I like that this time of year is called “The Holidays.” I mean, there are so many “Big Ones” (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Boxing Day, New Years Eve, and New Year’s Day) that it’s a given. And, speaking of giving, most of these are also “gifting” holidays. December also plays host to “National Gazpacho Day,” “National Flashlight Day,” and the somewhat-provocatively titled “National Ding-A-Ling Day”… but I digress. The bottom line is that most of us have gifts to buy and a musician to buy them for.
Guitar players on your list may be the easiest to find gifts for, just through the sheer volume of choices available. Fender is a familiar and trusted name, known for their guitars and amplifiers. Their itty bitty Greta ($249 retail on sale for $99 at Guitar Center) is a palm sized dynamo with retro good looks and tons of tone. An onboard four-inch speaker, a VU meter, and two gold knobs adorn the front, while the back houses a 1/4″ instrument input, 1/4″ line out (for use as a preamp with another amplifier), 1/4″ speaker out (for an external speaker cabinet), an 1/8″ AUX input (for hi-fi tube amplification of external music playback device (iPod, etc) for playing along to recorded music. Details are available at: http://www.fender.com/products/pawnshopamps/models.php?prodNo=2303000000
Guitar accessories are always a good stocking stuffer and the Dunlop GA56 Accessories Pack (on sale for $29.99 at GC) fills the bill nicely. It includes an assortment of guitar picks, guitar polish and polishing cloth, a capo, a string winder, a guitar tuner, and even a guitar strap! A lot of value in a small package, to be sure.
Keyboardists? Got them covered, too. The M-Audio Keystation 61es 61-key MIDI controller is a great combination of space-saving size, feel, and functionality. The 61es’ velocity-sensitive, semi-weighted keys offer just the right amount of “give” and dexterity. Perfect for producers and performers who wish to add the sounds of samples and “virtual” instruments into their arrangements. Plenty of “paid” options out there, but a HUGE potpourri of FREE, great sounding synths and samplers and other sounds await. My personal fave is the Elektrostuio Analog Pack (particularly the Davosynth). Dig around for it, or simply type “Free VST Instruments” into your computer and settle in for hours of fun searching and auditioning… a gift you can email!
Apps are the haps these days, what with our phones getting smarter every day like Charlie in Flowers for Algernon. The Big Three I recommend? PolyTune ($4.99 at the iTunes App Store) from T.C. Electronic has been featured here before, but its usefulness, dead-on accuracy, and ability to detect and display pitches and intonation for ALL of your guitar’s strings simultaneously make it the best tuner I personally own. Add to that the convenience of always having a tuner on-hand and you’ve got the best five bucks you’ll spend for an app. Though not directly musical, Hipstamatic continues to be my photo app of choice. Its ability to impart expensive-looking, post-production-styled effects through combining myriad user-selectable lenses and papers has cut down on the amount of time spent designing posters and CD art. Whether you want it warm and retro or up-to-the-minute fresh, this app adds heaps of vibe to your images. In fact, I’ve used Hipstamatic on several of the albums I’ve designed art for recently. Last but most certainly not least is LouderLogic Version 2.1. Since being featured in these pages just last year, McDSP has brought its product’s very affordable price even lower to just $1.99. LouderLogic features professional quality “post mastering” for listening to your iPhone/iPod/ iPad in noisy environments via some great sounding multi-band compression and EQ algorithms they call ALX. Version 2 adds dynamic interactive play queues, frequency spectrum animation, crossfading, and the killer: User programmable four-band parametric EQ. This last feature is all the motivation you should need to part with two bucks. You can adjust the EQ settings to exactly the amount of bass, lo, and hi mids and brightness you prefer, giving you the ultimate customized listening experience for your earbuds or headphones.
Speaking of earbuds, I recently found some third-party ear buds that I think sound great! Smart Sound IQ by PNY Audio Labs cost me $40 at Fry’s Electronics. PNY Labs is a company that seems to take its users’ hearing very seriously. PNY’s mission is to protect listener’s hearing by providing “efficient dynamic range reproduction.” In other words, the better it sounds to begin with, the less likely you are to turn the volume up to unsafe levels. I have been using these in tandem with LouderLogic and I can only describe the result as having a high-fidelity ’70s turntable listening experience in my earbuds. A variety of earpieces are included, and they include a microphone with call control. In a word: exquisite. http://www3.pny.com/Categories/Headphones.aspx?Category_ID=513
Of course, you can always give the gift of music itself, and here’s my suggestion: Love This Giant, by David Byrne and St. Vincent. An inspired combination of art-smart lyrics, stabbing guitars, and playful funk grooves would have been enough for most artists (it certainly has served both artists well), but when you add the deeply complex and compelling horn-based arrangements featuring the Dap Kings Horns and you’ve got a record that sounds like no other in your or any others’ collection.
Whichever holidays you wish to celebrate, here’s hoping yours are full of music, family, and love. See you in 2013!
Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, singer, and songwriter. You are invited to give the gift of his music: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/seaholm-mackintosh/id529667551.