My friend Bernice's ten-year-old son is pleading for guitar lessons. He's decided to be the next great rock guitarist. "I'm not sure where he came up with the idea," she said, "because we don't listen to that much rock." She agreed to give him guitar lessons but told him he would take classical guitar lessons. A music stand would be needed, I mused, and began the research.William Wilson, guitarist and teacher (619-300-6284; williamwilson.com ) related to Bernice's story. "Usually, when the student is 12 or 13 years old, even if they have been playing classical guitar, they want to become a rock player," he said. "It's inevitable. That's what happened with me. But in my experience, if you get to the student before that and sow the seeds of a little classical technique, they find the rock guitar bores them. It's not as hard, in many ways, as the classical guitar. So after a while, they go back to the classical guitar because that was a challenge. Some students you never get back, though; they are just lost."
Either way, Wilson said, a guitarist needs music stands. "I think most musicians have several music stands. I carry three of them in the back of my car. I have two at home and two at work."
Is there a certain height for guitar stands?
"With guitar-playing, we are unique in that you want a stand that's low. We usually sit when playing; the stand is just above knee level. We do that so the stand will not block the projection of the guitar. Also you can see what the guitar player is doing. With a big music stand, all you see when you look at the musician is the stand...instead of the guitar player's fingers."
Wilson usually uses a Manhasset stand. "The Manhasset Concertina Stand, which runs about $50 , is the smallest one I have seen," said Wilson. "It sits really low. You also can put stand extenders on it, called Stand Outs. They are plastic leaves that slide onto the music stand, so that when you need the stand to be wider, it will fit more than two sheets of music. The stand then holds four pages of music. With an instrument like a guitar, where you can't turn the pages, it helps to have four pages that show at one time. Some stands you can't use extenders on because they have a lip on the side."
Wilson did have a cautionary tale with the Manhasset stands.
"In my experience, the washers on the stand often break," he said. "If you put heavy stuff on it, the washers will break and the stand will be real flimsy on the top. So you have to change the washer. But that only happens when you overload it, which I do all the time. If you were using just sheets of music, that shouldn't be a problem."
For travel music stands, Wilson had another name for me. "I really like the Nilton Magic music stands [ $92.99 at sharmusic.com ]. I had one that I used for years. They are made out of plastic, really light [under 3 1/2 pounds], and they pack up fairly small.
"I also own a wooden stand that I use in my practice studio," he stated. "It comes apart into two pieces; you can adjust the height and the angle with these brass screws. Though I use my wooden stand, it is more for decoration."
What about the wire music stands?
"They are the cheapest, so people often go for those," he continued, "but there are a couple of different styles of wire stands. Some you can't adjust the angles that your music is at, and those are the worst. Because when the stand is stuck at one angle and you can't alter it, sometimes it is hard to see if you are sitting up high or standing. Other wire stands you can tilt the music and those are decent."
Should the stand have a shelf?
"Most don't use one, but they probably should," continued Wilson. "When it comes to learning guitar, you are oftentimes using a pick, and people lose those left and right. If they have a little shelf, they can have their pick and a pencil handy to make notes." The Manhasset Concertina Stand does not have a shelf, but Wilson says you can buy little plastic shelves that slip on to the bottom of the stand.
The salesman at Alan's Music Center filled me in on a few more details. "Student stands are a lightweight wire stand in the $10 price range. They fold up to either a 17-inch length collapsed or a 21-inch collapsed. Some stands come with a bag. The better-quality stands have more durable stem feet and the desk is a solid desk so that you can clamp on a music light if you need to. Those range from $22.50 to $150 .
"Some stands are hydraulic," he added, "you put your foot on the bottom of the stand and you pull up on the top part and it comes up and stops where you want it to. Other stands have a wing nut on the stand that you tighten in any position that you want it."
What are the feet options?
"Some of the feet on the stands fold up in a tripod fashion. Others are a round stand like the bottom of a microphone stand. There are advantages to both. The tripod you can fold up and take with you. It will fit in your car a little better."
What would be a middle-of-the-road quality stand?
"That would probably describe a Manhasset stand," he answered, "one that has a collapsible base, about a$40 stand. It is longer lasting, heavier duty, and it has the solid desk that you could put a light on if you wanted to add a light. The desk can change attitudes, raising and turning it."