If you can afford that vintage Fender, go for it. If your budget is smaller than the Trumps’ you might want to look at my ideas. I don’t have any sponsors so I get no cut from mentioning any of these products. Now isn’t that refreshing?
Whatever you buy, get a receipt. We musicians are a particular bunch. Your nephew may prefer the guitar strap with the skulls and not the Hello Kitty one.
Music stores are the best place to purchase these items although you can sometimes find small accessories at electronic stores and low end department stores. However, DO NOT buy instruments or bigger items at places like Wal-Mart, no matter how good the deal seems ‘cause you’ll get what you pay for. (Not to mention supporting the evil empire.)
For players of any instruments
Music books. Sure, you can get lots of stuff for free on the net (see my earlier blog if you want to know more) but a lot of that is wrong. Printed books may be old fashioned but they’re usually right.
- Know your recipient’s taste. Your ten year old may not appreciate “Broadway’s Greatest Hits” but I’ll bet your favorite aunt would. (Yes, I’m making broad generalizations – for all I know, your kid may have belted out every song from Mama Mia at the family cottage this summer.)
- Know their level. A beginning piano player will want a book where all the songs are in the key of C or maybe G. (Less sharps and flats.) A beginning guitarist will want something that also features tab. If this advice sounds like Martian, take a musician with you or ask a music store employee.
Lessons. Many teachers and schools offer gift certificates. I do. (If you live in the Ottawa area, contact me.)
Video instruction. I highly recommend Homespun Tapes. They’ve got great instruction for all kinds of instruments – from ukulele to harmonica.
Cases. You’ll need to measure the instrument and/or know the model and make. You can get everything from a fabric gig bag to a hard shell case suitable for flying.
- Gig bag. They’re lightweight and often have backpack straps, making them very easy to carry. Most have handy pockets for accessories. They make them for all kinds of instruments – keyboards, drums, guitars and more.
- Hard shell case. These are nice for the musician who does more traveling or just wants more protection.
- Flight case. These are the toughest of the cases and really only for someone who travels a fair amount, especially if they do it by air. They can be expensive. Most are heavy so one with wheels would be really appreciated
Cables. Great for anyone who plugs in. I don’t know any guitar player who would turn down a nice insulated cable. (Insulated cables are thick. You don’t want one that’s the same diameter as a computer cord.) You need to know what kinds of connecters are needed. My guitar requires a ¼ inch phone plug on each end. That’s standard but there are other arrangements too.
Microphones. If your musician does any performing, they might appreciate a good mike. You can’t beat a Shure 57 or 58. They’ll cost around a hundred in the US and Canada. Generally, a 58 is used for vocals and a 57, instruments, but your mileage may vary. I’ve had a 58 for almost 25 years and it’s still going strong. Other mikes are good too – just don’t buy one at K-Mart.
Music stands. Save your musician from countless trips to the chiropractor and get them something that allows them to comfortably look at their music. I once found a portable one on sale for only $15. You can go crazy and get a sturdier one for more money.
Gift certificates. Ah, the tried and true. They’re easy to wrap and mail. I prefer supporting local stores but if your gift recipient lives elsewhere you’ll want to get one from a store in their area. Don’t assume there’s a Guitar Center everywhere . Don’t overlook online stores. I like Musicians Friend.
For guitar, mandolin and banjo players
Straps. They come in all kinds of styles and sizes. It’s a little risky – like buying someone else clothing – but sometimes you hit the jackpot. I like straps with a little grip – leather or woven – just in case any family members are reading. Ahem.
Capo. This is the little metal thing that you put on the neck that changes the key. I like Kyser capos ‘cause they’re so easy to use. You can get special capos for different kinds of instruments but a guitar capo will work for any instrument and that’s usually what you’ll find at stores. They run about $20. And BTW, most electric guitar and mandolin players don’t use capos but there are exceptions.
- Flat picks (above) are great for guitar and mandolin players. Get a variety pack. Picks are a very personal thing so you want your musician to have a selection. They come in all sorts of cool designs. Don’t worry about the brand.
- Finger picks are a little riskier to buy because they need to fit the musician’s hands. Bluegrass banjo players use them and so do some guitarists. I like the plastic ones. Banjo players usually use metal ones.
Tuners. They’re inexpensive and you can use them on any kind of stringed instrument – from violins to banjos. You can get a decent one for $15 or $20. You can get a bigger one with all the bells and whistles but frankly, I never use them.
Strings. These are risky to buy because taste varies widely among players. It’s probably okay if you’re buying for a beginner. Get the cheapest light gauge strings. Brand doesn’t matter. (Stay away from heavy gauge and unless you know for sure, mediums may not be good either.) If you’re buying guitar strings, make sure you get a set specifically for acoustic or electric guitar. If it’s a classical guitar, get nylon strings. (Steel strings on this type of guitar can damage it.)
Want more information about guitar accessories? Check out my earlier blog.
Make your musician very happy. Mom, if you’re reading this, I want a Bose PA. Just in case you’ve got $3000 lying around the house.