Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Musical (Yet Vaguely Topical) Interlude

Seeing as I haven't completed my rigorous testing protocol on the next victim... er, test subject in my shoe-shootout, I believe I'll wander off on a tangent.

Y'see, as I alluded in a recent post, I used to make vaguely musical noise on a variety of low-frequency, four-string devices. As a tyke, in fact, I was kinda good at it -- until I decided I was too good to practice, got passed by the kids who did practice, got discouraged, and gave it up (my sister, on the other hand, continued to clarinet her lips off, and now has dueling gigs as a real music teacher/working musician to show for it).

But recently, I got the bug to play again, so I popped into the local guitar shops and found some interesting (to me, at least) parallels to another shop world where I've spent way too much time, namely, the bike shop. To whit: 

THEY DON'T MAKE 'EM HERE ANY MORE: Now, that isn't entirely true in either the bike or the guitar shop. You can get a Wisconsin-made Trek in one, and a California-made Fender in the other. But it would seem that the majority of the attainable instruments in either place (read: "the ones with a price tag that a hack like myself can justify") are coming from over the pond. So I pulled down a $350 made-in-China Squier P-bass (which at least wears its made-in-China-ness proudly, under the lacquer rather than on a cheesy and easily removed sticker), started plonking, and discovered... 

THE CHEAP (or at least midrange) ONES ARE GETTING BETTER: Don't get me wrong... you'll find some really low-end stuff in both places that barely passes for a toy. But take the escalator up just one floor from the bargain basement and you'll get something pretty rideable/playable. The snobs will snub your Deore drivetrain, but it won't slow you down. Same with that Squier... there was a time I would have snorted at it as a kid's bass, but when I made horrible sounds with it (and believe me, I did), I couldn't blame the bass. 

A GOOD SHOP MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE: Being a vaguely savvy shopper, I played the same bass at two different shops (one local/independent, one national chain, though I'd hesitate to make a generalization based on that). The big-box-bass felt like they'd just pulled the thing off the truck and hung it on the wall. At the local joint, even my ham-fists could tell that someone had taken the time to set the instrument up. It felt better in my hands and sounded better even before I plugged it in. Same thing happens at the bike shop... even a top-of-the-line bike will feel like a dog if it hasn't been set up by someone who knows what they're doing, and even a humble midrange ride can fly when it's properly prepped.

Okay, enough with the almost-serious parallels. How about some weird ones? 

THE RETRO MARKETING GIMMICK RULES: Did I mention that the Squier I was so enamoured with happened to be a knockoff of a '50s Fender "tele-bass" Precision? A cheap copy, sure, nothing like the original, sure, but dang, the look had me reaching for my wallet before my brain could register what was happening. In the bike shop, see "every stinkin' Raleigh model designed to ape the vintage Frenchy stuff that's all the rage at the handbuilt bike shows these days." 

BEWARE THE CTM: That's "Crap-Talking Male". You know the guy. Looks like he's never even SEEN a bike, much less pedaled one, but wants to tell you all about how back-in-the-day he had this all-Campy Colnago, used to race it, ya know, boy, those were the days... (cut to time-lapse of clock hands spinning) ... of course, we rode tubulars then, these kids now wouldn't know how to mount a tubular to save their lives, but what a sweet ride... (more clock hands spinning). Every bike shop's got one, and every bike shop employee learns to run at the sight of his car. And guess what? The guitar shop has 'em too... except (gasp, shudder) in the guitar shop, I'm the CTM. Yeah, started on upright, man, that's how you build hand strength, high action and a neck like a baseball bat (clock spinning) then had this gorgeous sunburst '62 Jazz reissue, tone that wouldn't quit, super-fast (clock spinning) but tough times, had to pawn the Jazz, yeah, sucks (clock spinning) so starting to play again, thinking maybe I like the nut width and fingerboard radius on that Precision...

It's funny, whenever I go back to that shop, the whole staff is busy doing inventory in the back room. Go figure.

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