The Fretboard Journal 2016 Gift Guide

Every year, our editors try to curate some new gift ideas for musicians you won’t find anywhere else. Over the years, we’ve featured guitars, books, CDs, straps, calendars, effects pedals and other products. None are paid placements – this is just stuff we love and use ourselves. With that in mind, here are our 2016 gift ideas for guitarists, mandolinists or banjo players (or just FJ readers). Our focus this year was on affordable items that will stand the test of time. Have any other great gift ideas from 2016? Let us know and we’ll try to add them to the list.


DRS Guitar Racks

When your guitars start numbering in the handful, nice stands are hard to find. Sure, if your couch is big enough, what’s to worry? If it isn’t, luckily for you, Dennis Kauer (of Kauer Guitars) also manufactures some lovely, functional and stackable guitar racks under the DRS Racks moniker. These racks are built of bamboo, right there in Sacramento, California, provide sturdy storage for seven to 14 guitars (did we mention they’re stackable?) and look good enough to get the collection out of the closets and into the family room.


Grand Complications, Grit Laskin 

If you’re a fan of the modern lutherie movement, you undoubtedly know all about the legendary maker / inlay artist, Grit Laskin. We’ve covered him in our magazine before (our feature on Grit is in issue #34). With his latest book, we get a glimpse into the mind of the maker himself, the choices he makes when he takes on a custom inlay order, the challenges each commission poses and a lot more. There is of course tons of eye candy of finished guitars, too. A great read.



Grace Design FELiX  

We took a close look at Grace Design’s FELiX instrument preamp in a Hands On column earlier this year. It’s a serious piece of gear, taking a hardcore audiophile, two-channel approach to covering all the bases for acoustic instruments. It sounds great, of course, but it might be a bit much, which is probably why they offer the single-channel ALiX preamp, a slightly less expensive option that might fit in a stocking…


The Martin Archives: A Scrapbook of Treasures from the World’s Foremost Acoustic Guitar Maker, Jim Washburn with Dick Boak 

Music historian and FJ contributor Jim Washburn scoured the Martin Guitar archives (with the help of Dick Boak) and uncovered an overwhelming trove of rarely seen tidbits documenting the company’s 183-year history in word, image and artifact. Comprehensive and illuminating, this book uncovers wonders on every page, from every imaginable perspective, invoices to thank you notes. It’s hard not to call this a “must have” for the Martin Guitar enthusiasts among us, and we know there are a few of you out there.


Washington Phillips and his Manzarene Dreams

Haunting, weird, wonderful and mesmerizing, the music of 1920s gospel singer Washington Phillips is like a drug to a parallel universe. His music has been covered by Ry Cooder and many others, but no one can match the sounds of his voice and his homemade zither creation (hear about it on the Fretboard Journal podcast #126). Dust-to-Digital recently released this book-CD package (it comes as a vinyl edition, too), which boasts the best remastering we’ve heard to date of these classic 78 recordings. The liner notes – penned by Michael Corcoran – are the real draw here, though. Corcoran uncovers details to Phillips’ life (and death) that were previously unknown. A classic.

00l-17-whiskey-sunsetMartin 17 Series Guitars

Martin’s 17 series of retro-leaning guitars might seem like a radical departure for the company, but these light, resonant instruments nestle as comfortably into Martin’s lineup as they do into your eager hands. The 17s are offered in 000 and 14- and 12-fret 00 models, with sunburst (“Whiskey Sunset”) or black satin finishes, with or without a built-in Fishman Matrix VT Enhance™ pickup. These easy-playing instruments, with slim oval “select hardwood” necks, rosewood fingerboards and bridges, Sitka tops, mahogany backs and sides, bone nuts, Tusq saddles and Golden Age tuners, are vibey from the get-go.



Shure MV88

Are you an iOS user? Have you been taking advantage of Music Memos to make quick recordings? Do you get bummed out because the mics on your iPhone/iPad fail to capture the sweet perfection of your honey-drippin’ tone? Shure’s got the answer – a nifty little stereo condenser mic that plugs right into the Lightning port on your mobile device and does a much better job of capturing your audio. Not for nothing, but we noticed Julian Lage recording his set with his phone and an MV88 not too long ago…


Wood, Sweat and Tears (Extended) – More guitars and times of Roger Bucknall

It’s only been a couple of years since Fylde Guitars’ Roger Bucknall published the first edition of The Fylde Book, but Roger saw fit to dig back in and produce a new, extended edition that includes pretty much all of the first book while expanding and updating to the tune of nearly twice the content. We’re talking about some primo guitar porn, here, plus stories from artists, insight into processes and more of the behind-the-scenes info that we know Fretboard Journal readers love.


G7th Heritage Capo

Yeah, we’re the kind of folks who get excited about capos. Aren’t you? Right around the time of this year’s Fretboard Summit we started hearing about the new G7th Heritage capo from some of our favorite guitar players. As the “Heritage” part suggests, these are decidedly Old School mechanisms, in the finest sense, built in the “traditional yoke-style,” with the refinements you might recognize from G7ths other capos (particularly the Newport). Unless you’re in the UK or Europe, it’s too late to order one of the fancy engraved versions for Christmas delivery, but there’s nothing wrong with plain, neither.


Fire-Eye Bright-Eye

We took a look at Fire-Eye’s Red-Eye Twin instrument preamplifier in a Hands On column this year. Like the FELiX, it’s an excellent preamp, but to mix things up a bit we’re going to point you at Fire-Eye’s clean boost pedal, the Bright-Eye. It’s essentially the boost feature of their preamps, in a neat little box, one knob, a footswitch and a little high-end rolloff switch. Lots of (quiet) boost, just what Santa ordered.


For a while there it looked like this whole resurgence of vinyl was something you could set aside as For Hipsters Only, but it’s starting to look like something even responsible adults are getting into. Not only are labels getting serious about high quality reissues, but just about all of our favorite releases this year are available on delicious 12” vinyl. Don’t think of this as anything like the Fretboard Journal’s year-end “Best of” list, but here are a few records we’d be happy to find under the tree:

  • Nels Cline, Lovers – See Issue 37.
  • Margaret Glaspy, Emotions and MathDitto.
  • Billy Bragg and Joe Henry, Shine a Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad – Finding high concept in seemingly low places, Billy Bragg and Joe Henry crafted one of 2016’s most affecting releases.
  • The Time Jumpers, Kid Sister – Nashville’s finest gave us a great record and a touching tribute to former member Dawn Sears, who passed away in December of 2014.
  • Julian Lage, Arclight – Julian’s tasty Tele-centric trio record is an impeccable vibefest.
  • Sara Watkins, Young In All The Wrong Ways – Sara Watkins seems to truly come into herself with her latest solo release.
  • Bill Frisell, When You Wish Upon a Star – C’mon! It’s Bill!
  • My Bubba, Big Bad Good – My Bubba impressed the heck out of us when they stopped by the office last month. This tiny bit of chamber folk-pop is quiet and lovely and all too well-suited to the season.
  • David Crosby, Lighthouse – Alongside an interesting crop of collaborators, including producer Michael League of Snarky Puppy and singers Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis, The Cros delivers what might be his finest work since the seminal If I Could Only Remember My Name.
  • Jeff Parker, The New Breed – Jeff Parker is one of our favorite guitar players, quietly building one of the finest bodies of work in modern jazz. Consider this one our sleeper pick.


A Fretboard Journal subscription

You didn’t think we’d leave this out, did you? The FJ is a print magazine meant for the rest of us: filled with long-form articles, exclusive photographs and stories you can’t find anywhere else. We print each issue to the industry’s highest standards but – even more importantly – we get you behind-the-scenes with some of your favorite builders and players. Choose from either a four or eight-issue subscription. We guarantee you’ll love it.