Whoever said it’s better to give than to receive clearly didn’t suffer from Gear Acquisition Syndrome. If you’re making your holiday wish list (or shopping for a musician or engineer in your life), check out these great gift ideas from some of our favorite studio superstars. Whether you’re splurging or scrimping, there’s something for everyone. Happy hunting!
PANIC! AT THE DISCO
Theatrical punk-poppers Panic! At the Disco count five smash albums, armloads of VMAs and Alternative Press Music Awards, and one Grammy on their rock resume. They released their latest full-length, Death of a Bachelor, in January.
Frontman Brendon Urie offered up his favorite gifts for studio splurgers and scrimpers. “[Native Instruments] The Maschine Studio is so much fun to build beats with,” he says. “You can either sample and edit in Maschine, which is very user-friendly, or you can use it with whatever interface/program you’re currently using. It changes the process up for me when I’m tired of working with the same routine.
“Electro-Harmonix Nano Looper 360 is basically the means for someone to be a one-person band. It’s under $100 and it’s very easy to use—great for creating ideas and getting immediate playback. Definitely easy to spend more than $100 worth of time with this one.”
Alt-rock stalwarts Placebo celebrated 20 years together this year with a 36-song retrospective, A Place for Us to Dream, and a new EP, Life’s What You Make It, both released in October.
Stefan Olsdal gave suggestions for both spenders and splurgers, starting with the high end: “As a guitar player, I’m always after a new sound; it’s elusive and I still don’t know if it exists! But I will never stop trying. My latest addition is the Disaster Transformer guitar pedal by a company called Earthquaker. It is a modulating delay that spins sounds out in a way that is just on the right side of nausea.”
Olsdal’s budget pick is the “Sony Walkman Stereo Cassette-Corder from 1990. I used to tape all of my answering machine messages on this machine. Messages from family, bandmates, some drunk some excited, and some sad. A few of the messages recorded on this Walkman ended up on a Placebo B-Side called ‘Evalia’ (some of the people featured still don’t know they are on there). I use it now as an extra mic when recording piano or acoustic guitar, as it gives a grainy, lo-fi sound.”
FRENCH HORN REBELLION
Robert Perlick-Molinari and his brother David perform and record as electro-funk act French Horn Rebellion. Robert is also a remixer and former member of the Chicago Civic Orchestra. David is a producer who has worked with MGMT and owns a Brooklyn studio: YouTooCanWoo. The duo’s latest album is Classically Trained (Ensemble Records).
Robert likes the notion of giving a holiday toy. “If you’re a brass player, you can play anything. Get an ornamental French horn at a Christmas shop—that’s S-H-O-P-P-E. Ornamental horns are a little more shrill because they’re higher pitched, and they’re a little abrasive—not round and beautiful like a real French horn—but that’s a nice ten-dollar piece of noise that you can record and then sample.”
On the high end, the guys are looking to go digital: “I would love a full UAD suite, for a maximum number of plug-ins. It’s like having another whole studio full of gear, but in a tiny box!”
German DJ and Kompakt co-founder Michael Mayer’s credits include four albums, 23 remixes, and 170 remixes. His latest full-length, &, was released last month on !K7.
Mayer’s dream gift is a rare classic: “If I were the king, dance music without claps would be forbidden. Claps bring joy to the world. It’s the most basic element in music since we were cavemen. I love the idea of having a machine that does nothing but claps, and nobody does it better than the Simmons ClapTrap from 1982. It was used in many of my favorite ’80s songs, like “Bette Davis Eyes” or Gary Numan’s “Cars”. I want one so badly but they’re really hard to get.
“On a smaller scale, I’d wish someone would rewire my whole studio and clean up every strip of my 24-channel Studer console from 1989. The old lady could really use a makeover.”
DERRICK HODGE, BASSIST
Blue Note artist Derrick Hodge played bass on both of the Robert Glasper Experiment’s Grammy-winning albums. He has also worked with Common, Q-Tip, Timbaland, and more. Hodge’s latest solo release is The Second.
“An affordable gift I’d love to give would be the Apollo Twin Duo,” Hodge says. “It would be great for any studio musician who bounces between the studio and tour life but needs to be able to record album-quality music on the go”
And what if the sky’s the limit? “I’d say, ‘Drop me off at the ATC speaker company, and let me walk out of there with my favorite studio monitors. Their monitors generate a good sound that [doesn ’t] over-color the sonic qualities of the elements to the point where it sounds whack on other speakers or in a car. [Listening on ATCs has] become a very important factor in producing, mixing, and critiquing my own work.”
LA DJ duo Alex Seaver and Logan Light, better known as MAKO, rose to fame in the EDM world with their smash hit “Scream” in 2013, and have collaborated with the likes of Avicii, Sander van Doorn, and R3hab. Their debut album is set for release later this year.
Seaver takes a holistic approach to his top gift suggestion: “Great monitors and sound treatment; terrific mic and preamp. These are essentials that you live with every single day; they are well worth splurging on.”
For a cost-effective option, Seaver suggests “Finding an all-around soft synth/analog synth and learning it inside and out. You can get crazy mileage out of an individual piece that you know like the back of your hand. This also applies to learning all of the native tools at your disposal from your host sequencer. You would be surprised how fantastic some of those devices can be, even though they are often less than glamorous.”
Bay Area world music/electronica experimentalists Beats Antique are celebrating the release of Shadowbox, their 10th album, and the opening of their new storefront in Berkeley, Calif. We chased them down on tour to pick their brains for gift ideas.
“Ableton Live—where you can loop anything from you laughing at your friend to a sweet bass line. And then create a track out of it to play for all your friends!” If the sky’s the limit, the band would go for a complete rig: “four Universal Audio Apollo 8Ps with all the plug-ins to track, record, mix, and master everything you would need. Add to that a TAMA Starclassic Bubinga drum kit, Ableton Push 2, Native Instruments Komplete 11 Ultimate and Komplete Kontrol Keyboard, and pair of Focal SM9 studio monitors!”
Since forming in Atlanta nearly 20 years ago, genre-melding road warriors STS9 (Sound Tribe Sector 9) have released 14 albums and headlined festivals around the world, from Bonnaroo to Wakarusa and Electric Forest. The Universe Inside, STS9’s first album in nearly seven years, was released in September.
If money’s no object, keyboardist David Phipps suggests “a Super37 Eurorack keyboard from SuperSynthesis, the original euro keyboard hand-built in Austin Texas, loaded with 104hp of Eurorack modules.” His “budget” option? “Moog Mother32 semi modular synth.”
This summer, Garbage released Strange Little Birds, a triumphant return to their ’90s roots. (Learn about the recording sessions in our feature in our July issue.) We asked drummer/producer/gear aficionado Butch Vig for his favorite studio gift ideas—and he got straight to the point (and threw in a gear snapshot). “High end: Mellotron Mk Vll Hardwood; $14,500.” And on the low end, he suggests the “Skychord Electronics Glamour Box; it’s all over Strange Little Birds.”
JAKE LUPPEN, HIPPO CAMPUS
Singer/guitarist Luppen of alt-pop group Hippo Campus is currently on a club tour, promoting the band’s latest release, South.
“As a guitar player, I’ve always been interested in pedals,” says Luppen. “And one that really had a large impact on the Hippo tone was the Boss RV-5. It’s not their most recent model, but it’s just great; it has six or seven types of reverb, and specifically, the modulation reverb setting has been a great tool for me.”
Luppen recently acquired a synth that he thinks makes a dream gift: “I bought a Teenage Engineering OP-1. That has been an absolute lifesaver, especially on the road. It’s a portable synth with a 4-track recorder. It also has drum kit synths and a vocal sampler. It was used a lot in the making of our new album.”
The former frontwoman for indie punk band Girl in a Coma now records as a solo artist and co-produced her terrific recent album, The Beat Is Dead.
“What I love the most when I’m doing things by myself at home is Garageband,” Diaz says. “It’s something I would get for anybody who is just beginning to record because it’s affordable, and it’s the easiest way to get your ideas down and map everything out. That’s where everything begins for me.
“On the pricey end, something I bought for myself recently was an M-Audio [M-Track Eight] 8-track [interface]. I had the 4-track [recorder], but then I upgraded my computer to El Capitan and the 4-track wasn’t compatible. But I found out the 8-track was pretty perfect for what I want to do in my home studio. It pushes what I can do as far as recording basics and live demos.”
Las Vegas-based DJ/producer John Borger, aka Borgeous, has been a rising star in the EDM world since his hit single “Tsunami” took festivals by storm in 2013. This year he’s teamed up with Armada to launch Genosus Records, and collaborated with the likes of Sean Paul.
Borger’s spendy gift idea: “I would go with the Ableton Live 9.5 suite, Apogee Duet, Mackie Big Knob, Adam Audio S3X-H Powered Studio Monitor, Adam Audio 1,000-watt Active Subwoofer 15, M-Audio Axiom AIR 49 MIDI controller, and 2.9GHz processor 512GB storage 13" MacBook Pro.
For those on a budget, he suggests a frugal version of that rig. “When I first started working on music when I was around 21, I was using Reason and Fruity Loops, which are still around and aren›t that much money to get started. The most cost-effective speakers I think to get are the KRK Rokit 5 G3 or KRK Rokit 8 G3. The most expensive thing you’re going to [need] to get started is your computer and the Apogee Duet. You can get a pretty decent keyboard for cheap; I would say go with M-Audio Keystation 49.
ALLISON CRUTCHFIELD, WAXAHATCHEE
In addition to playing with her twin sister, Katie, as part of indie band Waxahatchee, Allison Crutchfield makes lovely solo recordings. Her recent release, Tourist in This Town, sets her sweet voice and vintage harmonies amid ’80s synths and jangling guitars.
“I’d love to receive the Korg volca sample digital sample sequencer,” says Crutchfield. “I’m a huge fan of the Korg volca series; I used the volca beats on my first EP, and I think it’s a great introduction into electronic instrumentation that’s also super affordable! I’m really wanting to get more into incorporating samples in my live set, and I think using this could be a cool way.”
Crutchfield’s money-is-no-object choice would be the Siel OR400 synth. “They’re not usually super expensive as far as vintage analogs synths go, but they’re kind of hard to find, probably because Siel [later purchased by ARP] wasn’t around for that long. The strings sounds in particular are just so beautiful, and this is one of my favorite synths I’ve ever used.”
Six years ago, Bay Area musician Minna Choi founded the Magik*Magik orchestra, which has performed with more than 100 artists including Death Cab for Cutie, Weezer, Third Eye Blind, and John Vanderslice. This fall, she released her self-titled debut, on Chris Walla’s label, Trans-Records .
Choi’s dream gift is the Imperial Boesendorfer 290 grand piano. “It’s got 97 keys, eight octaves, and is simply a colossal instrument. I’ve only ever played it one time but being able to feel those extra keys down at the bottom there even just for five minutes did something weird to your brain. It forces you to readjust what you’ve always considered the edge of the sonic spectrum and suddenly you think, what else is out there musically that I haven’t considered before?”
This year, Choi has homemade presents for the engineers in her life: “I recently printed a bunch of yellow t-shirts as a gag gift for the engineers at Tiny Telephone. For years I’ve been saying I wanted to print a t-shirt that said “Real men ask for eighth-note click” and wear it to studio sessions, but I never got around to it. I finally ordered them the other day and I’m going to be gifting them to the guys at the studio. One less hour comping drum tracks is a gift worth giving to any engineer.”
THE CHAIN GANG OF 1974
Musician and DJ Kamtin Mohager, aka The Chain Gang of 1974, recently released the dreamy, ’80sinfluenced single “I Still Wonder,” his first material since 2014. Hear it live on one of his west coast tour dates, scheduled through the end of the year.
Mohager’s dream gift idea is perfect for any creative person in your life: “For the everyday musician, our lives are pretty up and go. Getting a moment to breathe is something we cherish. Simple but effective products have always been what I look for: The perfect ‘sky’s the limit’ gift idea is Oblique Strategies by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. This group of printed cards containing short solutions to problems is a perfect and fun way to help an artist when they encounter writer’s block.”
He also shares a practical gift idea: “For anyone running a simple studio space out of their home like I do, the Apogee Duet is the perfect interface. For the quality recordings you get with this, at the end of the day, the price is totally worth it.”
MAC MCCAUGHAN MUSICIAN, MERGE RECORDS FOUNDER
Superchunk and Portatastic member Mac McCaughan has just released his first album as a solo artist. Non-Believers is out now on Merge Records, the label he co-founded in 1989.
“Teenage Engineering makes incredible-looking and fun-to-use electronic music-makers in a variety of price ranges, and their Pocket Operators are cheap and fun and sound super fat, considering it’s basically the size of a credit card with buttons and an LED screen. I used the PO-12 in the recent music-fordance collaboration POMS that we debuted at Moogfest.
“Speaking of Moog,” McCaughan continues, “The Moog that I have that love the most is the Minimoog Model D. I’ve used one on almost all the Portastatic records, several Superchunk records, and my solo album Non-Believers. Mine is from the ’70s but for the first time since 1981, Moog has started making these again.”
TIM PALMER, PRODUCER/ENGINEER/MIXER
Grammy-nominated British production and engineering luminary Tim Palmer has worked on albums for Robert Plant, David Bowie, Tears for Fears, U2, Pearl Jam, and more. Palmer owns and operates a studio in Austin, Texas; recent clients include Jason Mraz, Blue October, and Kandace Springs.
Palmer says, “For an affordable audio gift, how about the greatest, most versatile microphones ever—the Shure SM57 and SM58. Not only have I found these microphones invaluable on snare drums and guitar amps, but I also used them to record things like David Bowie’s vocals on his Tin Machine albums. A handheld microphone gives vocalists the freedom to move, and it can really improve their performance.
“For a more lavish gift I suggest the George Massenburg GML 8200 Dual EQ. When I built my first studio in L.A, it was on the top of my wish list and it has been inserted over the bus of every mix I have done since about 1998. This EQ is just so musical and precise whilst remaining transparent.”
Josh Benus and Matt Kass play a folk- and progleaning style of rock in their project Modern Inventors. They recently relocated from Philadelphia to Nashville, where they engineer, produce, and play on their own recordings.
“For someone trying to start a studio on a budget, start with an interface,” says Kass. “One of my favorites is the UA Apollo Twin Duo; it’s a 2-channel interface with lots of flexibility.
“If the sky’s the limit, I would get a Rupert Neve Designs 5088 console, with the Shelford 5052 modules. I recently built a studio for a friend and we put a Shelford 5088 in as the centerpiece. What a beautiful-sounding board that is: meticulously hand-built, intuitive, and musical. It’s more transparent than the old Neve 80 Series boards, but you can push it to red. Flatline the VU meters and it still sounds great— headroom for days, and it’s built like a tank!”
JAMIE MEFFORD, LIVE AND STUDIO ENGINEER
Mefford is a producer, engineer, and studio/live sound mixer who toured most of this year with Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats. He also found time to produce, record, and mix Gregory Alan Isakov’s latest record featuring the Colorado Symphony.
“My favorite small-gift finds this year are the handmade wooden sample recorders and percussion boxes made by Brandnewnoise. I bought the thumb piano and the percussion one. For the next few weeks they were a big hit on the bus; the band and crew would pick them up and make weird noises and play with them. They record loops and you can alter the speed and pitch.
“On the high end, I would say the FLEA 47 microphone. It’s as close as I’ve come to the sound of the vintage Neumann and Telefunken U47’s. It’s gigantic-sounding, dark but present and oh so smooth. It makes records sound like records.”
BILL NACE, BODY/HEAD
Noisy rockers Kim Gordon and Bill Nace have been collaborating as the experimental guitar duo Body/Head since 2011. Their fourth album together, No Waves is out this month on Matador.
Nace is a man of simple studio needs; his “high-end” gift idea is “a Radio Shack vintage CTR-66 Portable Cassette Tape Recorder—but if the sky’s the limit, let’s say two of ’em.” His even more cost-effective option? “Gaffer tape.”
PETER BJORN AND JOHN
Swedish indie pop stars Peter Bjorn and John—Peter Morén, Björn Yttling, and John Erikkson—rose to fame in 2006 with the catchy, whistle-y single “Young Folks,” and have since collaborated with Drake, GZA, and 88 Keys. Breakin’ Point, their sixth album and first in five years, was released earlier this year. Erikkson, who is currently working on projects with his side project, dance act Hortlax Cobra, shared his favorite gifts for gear nerds (and even shared a picture).
“I don’t like expensive stuff,” he insists. “The most expensive machine I have ever bought is the OP-1 from my brother David (Teenage Engineering cofounder David Erikkson). But one of the best pieces of gear to have in your studio is a real and crappy tape echo. I took it from my father who used to run his ‘shadows/twang guitar’ through it. A proper tape echo makes music sound magic and I try not to change the cassettes that often—I love the dirt and the unexpected twists that come from old and semi-broken sh*t.”
If you have a few more bills in your pocket, Erikkson suggests the Yamaha REX 50. (Models start around $250 on eBay). “It’s an awesome and ugly digital effect box,” he says. “I have recorded vocals, Casio synths, strings, piano, wood blocks, well...almost anything through this weird bastard. Apparently, My Bloody Valentine used it to get that distorted, spooky guitar sound, which makes it even cooler to give this thing to someone.”