Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sympathy For The Mechanically Inept

I confess, as a fairly skilled bike mechanic, I can sometimes be a bit of a snob when it comes to folks who don't know the grabby end of a screwdriver from the pointy end. It's a psychology that's trained into shop mechanics over the years. Sure, we'll talk nice to you in the front of the shop: "Oh, don't worry about it... most people don't know that the brake lever is the thing that makes you stop." That's how we get paid. But in the back of the shop, it's probably a different story. "Sheesh, I had a guy today who didn't even know how to face his own bottom bracket shell. (snort of disdain)"

If you're now seething just a bit at my pretentiousness (or the pretentiousness of some other shop monkey who snorted at you because you couldn't change a flat, true a wheel, align a dropout, or -- the hat trick -- all three at once), here's your chance for a nice tasty bite of schadenfreude (Holy crap, did I really just spell that correctly on the first try? Thank you, useless liberal arts education!)

See, as my irregular readers know, I've recently tried to resurrect my interest in making musical noise. Since I played from age 10 through college, he making of noise (some musical, some not so much) isn't really that tough: just build the calluses and practice enough to reconnect those old synapses. Where I get into trouble is the mechanics of my instrument. I have a long history of musical mechanical incompetence going all the way back to the very first bass guitar my parents bought me, somewhere around age 13. It was a fun toy for a while, and I played the ever-lovin' snot out of it, but at some point, curiosity got the best of me. I had to get inside and see how the thing worked. I'm not entirely sure what I did, but when I finally confessed to my dad and we took the pile of parts to the music store, even their heroic measures couldn't save it. I ended up with a new bass, a none-too-pleased father, and an edict that I was NOT to touch any tools without supervision.

Fast-forward to ought-twelve, and almost-40 me isn't much different than almost-13 me. I got my new bass, played around with it, enjoyed it immensely, then promptly decided that I had to make it better. So I ordered some flatwound strings to replace the stock roundwounds. Nice, except now the action felt kind of wonky... but hey, the action adjustment at the bridge uses metric Allen wrenches! I have those, and I know how to use them! Awesome! Except now, the notes are fretting sharp. Gosh, I should be able to fix that. After all, 13-year-old me didn't have the INTERNET to help him out! The INTERNET knows everything! And all you need to adjust intonation is a screwdriver! I have those, and I even know the grabby end from the pointy end! Except now I'm paranoid that maybe I did something to the adjustment of the truss rod, or maybe the winter weather has tweaked the neck a little...

Thankfully, the shop where I bought my bass offers free adjustments, and almost-40 me has gained a little bit of wisdom in the last 27 years. I'm still not smart enough to stop the madness before it starts, but at least I know when to cut my losses, take my (thanfully still functional) instrument to the professionals, and -- tail between my legs -- say, "Fix this, please."


Pondero said...

Great story, and great insight to the way we behave.

Anonymous said...

and do the music shops charge extra when you already worked on it yourself??

I don't have other hobbies in which to be too dangerous, but when it comes to car maintenance, I'm just smart enough to go back to the shop and say "it's making this noise...." and just let 'em do whatever they want.

Wasn't it Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry who said something like "A man's gotta know his weaknesses"?

Steve in Peoria

Anonymous said...

make that "a man's gotta know his limitations".

S. in P.