Compiled by Megan Westberg and Stephanie Powell
The giving of gifts is a complicated undertaking. It isn’t only about the tastes of the recipient; there’s also the spirit of the gift to consider (practical or purely for fun?) as one balances the desire to find the perfect present with the restrictions of everyday life (budget, available space, etc.). And everyone knows a person who seems to have every single thing a human could want (if you don’t know this person, you might just be this person). We’ve compiled a list of string-related gifts to help you navigate this process, and, who knows, perhaps you’ll find a few things you’ll want add to your own list this holiday season!
For the Player Who Has Everything
It may be fun to go for the “gold” here for a violinist—as in making up a gift pack made entirely of gold-plated E strings for your giftee to try at his or her leisure. Strings are so utterly personal, and a player’s choices reflect his own style and the tonal needs of his particular instrument. But after establishing a preference, a player can always be seeking out better tone by occasionally tweaking the formula. Fortunately, mostE strings are relatively affordable, and making them gold adds a little festive flair. (Unless this person already has a marked preference that precludes ever using a gold E string; in that case, perhaps go for a set of unwound gut like the Pirastro Chorda—there’s a tonal shift!)
Here are a few strings to consider including in your gift pack: Thomastik-Infeld Dominant gold-plated E string (gold-plated chrome steel) or Infeld “Red” (gold-plated chrome steel); Pirastro Oliv or Obligato (gold-plated chrome steel), or Evah Pirazzi (gold-plated carbon steel).
Thinking big? Try small. Try small and personal. Most string players have an all-time violin hero. Find out who it is and seek out something he or she has signed. Now, if it’s Heifetz, a signature will unfortunately be well outside of this price range, but if it’s Zino Francescatti, for example, a signed card with his photo can be had for $216 on historyforsale.com (leaving enough for a frame). Stéphane Grappelli, Fritz Kreisler, Nathan Milstein, David Oistrakh, Lionel Tertis, the Amadeus Quartet, Mstislav Rostropovich: The possibilities are vast. There’s a lot of personality in a signature, from Francescatti’s elegant scrawl to Kreisler’s hurried scribble. It may be small, but a framed artist or composer signature will undoubtedly occupy a place of pride in your giftee’s studio, creating a more personal connection to the human behind the instrument he or she played so magnificently.
In this price range, feel free to think big. Maybe really big—like 6,771 pages and 110 pounds worth of big. German musician, historian, and instrument dealer Jost Thöne has published an exquisite reference to the work of Antonio Stradivari in eight volumes (vols. I–IV in 2010 and vols. V–VIII in 2016). He and his team studied and photographed 300 of the master’s surviving instruments, providing photos at a 1:1 scale (including the cellos). Each instrument is placed within the historical context of Stradivari’s work, with information about interesting previous owners and price histories. The volumes also include the results of dendrochronological studies, in certain cases tracing instruments back to a single tree or changing previously accepted dates of completion. The set includes a DVD documenting all of the instruments’ dimensions as well as presenting some CT scans. There are also audio files available of great players providing examples of what each instrument sounds like.
It is a set for the true connoisseur, the player who seemingly has it all. And at €4,300, it would certainly represent a most impressive gift.
For a Beginner
For the wide-eyed beginning string player in your life who still lights up at the thought of practicing scales, the options really are quite endless. It’s likely he or she hasn’t acquired much more than the basics: the instrument itself, a bow, a case, and a stick of rosin. Learning to navigate one’s instrument is critical—and tuning can certainly prove to be a hurdle in the beginning. Wrapping up a set of Thomastik-Infeld’s Alphayue easy-to-tune strings offer players a mix of basic playability, response, and tone for an affordable price. A 4/4 size set rings in at $22.99 on sharmusic.com.
If selecting strings seems too personal or too soon, practice-room basics are always a safe bet: Why not liven up the practice space with a K&M rainbow music stand ($21.99 on guitarcenter.com) or provide a few easy pieces from his or her favorite movie? Or you could invest in a tuner, like a D’Addario Planet Waves NS Micro Violin Tuner ($14.99) or a Snark Clip-on Super Right Chromatic Tuner ($16.99). Tuning and intonation will be a focus from now on, so having a tool like this will undoubtedly come in handy.
Beginners will be spending a lot of time in the practice room, no doubt. What could be a better gift than some art to liven up the space? A quartet of musicians made of brass and iron—like the one on themusicstand.com for $129.99—could be the perfect window adornment to transform a former office into a home studio. A portrait or painting of a favorite composer could also add some pizazz and cred to the practice room. Wayfair’s gold-framed oil painting print of Ludwig van Beethoven ($219.99) is a nice place to start.
Another treat for a beginner? Help him or her become versed in more than one style. It’s likely the beginner will already have weekly lessons with a teacher in person. But while he or she is focusing on covering classical basics and scales in class, the gift of online lessons in another musical style could keep the novice’s passion burning. Online fiddle lessons with Darol Anger through ArtistWorks ($105 for three months) offer time with a master in that musical dialect with direct video feedback. Make sure you run this gift by his or her current teacher, however, to make sure the two methods will be compatible at this early stage.
For the beginner who just can’t seem to put his or her instrument down, it might be fair to consider upgrading some major gear. An entry-level bow can do the trick when tackling repertoire than spans from “Jingle Bells” to the “Flintstones Theme Song,” but once he or she is ready to dive into the classics, it might be time to consider a bow upgrade. A new bow can work wonders with tone, and trading up for a Brazilian pernambuco bow could be the missing piece of the puzzle that your string player needs to find his or her voice in the music. Companies like Horst John offer bows for as little as $349.99 (frankandcamilleswest.com).
For a Teacher
Most teachers have an established method, a progression of lessons, music, études, and exercises that they feel comfortable navigating with their students as they progress. But since every student is different, and great teachers are always interested in new ideas, why not give the teacher in your life a new étude book? You could choose something that might add a new stylistic approach, like Aaron Minsky’s Ten American Cello Études (Oxford University Press), an in-depth approach to beloved repertoire, like Cassia Harvey’s The Bach Cello Suite No. 1 Study Book (C. Harvey Publications), or a more general approach to the instrument, like Amit Peled’s The First Hour, A Cellist’s Daily Technical Regimen (CTM Classics). The exercises may help solve a problem, or may just serve as sources of fresh inspiration.
Teachers are valued in the string community at any stage of a players’ development; it is one of the rare disciplines where adults and children alike go to regular lessons. And because of the many skill levels and types of players each teacher is charged with guiding, it can be helpful to find a place where the teachers themselves can gather, swap ideas, and get inspired. The American String Teachers Association (ASTA) is just such an organization, and sponsoring a teacher’s membership for a year ($116, which includes a subscription to ASTA Journal, its quarterly publication) might be a wonderful way to support the career of the teacher in your life. You could pair it with subscriptions to other resources (this one included) or an iTunes gift card. Music, reading material, and camaraderie: What could be better?
Show the teacher in your life you think he or she deserves a decadent night out. After all, teachers are the people who wrangle with less-than-perfect intonation while trying to unlock a student’s own true voice all day long. If anyone deserves some pampering, it’s this person. A card with a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant and two tickets to an upcoming performance will signal your appreciation of his or her ongoing efforts. It’s a nice thing to do for a hardworking teacher who spends a lot of time doing things for others.
For an Electric Player
For the electric player who wants to steal the show (and overpower that guitar solo), Mark Wood’s Rockin’ Strings: Violin Improv Lessons & Tips for the Contemporary Player ($12.99 on amazon.com) might be the perfect gift. The method book focuses on improvisation and helps players let out their inner rockstar. It comes complete with accompanying jam tracks that allow the player to feel like he or she’s playing along with a band.
And if he’s playing an electric, he probably feels ready to rock ’n’ roll at all times. Even past his apartment’s noise-restriction ordinances. Pick up a pair of Audio-Technica M20x Closed-back Monitoring Headphones so he can plug in and play at any hour. Available on sweetwater.com for $49.99.
Every electric player needs an amp—after the instrument and bow, the amp is key. If you’re looking to spoil the electric player in your life, set her up with a starter amp like Roland’s Mobile Cube ($179.99) or Boss’ Katana 50 Combo Amplifier with effects ($219.99), both available on electricviolinshop.com. While you’re at it, purchasing a few pedals never hurt. Boss’ FV-500H Volume Pedal ($109.99) and Boss’ GE-7 Graphic Equalizer Pedal ($119.99)—also available on electricviolinshop.com—are a combo made in heaven. The Graphic Equalizer in particular covers seven bands of EQ, and allows players to control their tone and eliminate unwanted feedback.
Tired of lugging around sheet music? It’s so 1999 and bad for your back. Bring the electric player in your life into the 21st century with the latest iPad mini ($299.99, available at bestbuy.com). The iPad can store countless scores and also house a variety of music-related apps, from tuners to sight-reading practice tools. Ready for a slam dunk? Let your player’s voice be heard with a new mic. The iSolo Choice mic comes complete with a new receiver that maximizes capability and performance. From a single pad, the player can control preamp, EQ, and effects. The cardioid mic is installed inside its housing, which allows the player to place the transmitter near an F-hole for focused tone and minimized feedback. It’s also able to connect directly to an amp, effects pedals, or a mixing console. Available on cloudvocal.com for $499.
This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Strings magazine.