Musical Instruments Musicians

Musicians Gifts from Non-Musicians

Last year, Baxter and Jonathan of Casino Guitars put up a video debating what are good and bad gifts for someone to give a guitar player for Christmas. They were talking accessories, not buying the guitars themselves (who wouldn’t love having a relative or friend buying him/her a Fender Strat or Martin acoustic for a gift?).

Overall, they were comically correct. However, I did disagree with them on one item – the guitar pick maker. They called it the worst gift to give. While it isn’t the greatest musical item to give, it does serve a great purpose. First off, rather than throwing out those expired credit cards and fake ones that companies like Xfinity send through the mail, you can cut the waste in half by making four picks out of a normal-sized credit card. Then you can quickly sand the edges and you have some picks that cost you nothing. The maker will pay for itself after a month or two. Also, if you have some moocher asking you for a guitar pick, you can give him one of the credit-card ones and keep the good ones for yourself.

This leads to a thought that I have had for years. If there is a musician in the family, be it son, daughter, husband, wife or other, and you really care about them as well as know his/her love of music, be a bit more learned about his/her passion. My father (God rest his soul) used to buy me loads of cassettes and CDs from the dollar store because he knew that I loved music. However, there was a reason these albums were at the dollar store – it is crappy music.

Now I admit that if I’m at the dollar store and see a bin full of CDs, I will definitely check it out. I remember snagging a half dozen CDs by NRBQ (one of my favorite all-time bands) and giving them out to people. However, 99.9% of the time, it is music that I have absolutely no interest in.

Now I will only get into stringed instruments here. However, I am sure that keyboard players, woodwind and brass players, and percussionists have similar paths that are followed.

There are some things that stringed musicians always appreciate: strings. Just make sure that you are purchasing strings that the musician can and will use. Don’t buy electric guitar strings for an acoustic guitarist, tenor banjo strings for a five-string banjo player, or electric bass strings for an upright bassist. Even if it is not the exact brand that the musician prefers, he/she will appreciate that you considered the correct instrument.

Picks: These are a lot more personal than even strings. Everyone has seen the bargain ads on Wish and eBay of a box of 1,000 guitar picks for a reasonable price. However, the picks vary in thickness, and unless the musician is one who uses thick picks on guitar, thin picks on mandolin, etc., most of them will never be used. Instead, get to know the particular pick used, and buy a dozen of those instead. Banjo and dobro players are very particular about the finger and thumb picks that they use, so if considering a purchase, really get to know what brand is preferred.

Clip-on tuners: These are a Godsend, especially if you can have one in each instrument case. They are becoming affordable, as low as $10.00, and they are now being made to tune other instruments besides guitar (bass, ukulele, violin) as well as tune chromatically. Also, musicians never fail to lose or misplace them, so having an extra one around is great.

Instructional books/videos: This is a really shaky area for gift giving. If you have a musician who has been playing for a dozen years in a number of bands, you wouldn’t want to give them a copy of Let’s Learn to Play Guitar, Volume 1. However, if the young one has just gotten a guitar as a gift and doesn’t know where to start, that would be the perfect present. This line of accessories has lost a lot of marketability with the rise of YouTube and online lessons, but it is still viable. Here is another area where I am open to if it is a bargain. While I may not pay the full $29.95 for a video on playing heavy metal guitar, I would most likely pick it up if I saw it at a rummage sale or used book store for a dollar or two. My theory on that is, even though I am not into heavy metal guitar playing, I may learn a thing or two about technique that I could translate into my bluegrass guitar playing. Moreover, I can always pass it along to someone that is starting to learn electric guitar.

Guitar polishes and cloths: This is something that a lot of musicians do not consider but truly appreciate if gifted to them. Guitars, basses, mandolins, fiddles, and other stringed instruments get dirty from sweat and hand grime over months of use, and musicians tend to forget that part of maintenance. Besides the body needing cleaning, fretboard and fingerboard cleaners are appreciated. This is an area that one would want to talk to a guitar repairperson or at least do some online research.

Other accessories: Case humidifiers, rosin and shoulder rests (for fiddlers), string winders, musicians tools (like the Roadie Rench), velcro cable ties (found at dollar and discount stores), and even maybe a metronome are bound to be used eventually. If it means sitting down for a few minutes to ask the musician what he/she needs as far as “the little things” and putting it down on a list, the next time there is a gift-giving situation, there will be smiles and not embarrassment.

Chew on it and comment. And pray for the people of Canada.


By Matt Merta/Mitch Matthews

Musician and writer (both song and print) for over 30 years. Primarily interested in roots music (Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk). Current contributing writer for Fiddler Magazine, previous work with Metro Times (Detroit), Ann Arbor Paper and Real Detroit Weekly, as well as other various music and military publications. As songwriter, won the 2015 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (Bluegrass Category, "Something About A Train," co-written with Dawn Kenney and David Morris) as well as having work performed on NPR and nominated for numerous Detroit Music Awards.

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