The Fretboard Journal 2020 Gift Guide

Oh dear! Less than a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas! Not even two weeks until Hanukkah! That’s 2020 for you, innit? If you’re like us, every little bit of help we’ve had this year has been appreciated, if not celebrated. We’ve been doing what we can for the Fretboard Journal community, so putting together a 2020 edition of our annual Gift Guide seems like the least we can do. Here’s a rundown of some fun ideas in a variety of price ranges, with an eye toward keeping us all happy and productive at home. We’d also like to suggest looking for ways to support your favorite creators (our #FJFest: Lessons, etc. post is a good place to start); it could be a fun way to help others while helping yourself.

Have any other great gift ideas from 2020? Let us know and we’ll try to add them to the list.

El Pato-Tone Mini Amp

If you’ve listened to our Truth About Vintage Amplifiers podcast you probably know about the power of El Pato, the miraculous hot tomato sauce that gets discussed often as much as grid plate voltages and three-prong cords, but did you know that the podcast inspired Deluxe Amplification to build tiny amps out of El Pato cans? They’re wee screamers, for sure, and a heck of a lot of fun. Act fast, as he’s limited his run to 200 or so units… and he’s nearly sold out.





Boss WAZA-Air

Stuck at home with unappreciative cohabitants? Is even a wee amplifier too much? Boss has introduced this neat wireless guitar headphones system that incorporates a whole mess of neat features from other Boss products in a nice little isolation booth of one’s own. There are five different virtual amps and a host of programmable effects accessed via the Boss Tone Studio app.


Apollo Solo

Noodling at home grown old? Have you taken the home recording leap? Universal Audio offers a step up from some of the most basic interfaces out there, updating and rebranding their Arrow interface to the Apollo Solo. The Solo is an easy way to get your feet wet and access UA’s impressive unison plugins and their LUNA recording system, if you’re thinking about upping your game a bit.

Neumann TLM 102

And what’s the next step, if you’ve already upgraded your setup? Maybe it’s time to dip your toe in the waters of fancy microphones. It’s entirely too easy to fall down the rabbit hole here, because there are so many ways to go about choosing the microphones for a home recording setup. Our new go-to at home is this most basic of Neumann large diaphragm microphones, the TLM 102. It’s a relatively easy way to get that Neumann sound, and it’s almost absurdly versatile, even in its simplicity — it sounds great on acoustic guitars, amps, vocals, in the room… — plus it’s kinda adorable.

JHS Pedals 3 Series

Ever get a jones for the generic “BEER” they had back in the day? Is it wrong that the new line of “budget” pedals reminds us of those glory days? The JHS 3 Series includes (in alphabetical order) a chorus, compressor, delay, distortion, fuzz, overdrive and reverb, all of which retail for under $100 each. As JHS puts it, “The JHS Pedals 3 Series is a collection of pedals designed to give you affordability and simplicity without compromising quality.” We’ve always been a fan of what they do, so it’s cool to see them taking this approach in a world where pedals seem to be growing more and more complicated, and expensive.

Jeff Tweedy’s How to Write One Song

Love playing music but absolutely terrified at the prospect of writing a song? Let Jeff Tweedy be your coach with How to Write One Song. In 158 easy-to-grasp pages, the Wilco frontman demystifies his songwriting process, his favorite inspiration hacks, how he overcomes his inner critic, and more. And, somehow, it works… reading the book, it’s impossible not to hear Tweedy’s comforting voice in your head, walking you through the steps, helping you find your inner songwriter. A great stocking stuffer that, if followed, will actually yield an original tune or two.

Box Sets

Box sets are always a good gift idea, right? Every year there’s something cool getting reissued or celebrating some significant anniversary. Plus, you probably didn’t get every box set you wanted last year, right? Top of our list this year is the massive reissue of Tom Petty’s seminal Wildflowers album, Wildflowers and All the Rest, but we’re also keen on the collection of early and unreleased material from Joni Mitchell, Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967), and, getting back to those generic BEER days, Bob Mould’s Distortion: 1989-1995.

John Stubbings’ The Devil Is In it


There are plenty of limited edition guitar photography books out there, but last year British author John Stubbings created a thoroughly unique collectible: A private press, slipbound-cased book that is equal parts history lesson, art book and memoir. Stubbings’ edition may not be filled with lavish photos but it does have original art from FJ contributor Drew Christie and his writings on the modern lutherie movement are both informative and, at times, hilarious. Order it here.

Danny Barnes Original Art


The music that banjo experimenter/singer-songwriter Danny Barnes creates is nothing short of amazing. The last time he visited our offices, we got a glimpse of even more Barnes brilliance: he quickly improvised a pen-and-ink sketch that has adorned our walls ever since. Now Danny has his own Etsy store, constantly being updated with comics, original art, music and other surprises. To date, he’s released art celebrating John Hartford, Skip James and other legends, plus a lot more. Banjos not your thing? Another genius musician, Darol Anger, is selling “artisanal” violin mutes out of clothespins. We don’t even play the violin and we want one.

Frank Ford’s Franks Cranks


Truth be told: You can get a string winder that costs less than a drip coffee at Starbucks. It’ll be plastic and could break at any time, though it’ll probably do the job just fine. But how about owning a winder that will outlive you, hand-built by a lutherie legend? Gryphon Strings co-founder Frank Ford has been making “Frank’s Cranks” for the last few years, featuring a variety of color schemes and sizes (handles range from exotic wood to bowling ball-inspired acrylics). They are over-engineered works of art that make the most mundane we all regularly do (changing strings) feel like a ceremony of sorts… and they double nicely as fidget spinners for guitar collectors in the know. Try one and you’ll never go back to the disposable winders from overseas. P.S.: Don’t forget to listen to our Luthier on Luthier Podcast interview with Ford here.

A Fretboard Journal Gift Subscription


And of course, we didn’t have to think too hard to come up with this one. The Fretboard Journal is the print magazine 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. Subscribe here.

Not enough? You can always check last year’s Gift Guide,or the year before’s, or the year before’s, or the year before’s, or maybe there’s a Catch of the Day that will fit under your tree…