From homegrown guitar pedals to nerd-approved games, these Christmas music gifts are great for giving and receiving

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      The only thing worse than giving underwear, compact discs, or tickets to Céline Dion for Christmas is having to put on a fake-grateful smile when you receive them as gifts. Save everyone some embarrassment and disappointment by either wrapping up—or hinting that you’d really love—one of the following music-related gifts.


      Whether you classify this quirky Japanese product as a legitimate instrument or a novelty for kids, you can’t deny that it’s pretty damn adorable. A quick search on YouTube will tell you that, yes, you can actually use the Otamatone to play songs. (There’s a highly entertaining version of a-ha’s “Take on Me” that’s worth hearing.) If, on the other hand, you stick this under the tree for a child with no musical experience (or talent) to speak of, here’s hoping you have also stocked up on earplugs, because you will be hearing a lot of electronic cacophony before anything resembling a coherent melody emerges. As one Amazon reviewer astutely observed: “Buy it as a gift to a different household, if you care about your sanity.” (


      One of the greatest things about Union Tube & Transistor is how the company isn’t interested in declaring itself the best thing this side of Bob Mould’s guitar sound on Zen Arcade. Go to the company’s Facebook page, and the “About” description simply reads: “We are pedal makers in East Vancouver BC Canada.” Things aren’t any more flowery or expansive on its minimalist website, where the manifesto states: “We strive for best practices in our building of musical equipment, pursuing ease of use in durable, repairable products.” But even though Union Tube & Transistor doesn’t exactly tout its own brilliance, those who’ve discovered its pedals are more than happy to trumpet the company’s genius. Jack White loves Union so much he had the company custom-design the Bumble Buzz guitar pedal for his Third Man Records. Those for whom there’s no such thing as too much distortion will spend a couple of hours trying to decide whether to opt for the Beelzebuzz or the Tsar Bomba fuzz, while anyone who’s ever wondered how to get the sound that made Rory Gallagher famous can head straight for the Crackle. (


      Guitarists are a lot of things—talented, clever, and irresistible come to mind—but they aren’t necessarily the most organized bunch. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with a guitar that sees a lot of use. Knobs will come loose, necks will need to be set, and action will need to be adjusted. Each one of these things will require a different tool, and unless your favourite axe-slinger has a penchant for Batman-style utility belts, it’s highly unlikely they’ll have each one of those tools within reach when they need it. The Ibanez MTZ11 combines 11 tools in one handy chassis, including hex wrenches, screwdrivers, a tube spanner, and a ruler. It’s the perfect size to stick in a stocking, a guitar case, or a Batman-style utility belt. (


      As well as things worked out for Slash, Jimmy Page, and Tom Morello, the guitar seems like entirely too much work for those raised in an age when EDM and hip-hop are king. As a result, there’s no sense giving anyone a sunburst Gibson Les Paul when all the cool kids are more interested in becoming the next deadmau5 or Travis Scott. Enter the Korg Volca, a shoebox-size analogue bass synth that’ll have you creating the most classic bass lines this side of Skrillex’s “First of the Year (Equinox)” or Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day”. The big selling point is the unit’s size and portability, which let you dream up and mix loops while riding the bus, chilling in a cabin, or lounging in the bathtub. All right, that last suggestion is kind of stupid, but not as stupid as all the time you wasted trying to learn “Louie Louie” on the guitar. (


      Despite what your Gen Z nieces and nephews might believe, Nicki Minaj was not the first woman in the rap game. In fact, as Kathy Iandoli points out in her book God Save the Queens: The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop, women have been there all along—they just haven’t also gotten the recognition they deserve. From Cindy Campbell (who hosted some of the first hip-hop parties alongside her brother, pioneering DJ Kool Herc) and Sugar Hill Records cofounder Sylvia Robinson to superstar MCs like Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa, and Megan Thee Stallion, female entrepreneurs have done much to make hip-hop the dominant force in global pop culture. Iandoli’s aim here is to give them their long-overdue props. (


      Once relegated to your grandparent’s attic and the 25-cent table at neighbourhood garage sales, vinyl is once again king for those fully obsessed with music. The challenge? That would be coming up with a way to display your mint 180-gram vinyl copy of N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton or Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell!. In days of yore, that meant either investing in cement blocks and plywood planks or illegally obtaining a Dairyland milk crate. Flipbin is about a million times classier than both those options, with the sleek-and-styling, free-standing boxes—which are steel-fabricated and come in multiple colours—holding 33 12-inch records. That means no more digging around in the milk crate—or scrabbling through the records littering your living-room floor—when you’re hoping to impress your date with your superior taste in music, whether represented by Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN or Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power. (


      There’s nothing worse than heading out to the Squamish Constellation Festival or the Vancouver Folk Music Festival with the best of Instagram-worthy intentions, only to have your phone die a couple of hours into the day. How in the hell is the world expected to know what kind of time you had if you can’t document every single moment on your phone? Smart folks never leave home without a charger, which are readily available everywhere from the Richmond Night Market to the electronics section of any drugstore, corner store, or whatever they’re calling RadioShack these days. Really smart folks recognize the low sticker price and superior charging capability of Anker’s pocket-size PowerCore 10000, which will recharge the most battery-challenged iPhone X a minimum of 2.5 times for the low sticker price of around $50 bucks. How great a deal is that? Remember how traumatized you’ve been by the fact that your memory is the only thing you have to remember St. Vincent’s performance at Skookum in Stanley Park? (

      MUSIC IQ

      Forget about just giving this trivia game to the music obsessive on your list and expecting to give them any sort of challenge. You will go down in flames, and your ignominious defeat will take on the status of family legend, to be trotted out every holiday season for the sole purpose of humiliating you. The truly clever thing to do is to buy two copies of it and commit all 400 questions and answers to memory. Sure, said music obsessive might be a little suspicious of exactly how you suddenly became an expert on Beatles B-sides and Hannah Montana lyrics, but they will be obliged to bow to your superior knowledge. And isn’t that what Christmas is really all about? (