December 1, 2021

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17 Gifts for Musicians: Instruments, Guitars, Accessories

Everybody is making music these days. People are dusting off old trumpets and learning the guitar for the first time in their lives. Whether you know somebody who’s a dedicated player or a newbie who could just use a whimsical instrument to goof around with, here are a few of the best hidden gems out there.

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Instruments

Photograph: Ukutune
  • Yamaha SLG200S Silent Guitar for $700: So you know someone who likes to play guitar, but is surrounded by people who don’t always want to hear it. Maybe that person who doesn’t want to hear it is you. The SLG200S has an electronic pickup, built-in preamp, and audio input so that they can plug their headphones directly into the guitar to hear their playing without disturbing anyone else. Others will still hear the faint sound of strings being plucked or strummed, but it’ll be a lot quieter than a typical guitar.
  • Ukutune 23-Inch Concert Ukulele for $150: Cheap, beginner ukes are everywhere, but a lot have cheap construction and sound thin or buzzy. This Ukutune has a solid spruce top plank for a richer tone. This concert-sized model is bigger than traditional soprano ukuleles, but it’s still a ukulele, so it’s not that big.
  • Deering Goodtime 6-String “Banjitar” for $629: A banjitar (also called a guitjo) has the body of a banjo with the six-string neck of a guitar, so it’s played the same way as a guitar. The banjo has seen a popular comeback in the 21st century, with artists such as Dom Flemons and Otis Taylor, but it’s a whole new, five-stringed instrument to learn. If you know a guitar player who digs Old Crow Medicine Show, give them an instrument they’ll know how to play from day one.
  • Fender Player Stratocaster for $700: These are the Mexican-made guitars that replaced the trusty Mexican Standard earlier this year. Home players and working musicians like that they’re a better value than the $1,000-plus American-made Fenders. Unlike Fender’s Squier line, these Fenders are good enough to keep forever and to play in a real band, if that’s what your special someone wants.
  • Hohner Performer 37-Key Melodica for $87: What, you haven’t heard of a melodica before? That’s OK! Maybe your giftee hasn’t either. You blow air into it through a reed and play its keyboard. The sound that comes out resembles the baby child of a harmonica and an accordion. If you do get this, be sure to ask the recipient to play a cover of the Black Sails theme song once they unwrap it. It’s not the exact same instrument, but it’s close.
  • Yamaha FG830 Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar for $320: This guitar sounds as good as anything that costs twice its price. Beginners will love something good enough to keep for life, and yet the sound quality is good enough for working musicians and Sunday church performers. Its solid Sitka spruce top and scalloped bracing are also pleasant surprises at this price. If the recipient is shorter, consider the more compact Yamaha FS380, which is otherwise identical.
  • Bluesboy Jag Cigar Box Guitar for $290: People have been making small guitars out of cigar boxes for more than a hundred years. They’re a whimsical part of Americana, and I dare the guitarist who gets one as a gift to not smile as they pluck out a few tunes on a pint-sized axe. Traditionally, they have only three or four strings, and you can take your pick here.

Guitar and Drum Accessories

Photograph: Shubb
  • V-Picks Acrylic Guitar Picks for $4: V-Picks are handmade in Nashville out of acrylic, the same stuff used to make fish tanks. Acrylic grips the fingers nicely once warmed up by body heat, so if you know a butterfingers who’s always dropping picks, this is the stocking stuffer for them. But more seriously, the thicker material sounds nicer when striking the strings, and it’s much more pleasant to use than typical flimsy celluloid picks. V-Picks makes many other sizes and shapes of picks, and it has gift packs too.
  • Boss Clip-On Tuner for $37: Tuners are kind of a pain to deal with, because few people keep them handy, and so guitar players tend not to tune up as much as they should. If you want to do somebody a solid—or are just tired of listening to them playing Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” out of tune—buy them a model that clips onto their guitar’s headstock. It’s always nearby, and Boss is arguably king when it comes to digital accessories like this. You can also find this one at Amazon.
  • Shubb S1 Deluxe Capo for $15: Capos are not just for beginners. Many of music’s most respected guitar royalty used them to record hit songs. There are so many variations of capos, but the American-made S1 Deluxe has never let me down. When I bought mine five years ago, I gave up using anything else. It’s dead-quick to put on and take off. The S1 is for a six-steel-string guitar, but there are variations for 12-string guitars and nylon-string guitars.
  • Couch Guitar Straps Made From Upcycled Materials for $38: Couch’s straps tend to be made of upcycled material. That is, material made for another purpose and never used, which is then “rescued” by Couch. Examples include unused car upholstery and funky old couch fabric from furniture makers dating to the 1960s. All its products are vegan and handmade in California.
  • Roc-N-Soc Drum Throne for $248: Regular seats and stools are too high for drummers to use. If you know a drummer who’s hunched over on an office chair, give them this adjustable, swiveling drum throne built specifically to give stick bangers full control over their drum kits.

Amps and Pedals

Photograph: Roland
  • Boss Katana 50W MkII Combo Amp for $230: As a tube-amp snob it’s hard for me to say this, but the Katana MkII is a fantastic modeling amp. It does a good job mimicking a lot of classic amplifiers’ tones and pedal effects without having to splash big money down for the classics, while also being portable, downright cheap, and able to play at bedroom volume levels via its built-in power scaling.
  • Boss TU-3 Tuner Foot Pedal for $100: Serious musicians have no time to pull out a separate tuner, because they’ll end up retuning their instruments several times a night when performing. Using a foot pedal lets them cut output to the amp so they can quickly tune up between sets without having to mess with power switches and cables. This, more than any app or clip-on tuner, is the ultimate way to tune an instrument, but you need a power source to use it.
  • On-Stage RS7500 Tilt-Back Amp Stand for $33: Get your friend’s amp off the floor. Placing an amp on a bare floor aims its sound at their ankles. Tilting it so that it aims at their ears means they’re hearing the full range of bass, midrange, and treble coming out of their amp. Their downstairs neighbors will thank them, too, as an amp on a stand won’t resonate through the floorboards as much. This stand is the most stable I’ve used, and it works well for a home setup or a stage.
  • Mogami CorePlus Instrument Cable for $33: There’s an unfortunate tendency to pay all the attention to the guitar and amp, but treat cables as afterthoughts. Playing through inferior cables chokes out a lot of good tone. The musician in your life doesn’t need gold-plated hardware, just quality cable that lets their instruments’ tone shine through without interference. If you don’t know what length to get, try 10 feet, but if you’re buying for somebody who performs on stage, buy at least a 25-foot cable.
  • Boss RC-1 Loop Station for $100: Loopers are fun. They let you play a melody, record it through the pedal, and then have it replay in a loop while you solo or play other verses. If you know somebody who busks or plays shows alone and needs to be their own rhythm section, or somebody who just plays at home but could use a backing section, a looper pedal will let them record and replay 12 minutes of a single loop. They’ll need a separate power supply to use it, though.

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