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50 Christmas Ideas For Musicians By Debbie Poyser & Derek Johnson
Published December 1998

The essential Recording & Production Techniques by Sound On Sound's editor Paul White.The essential Recording & Production Techniques by Sound On Sound's editor Paul White.

There are loads of handy gadgets out there to make a musician's life more fun, and every one of them is more desirable than socks or aftershave. Derek Johnson & Debbie Poyser present you with a few ideas...

It's that time of year again. Pretty soon, someone is going to ask you what you want for Christmas. And your mind, as usual, is going to go completely blank. The result will be a stocking stuffed with three‑packs of M&S pants, woolly scarves, gold‑initialled, marble‑finish ballpens that cease to operate by Boxing Day, and stinky stuff for bath and bod that's guaranteed to repel any member of the opposite sex at 50 paces. A no‑no!

What's the answer? Well, read on for no less than 50 musical ideas that could turn your Christmas day into a winner and make your hols a festival of fun. Auntie Mavis can get you a super music biz book instead of a steam‑train book, your Mum can brighten up your life with a pair of headphones instead of a pair of slacks, and if the woman or man in your life wouldn't know a MIDI lead if it slapped them in the face, just leave this article lying about with your desired gifts circled casually in red...

  • Master Your Sequencer with Stephen Bennett's Fast Guide to Emagic Logic, £14.95 plus postage or Simon Millward's Fast Guide to Cubase VST, £16.95 plus postage. Both are published by PC Publishing and available from SOS Mail Order.
  • Go Direct: MTR's DI3 GT active DI box, featuring phantom power, ground lift, 20 or 40dB of attenuation, isolating output transformer and switchable 10dB output gain, costs £67.56 from Studiospares.
  • A Good Reference: The Soundcheck II test CD, available from various outlets including SOS Mail Order, features all the test signals and reference recordings you need to make sure that your room and recording equipment are working at their best. The CD alone costs £28.99, while the CD plus built‑in mic and spectrum analyser for use with the CD's 1/3‑octave tone bands (to measure the performance of your recording room and monitors) costs £73.50. (Add £1.50 UK, £3.95 Europe or £5.50 rest of world postage.)
  • Burnish Your Bay with Studiospares' Jackfield Burnisher (£18.74) which keeps the contacts of your jack or bantam patchbay in perfect, tarnish‑free condition, while an integral hole allows contact cleaner to be passed straight to the right spot.
  • Easy On The Eyes: Tandy's computer filter screen is anti‑static, anti‑radiation and anti‑glare, and costs just £19.99 — perfect if you spend a lot of time staring at the computer in your studio.
  • Carry On Gigging: BCK's 61‑note KB45S Keybag padded keyboard gig bag, £32.99, should be a perfect fit for a Korg M1, and will also suit various other 61‑note keyboards. The Keybag range is available in 12 other sizes, with a deluxe double‑thickness version on offer in two popular sizes.
  • Buy The Book: Recording & Production Techniques by Sound On Sound's own Paul White allows you to take advantage of Paul's many years of recording and audio experience and his friendly and comprehensible way of conveying technical information. It costs £12.99 from SOS Mail Order. (Add £2.50 UK, £5.50 Europe or £8.50 rest of world postage.)
  • Rack Up Your 'Board with Studiospares' rackmount computer keyboard tray, £60.51, compatible with any standard 19‑inch rack, and occupying 2U of space.
  • Blinding Binding: Red, leather‑look SOS binders, at £10 for a pair (or £5.95 each if bought singly) from SOS Mail Order, let you keep your collection in top shape. Each binder will hold six of the current fat SOS's or up to 12 of the slimmer ones from earlier years. (Add £1.50 UK, £3 Europe or £4.50 ROW postage per binder.)
  • Stage Hand: The Ultimate Support one‑hand mic stand looks sleek and sexy, and can be raised and lowered with just one hand on stage because of its special clutch assembly. £65.74 from Studiospares.
  • Labelled With Love: If you're lucky enough to have a CD writer in your studio, Neato's CD labelling kit (starting at £35) comes complete with a set of circular labels, an applicator to centre the labels, and a set of Mac/PC templates for popular graphics programs. The similar PressIt system costs around £41 from HHB.
  • Shake The Room: The Zoom Studio 1201 Digital Reverb/Multi‑Effects will cover many day‑to‑day studio processing needs for just £99.95. Check local hi‑tech retailers or contact Exclusive Distribution for stockists.
  • UK Subs: Keep on top of everything in hi‑tech music with a year's UK subscription to the world's best music technology magazine — Sound On Sound — for just £36, a saving of 60p per issue over the newsagent price, plus 10% off all SOS books for subscribers. Overseas subs are available too — see the far right column on page 2 for details.
  • Shock Treatment: Mic shock‑mounts traditionally cost almost as much as the mic, but AKG's H30, at £34.66 from Studiospares, is the most cost‑effective elastic shockmount you'll find, and it works perfectly.
  • Know The Biz Inside Out, with All You Need To Know About The Music Business by Donald S Passman, £19.99 (plus £3.50 UK, £5,50 Europe or £8.50 ROW postage), and Networking in the Music Business by Dan Kimpel, £11.95 (plus postage). Both from SOS Mail Order.
  • Protect Your Mics to and from gigs with the Canford Microphone Shoulder Bag, £42.38. It has foam compartments for eight mics, a full‑length side pocket, and smaller end pockets for mic clips, DI boxes, and so on.
  • Happy Birth Day: Steinberg/Propellerhead's Rebirth RB338, for both Mac and PC on the same CD‑ROM, could be your big pressie, at £149 — which is a lot cheaper than the two TB303s, TR808 and TR909 it replaces. Check your local hi‑tech retailer or call Arbiter for stockists.
  • Take Cover and prolong your keyboard's life with a Keycover transparent keyboard anti‑static dust cover, which also protects from accidental spills. Prices range from £6.99 (mini‑keyboard size) to £9.99 (88‑note keyboard) from BCK, and seven sizes are available.
  • Be A Vintage Synth Expert with The A‑Z of Analogue Synths, by Peter Forrest, Vol 1 (A‑M) £14, Vol 2 (N‑Z) £16 (plus £1.95 UK, £5.50 Europe, £8.50 ROW each postage), or Mark Vail's Vintage Synthesizers, £12.95 (plus £3.50 UK, £6.95 Europe or £9.50 ROW postage). Both are available from SOS Mail Order.
  • Computer Love: Iomega's Zip affordable removable hard drive has taken the computer world by storm. The Zip Drive Deluxe kit, around £200 from Mac Warehouse, comprises a Zip Drive, eleven 100Mb cartridges and a mini carrying case. Other computer retailers will offer similar bundles.
  • Bodge Job: Studiospares' Bodge Plugs, in different varieties, save you the trouble of making up leads when you're in a hurry, by allowing you to attach bare wires to sprung clamps. Available in male and female XLR, jack plug, jack socket, phono plug, phono socket, bantam plug and BNC female varieties, at between £10.51 and £14 each.
  • Make Friends With A Snake: SOS Mail Order can supply a 3‑metre, 8‑way, jack‑to‑jack snake that's perfect for connecting an outboard rack to a mixer, for just £27.90 (plus £2.50 UK, £5.95 Europe or £9.95 ROW postage). Also available in phono‑to‑jack and phono‑to‑phono varieties.
  • Racked Without Pain: Storage capacity for 40 DAT tapes is available for just £15.21 at Studiospares, with their DAT storage racks, which can be free‑standing or wall‑mounted and are made from hard‑wearing black polyethylene.
  • Case The Joint: Argos' video/photographic case, £19.50, is compact, sturdy, shiny and lockable, and is perfect for dragging about gig necessities such as leads, spare strings, batteries, tuners, mics and tools.
  • Get Testy with EMO's E445 cable and lead tester, which checks out the functioning of balanced and unbalanced jack and XLR leads and could save you a lot of messing about, for just £58.75 from the HHB catalogue.
  • Let Your Fingers Do The Twiddling: Keyfax's Phat Boy puts MIDI hardware control at your fingertips and is brilliant for users of PC soundcards or faceless MIDI sound modules that don't have physical controls. And it's the cheapest hardware MIDI control unit yet, at £149.
  • All Tooled Up with Tandy's 14‑piece computer toolkit, including anti‑static IC inserter, tweezers, four demagnetised screwdrivers, nut drivers, parts tube, and more, all in a practical zip‑up case, for £13.99.
  • U Know It Makes Sense: Studiospares' Stackrack acommodates an amazing 18U of rack gear for £75 and has remained a best‑seller since 1985. It has an overall depth of 38.5cms, which extends beyond most equipment, providing protection for plugs and sockets. Its rear uprights can be secured to walls or other furniture for greater security, and it's finished in black epoxy resin. It's supplied flat‑packed with 20 equipment‑fixing screws.
  • Doctor That Disk: Symantec's Norton Utilities for Mac or PC is the essential tool for the modern computer musician: it fixes or optimises sick hard disks, protects against software crashes and retrieves lost files, all with an idiot‑proof user interface. It's carried by all good computer retailers and costs around £80‑90.
  • Let There Be Light in your rack with Studiospares' Fluorescent Racklight, a 1U box that slots into your outboard rack and sheds bright fluorescent light where you need it (especially good on stage), at £43.41.
  • Gig Gadget: Canford's Roadie Rench, £18.42, is a kind of Swiss Army knife for gigging musicians, featuring various hexagonal keys chosen to suit musical instrument fittings, Philips and slotted screwdrivers, and a heavy‑duty string cutter.
  • Atari Answers: Floppyshop's Sounds & Stuff: The Atari Musician's Toolkit is an ideal resource for Atari users and won't break the bank at just £25 (plus £2 UK, £3 Europe, £4 ROW postage). Go mad with synth editor/librarians, MIDI tools, sequencers, sample editors. a huge collection of sound samples, and more.
  • Get Ahead with a pair of decent studio headphones. AKG's K240DFs cost £78.72 from Studiospares, have a semi‑enclosed design and are comfortable enough to wear for hours. Also available in a K240M version, with slightly curtailed frequency response, for £70.38.
  • Disc Deal: Media specialists Downsoft offer a box of 20 TDK CDR74 professional CDRs, suitable for pro CD recorders and data recording, at £25.62. Those with consumer‑type CD recorders will want TDK CDRXG74 CD blanks, at £68.15 per box of 20.
  • Be The Chairperson in Argos's 'Home Office Swivel Chair', featuring smart grey upholstery, deep padded seat and back, gas lift, back height adjustment, and back angle adjustment. It costs £58.99 and is great for home studios.
  • Foot Fetish: Many synths offer volume pedal and/or continuous controller pedal inputs, and by plugging in a volume‑style pedal — such as BCK's VP3 Volume Pedal, £17.99 — you can control volume and/or any other assignable parameter without having to take your hands off the keyboard.
  • Going Solo: A cheap and simple solution to adding MIDI to an ancient monosynth is Kenton's Pro Solo MIDI‑CV converter (£99.99). The Pro Solo will work with virtually any monosynth — it can transmit a CV based on the volts/octave or hertz/volt systems, and outputs either a +5V trigger or an S‑Trigger, as required by some Moog synths. It's also equipped with an auxiliary CV out (for filter or dynamics control, if the attached monosynth can take it), and is fully programmable.
  • Bay Watch: Deltron's Swiftpatch modular patching system comes either as a complete patch panel furnished with 24 balanced modules featuring two jack sockets each (£58.63), or as an empty panel (£11.16) into which you can slot modules yourself (£11.86 for a bag of six). Each module can be half‑normalled by simply rotating it — no soldering or unscrewing is involved. The system is carried by several mail order companies, including Studiospares and Canford.
...if the woman or man in your life wouldn't know a MIDI lead if it slapped them in the face, just leave this article lying about with your desired gifts circled casually in red.

Spike Free: The Rendar Lineblock mains filter, £22.31 at Studiospares, is a 6 Amp device designed to be quickly and easily wired into a mains lead to protect against power surges and spikes that can create clicks in audio and corrupt computer data — just the ticket for home‑based studios.

  • Carbon Unit: The CO2, from Midiman, converts between co‑axial and optical S/PDIF digital audio, for just £45 — perfect if your PCI audio card or digital desk has a co‑axial output and your DAT machine has an optical input, for example. It can also be used as a digital booster for long cable runs.
  • Well Strung: Even if you've so far managed to rescue your guitar when it slips sideways from its usual position leaning against the wall, the worst is bound to happen at some point. Avoid the anguish of putting a scratch in your lacquer with a practical, good value AGS 25 acoustic or EGS 25 electric A‑frame guitar stand from Studiospares. They cost around £15 each, and have non‑slip rubber feet, a durable black finish and foam‑rubber coated arm and back supports.
  • Split Personality: feed a headphone output to up to eight pairs of headphones with P&R Audio's HS8 headphone splitter, £35. Now all the the band can be back‑seat drivers during the mix...
  • Tape That: Ten of HHB's high‑quality DAT65 65‑minute DAT tapes weigh in at £59.93. That should keep you going for a bit, but if you can persuade a caring relative to shell out for 20 DATs, HHB will take 10% off the price.
  • Make Light Work with a mini Maglite torch for poking around on darkened stages and behind gloomy outboard racks. Its high‑intensity beam can be adjusted from floodlight to spot, and it has a free‑standing 'candle' mode for when both your hands are otherwise occupied. Anodised inside and out for corrosion resistance, it's the Rolls‑Royce of miniature torches and costs a miniature £16.39 from Studiospares.
  • Stay Tuned: Everyone needs a decent tuner, and Korg's DT3, around £39.99 from instrument retailers, is a neat, stylish chromatic model with a built‑in mic and quarter‑inch instrument jack socket. It displays tuning in cents or Hz via a neat LED‑based display that emulates analogue needle‑type displays very nicely and will be visible even in low‑light conditions. A flip‑up stand on the back angles the unit for ease of use.
  • Clean Living with Maplin's battery‑powered ZA83A baby vacuum cleaner, £11.99, ideal for removing dust and fluff from between keyboard keys and mixer controls. It comes with two heads — a long‑reach nozzle and a brush — and an easy‑empty dust compartment.
  • MIDI Thru & Thru: For MIDI systems that have grown beyond one synth and one sound module, or a computer and a synth, but not quite to a size requiring a full MIDI patchbay, a Philip Rees V4 MIDI Thru Unit, £19.95, could be a tidy alternative to chaining MIDI equipment together via Thru sockets — this also avoids any chance of data corruption or MIDI delays that chains of more than three or four MIDI instruments can be prone to.
  • A Stand That Delivers: Gigging keyboardists will love the Ultimate Support DX48B Deltex two‑tier keyboard stand. It features clips for concealing leads, has a load capacity of 22kg per tier, and looks the total business. It does cost £122 from Studiospares, but is built for a lifetime of on‑the‑road use.
  • Hit Kit: Maplin's affordable electronics tool kit is presented in a cloth tool‑roll and contain side cutters, a pair of long‑nosed pliers with wire cutter, a light‑duty flat blade screwdriver, a crosspoint screwdriver, a desoldering tool, and a soldering kit comprising CS iron, stand and pack of multicore solder. The whole lot, which is ideal for anyone who plans to make up their own leads or do simple repairs, costs just £32.99.
  • Testing Times: The Studiomaster MA36 MIDI tester, £30.43 from Studiospares, is a neat little box which analyses a MIDI signal and identifies its MIDI channel plus the presence of all kinds of MIDI data types via the LEDs on its front panel. It's dead easy to use and is invaluable for tracking down gremlins in your MIDI system.

Stocking Fillers

  • Tandy Rubber Feet: protect your surfaces from being scratched by metal gear cases with a strip of eight large rubber feet for £1.59, or 12 small feet for 99p, from Tandy.
  • DAT Inlay Cards: you're sure to need these at some point if you have a DAT machine, and they're just £3.26 per pack of 20 from Studiospares. CD Inlay cards are also available, at £12.69 per pack of 100.
  • BCK Keyclean: this hygienic, deodorising cleanser is specially designed for cleaning modern hi‑tech materials and comes as an anti‑static foaming aerosol cleaner for even badly soiled surfaces (£4.99) or in the form of a tub of handy anti‑static wipes (£4.99).
  • Security rackmount bolts cost £3.26 per pack of 25 from Canford and deter thieves from removing equipment from racks. They have button heads so that they can't be gripped with pliers, and they're stainless steel to resist shearing with a hammer and chisel. A special fitting tool (£7.26) is needed to remove the bolts, as their recesses have a centre pin that makes the insertion of a conventional key impossible.
  • The Penguin Rhyming Dictionary, £8.99 from good book stores, is a must for dedicated songwriters.
  • P&R Audio's Patchbay Ident stickers (£2.20 per pack) come in packs of two sheets each, ready printed with useful legends and ideal not only for patchbays but also for use with leads and stage or wall boxes.
  • Maplin's VW89W Cassette Head Cleaner & Demagnetiser, £2.99, contains a special cleaning tape and also incorporates a revolving magnet which quickly demagnetises tape heads as well as cleaning them. The cassette is supplied with a bottle of head‑cleaning fluid.
  • Berol's Detective ultraviolet marker, £3.11 from Studiospares (or check good stationery supply shops) allows you to invisibly mark your valuable gear with your postcode. The ink shows up clearly in ultraviolet light to help identify your property after loss or theft.
  • The Mouseclene kit from Maplin consists of a tub of 25 impregnated cleaning wipes and a handy mouse holder to ensure that your mouse is always in top working order. Mouseclene (FC21X) is suitable for cleaning internal and external surfaces of all mouse/tracker ball systems, ensuring smooth cursor movement at all times. The price for all this hygiene is just £7.
  • Keep your CD‑ROMs and/or sample CDs thoroughly organised with Tandy's Wallet Organiser for 24 CDs. For just £9.99 this useful holder keeps discs clean, protected and all in one place.


Mail‑order buyers should bear in mind that postage will be charged in addition to the prices quoted here (except where postage charges are stated). Call for copies of mail‑order catalogues from companies such as Studiospares, Canford, HHB, P&R Audio and Downsoft on the numbers above. Argos catalogues can be found at any branch of Argos.