Dixon area musicians rocking kids’ world with free instruments through their Music Gear for Kids

Donations needed, as are more young recipients

Jason Stephens presents Kris Riggen, 10, of Dixon with his new guitar Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. Stephens and friends renovate and donate instruments a couple times a month to any aged kid who wants to learn to play.

NACHUSA – What’s better than making a kid smile?

Nothing, except maybe putting that smile to music.

That’s what bassists and buddies Scott Webb and Jason Stephens have been doing for the last year or so.

The men have been giving away free guitars, amplifiers, pedals and other accessories, as well as other kinds of instruments, at least two times a month since Sept. 5, 2022.

It’s a project they call Music Gear for Kids.

“We had this busted little guitar sitting in my garage, I don’t even know where it came from. ... I think I was going to throw it into a fire or something ... and Scott said, ‘Let’s fix it up and give it to a little kid,’” Stephens said.

“The joy and the reward we got from just that, we just decided to keep going.”

“Me and Jason never had a lot when we were kids,” Webb said. “We just thought we do something nice for the community.”

“Bottom line is, it’s all about the joy we get out of giving,” said Stephens, who was given his first guitar when he was a child.

It turned on a light that just never dimmed. “Without music, I’d probably be a different person.”

Both men are talented guitarists. Stephens, 50, a service consultant for Ken Nelson in Dixon for nearly a year, with 30 years in the automotive industry under his belt, has been side hustling with the band Trippin Molly for 11 years. Webb, 61, of Dixon, retired after 30 years at Crest Foods in Ashton, is in demand freelancing with bands all throughout the area.

That’s how they met, listening to each other’s bands, which led to them hanging out.

Now they and a group of four or five like-mined friends meet every Thursday in Stephens’ small garage in Nachusa, where they make musical magic, repairing any guitars that need it, keeping track of inventory and discussing potential donees.

Not only can Webb bring a broken guitar back to life, but he also can build one from the ground up. Lucky is the youngster who gets an original Webb.

That’s why donations even of instruments in disrepair are welcome, and not just guitars.

“We’ll take just about anything we can get our hands on,” including keyboards, Stephens said.

Just please, no big items, such as pianos or organs. Even drum sets are welcome, but only when they have a recipient lined up.

Did we mention it’s a small garage?

They’re grateful for the response they’ve gotten. The Vendettas motorcycle club, for example, recently donated $250.

“People have always come through,” Webb said. “We couldn’t do it without the community.”

Sometimes the donations they get aren’t particularly kid-friendly, or are just too nice for starter instruments, and those are traded or sold and the money plowed back into parts, or instruments that are more suitable, they said.

They’re so far just shy of helping 30 budding musicians, ages 5 to 20. (Theirs is a loose definition of kid. The desire to learn is the most important factor.)

Oddly enough, finding young recipients can be difficult, the two said. They’d like to surprise more of them with free instruments, and there are no restrictions on who will be considered.

They post recipients’ pics on their Facebook page, but keep the names private.

“We don’t pry much. We don’t ask too many questions at all,” Stephens said. “We’re just trying to create an opportunity.”

The recipients need to come to Nachusa to pick up their instruments, and those bringing them there are asked to keep the reason for the trip to a stranger’s garage a surprise if they can.

“That’s all we ever ask them to do,” Webb said.

That’s because the look of surprise and delight on their faces when they find out why they’re there just stokes Webb and Stephens’ own delight in the giving.

Other than that, ”there’s really no rules,” Stephens said.

“If your kid wants to learn, get ahold of us.”

Music Gear for Kids

Donations of instruments, especially guitars and accessories, and money to keep up inventory are appreciated.

If you want to donate, or have a youngster who wants to discover the joy of music, find Music Gear for Kids on Facebook, or call Stephens at 815-718-5401.

Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.