Gripes

Gripes

I feel rather Andy Rooney-ish this morning..

I wish more musicians would drop the idiotic "if it costs a lot it must be good" attitude, i’ve seen people drop huge $$ on bad instruments & still believe that it’s a great instrument because they paid a lot for them. They’ll go on about inlays & purflings etc but miss the point that while that maker (or worse factory) may be well known for good instruments, they may have ended up with a dud. This is especially true for factory made instruments, which can turn out all sorts a variance in quality. One instrument can be a master class inst. while the next one’s greatest use could be a wall hanging.

On the other hand I’ve seen instruments for a cheap price tag that hold there own compared to much more expensive instr. If people want to waste their money that’s fine, it’s their money.

Even worse is when someone’s got an instrument that’s way out of their league. The Bodhranist who carries 12 whistles with him/her none of which s/he can play or even practices, but is carrying them around for that day when they magically sprout the ability to play them. (if your one of those people you need to cut it out) Or the guitarist who expects everyone to stop and worship their Martin while the craic gets ruined, because no one really cares.

Howsobout those people who come around week after week year after year & still can only play three jigs & two set dances & get indignant when you try to play stuff they don’t know.

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I couldn’t agree more. But it is sad to hear someone who has no idea of what he’s doing blow into a very fine and expensive instrument, one that the listener has no hope of being able to afford.

The problem these days is that we buy instruments off the Internet. Buying an instrument before you have a chance to test play it is a terrible thing to do. But on the other hand, we have access to all of these instruments that we wouldn’t even know existed if it wasn’t for the net.

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The condition of Whistle Obsessive Acquisition Disorder (WhOA), applies to all instruments & if your like me you dream of owning everything from a sitar to a hurdy-gurdy - then I come to my senses. the net throws a lot of fuel on this fire
ps it’s a good thing I don’t have the resources to meet my every fancy or I’d be able to open a museum of instruments.

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Yes, i pretty much have a museum of flutes now. Most are playable, some are junk. And i keep looking for just one more que

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WhOA?! I would have that condition if given the chance, fed by the half-yearly arrival of the Lark In The Morning catalog. But I remind myself that I could never learn them all. Never mind the fact that we have two kids nearing their college years. (Money? What money?)

Re: caveat emptor,mate

I don’t understand why someone would buy anything as variable (and often pretty dear) as instruments without at least trying it out first.

I was amazed a few years ago when someone from the US rang me about the viola I had for sale.( I had to sell to get my present ice-box.)What would they have done if they had bought it and found it did n’t suit?
I would like about a month to see what I would be getting.Of course,this is when instruments are being bought for playing and not to be stuck in a a display case. If you’re buying to invest I suppose it would n’t matter what the thing sounds like.More’s the pity.

And yes, better instruments don’t = better playing.
dave

Worship my Martin

Actually, my 2300 dollar Martin DOES make me a better player. When I bought it, I had been playing for several years and was very frustrated that I never seemed to be getting any better. My fingers were sore, I got string buzz, the sound was dull and I was not very dextrous, and this didn’t change with practice. When I brought home my beautiful, beautiful small bodied Martin with glorious action and a slightly narrow fretboard I sounded a thousand times better and relaxed into a much sweeter style almost immediately.

Same goes for my hand-crafted natural goatskin bodhran. My previous bodhran was not really fit for anything more rhythmic than hanging on a pub wall. Blech sums up the skill I had developed using this drum, and the sound I made with it was something like slapping a wet rag on a steamer trunk. When I bought the tuneable one with an exquisitely polished and light tipper, I was astounded to realize I actually had a knack for the bodhran.

I am now an advocate of buying the best instrument you can find, whether you think you know how to play it yet or not (you’ll learn), and I do believe that to a high degree, you get what you pay for.

It DOES bug me, though, when people seem to brag about their tools. Nobody paid me to advertise for Martin, and I cover the logo with a fabric rose someone tossed me when I was busking one day. (This started as a convenience, but has since become a tradition.) It just happens to be a gorgeous guitar with a gorgeous sound. I’d have bought it regardless of the prestige of the maker. It seemed to be glowing on the wall the first time I saw it, and asking to come home with me. I had no idea what it was.

I’d hate to think people resent me because I have gorgeous instruments and might not play as well as they do. It just means I’ve spent every dime I ever made on my toys. I’ll never buy a new car, but I can easily see shelling out 10 grand for a set of Uillean pipes I might have sitting in my closet for ten years before I get around to taking lessons. (so many instruments, so little time). ;^)

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A lot of times what you’re paying for in expensive instruments is consistency, quality control. Cheaper instruments are often made in a factory where much less attention is paid to the details. But! Sometimes things go just perfectly and they (the cheaper makers) make a real gem. Often it’s because they hired somebody with real talent. Oh, he won’t stay there too long, but while he’s there, the percentage of good - even great instruments - goes right up.

So this is what I love: to find the cheap gems. The most expensive ax I’ve got is my Chapman Stick. This is a handmade instrument available (new) from only one source, so that’s my excuse. But my main working bass is a Fender P-bass, NOT pre-CBS, NOT a collectors item, cost me $200, looks like hell and plays and sounds like a dream; all other bassists who tried it agree. I have a friend with a fluke of a Squire Strat that I’d stack up against almost any collectors item in terms of tone and playability, though I’ll agree it wouldn’t look as nice. So what I love is the diamonds in the rough.

Joe

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Hey, take pity on those of us who, despite months of practicing every day for hours, never improve. Don’t destroy our illusions that a more costly instrument will make us a better player. When the probability of winning the lottery seems higher than ever being able to make a jig sound like a jig, it is all we have left to cling to!

Geez-o-pete, now I have to pull out that extra large bottle of single malt and drown my sorrows…

Seriously, a better tool *can* make a difference, and sometimes better == more money. Of course, bragging about something solely because it cost more is always a bad idea.

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I agree with Kerri. Brad and Glauber are forgetting that some of us like to play our options. I’m buying a flute over the web, site unseen (except that I’ve dealt with other flutes by the same maker in person before). But I get a 21-day money-back grace period to try it out. And I don’t have to ship it back to Ireland—just to the U.S. distributor in California. I’m also positive that it will be more flute than a beginner like me can handle, and there will be a few jealous players here abouts at first. But I intend to get better, in part by using a better instrument, and some day I’ll "deserve" that flute, or even an Olwell or Wickes, or whatever. I resent it when someone suggests that a certain player (even if it’s not me) doesn’t deserve an instrument because s/he’s "never" going to play it well. By whose standards? And who’s to say that a person can’t improve and reap years of enjoyment out of owning and playing a good instrument? Yes, it takes more than a good instrument to make a good musician, and some good musicians can overcome the limitations of bad instruments, but if it really matters to you what the person next to you is playing, I have to wonder why you’re sitting there in the first place.

I’ve played and taught music for close to 30 years and I’ve seen lots of people struggle with bad instruments whose only strength was that they were "affordable." But at what cost to the enjoyment of playing music, which is the point, isn’t it?

It’s also all relative. I play a $1,500 no-name fiddle. It sounds as good as other violins I’ve played in the $10,000 to $15,000 price range. Realistically, it’s probably not even worth the money I paid for it. But many fiddlers I run into consider mine to be an "expensive" instrument (anything over $250 qualifies). And yes, I’ve played some wonderful fiddles that people picked up for $200—but that’s only because the sellers didn’t realize the value of what they had.

I would never flaunt any of my instruments, but I can also genuinely share the joy when a friend buys a $2,300 bouzouki from a name maker and announces it at the session. It’s beautiful right out of the case, it plays like magic, and it sounds better than any bouzouki I’ve ever heard. If he chooses to spend his hard-earned money that way, why should I care?

Brad, I agree that it’s annoying when someone equates high cost with high quality. But it can be just as annoying when musicians insist on playing their childhood $35 chip-board guitar or the flute from Timbuktu that refuses to play in tune or the toy bodhran with the plastic head….

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I would argue that a better instrument will ALWAYS make a difference. Every single time. It’s not just the superior tone, it’s also the infusion of enthusiasm for practice one gets when one isn’t always thinking "damn that scratchy e string! why can I never make it clear? I suck. I give up. Where’s my whiskey?"

I wouldn’t, however, argue that paying more will ALWAYS = a better instrument. I try to buy instruments from people who make them themselves out in their back sheds whenever possible. Preferably people who don’t reeeeeeeeeeeally want to sell the things, but just don’t have room to store them all. These are usually expensive, but not ridiculously expensive, when you consider the incredible amount of time it takes a luthier to be satisfied with his or her finished product. (Also, if you buy straight from a lesser known luthier, it’s unlikely he or she would sell you something they were not proud of. Their reputation depends on the quality of the product, and not hype.)

The guitar I bought is of course an exception to this general rule, but I was young (18) and impressionable when I bought it. I had yet to develop the thousands of neuroses that make me whole.

Brad, you did NAIL the title for this thread πŸ™‚

I like Sosaidh’s idea. More money doesn’t always equal better quality, but better quality usually does cost more. Joe’s diamonds in the rough are out there, but hunting them down sometimes takes time away from playing. The best strategy perhaps is to know what you’re looking for so when you trip over it (because you weren’t actually looking for it) , you’ll recognize it.

Ciao

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very well-put, will!

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Oh yeah, right on Will, there was this concertina player once, he wasn’t a bad player, but his cheap chinese instrument hurt, really hurt, the ears. After 10 minutes, we were all ready to make like mutant ninja leprechauns and slice it to pieces with our bare hands. Instead, one of us who owned a music store worked out a deal to get him a reasonable quality concertina at below cost.

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I go out to buy some tiles for the bathroom, and pow, look what I come back to! *grin*

I’ve been told that I need to get a better violin, because this one is holding me back. We are planning on a kid this year, and we are putting in hardwood floors as we can afford it, room by room, and moving the entire house around, plus both cars need work, my husband is visiting the dentist on Monday, and the other day I played a Russian made $5000 fiddle at a local music store that made me sound like Itzhak Perlman playing Irish music. (Okay, maybe that’s an exageration.)

*Where* do I find money for all this stuff!? Priorities, schminorities, I think it’s all important, and I want it all, as soon as possible, wahhh, poor me. *grin* This is not griping. This is WHINING. Heh.

Zina

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A good instrument could be of the expensive kind or a cheap one.
My guitar - a cheap steel string guitar of the Landola brand (finnish company) - was shurely not the best bargain when I bought it twenty years ago, but since then the instrument has developed and I and the guitar has grown together. Today I wouldn’t change the instrument for whatever reason.
I’ve never bought a real expensive instrument. But I couldn’t stand a bad instrument either. I think it’s an emotional thing. You necessarly need a decent or ‘good enough’ instrument. But except for this you need an emotional and tactile relation to your instrument and that is more important than the quality of your instrument. My Kerry D Low Whistle for example, isn’t the best choice, but it’s good enough and after a year of co-existance we’ve both agreed that it’s better to make beautiful music than not to….
So don’t look too much on the price tag, but rely on the long term relationship with your instrument
lars

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Hey, Lonefiddler, does that mean if we show up at YOUR session, we can get a deal on an instrument if it’s painfully bad?! *grin*

Zina

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Very clever. On the topic of fortunate stumblings (concertinas too, for that matter), the man who made my bodhran (also a friend of mine) reluctantly accepted a straight-across trade: 1 bodhran for 1 dusty old neglected concertina. The drum is a steal at about 500 dollars. He had the concertina tuned and cleaned and discovered it is a turn-of-the-century collectors item worth 10,000 dollars. Lucky him!

(I should add, the fact that it’s valuable is of minor interest to him. He would never sell it, and has been learning to play it over the last year or so. It is also a beautiful sounding instrument.)

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Greetings,

I believe the truth of this matter lies in the gray area.

I do believe in spending a BIT more for an instrument if it responds positively when the player improves. I always steer people away from mass produced Pakistani flutes (the ones you see all over Ebay) because they don

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We’re starting to touch on some important themes here: that our friends (these fiddles, flutes, whistles, concertinas, bodhrans, and yes, even accordions πŸ™‚ ) have intrinsic value well beyond what we pay for them. And an instrument that one person dislikes may be someone else’s love of their life.

The other part of this whole discussion that now jumps out at me is why we play Irish traditional music in the first place. How well do you have to play to be accepted at the average session? (I know, I know…all sessions are exceptional, that’s what makes them so much fun.) Really—does how much your instrument costs matter, one way or the other? Is this about impressing people with how much you spent or how frugal you could be? Or is it about simply breathing air into a bunch of tremendous tunes with your friends?

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Holy Smokes!! is there anyone who didn’t chime in on this one?? I’m not in favor of instruments that *sound* cheap I like good instruments. if there happens to be an instrument for cheap it doesn’t mean that it’s a piece of doo-doo just because it’s not >$1000. I guess thats my point.

My first guitar was a mess - a 3/4 size steel string with egg-slicer action & I honestly think that it helped me more than hurt me. When I did upgrade to a real guitar it felt that much better, sounded better & was better but I had built up alot of technique just to play that first guitar. A bad instr. is not for playing in front of people but teaches you more about the instr from the get-go.

Kerri, do you really think you got a deal?

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Wow, look at the discussion I’m missing while I’m at work. This is a really perplexing problem
for all the beginner uilleann pipers I know who simply can’t find an instrument. The only
choices may be seriously to buy a cheap one, and wait a long time till it gets there, try to
find a used one - expensive, and fly a long distance to actually try it out before buying it, or
wait a year for a maker to make you a practice set, wait another year for him to upgrade you to
a half set, and then wait another year for the regulators to make it a full set, paying lots each
time. When the wait costs so much TIME, the money issue seems to take a back seat, but
it’s still a big wall to climb. Right now, for instance I’m not aware of a single full set of pipes
in the key of D that is available for sale anywhere. I think some beginners migh pay a lot more
than the instrument is worth just to get something to play. The alternative is buying a Pakistani
set that is unwieldy, and could discourage a beginner from learning. With pipes, a bad set may
be terribly difficult to play, even to cause insanity, where a more expensive set can be quite easy to
play.

So, my argument is that time is another great cost that we pipers usually must pay. So, if anyone
finds any regulators for sale, please tell me. PLEASE!!!! Also, there’s a great career potential
in uilleann pipe-making. I understand it’s hard work, but it’s well appreciated. By the way, if you
spend a lot on an instrument, you can always sell it again.

I wouldn’t say that cost ever gives anyone any bragging rights. I’d say that if I’m the only one in the
world that can play my own set of uilleann pipes which I constructed myself out of PBC tubing and
pieces from my own couch, and sound better than Liam O Flynn on them, then that would give me
bragging rights. Unfortuantely, I don’t, so there’s nothing to brag about.

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This came across the wooden flute list and I thought it was relevant.

"One night on a different subway line I saw a man board wearing raggy clothes and carrying a tenor sax that looked like it had been hit by a bus. The lacquer was gone, the thing was one huge dent. I expected the worst. Sax players are a dime a dozen and usually play like it. This guy began playing ballads like he was John Coltrane in a meditative mood. It was astonishing. What was someone that good doing in a subway? Well, we all have to live."

Probably on his way to Brad’s session. *snicker*

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Both to make Brad’s point for him, and to annoy the hell out of him by attempting Woman of the House on his sax…. πŸ™‚

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I didn’t mean to say that anyone should stick with an awful instrument. If it’s awful, dump it. It will make your life much harder. But you do what you can, and hopefully one day you get an instrument that’s good enough. After that point, the increase in quality is much less than the increase in price.

I think instruments are incredibly overpriced these days, especially the factory-made kind. I blame kids with rich parents! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

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I agree with the Martin owner ("Worship my Martin"), I tried mine in the shop then decided I couldn’t leave without buying it. Mainly because the sustain on it was amazing and it sounded good all the way up the neck. Its the best guitar I own, great for fingerpicking and flatpicking. Unfortunately doesnt seem to like DADGAD, the bass strings drown out the high ones (probably just my model which is popular with Bluegrass flatpickers). It can be relied on to give me the sound I am after.

I have several other guitars, including a cheapish Canadian one with a solid top which sounds great with Elixir strings. I actually play this most of the time and have used it onstage. This is my one for going down to the session in the Pub in its soft case. It’s not as good as my Martin and cost about a 6th of the price but makes me very happy. Looks a bit strange as its a sort of yellow colour in unvarnished wood, but a nice guitar to play.

Someone else mentioned "dud factory made" guitars. I once tried the same model of a guitar I already owned in a shop and couldnt believe how much better mine was.

I made mistakes years ago buying instruments because I didn’t know what to look for or what I was really after, I wasn’t aware for years that you could do things like get the action lowered. Best thing to do if possible is get a friend who plays a bit to try the instrument as well and tell you what they think. If there is a chance you might not continue with the instrument then you can buy qood quality cheap ones.

The only thing that annoys me about my Martin is the attention it draws from guitar anorach types (don’t think I’m one) and people who think I have been decadent buying it. Leave me and Martin alone. Especially the drunk who was offended when I wouldn’t let him play it, not because he was drunk but in case he started playing Stairway to Heaven.

I sound like Mad Baloney there.

Bill

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Baloney, do I really think I got a deal on what? Let’s see here:

fiddle: free (deal!)
mandolin: free (deal!)
djembe: Long & McQuade trade-in for equipment I couldn’t sell (deal!)
banjo: free (deal!)
ukelele: free (deal!)
bass guitar: permanent loan (deal!)
bodhran: $500 (fair. It’s beautiful and made by a good friend)
harp: $700 used (deal - the maker sells them for $1200)
shuttle pipes: $300 (deal - maker sells them for $850)
hammered dulcimer: $700 (deal! these are impossible to find for under $2000)
PVC didgeridoo: $50 (rip-off!)
Guitar: $2300 dollars (not a deal, but not a rip-off either. that’s what they cost.)

so overall, yes, I really do think I got a deal. None of these instruments are crappy except the banjo, and most of them are absolutely heavenly.

oh, yes, the ukelele is also crappy. Nice for a ukelele, but still crappy. And I have no way of knowing yet if the pipes are crappy or not. I know the maker is reputable and visited his shop, but I can’t play the damn things.

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Anything free is a good deal, if your happy with your instruments than after you part with the money you forget about it anyway. Unless you got ripped off badly.

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Ultimately, you do get what you pay for, but the disparity in that is WHERE you pay for it.

I bought my mandolin in Ireland for IR400, while I was still living there. Now, it wasn’t top of the range and I couldn’t play a note, but I know a good sounding instrument and, more importantly, I trusted the shop where I bought it.
Now, that same piece would cost me around $1200.00 here in the USA. …It’s no better an instrument if I bought it here or there, but I do sense a snobbery here in the US with expensive instruments.

My wife bought me a beautiful classical guitar last year, a student model that a friend of ours has declared as one of the sweetest she has ever played….it was $290.00!!! I love it, it’s another voice to express myself.

So, it’s not only about the cost, but the quality and feel that you get from an instrument. If you play it and like it, then get it…..

Also…gotta love those Martin guitars…so sweet πŸ™‚