Christmas Gift Guide 2020
Updated: Dec 6, 2020
Hey everybody! Tis the season for holiday cheer. That time of the year is upon us again, where you’ll inevitably be asked to get a gift for the guitar obsessed among us. Lucky for you, I’ve broken down a great list of cool stuff that your guitar-playing family member, friend, or significant other will actually use and, more importantly, help them sound better at playing guitar! The best part is most of these aren’t expensive and will do wonders for your loved one’s guitar tone! Get the guitarist you know a gift they will actually use!
Strings: This is maybe the single most crucial thing every guitar player you know needs. All of us have suffered in the past from sticking with a particularly bad set of old strings just because we don’t want to get to the store for fresh strings. Strings can age and dull for a variety of reasons. Mostly, time, sweat, and natural oils from our hands corrode the metal around the string and cause the strings on your guitar to sound dull, lifeless, and dead. Find out what gauge strings your loved one plays and get them a few sets. Write them a kind note reminding them to change their strings, at the very least, once a month. You’ll notice how much better, fuller, brighter your loved one’s guitar sounds. As for what brand to buy, I always say you can’t go wrong with DR Blues. DR has been making traditional round core guitar strings since 1989, and I happen to think they are the best sounding guitar string in the market. I’ve been using them since 09’ and don’t plan on switching anytime soon. They are pure nickel wrapped strings that are wrapped around a round core. This is the OLD SCHOOL way of making guitar strings, and it isn’t the least expensive method, but it merely creates a better string that delivers on better guitar tone. They have much more low-end clarity and thump than other brands, and also have much more sustain, which is integral to bending and soloing on the electric guitar. DR Strings are made in the U.S. with the finest materials. Most importantly once I made the switch, I stopped feeling like I was trying to play guitar and just was able to play effortlessly. I also stopped breaking guitar strings when I do large bends, which I did on a bi-weekly basis previously. They work for a wide range of styles, evidenced in their endorsement roster, including Derek Trucks, Victor Wooten, Gerard Butler from Black Sabbath, and Melissa Etheridge. Mitchakes Music is a DR Strings dealer, so contact us about buying a year’s supply of strings as a gift for your guitar player in your family! It will undoubtedly be the most loved gift you can give this year! *DR Blues $7 a pack. They are sold by the case by request.
Best Accessory: The EBow: The EBow is a handheld electronic bow designed for the experimental guitarist. If you’ve ever heard the superb solo in “Dazed and Confused” by Led Zeppelin, you’ve listened to what using a violin bow can do for your playing. With the EBow, get all the bow fun without ruining any horsehair in the process! The battery-powered EBow allows guitarists to imitate horn sounds, strings, or other instrumentation with infinite sustain and dynamics. They are starting at $99.
String Stretcha: this is arguably the most ingenious use of plastic since take-out sporks. The String Stretcha solves a genuine guitar problem from changing guitar strings by allowing the player to stretch new strings after putting them on evenly. Why do you need to stretch new guitar strings? Well, fresh strings haven’t had the opportunity to get used to the tension on your guitar, so usually, you have to play them for a few days for them to stretch out and stay in tune. The problem with playing them for a few days is losing the fresh, comfortable feeling just to keep in tune. But with the String Stretcha, you can even stretch each guitar string, so they lock in tune immediately after changing them, without losing the brand-new string feel. I’ve been using this product every other week since I’ve bought it, and it has made an enormous difference in my tone. Plus, at $15, it makes a great small gift or stocking stuffer!
Dunlop 65 Guitar Polish and Cleaner: All that guitar playing can make a guitar super dirty. Get your loved one some superior cleaner to get through the grime. I recommend Dunlop 65 Polish and Cleaner. It’s safe for any type of guitar finish, including nitrocellulose lacquer, which can sometimes get ruined by certain cleaners on the market. Just spray a little onto a microfiber cloth or an old t-shirt, and wipe away all that sweat, old fingerprints, dirt, and Cheeto prints. Remember, a little goes a long way. Your guitar will look like it’s brand new!
Give the Gift of Setups: This is a gift you probably haven’t thought of, but it will make a massive difference in your loved one’s guitar tone. Give them the gift of a professional guitar setup. Guitars are very finicky beasts. They react to changes in seasons and changes in temperature, and as such, can start playing a bit off. Intonation can suffer and go out of tune, string height can change, pickups can lower and need adjusting, etc. Setups are something I recommend doing at the minimum twice a year to keep your guitar in top playing condition. As for where to take your instrument, I recommend the Texas Guitar Workshop in Whitewright, TX. Kenny Kranzow is the best guitar tech in Dallas, Fort Worth, and was a close friend of Stevie Ray Vaughan. He has been repairing my instruments for years, and his setups are as good as it gets. Setups are $50 on average (more if your guitar has a Floyd Rose bridge) and will let you give the gift of a perfect playing guitar! Need a more personalized delivery service while you’re playing guitar in quarantine? Tyler Carrera Kenny’s senior tech also does curbside pickup and delivery for his setups during quarantine! Give him a call!
Upgrade Your Cables: I love to harp on everyone getting high-quality audio cables to move your signal effectively from your guitar to your amplifier. Most players will spend tons of money to get the perfect guitar and amplifier combination for them but use the cheapest cables to connect everything. That kills your guitar tone! Using poorly made audio cables will deliver a low signal to your amplifier. It will have a tone with reduced bass, thin treble, and injected noise into your sound. Upgrading to high-quality audio cables will make a HUGE difference in your overall guitar tone. Low bass will sound more transparent and defined, the treble will sound less harsh, and there will be no buzz, hum, or other unwanted noise in your playing. Ensure the cable you look at is shielded, has suitable connectors, and uses a high quality sourced cable. I prefer Sabre Cable from Austin, Texas. Sabre Cable owner Matt Tapp makes the highest quality audio cables designed for studio use by professional players. I have used them exclusively since 2009 and don’t plan on switching anytime soon. Cables start at $40, so invest in some high-quality cables for your loved one!
The Perfect Leather Strap: Make your guitar look as good as possible with a custom leather guitar strap from Christian Brooks, DFW’s finest leather smith. Christian Brooks made Stevie Ray Vaughan’s iconic “SRV” guitar strap for Stevie in the 1980s, and Stevie wore it on his Number One Stratocaster until his untimely passing. Christian has also made straps for B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Kenny Wayne Shepard, Billy Gibbons, John Mayer, and Buddy Guy, just to name a few. I have several of Christian’s guitar straps, and I use them every day when I pick up my instruments to play. They look fantastic, and most importantly, they are measured to fit me personally! No more struggling to adjust a guitar strap at a gig or in the studio! Christian’s straps are unique works of art that you get to play with! All straps are made custom to the buyer. Straps start at $100 and increase in price depending on materials used and the design you have in mind for your ultimate strap! These are made to last a lifetime! I’ve bought three this year for some new guitars! My Tiger striped ES335 strap Christian custom-designed is incredible!
Strap Locks: If you’re going to invest in giving the gift of a perfect guitar strap make sure you buy Strap Locks to hold your new strap to your guitar. Too often as the leather wears, the holes that go through your strap buttons will stretch, and your guitar could potentially fall out and get damaged. Strap locks are a touring solution for keeping a guitar strapped to the player as they rock around a stage. They install through the holes on your strap and then lock to the guitar's strap buttons. Invest in a set of Schaller strap locks. They only release if you pull the button on the lock when removing your strap from your guitar. Meaning there is no accidental way your instrument will be falling precariously to the ground. Do not buy Dunlop Strap Locks. They can release unintentionally, and you’ll risk your guitar taking a nasty fall!
My Favorite Music App of 2020-AmpliTube: AmpliTube is beloved by guitarists of all ages for its simple, accessible design and creative layout. The AmpliTube app is much more of a professional recording studio with realistic recreations of famous guitar gear that can be accessed by iOS users with a drag and drop approach. The primary application is free to iOS users, but the creative expansion pack will cost you a few dollars on the App Store. AmpliTube has a wealth of effect pedal simulations such as distortions, overdrives, chorus, delays, wah-wahs, octaves, etc., as well as five different cabinet simulations, amplifiers, and two different microphones to blend your sound. It’s safe to say that they have the sound you’ve been looking for built-in. It does take a fair amount of guitar gear knowledge to dial in the right sound quickly you’re looking for, but then again, what doesn’t.
Reading Material- Stompbox the Book!: If you’re a stompbox effect freak like me, then Stompbox the Book is a no brainer Xmas gift. Stompbox the Book showcases hundreds of actual effects pedals used and made famous by popular guitarists. From Jimi Hendrix’s authentic Fuzz Face to Dimebag Darrell’s original effects from Pantera, just about everything is well represented here, with high-resolution photos of each piece, with anecdotes from players who used them. Starting at $99.
Guitar Album of the Year-H.E.R. “Hold On”: Not much musically in 2020 resonated with me. This hasn’t been the year of discovering so much new music, simply because I haven’t seen any live due to the pandemic. However, when I was privileged to see H.E.R. perform live on SNL this fall, I was immediately hooked. Not only does she have the coolest signature Stratocaster I’ve ever seen, but H.E.R. also has Prince-like guitar chops to boot. Check out her wailing on her new single “Hold On”!
Pedal Picks of the Year:
Old School: Uni-Vibes. The effect I’ve been playing the most in quarantine 2020 is the humble Uni-Vibe. Whenever the news or the isolation gets too heavy, I just like to play a little Uni-Vibe for an hour. the Uni-vibe is a phase shifter that adds a beautiful, shimmering, pulsing tone to your guitar playing. Think “Breathe” by Pink Floyd if you’re trying to get the sound of a pulsing Uni-Vibe in your mind! There is a multitude of Vibe clones out there worth your time. Dunlop currently makes the official branded “Uni-Vibe” reissues for $129. There are also a wealth of boutique builders that make great-sounding clones, from the Fulltone Deja Vibe to Prescription Electronics Vibe Unit; however, if you want the mojo that busts your wallet wide open, check out the Shin-Ei Vibe-Bro. Built with NOS original Uni-Vibe parts from the original Shin-Ei runs of the early 1970s, the new Vibe-Bro uses the same preamp as the original vintage Shin-Ei Vibes for that crystal clear vintage tone. They also included a few modern options like the ability to switch out of the vintage pre-amp and go true bypass. The Vibe-Bro is undoubtedly my favorite but watch out the price tag is a high one at $700, $1000 if you want the original foot controller like the original Uni-Vibes!
New School: Universal Audio’s Ox Box Attenuator and Speaker Emulator and App. Okay, I know this isn’t exactly a pedal, but the Universal Audio Ox is single-handedly the best thing I’ve played this year. You may have read my more-than-enthused review in previous Tone Talk Blog installments. The Ox is a revolutionary guitar product designed to help guitarists get the best sound out of their tube amps with easily understood attenuated volume control and speaker emulation. The Ox also has a Wifi Hotspot built into the unit so you can take control of your Ox' speaker emulation and send it out to your front of house engineer at a live show. If you have a recording interface at home, the Ox can connect directly to any recording interface with a SPDIF cable for speakerless recording. Combined with the Ox app for iOS and Android, you can mix your guitar sound further with Universal Audio’s studio live room emulation, with up to three mic options, as well as cabinet simulations. Presets on the app feature a well-balanced treasure trove of famous guitar sounds you can go through with a touch of your finger. The Ox Box is a hefty investment, but if you’re already got a recording interface, the investment pays off the first time you can record silently at 2:00 am. without waking up your family or the neighbors. Priced $1299.