The Fretboard Journal’s 2014 Gift Guide for Guitarists

Let’s face it, as much as we’d all like to see a Loar-signed Gibson L-5 under our Christmas tree (the blinking lights would look so nice reflecting in the sunburst, don’t you think?), chances are it’s not going to happen. With that in mind, the FJ’s staff has handpicked some recent items that we think you’d love this holiday season. We’re assuming you like guitars, like to read (that’s how you found us, right?) and have a love for music. As always, there are no paid-for placements in this list… this is stuff we personally use and enjoy.

If we’ve left out one of your favorite gift ideas of 2014, don’t hesitate to put them in the comments section. The more, the merrier…

Elliott Tony Rice Signature Model capo

Ever the tinkerer, Tony Rice not only has a one-of-a-kind guitar (the legendary Martin D-28 formerly owned by Clarence White), he also has a pretty unique capo. Phill Elliott has recently unveiled a Tony Rice signature capo mimicing the original Tom McMickinny-built prototype that Tony has put to use for nearly three decades. Over the years, Tony subsequently hand bent the capo to fit old #58957 perfectly, making it even more custom than it was at inception. Only 1951 of these faithful reproductions – built to Tony’s exacting specs – will be built. At $235, these are pricey but the proceeds go to Tony himself (who can no longer perform due to illness). Available in four widths to accomodate most acoustic guitars. [Editor’s Note: This item is no longer available as of 2017.]

Bob Dylan, The Lyrics: Since 1962

Weighing in at over 13 pounds and 960 pages long, this epic tome gathers every lyric that Mr. Zimmerman has officially recorded and released. It also documents each variation Dylan’s songs have endured over the years. Edited by noted Dylan scholar / author Christopher Ricks, it’s supposedly the biggest book that Simon and Schuster has ever put out in its history. Cool? Yes. Necessary? Probably not. But it is the easiest way yet to prove to your neighbors that you’re the area’s biggest Dylan fanatic. (Amazon)

Vintage Rope Straps from Folkway Music  

Most of us have one (or several) vintage time capsules that have everything going for them: the mojo, the case candy, the tone, the smell. Well, if you’re cherished vintage guitar came with everything but an old school rope-style strap, Folkway Music in Canada has you covered. Folkway keeps a wide assortment of these ropes on hand, so call them ahead of time if your old parlor guitar is just screaming for a particular color palette. (855-772-0424,

Dick Boak’s C.F. Martin & Co: Images of America

Over the last few years, there has been no shortage of great reads regarding Martin guitars. What makes Dick Boak’s small tome stand out is that it goes beyond the guitars and models to give you a broad overview of life in Nazareth and the people behind the instruments. Like most every other release from Arcadia Publishing, this book is filled with never-before-seen vintage photographs with detailed captions. All-told, it’s a nice stocking stuffer for your favorite Martin aficionados. Don’t forget to check out the Fretboard Journal’s free Martin eBook anthology, too. (Amazon)

Deke Dickerson’s Strat in the Attic, Vol. Two 

Deke Dickerson’s stellar guitar playing is matched only by his amazing ability to collect cool instruments. In the Strat in the Attic, Volume 2, Dickerson shares even more tales of guitar “barn finds” and instrument lore (the first volume is also worth checking out). What makes Deke’s writing style unique is that he’s a real player, not just a hobbyist chasing famous musicians around. You believe him when he says that he was “more excited” to meet Buddy Merrill (of the Lawrence Welk Show fame) than any rock star. T.K. Smith, the builder/player profiled in the Fretboard Journal #32, even shares the find of a century: a Gretsch Duo Jet he bought at a thrift store for a mere 10 bucks. (Amazon)

Kathryn Marie Dudley’s Guitar Makers

A Yale Anthropology professor’s take on the culture of North America’s contemporary lutherie scene. It sounds academic (and often is) but author and scholar Kathryn Dudley interviewed so many key players in our little universe – from Richard Hoover (of SCGC) and Bob Taylor (of Taylor Guitars, of course) to Jeff Traugott and Judy Threet – and gathered so many interesting viewpoints that the fascinating tales abound. A monumental undertaking that explores all the kooky (and legendary) characters filling our magazine’s pages and the social factors that convinced them to make guitars in the first place. (Amazon)

Waterloo L-00 (X or ladder-braced) guitar 

Our eyes were glazed over at the 2014 NAMM Show by the time we saw Bill Collings unveil their new Waterloo line. Even in the fog machine haze of a mind-numbing trade show, we knew we were seeing (and hearing) something cool. Inspired by the cheap blues boxes built by Gibson’s budget Kalamazoo line, Collings has done the near impossible: they’ve built a American made, $2,000 guitar that sounds old and plays like new. Beware the extra chunky neck if you have small hands… it undoubtedly contributes to this guitar’s tone but may be a tough adjustment for some. Available at select Collings dealers in both ladder and x-braced versions including Dusty Strings, Folkway Music,, Gryphon, Elderly, Artisan Guitars and others. (

JS Bogdanovich Buzz-Off Fret Leveling Kit

John Bogdanovich not only builds fine classical guitars, he’s also a prolific lutherie instructor and parts fabricator. Bogdanovich’s Buzz-Off Fret Leveling Kit is a super simple way to get your hands dirty (though not that dirty) and breathe new life into a cheap guitar that needs a little TLC. There’s not much to this kit but it’s often exactly what the doctor ordered for a guitar that left the factory without the proper setup. (Amazon)

Lakota Leathers guitar straps

Kenny Bohling founded Lakota Leathers as a way to give back to the Lakota people of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Each strap is handmade on the reservation by craftspeople who have a rich history of working with leathers. Straps are available in Bison and Elk – the traditional materials of the Lakota people – and in various sizes / configurations. They are also craft mandolin and banjo straps. Even if there wasn’t a good cause behind these, the straps are so ridiculously soft and comfortable they’d be worth championing. (

Brian May, Brian May’s Red Special

There are books devoted to the instruments of Fender, Gibson and Martin. There are complete books about PRS and Taylor, resonator guitars, even the instruments of Paul Bigsby. Here, we have a thoughtful, comprehensive and beautiful book (144 pages long) about a single, one-off guitar – the Red Special that Queen guitarist Brian May built with his father in 1963. Nearly every aspect of this guitar is detailed – from the control knobs to the pickups to the inlay markers (which May cut from shirt buttons that his mother was saving at the time). Fascinating sidenotes abound and May’s casual prose is informative and entertaining (no small feat when you’re discussing the merits of pickguard material). Whether or not you’re a Queen fan, if you love electric guitars, you should check out this book. (Amazon)

Dan’s Stands

Yes, you can buy a guitar stand at Guitar Center that will do its job for the price of a few lattes. But Dan’s Stands are something else: solid wood, sturdy and downright elegant. In fact, these stands are so nice that your spouse may not even complain if your guitar somehow finds its way into the living room. Wool felt and velvet cradles won’t harm your acoustic guitar’s finish, no matter how delicate it may be. We’ve seen these stands in action at Dusty Strings in Seattle and, while not cheap, they’re about as good as it gets and will last for decades. Available in a variety of solid woods. (


Barry Mazor’s Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music

Spoiler alert: Ralph Peer – the larger-than-life figure behind the legendary “Bristol Sessions” – eventually leaves the South, gets a vacation house in Tahoe and collects rare camellias. He also lands the best bio treatment an individual could ask for in the deft hands of Barry Mazor. Long after those pivotal Jimmy Rodgers and Carter Family sessions, Peer rode the music industry wave as it reached maturity, helped popularize Latin American music and so much more. It’s hard to imagine how one guy could record Fiddlin’ John Carson in the ‘20s, publish “Georgia on My Mind” in the ‘30s and be around for the birth of rock & roll in the ‘50s, but Peer did all that and more. (Amazon)

2015 Blues Images Calendar

Every Fall, we look forward to seeing just what 78 album advertising gems collector John Tefteller has collected for his annual print calendar. As if producing the world’s coolest calendar weren’t enough, every year Tefteller also slips in a free CD of ultra-rare early blues tracks with each copy. The 2015 edition of Blues Images includes cuts from Memphis Minnie, Gus Cannon, Blind Lemon Jefferson and others and some truly great artwork. Read our interview with Tefteller from a few years back here. (

Taylor Holden Village GS Mini 

You’ve probably heard about select trees or forest groves being used for one-off custom made, high-end instruments. It’s far more unusual to know the exact origin of the wood that goes into a sub-$600 instrument. The Taylor Holden Village GS Mini features Englemann spruce that was harvested from Washington State’s remote Holden Village during a water remediation project. Taylor was able to keep the price down by offering a veneered back and sides. A nice little guitar that supports a good cause – clean water initiatives in the developing world. (

Bob Dylan, The Basement Tapes: Complete

The Basement Tapes were always an informal affair but this new, six-CD set reveals all of those missing outtakes and cuts Dylan and the Band recorded at Big Pink in their full glory. Moments of brilliance abound here along with plenty of loose one-offs but overall it’s just one big magical time capsule. In 2014, it’s hard to justify buying CDs let alone boxed sets. Getting The Basement Tapes: Complete made us glad to break our mp3 and vinyl rut. Simply some of the best, loosest and timeless Dylan moments ever captured. It was worth the wait. (Amazon)

Strymon Deco

One of the most anticipated (a 20-plus page thread on the Gear Page forums… and counting) pedals of 2014 has to be the Strymon Deco, a stombox that digitally replicates the effects of playing through an analog tape deck (not an Echoplex) with all that slap back, saturation, delay and even tape wobble found on your favorite recordings. It’s hours of fun without the hassle or upkeep of actually trying to procure and play through a reel-to-reel tape setup. The resulting tones are just the ticket for early country and rockabilly sounds but this pedal is also quite versatile in plenty of other settings. (

Les Blank, Always for Pleasure 

Documentary filmmaker Les Blank’s fourteen official films get a much-deserved Criterion reissue treatment with 2k restorations and improved audio. Guitarists will love this set for the features on Lightnin’ Hopkins (The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins) and Mance Lipscomb (A Well Spent Life) but the entire set is a glorious time capsule filled with great music, food and culture. Whether he’s celebrating Clifton Chenier, gap-toothed women or the magic of garlic (not to mention all that great music), Blank was the perfect, unobtrusive tour guide. (Amazon)


The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Volume Two 

Jack White’s Paramount Records project is not without a little controversy but one thing is indisputable: The glorious music recorded by Paramount during the 1920s and 1930s deserves to be heard by a wider audience. Volume Two delves further into the classic blues releases of Paramount and features all those seminal tracks recorded between 1928 and 1932, the years when Skip James, Charley Patton, Son House, Tommy Johnson, Willie Brown, King Solomon Hill, Geeshie Wiley & Elvie Thomas and the Mississippi Sheiks recorded. White is a master at packaging and this is no exception: included are six vinyl LPs, a USB drive with 800 tracks and two books, all housed in a polished aluminum cabinet that harkens back to an old record player. It’s a jaw-dropping set and one has to wonder if, even at $500 a box, White is making a dime off this labor of love. (Honorable mention if you like old-time music and early blues music: check out Dust-to-Digital’s Parchman Farm set as well as Lead Kindly Light, a collection of rare old-time music and antique photographs.) (

Carr Skylark amplfier

Can an amp be useful and, um, cute? The Skylark, Carr’s take on the venerable Fender Harvard, is seemingly both. It has a maximum of 12 watts but features a power attenuator that goes down to basically zero watts (1/100th), a low/high gain switch, reverb and more. The whole amp is housed in a solid yellow pine cabinet that is rugged enough for both a touring rig or studio sessions. About as versatile as an amp can be and your neighbors won’t even complain. (

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. (