Gifts for the modern Canadian luthier
August 20, 2014 11:02 AM   Subscribe

What to give a woodworker, when you know nothing about guitars?

My boyfriend and I are both (poor) graduate students, and his current hobby is guitar-building. I know nothing about woodworking. He has access to a shop at a friend's, and is building his own jigs using the machines in the shop at his university (which he will soon no longer have access to). I don't know what kinds of tools are in his shop. We both live in Toronto, Canada.

I'd like to get him a present related to his hobby, and a gift certificate seems too impersonal (although I'd go that route as a last resort).

So what to get for the modern, Canadian luthier?

I saw this previous question, but believe that LN is out of my price range--I'm hoping to spend around $100, hopefully not more than $150--and cross-border fees can often add 50% to the cost of an item.

I also would prefer to shop locally, in a physical shop, if possible.

Should I just buy him a shoulder plane and suggest that he can exchange it, if it's not quite right? Where does one buy a shoulder plane in Toronto? How does one know if it's any good?

Thank you!

PS: His current project is his version of Prince's Telekaster, if that helps.
posted by monkeymonkey to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have no idea, but I bet the good folks at Lee Valley Tools, will. They have three stores in Toronto, and my experience (in Calgary) is that the staff are knowledgeable and will be delighted to help you choose something within your budget.
posted by angiep at 11:09 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hand lotion? Benefits him, benefits you.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:13 AM on August 20, 2014

A gift certificate to Stewart McDonald?
posted by plinth at 11:18 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For "what kind of gift can I get for [highly specialized hobbyist/professional]?" the best answer is always going to be:
  • Gift certificate (Maybe Canadian Luthier Supply? I don't know anything about them but you'd avoid tarrifs)
  • Flat out ask them if there's a tool/supply/dingus they've been wanting, and tell them you'd like to get it for their birthday.
It's not as much fun as being able to surprise them with something they can unwrap and hopefully be completely delighted by, but it's kind of a bummer for everyone involved when a "best guess" gift misses the mark, even if it can be returned. I know you said it's a last resort, but I don't think a gift certificate is impersonal in this context; impersonal would be a gift certificate to someplace like Target or Olive Garden. This is giving him permission to splurge on something he wouldn't have felt he could justify on his own. I was delighted the year my in-laws gave me a Stewart MacDonald gift certificate, because I had a whole list of "want to get that someday" stuff that I was able to spend it on.

Or, there's the "tangentially related" approach: You could get him a subscription to The Fretboard Journal, which is a beautiful publication relevant to his interests, or maybe a gift membership to The Guild of American Luthiers (membership open to anyone, not just Americans.)
posted by usonian at 12:12 PM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd avoid buying him a specific tool unless he requested it or you otherwise know for a fact that he wants it. if you prefer to buy something "real" (rather than a gift certificate) then I'd suggest buying some wood. Casually ask him what kind is "good" to use and then go buy him some or just risk it and get something that looks nice (and is in your price range) from a place like Canadian Luthier Supply.
posted by Poldo at 12:22 PM on August 20, 2014

People that work with wood, especially furniture and musical instruments, tend to be a persnickety bunch as regards their tools and materials and a luthier is likely to own most of the tools they need all ready.

Maybe buy a Prince Album on the media that he uses - for inspiration - and a gift certificate [I know you said that seems impersonal but really it is very personal to give someone something that will open their imagination to think of what they want - He'll smile and then later his eyes will go a bit blank as he imagines that thing he's been wanting but was just a bit too expensive.] There is nothing at all impersonal about letting an imagination run free.
posted by vapidave at 12:33 PM on August 20, 2014

Best answer: It's a little pricey for a book, but if he likes totally insane guitar craftsmanship, A Guitarmaker's Canvas: The Inlay Art of Grit Laskin is jaw-dropping. Failing that, a gift certificate from Lee Valley or Heinl (they might look like a classical store, but they have some very nice parts inventory).

An afternoon hanging out with Gian of Lil’Demon (if he's not too busy) would be a good place to pick up skills and contacts. There are a bunch of luthiers in Toronto, and I've never met one who wouldn't talk about what they do at length.
posted by scruss at 12:38 PM on August 20, 2014

This struck my fancy as a guitarist and woodworker (and pinch-penny). I think a nice pot of glue would be useful and cute. I took the liberty of researching it and will point you to Bjorn Industries hide glue. :)
posted by sunslice at 1:20 PM on August 20, 2014

It might be helpful to think about this question as, "Do I want him feeling guilty/annoyed/misunderstood every time he reaches for the not-quite-right tool or material that I bought him because I thought proving I could read his mind was more important to me than buying something I know he'd like or that he specifically asked for?"

(I think some of the tangentially related suggestions here are great, though! Books, magazines, Prince albums -- those sorts of things relate to his projects without wasting money on things he might not want or need.)
posted by jaguar at 1:46 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know it's not Canadian, and not local to you, but speaking as someone who's spent a fair amount of time mucking about with guitars, including some extensive repairs and rebuilds, I'll second the idea of a Stewart-McDonald gift certificate. There's a ton of free tips & info on the website itself, I'm unable to really find a Canadian equivalent with the same depth & breadth of parts & tools, and they also have quite a few books & DVD's about various aspects of lutherie which your boyfriend could find very useful for years to come.

I'm largely suggesting this because (especially when building an electric guitar like the Telecaster you linked to), there's more to a guitar than woodworking, depending on how much he's doing from scratch - there's installing & filing & leveling frets (which would include having to determine the proper placement of the frets if he's going to build a neck from raw wood), there's the installation of the nut, the bridge, the tuning machines, the pickups & other electronics, and the painting/finishing (which is often more akin to car painting than fine wood finishing).

IOW, it could be really easy to buy him a tool or supplies that wouldn't actually be all that useful, especially if you're thinking "woodworking" rather than "lutherie", and you don't really know what he already has. So I guess I'm seconding what usonian said above - I think a gift certificate or asking him what he specifically needs/wants is the best way to go. It won't be a surprise, but it'll be a "better" present, if you see what I mean.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:47 PM on August 20, 2014

Make a gift certificate / punch card good for "10 hours of dinking around on his hobby", usable in 1 hour increments. During those times, you don't bother him at all, beer and iced tea and snacks magically appear, and you harbor no resentment.
posted by gregglind at 3:07 PM on August 20, 2014

Best answer: clamps. Figure out the right kind.
posted by amtho at 4:36 PM on August 20, 2014

Also Danny Ferrington's book for inspiration.
posted by plinth at 6:19 AM on August 21, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks all for the suggestions. I'm going to make a fake certificate to Heinl, take him to the store, and, if it isn't perfect, then I'll turn that fake Heinl certificate into a real Stewart-McDonald certificate.

Many many thanks!
posted by monkeymonkey at 10:39 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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