Alex Stanton by Alex Stanton  December 07, 2016 

The Sunburst Holiday Gift Guide! - December 2016 - Sunburst News

Not sure what to get for the musicians in your family this holiday season? Never fear, the Sunburst Holiday Gift Guide is here.

Sunburst News

–December 2016–

In this Issue:

  • MUSICIAN’S HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE - The official Sunburst guide to giving the gift of music in 2016

  • BUYING USED - How to navigate the used instrument market

  • Instructor Concert Calendar


Important Dates:

  • Winter Recital Concerts - Sun Dec 11th & Sat Dec 17th

  • Sunburst Closed for the Holidays - Sat Dec 24th, Sun Dec 25th, Sat Dec 31st, Sun Jan 1st.


The official Sunburst guide to giving the gift of music in 2016

So much gear so little time So much gear so little time The holidays are upon us, and musicians young and old will inevitably be unwrapping all kinds of gear. But will it be the, “Oww yess! This is exactly the one!” or that face that coldly measures trade in value. We’re here to help you, the gift giver, navigate this tumultuous time and give a musical instrument or accessory that will hit the spot every time. 

But first! Let’s just take a moment to say that the best gift is always the time we spend with family, friends, neighbors,and strangers, and that less is always more. Let us not be consumed by our consumership (speaking of, consumables make great gifts and seldom end up on craigslist!).

While a shiny tuba always makes quite an impact, we’re going to limit this to guitars, basses, keyboards and drum sets because these are the only things we know here at Sunburst. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for the vocalist in your family, the shiniest gift you can get them would be 12 hours sleep per night in 50% relative humidity. To the gifts!

Instruments for Young Beginners

In general with child beginners there are two important factors: what it looks like, and is it discouragingly hard to play. A great instrument will hit on both and be enticing and forgiving at the same time. Here are our recommendations:

This Strat Mini is AWWWWWWWESOMEThis Strat Mini is AWWWWWWWESOMEElectric Guitar - Squire Mini - $99 at Pianos N Stuff. This is a classic, and is perfectly proportioned for a 6-8 year old. All small guitars can be tricky for kids to tune, so as a parent its a good idea to learn to tune it yourself to help them out. Don’t forget the amp!

Acoustic Guitar - Fender MC1 ¾ Nylon - $129 at Pianos N Stuff. Nylon strings are a great way for beginners to get going, as they’re easier to push down and don’t cause any pain in the finger tips.

Piano - Williams Allegro 2 88-Key Hammer Action Digital Piano - $229 While this definitely won’t last a lifetime, there’s no more affordable way to get hammer action or weighted keys, which really help you get the feel of a real piano.

Honorable mention - Look on Craigslist for an upright or spinet piano that looks like it has intact keys. They usually cost around $200, $200 more for a mover, and $100 to have it tuned, but you end up with something much better than any cyber monday $500 digital piano...

The Akai Rhythm Wolf making beats sans screen.The Akai Rhythm Wolf making beats sans screen.

Drums - Ludwig LJR106 - $269 at Pianos N Stuff. Ah to the be the parent of a young drummer... We do recommend that kids go straight to a full kit instead of starting on just one drum so they can get their legs working too! Sound an issue? Try mesh drum heads and perforated cymbals. We have a sample kit set up like this at Sunburst, ask to see it next time you come by.

DJ - Akai Rhythm Wolf - $199 at Amazon. It’s hard to get kids up and running with synths and drum machines without increasing screen time. Get them pushing real buttons and turning real knobs to make their creations with a unit like this one! (then sign them up for some DJ lessons with us!)

Instruments for Teens and Adults

Yamaha Pianos are a good balance between price and quality...Yamaha Pianos are a good balance between price and quality...Electric Guitar - Used Mexican Stratocaster - ~$350 Used (see sidebar). The used Mexican Strat, ideally from the 90’s or early 2000’s, is one of the best values in music. In many cases there are few, if any, noticeable differences between these and their American counterparts which start in the $800 range. A big step up from the Squire Mini in terms of tone, playability and construction.

Acoustic Guitar - A Martin - $500-$1500. When that special player in your family has reached the point where they are committed to music, it might be time for them to get an instrument that can last a lifetime. Martin guitars–made right here in PA–are an american icon. You’ve been hearing them in famous records your whole life. Save up and get one, then take care of it!

Piano - Yamaha YPG535MM - $500 at Amazon. Yamaha (as it does for so many other things) has a knack for threading the value needle between price and quality. The Yamaha YPG535MM is a great mid-priced board that would make sense for students and professionals alike.

... as is the Yamaha Gigmaker.... as is the Yamaha Gigmaker.Drums - Yamaha Gigmaker - $600 at This is a great entry level kit and includes all of the cymbals, stands and seats that you need. The Yamaha stage customs are around the same price range but as a shell pack only (re: no cymbals, no stands, just drums), so if you’re upgrading from another kit this might be the way to go. Think about hitting the used market for some fine bronze cymbals that were just a little two smudged for someone! 

Non Instrument Gifts

Here are some other great gifts for the musician in your family!

headphonesClosed Back, Over Ear Headphones. A nice pair of closed back headphones will really take your favorite listener inside their favorite music in a whole new way. Plus they can be used for recording in garageband! 

music stand bwA Music Stand. While not quite the shiny pony of their dreams, don’t underestimate the value of getting musicians to stop reading off of a piece of paper that’s next to them on the couch. Look for a sturdy base and wide opaque top (no fold away stands). See last month’s “Practice Practicing” article for the low down.

rc1Effects Pedals. Guitarists, bassists, keyboardists and anyone else who plans to be coming through a 1/4” cable will eventually find themselves collecting a bevy of these fun little toys. While the cornerstones are distortion and delay, the place to start for many is a loop sampler such as the Boss RC-1.

gcSunburst Gift Cards. Redeemable for lessons, group programs and summer camps! A no brainer.


Concert Tickets. Music teacher: so what kind of music are you into? Student: ... Teacher: have you seen any cool concerts recently? Student: ...

stp shirt

Stone Temple Pilots T-Shirts. ...How did this become a thing again?


A PA System. Are you the parent of a teen that plays music? Can you smell a rock band brewing? If (a big if) you want to create an ideal environment, the perfect storm of angst if you will, then you need to be the house with the PA system. The Yamaha StagePas sounds great and doesn’t weigh a ton. Don’t point the mic at the speakers.

irigiRig. For guitarists, bassists, keyboardists and electronic drummers this neat little device lets you interface with garageband (and a host of other ios devices but mainly garageband) for everything from using it as an amp for silent practice, to getting into the world of multitrack recording. It’s the gift that says “Now you can play with your phone while you practice your music.” What could be better?


Unlike parachutes and groceries used musical instruments are often the sound economical and environmental choice, and in some cases they are better than their new counterparts. Particularly wooden instruments such as guitars, basses, drums and pianos can grow finer with age. 


Craigslist, Offerup, LetGo - CL and its new app based copycats are the first thing to check because they change rapidly. Things will show up at way below market value and people act quickly. The other advantage to these is that because they are local you can go and inspect instruments in person, just be sure to read up on Craigslist safety.

Local Music Stores Used Section - Pianos N Stuff in Blawnox, Music Go Round in Monroeville and a few other stores have decent used sections. Although if you’re looking for anything specific the odds are pretty slim. Great places and prices and always worth a look when you are there.

Ebay- Ebay feels a little more like a slow Amazon as the sellers are more and more professional. When it comes to instruments it’s not really the land of amazing value these days. However, there are a lot of trustworthy rare or vintage instrument dealers selling unique pieces.

Reverb - Reverb is an online marketplace for musicians and is a great site with great customer service. There’s always a huge selection from dealers and owners alike, as well as rare interesting items. While it’s harder to find a total steal here, this is a still a great starting point online.

What to look for (or ask about):

Guitars/Basses - Eyeball down the length of the neck from the top to make sure it doesn’t twist left or right. Examine the distance between strings and frets at the 12th fret (should be less than ¼”). Play every note and make sure that they all make sound. Check for cracks. For acoustic guitars, check that the bridge is securely glued to the top and is not beginning to crack or peel up, and also that on the back of the guitar the neck is securely glued to the body and not beginning to come away.

Keyboards - With the keyboards it’s all about the keys themselves. Are they all present? Do they all have the same action? Do they all make sound? Do any of them stick or click? Also as with any piece of electronic gear, does it power on? 

Drums - If you’re buying used drum kits, make sure to ask the seller if any stands and cymbals are included (and anything else pictured for that matter: throne, sticks, pedals, mics, etc.). Also, a fresh set of drum heads can make any kit sound great.

do not THINGS NOT TO BUY do not

Guitar shaped do-dads - Just because your loved one PLAYS guitar, doesn’t mean that the guitar is the ideal shape for everything. From spatulas to swimming pools, it’s all out there and it should all be avoided like the piano neck tie.

Video Games in the Guitar Hero/Rock Band vein - While an argument could be made for these in that they attract kids to music who haven’t played before, once your child has a real instrument they should put down the plastic controller and play 4 real.

Instructor Concert Calendar

Where can you catch your favorite Sunburst Instructors performing live this month? Here’s where:

Alex & Kiki

WYEP Holiday Hootenanny @ Stage AE

- Thu Dec 8th, 7pm.

Ernie, Kiki & Jonathan G.

The Buckle Downs @ Rex Theater

- Fri Dec 9th.

Jonathan G.

Moment Being @ James Street Speakeasy

- Sat Dec 10th.


Heather Kropf @ Pittsburgh International Airport Baggage Claim.

Wed Dec 14th, 1-4pm

Chloe, John B., Ben

A Jazzy Christmas @ Bottle Works Johnstown

- Fri Dec 23rd, 7pm.

As always we love to hear your feedback about the newsletter, or anything else for that matter. You can reach us at (412) 475-8280 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Thanks for reading! good luck to all recital performers over the next two weeks! Thanks for being a part of the Sunburst family and have a wonderful, musical, safe holiday season! 
–Sunburst Team

 Happy Holidays from Sunburst!

Instrument Rental

Want to start taking lessons but don't yet have an instrument? We have tons in the studio available for you to use or rent!


Sunburst School of Music

5843 Forbes Avenue, Suite 201

Pittsburgh, PA 15217