Unique Gifts for Guitarists

One of the interesting aspects of guitar culture is brand loyalty. Rock guitarists, despite association with counter-culture and DIY ideology, rarely shop outside the long established brands of instrument equipment (i.e.Fender or Gibson electric guitars, Marshall, Fender, or Peavey amps, D’Addario, Ernie Ball, Elixer strings, etc.)

This is often out of necessity–if you’re relying on the same amp and guitar and pedals and cables every night in a different city, you’ll want a brand that has been tested by countless guitarists for the past 50 years of rock history. More than likely, your favorite guitarist  probably played a Gibson SG or Les Paul, a Fender Stratocaster, Jaguar, or Telecaster. There are obviously exceptions, but not many. And most of these instruments and equipment are renowned for versatility–Fender guitars, for example, have appeared in every genre from smooth jazz to punk rock.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got mostly big name guitars in my collection, and I love them all. There’s downsides to the established brands, though. First, it’s difficult for any independent instrument makers, regardless of the quality of their product, to break into the market. And that means that the buyer is missing out on a piece of equipment they potentially would love a whole lot more than their big box stuff.

Secondly, every handmade instrument and piece of equipment has it’s own “personality”, imbibed by the materials used and the hand of the maker. So, as with the odd instruments in this previous entry, who knows what strange and wonderful sounds you’re missing out on?

Bazooka Bubble Gum Amp from BadgleyCBGS


This 2.5 Watt portable amp is a custom creation from the mind of Robert Badgley. Robert runs a shop called Badgley CBGS (short for cigar box guitars). His store isn’t limited to cigar box instruments, though. The storefront has amps, slides, and picks handmade from repurposed goods. This is a great and eye-catching amp for practicing or playing street music. It’s portable and powered by a 9 volt battery, so you can take it anywhere that might benefit from sweet riffs and hot licks.

Bloodwood Capo from Wooden Capo


Wooden Capos is a New Jersey retailer with a forthright name. The shop features several capo designs handcrafted from leather and wood. The shopkeep, Lee, writes that his work is centered around the belief that “functionality and beauty should be at a balance”. The bloodwood capo comes finished with olive oil and beeswax, and it comes in lefty and righty versions. The customer can also get personal graphics or words burned onto the capo.

(For non-guitarists, a capo is a device that is used for quick and easy chord changes on a guitar neck. It’s popular among those who sing and play, as it allows them to adjust songs to fit within their range.)

Turquoise Guitar Strap from NowhereBearStraps


The vintage-styled guitar straps of Ohio’s  Nowhere Bear are exquisite multicolored affairs, like something you’d see slung over Jimi Hendrix’s shoulder (or wrapped around his head). The intricate thread designs are backed by strong seat belt or hemp webbing. The shop is full of wonderful patterns all colors of the rainbow–definitely worth a peek.

Hand Carved Wooden Guitar Picks from LuluandIra


Each lovely hand carved wooden pick from this set will produce a slight different sound. Wooden picks produce a warmer, mellower tone compared to the traditional plastic. The 3 pick set comes courtesy of Utah shop Lulu and Ira. Their shop is home to many captivating carved products, from baby toys to kitchen accessories.

Pick Holder Keychain from Couch Guitar Straps


True style, as any fashionable rocker knows, winds all the way down to the smallest details. These vinyl guitar pick holders from Long Beach-based Couch Guitar Straps are crafted from vintage car upholstery. As they say in the product description: “…as thoughtful and unique a gift you can give to your guitar playing friends for around 12 bucks.” Couch Guitar is stuffed full of lots of great stuff made from recycled material, like guitar straps (obvs), camera straps, and wallets.

Cigar Box Guitar Kit from SoundBoxGuitars 


There are few greater feelings than the sensation of playing an instrument you’ve put together yourself. If you’re looking to give someone that feeling, you should definitely check out the California shop Sound Box Guitars. Their Cigar Box Kit is a comprehensive DIY kit for building an acoustic 3-string cigar box guitar–without needing a huge collection of tools. The kit comes with all the complex drilling, sawing, carving, and sanding pre-done. Learn more about this awesome gift here.


Inspirational Prints for “Resolution Doom Week”

Data gathered from Facebook shows people give up their resolutions right about…now. Here’s what information from the site shows: there’s an initial 50% increase in gym memberships, every December and January. According to the social network, though, come February about 10% of Facebook check-ins to places with “gym” or “fitness” in the name decrease.

Facebook reports that the drop starts right around the 3rd week of January. By the time the drunken promises of January fade into the grinding hangover of February, most folks have gone back to their old bad habits.  Armed with the knowledge that your resolutions are in mortal peril right now, however, you can steel yourself against the late winter slump. As always, we’re here to help with a collection. This time it’s motivational posters to get you out of bed, and to make your rooms look like the office of the hippest high-school counselor of time.

This Is My Year by ColourMoon


An obvious choice for any New Years resolution. Colour Moon is a European print shop that sells many lovely typographical posters, from the sentimental to motivational. Their posters are all printed on matte paper using high quality inks. Check them out here.

Buy the Ticket… from EscapeModulePrints


This has always been one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite authors, the late great grandaddy of gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson. For anyone who needs a remind to live more deliberately, this print can be found in the shopfront of Escape Module Studio Prints.

Be Brave by SweetPeonyPress


A gentle reminder of something we all need a reminder of sometimes, spelled out in gold letters. Sweet Peony Press is based out of Canada, and their shop features both typographical and illustrated print. “Be Brave” also has companion prints available–“Be You”, “Be Kind”, and “Be True”

The Mountains are Calling…


“The Mountains are Calling, and I Must Go” reads this print from North Carolina store The Art of Type. This print is available for immediate download, so you can print it out and hang it on your wall in the time it takes to read this post. A perfect reminder for anyone who’s resolved to spend more time outside.

Live Fierce by UrbanCurioes

be fierce

If you New Year’s resolution is to be more like a bear, this is the print for you. If it’s not, you should consider setting that goal. Bears are ferocious, sleep for a good chunk of the year, and they get what they want (berries and honey).

This fierce piece of decor comes from another North Carolina print shop, Urban Curioes. If the spirit of the bear is not your style, there’s many other animals to pick from–snakes, wolves, and gators can also remind you to “Live Fierce”.  There’s a kangaroo reminding you to “Live Fun”, a gazelle reminding you to “Live Free“, and a menagerie of other creatures with life lessons to give. 

Be So Good…from TheMotivatedType


Fuel for greatness comes via Steve Martin and London shop The Motivated Type. This print can be ordered from the store for delivery, printed on high quality matte paper with archival inks. It’s also available for download and printing at home.

You could do worse than following advice from Steve Martin, one of the most successful comedians and actors of all time. If you require proof beyond his illustrious career, here’s a video of Steve Martin holding his own alongside late great banjo legend Earl Scruggs.

Gift Guide for Space Cadets and Stargazers

For some reason, many of us lose our childhood obsessions with things like space and dinosaurs. Maybe it’s because we eventually learn it’s really, really hard to become an astronaut and even harder to become a dinosaur. Personally, I try to remind myself how insane space is on a daily basis.

Sometimes I’ll just be going about my business, doing mundane Earthling activities like washing laundry and getting coffee, and I’ll suddenly remember space exists beyond the sky. I remember that, up there, violent explosions bigger than the planet are happening. Above my head are black holes, and comets, and galaxies, and red giants.

Suddenly it seems strange, that here I am, a hairless ape-descendant on the most fertile rock for light-years, getting mad about the hairless ape in front of me for taking too long to pick his drink. Space teaches wonder to children and humility to adults.

On that note, on to the list.

Crochet Solar System Mobile from YarnBallStories


YarnBallStories is a great store, full of lots of unorthodox crocheted works of art, including avocados, bumblebees, and teapots. They are also home to a myriad of knit mobiles. Their solar system is  safe enough for a baby’s room but also a great educational toy for little kids. The planets retain their order from the sun, and the coloring from telescope and satellite photos.

Galaxy Space Bracelet from jerseymaids


The Baltimore store jerseymaid contains a  wealth of space-themed products, celebrating celestial bodies from all corners of the universe. You can order a single bangle, or (as pictured above) a stacked set of six. The bracelets come in two different metallic tones, antique gold or silver. You can also choose the picture on the bracelet from a wide selection of planets and nebulae.

Also very cool–10% of your purchase will go to the Planetary Fund for space exploration and research.

Rainbow Full Moon Pillow by i3Labv


This beautiful pillow makes a great gift that says, “I would give you the moon if I could.” According to the product description, the pillow is 50 cm in diameter and uses  “a real image of the moon, which includes 65 individual frames of the lunar mosaic images taken from Nantes in West France by astrophotographer Norbert.” The creators, South Korean i3Lab, sell multiple versions of this design, including huge lunar picnic mats and glow in-the-dark wall pieces. Check them out. You won’t be disappointed.

Orion Lacy Ring from DittyDrops


Is anyone else thinking of the first Men in Black movie?

This cocktail ring from London’s DittyDrops features the Orion nebula at the center on a filigree band of adjustable antique bronzed brass. If  you live in the US and you’re planning to buy these or one of their other celestial goodies as a Christmas present, you better hurry–the deadline for holiday orders is Decemeber 9th.

Galaxy Bedset from TBedding


Make sure your kids look cool–even when they’re asleep– with these awesome bedspreads from Tbedding. Even you will be jealous when you see them sleeping among the stars. The bedspreads available in the shop are a veritable who’s-who of galaxies and nebulae. They come in all sizes, too, so feel free to grab a set for yourself.

Plant Earth Felt Soap from KatnipStarship


A perfect gift for any Earthling or homesick astronaut, this felt soap from KatnipStarship models the planet we’ve come to know and love throughout humanity. Instead of molten iron and nickel, the core of this earth is made of soap gently scented with eucalyptus, sandal wood, and patchouli. Check it out here.

Full Moon Earrings from Analiese


Like the Earth’s moon, these earrings are sure to make waves.

Unlike the moon, there’s two of them and they make great stocking stuffers. Connecticut shop Analiese sells these lovely pieces, made from high quality prints of the lunar surface in silver bezels. There’s even a matching pendant for sale in her store!  Check it out here.

Airtight Mason Jar Design from Etsy

Mason jars are the go-to chalice for hip coffee shops and bars, as well as a mainstay of modern rustic chic design and DIY. We’ve featured a few Mason jar products in previous blog entries: one on wedding design, the other in vintage lighting,.

But before their return to glory, Mason jars were the Tupperware of the 19th century.

Mason jars are named after their inventor tinsmith John Landis Mason, who patented the signature square shoulders and airtight screw-on lid. Before Mason jars, containers of preserved food were sealed with wax. If done incorrectly, dangerous and potentially fatal bacterial could grow in the contents.

Mason’s story is  a sad one. Though his invention was widely used and potentially life-saving, he never saw much money for his patent (or his other claim, screw-top salt shakers), and died impoverished in a tenement house in 1902.

In honor of John Landis Mason, and in celebration of our new Mason Jar Shaker (available at our Amazon store), here’s a list of some inspired creations from Etsy.

Moroccan Style Lantern from LITDecor


LITDecors shopfront has a myriad of these Morrocan style laterns, a combination of the American  mason jar and Morrocan filigree copper detailing. This particular lantern comes in an aqua tint, but their lamps and candles display all colors of the rainbow. Each design is unique and hand-painted making these jars a truly individual gift or decor piece.

Shot Glasses from PGMBottleSupply

shot glasses

Perfect for turning the party up to 11 while keeping the homespun vibe. These mini jars come in a lot of ten from PGMBottleSupply.

Cozy from RogueTheoryLOOP


Those-y on the go-sy should buy this cozy from RougeTheoryLOOP. Mason jars are fun containers for hot and cold beverages, but the glass walls aren’t great for temperature regulation. The good folks at RougeTheory got you covered. Plus, your morning coffee will look great in its new sweater, which comes in a spectrum of different colors.

Bird Feeder from HeritageTreeDesigns 


Bird feeders make great gifts and conversation pieces. It’s hard to say whether the birds themselves will appreciate the pastoral element the repurposed Mason jar adds, but they will definitely appreciate the free food. Check out HeritageTreeDesigns’ store for other great indoor and outdoor pieces made from repurposed materials and–of course–the iconic jar.

Wood Wall Organizer from OldNewAgain


The distressed wood and jam-style jars give this wall piece a very home-in-the-country feel.It’s a great way to display handpicked bouquets of fresh flowers, or to organize small objects in any room of the house. OldNewAgain has a great store full of upcycled wall hangings that you should definitely browse through.

String Lights from sweetteaclothingco


String lights always add an element of warmth and magic to outdoor decorating. They’re also great for wedding design. Mason jars only add to this effect, creating this lovely and unique curio from sweetteaclothingco. The lights pictured above are pint-sized jars.There’s also a half-pint version. The light strands come in 10 and 20 foot lengths.

Sippy Cup from Onerobinroad


Onerobinroad is the “home of the original canning jar sippy cup”. The mouth is made from medical grade silicone. According to the listing, this sturdy glass jar survives falls without breaking. The glass jar also means no harmful chemicals like BPAs leeching into to the contents. Onerobinroad also carries a great selection of cozies and travel mugs, for babies and grownups.



Home Bartenders and Baristas should check out our Mason Jar Shaker here. Create perfect iced libations with rustic flair–like James Bond, if he grew up on a farm.

The Joy of Noise: The Strange and Wonderful Handmade Instruments of Etsy

Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly uninspired, or like the world around me is too intensely ordinary, I like to dive headfirst into a familiar internet rabbit hole–the handmade instruments of Etsy. The labyrinth of strange and noisy tunnels spits me out a few hours later, 20 Youtube tabs open on my browser and a ringing in my ears.

The handmade instruments you can find on the site vary widely, from cigar box banjos to analog synthesizers. They run a wide spectrum of practicality, some as functional as a guitar or piano and others seeming soley existing to make one weird noise as loudly as possible. Some of them would be at home on a stage during a live performance, while others would only drive away even the most loyal fans. Functionality is not the always the point, though.

Let them remind you of your childhood, when you would bang on pots and pans and yell for the sheer joy of making a lot of noise. Let them remind you that creativity and imagination starts with having a lot of messy, loud fun.

Angled Neck Square Guitar from Celentano Woodworks


This square angled neck guitar features a spruce top decorated with ink designs. Celentano Woodworks is an instrument making company based out of North Carolina that specializes in designing guitars, ukeleles, mandolins, basses, and other stringed instruments in all manner of unique shapes. Some notable models include a cupcake (featured photo), a pickle jar, and an avocado. They also do custom orders, so if you have long sought an ukelele in the shape of your own head, look no further.

Sentry Gun Optical Theremin from SymetriColor


You may not be familiar with theremins, but you’ve probably heard them played before. They’re responsible for that wailing alien noise from old movies–most famously The Day the Earth Stood Still. If you have an Iphone, the alarm sound labeled “Sci-Fi” mimics the instrument’s sound. It’s the quintessential weird instrument, played waving one’s hands near two antennae. Here’s a video of Gnarl’s Barkley’s “Crazy” played on a theremin.

An optical theremin is a variation on the traditional design that uses a light sensor instead of antennae. In the demo video from Chris Lody, you can watch all the crazy noises produced by his Sentry Gun design. It’s especially cool when mixed with other effects like reverb. His store is full of great little electronic noise makers that would not be out of place in the lab of a mad scientist from a black and white movie.

Bedpan Banjo from RainyDayInstruments


Take a moment to appreciate this unique instrument, a 5-string banjo made from a 50’s bedpan. There’s a lot of “cigar box” style stringed instruments on the site (instruments made using miscellaneous hollow objects–like a cigar box–for the body). This one takes the cake, though. The sound is surprisingly beautiful. The different body produces a sharper, clear tone than the traditional banjo. A Youtube demo can be found here.

Arcade Guitar Pedal from NoiseMakerEffects


There’s a lot of really cool guitar effect pedals for sale on Etsy. One that stuck out in terms of design and sound was this Arcade Pedal from NoiseMakerEffects. When activated, it unleashes a fuzzy, 8-bit guitar sound that recalls vintage video game soundtracks. Here’s a demo of the sound. Noisemaker has a great selection of handmade boutique pedals for guitar geeks to nerd over.

Sonic Forest from ElectroLobotomy


“The Sonic Forest is dense and full of possibilities.” reads the product description of this odd little percussive noise box from ElectroLobotomy. Fitting words for this post, no?

The “trees” are made from various gauges of strings. When plucked, they make a hollow, eerie percussive thunking noise. When bowed, they make an even more unearthly noise. Watch The Sonic Forest in action on Youtube. 

The Root from RaysRootworks


This instrument design was inspired by the Fibonacci shape (also called The Golden Spiral). It can be bowed or plucked, and produces a hypnotic, vaguely Eastern sound. These instruments are superb example of craftsmanship from RaysRootworks. Watch a demo video here. 

Ototo from ErrorInstruments 

eggplant machine

It’s tempting to put everything from ErrorInstruments on this list, but I went with the Ototo. It’s a circuit board can turn any object into an instrument through a combination of sensors, inputs, and touchpads. “We designed it so anyone could use it….the only limit is your imagination,” says the demo video, and  proceeds to show users jamming on two by fours, fruits and vegetables, and bowls of water. Watch here.

The Common Man’s Guide to the Perfect Cup

In addition to writing this blog, I sometimes work as a barista for a coffee shop that brews Stumptown coffee. Stumptown is a beloved coffee roaster out of Portland, Oregon, and for coffee fanatics their brew is a revelation in a cup. Recently it got a shout-out in the new season of Orange is the New Black. 

It also inspired this excellent Nickel Creek bluegrass jam.

I’ve been a barista off and on for 4 years in speciality coffee shops, and I get a lot of pleasure from making delicious drinks and introducing newcomers to the wonderful world of better coffee.

The most common question I get is regarding the differences between an Americano, Latte, Cappuccino, Macchiatto, etc. It’s mostly variations in the quantity of foam, milk, espresso, and/or water. Here’s a handy chart sold by CrateStyle:


The second most common question is some form of:

“How can I brew coffee this good at home?”

Going to a coffee shop every morning, especially high end coffee shops like Stumptown, Sightglass, or Blue Bottle (where cup usually runs around 4 dollars) can cost thousands of dollars a year. But after drinking nice coffee for a while your standards inevitably raise. The easiest and best way to save on coffee is make it yourself.

The coffee bean is a fickle mistress, subject to variables along the supply chain– from the farm where it was grown to the moment the grounds come in contact with water in your kitchen. Any one of these variables can dramatically change your final product. So there’s no way to guarantee a perfect cup of coffee.

There are forums like coffeegeek, not to mention the myriad of how-to articles that go way too deep into things like bean origins. There’s also an unhealthy amount of elitism among coffee fanatics and baristas, who love to argue about pouring and foaming technique. They’re the reason Instagram has so much latte art.

The layman, though,–who simply wants a better coffee today–either gets turned off by deliberately over-complicated terminology and details, or becomes too wrapped up in expert-level advice and ignores the basics.

Don’t stress. Brewing tasty coffee is actually pretty simple. It’s like any food preparation: You don’t have to be an expert chef to make delicious food, but it helps a lot to know a little about what you’re doing.

Follow a few simple rules, the next coffee you make can taste much better, and over time, you will walk confidently down the road towards that fabled perfect cup. You might have to spend a bit of money, but you definitely don’t need thousand dollar machines or any of that nonsense.

I usually ask the customer a few questions about their own brewing process, and almost always, they’re making one of four mistakes. Your coffee will not taste good until you stop doing these things.

The 4 most common mistakes that make your coffee taste bad:

1. You’re using beans are old, cheap, or stored improperly.

Always, always, always use whole beans. Once coffee beans are ground they starts losing its flavor rapidly. If you use month old grounds from the back of your freezer, there are no “tips and tricks” or fancy barista moves that will save your sad sack of beans. Following the food metaphor, it’s like trying to cook with stale ingredients.

Even in their whole bean form, coffee beans are at their most flavorful for a pretty short period of time (somewhere around a week or two after they’re roasted). This is a little inconvenient for the consumer, but you can circumvent this by buying smaller quantities (like a half pound instead of a full pound) fresh from local coffee shops that roast their own beans. Don’t buy beans from supermarkets, and always check the date it was roasted.

As which beans to buy, that’s a matter of personal preference. I recommend trying as many different blends as you can. Also…

Buy from independent roasters. 

First of all, you’re supporting a small business. Second of all, most independent specialty coffee roasters are labors of love. I can guarantee your local independent roaster invests more care and attention than whoever’s roasting the huge batches of beans at the corporate coffee factory.

Third, independent coffee roasters often know where their beans are coming from, and it’s common for them to have personal contact with the coffee farmer. Independent coffee usually results in more ethical business practices for everyone involved.

If you have a cup of truly amazing coffee somewhere, ask the barista the name of the roast and the origin of the beans. The region where the coffee grew has a significant effect on the final taste.

Finally, do away with the freezer thing. That whole trend started in order to keep grounds from decaying completely– like cryogenics.  We’re not trying to hold onto the past here. Good coffee happens in the present. Beans should be stored in a cool (not cold), dark, dry place. Seal them tight.

2. Measure Twice, Pour Once

This one took me a while to learn, because I felt that I had a good enough sense to eyeball the “dose” at home. It was a pride thing. I eventually learned more grounds doesn’t equal a stronger, more flavorful cup–that can make it sour or bitter. So I was wasting a lot of beans while lowering the quality of my drink.

Measuring gives you a nice jumping off point. You can adjust to taste over time. Different machines and different roasts vary in the amount of beans needed.

The best tool for this job is a kitchen scale. I highly recommend it, but if you don’t have one or don’t feel inclined to invest in one, measuring spoons and cups work okay too.

3. The Right Machine for the Job

There are so many different ways of getting coffee from a bean! See below. Click here for the expanded version in PopChart’s store.


The Compendious Coffee Chart from PopChartlab

The ideal ratio of grounds to water varies with the machine you use, as does the temperature of the water and fineness of the grind. Here’s an in-depth chart from BlackBearCoffee.

If you’re just starting out, you should get a single cup drip . Besides the French Press, this is the simplest method of extracting coffee from grounds. I like French Presses, but I think it’s somewhat limited to that thick, strong style of coffee. A drip filter is simple, but simplicity is not a bad thing. This device is used by expert baristas and plebeians alike.

Pour over stands like the one above add lovely aesthetic appeal and prevent spilling over.

Clean Up

Many people–especially if they have an automatic drip machine– have not cleaned their machine in years. Everything that your grounds touch will accumulate the taste of stale coffee over time, so everything needs to be washed with soap and water (not just rinsed) including the grinder. This very easy task is often neglected, and so people continue to drink coffee tainted by the stale scent of a thousand long gone mornings.

Final Tips:

1. Use filtered water

2. Pour slowly and evenly

3. Drink often

Let me know how it goes!

Camerae Obscurae: Real Life Instagram Cameras and Film

They give us those nice bright colors
Give us the greens of summers
They make you think all the world’s a sunny day

“Kodachrome” Paul Simon

Instagram’s popularity is strange for what the app actually does. Today, 40 million photos will be shared by the 90 million users–where they go, what they see, who they went with.

In between taking the photo and posting it, however, users have the option of applying one of a dozen or filters that simulate vintage photos. These filters smooth rougher edges of unflattering lighting. Colors are saturated or faded, and imperfections like sunspots and light leaks are added. The filters have names that invoke the past–“1977”, “Lo-fi”, “Nashville”.

Is it nostalgia that drives Instagrammers? Not in the strictest sense of the word. The largest group of Instagram users are between the ages of 18-24– probably too young to remember bringing cannisters of film to a store to find out what is on them, and certainly too young to remember the real cameras and film that inspired these filters.

The blog 1000 Memories created this painstakingly researched graphic of the combinations of vintage cameras and films  that recreate the beloved filters in analog. Some of the filters mentioned are no longer with us. Perhaps we can feel nostalgic about that, too.

(click to zoom in)