a lot of noise from your (Pickups, amps, pedals)? If they answer yes, a noise suppressor is in order. Noise suppressors can cost from 70 to 150 or more dollars. A pedalboard/DC brick: Does your musician often carries his pedals in a backpack and tosses them onto the floor, praying that he has enough battery juice to get through the night? Save him from himself; get him a pedalboard. Pedalboards can be bought premade or custom crafted to suit the owner's pedals. The important feature of the pedalboard is the direct current power station that powers all of his pedals, so if you don't get the full board, get him one of these. Be sure to include a host of adapters, just in case. IMPORTANT: Make sure that your musician both:
  • Uses pedals
  • Has trouble plugging in all of the adapters he needs to use OR uses batteries A hardshell case: This can be tricky to shop for because they are often fitted to a specific guitar, so if you can't abscond with the guitar, let them come with you when you purchase this. Many guitarists don't have a hardshell case for their guitar, and it is essential that your guitar be protected when traveling to play live music, or in storage for a long while. Band T-Shirts: Chances are your favorite musician has a favorite band. But they may not have merchandise with that band's logo on it! Save them the embarrassment of walking into a concert wearing plain black t-shirts. If there's a band they talk about, and they don't wear that band's merch, get them some. If you don't know exactly which band they like, but you know that they like metal, popular standards include Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Cannibal Corpse, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Death, and Slayer. DO NOT buy either Metallica or Megadeth shirts, because there's about a 50-50 chance that they'll hate one and love the other, and also a chance that you'll buy a St. Anger shirt by mistake. Most of these are fairly expensive, so make sure that you keep the receipts. Follow this guide, and you will be remembered as a good gift-giver. Jacobb Byers
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