Fair Warning

The new (okay reconditioned ) HP laptop arrived yesterday, and so far it seems to be blessedly free of extraneous crap — other than all the stupid Microsoft nonsense (which I’ve dropped like a hot rock, of course).

Still struggling a bit with the Thunderbird email POP3  / STML stuff because I think I can read / understand Latin more easily than all that kaka.

Bear with me while I get it all figured out — I can always go back to the old laptop to get things done if I get stuck.

But the Bookmarks are done, the pic folders are there, and next comes all the personal stuff like spreadsheets etc.  Which reminds me, I need to install Open Office.  Excuse me…

Quality Stuff

I try to be sensible and logical and so on, but I will admit to a weakness for quality (“luxury”) items, across almost all categories of living.  Of course, I don’t have the wallet to afford any of them anymore, but I’d still prefer to drive, say, an Audi instead of a VW.

This philosophy does clash — frequently — with commonsense as I muse on such things, but the lure of quality still gets to me.  And as Longtime Reader Mike Of The Dueling Pistols so eloquently said when talking about watches“You know why I own a Bremont and an IWC? The same reason I own a Hammerli… I like it. My bills are paid, why not buy something I enjoy with the money?”

Amen.  In Daphne du Maurier’s novel The Progress Of Julius, the protagonist is a man who starts off as a street urchin in North Africa and ends up becoming enormously wealthy in Britain.  I don’t remember the exact words, but one night he thinks about the fact that he now wears silk shirts, and wonders if he could ever go back — and realizes that he couldn’t, because luxury is seductive.

And it is.  On the very few occasions when I’ve been able to afford a real quality item, I always felt good about it, and it always repaid my investment in spades.  An example:  back when I was a pro musician, I could have got by with playing a $400 Fender Precision bass guitar, but instead I bought a $1,200 Rickenbacker.

The very first time I played the Rick, I felt a rush of something — enjoyment and satisfaction, I suppose — because I was playing the best bass guitar in the world and good grief… it sounded fantastic.  That’s not a knock on the Fender, by the way:  the old P-bass has been played by bassists far better than I, it’s super-reliable and sounds just fine, and if for any reason the Rick hadn’t been an option, I’d have got the Fender and been quite happy with the thing.  But it wasn’t a Rickenbacker, and it became my (and the band’s) signature sound over the years.

I feel the same about lots of life’s little toys:  cars, watches and guns being the categories where I’m most prone to going for the spendy, so to speak, and which tendency will be well-known to Longtime Readers.

So just as an intellectual exercise, I’m going to do the same for them as I’ve done for bass guitars:  post a perfectly-good choice, against what I’d really like to own.  Note that I’m not going to post a “budget” item — I never even considered a cheap bass guitar like Epiphone or Squier, for example, even though I was quite poor at the time — but only something that’s of (very) acceptable quality.  So here goes:

1911s:  Springfield G.I. and  Ed Brown Kobra

There’s nothing at all wrong with the Springfield — there’s one on my belt as we speak — but the Kobra is exceptional, and I lust after it bigly.


Bolt-action rifles:   Ruger Hawkeye and  Mauser M12

Once again, there’s nothing wrong with the Ruger — I got one for Boomershoot, as you’ll recall — and it’s a perfectly good rifle… until you fire a Mauser M12.  (Both the above, by the way, are chambered in 6.5x55mm Swede.)


Side-by-side shotguns:  AyA No.2 and David McKay Brown Round Action (note:  as we all know, you can go nuts when it comes to fine shotguns — Purdey, Holland etc. — so I gave myself a price ceiling of merely “expensive”, and second-hand to boot)The kicker here is that you can get a new AyA for about $6,000, and a second-hand McKay Brown can run around seven times that, because machine-made vs. handmade.  Indulge me…


Watches:   Longines Flagship and Jaeger-LeCoultre Master

…and I didn’t even have to go super-pricey on this:  the Longines runs just under a grand, and the Jaeger just under five.  I’ve owned a Longines before, and I still regret getting rid of it (because poverty);  but Jaeger watches are both lovely and super-reliable.

Fountain Pens:  Sailor 1911 and  Pelikan Souveran 800

For when you want to sign that important contract, and the Bic just won’t cut it.  The Pelikan costs nearly three times the Sailor, but Pelikan… I don’t think they make a “regular” pen — all their models are excellent.  If you have big hands and need a thicker barrel, then try the Cross Peerless 125. (And Montblanc Meisterstuck pens are fine — they’re the Rolex of pens — for those who want to be seen using one.  My budget Pelikan writes better, in my hand.)


Classic Sports Cars:   1967 Corvette Stingray and  1957 Mercedes 300 Roadster

This one’s not even close.


Modern Saloon Cars:  Mercedes S560 (4-liter V8) and  Bentley Continental GT Speed (6-liter W12)

Y’all know that I’m holding my nose with this one, because modern cars are almost all fugly.  If I had  to own one, however… but I cheated.  Because while a new S560 costs around $130k at the above dealer, an extra 5 grand gets you a secondhand Bentley, with less than 10,000 miles on the clock.  As with the earlier car choice, this one isn’t close, either.

Feel free to list your “quality” options in Comments — they don’t have to be the most expensive you can buy, just better than the average or typical.  And please:  I’m not interested in hearing from people who are perfectly happy with their 1983 Dodge Whatever, Casio Digital and inherited Winchester 100, and see no reason to upgrade any of them, ever.  Play the game.

Hobby

I always knew there was a reason I liked this man:

He has long been known as a model railway enthusiast — even if at times he didn’t want to talk about it.
But now Sir Rod Stewart’s legendary layout — 26 years in the making — can be seen for the first time in all its finished glory.

…and it’s stunning.  Hie thee hence to see it.

I always wanted to do this, only my layout would have been an Alpine scene in Germany, circa 1900.  Back in the early 1990s, I even bought period-correct Fleischmann HO engines (three), half a dozen carriages, and built a couple of model houses (also period-correct).

Alas, life got in the way (i.e. divorce, lost the house and therefore the basement) and I never got to build it in.  But Rod did, and good for him.

Musician Thoughts

All the way from past Down Under (i.e. New Zealand), Reader Tony H. writes:

Was reading your post about the travails of the guitar industry.
I bet if you looked at the way the piano industry “evolved” from a time in the 50s & 60s where every second house in my street had a piano you’d see some interesting comparisons. As a kid we’d go up and down the street to people’s houses, go inside and they would play Christmas carols and we’d sing along. No parents along for the ride, mind you.
How many actual pianos do you reckon got sold world wide last year? Thousands? Tens of thousands? So if you were one of those British or German piano makers you were on a hiding to nowhere.
Part of the problem is longevity. Once you get up to pro level gear, it basically doesn’t wear out.
I’ve got a 30 year old Fender Strat. Played 100s of shows with it. I use a 1970s Fender amp. OK, I’m a semi pro person, so I bought myself a Gibson Les Paul 12 years ago. I’ve got two 80’s Marshall amps that I use for practice and social playing.
None of this gear is ever going to wear out to a point where repair is not an economic proposition. So unless I break something or it gets stolen, me as a daily user of my equipment represent zero revenue to any of these suppliers.
OK, yes, I go through strings at a rate, but that’s like buying petrol for your car.
If I did write off one of my guitars, in truth I’m much more likely to buy a vintage example than a new one – not even a price decision.
So how are Fender or Gibson ever going to get any money out of me? Self tuning guitar? Nah. Hi tech like Line 6 with built in effects etc? Nah, I like the sound of my old analogue tubes and nicely aged bits of wood.
Clearly I’m not alone, the largest sector in the Gibson catalogue is “reissues”.
Both Gibson and Fender have gone down market to chase volume. There are Epiphones and Squier guitars at every price point.
As a person that really gets their brand proposition, actively uses their products and is in the fortunate position of being able to pony up a few thousand on a new instrument if I wanted to, they have got zero dollars off me in the last ten years and are highly unlikely to get anything off me in the next 10 years either.
OK, maybe a modern amp as lugging around a 100 watt head and a 4 X 12 quad box is starting to tell, and these days I never get to crank it.
So, zero growth potential from me.
Also, anecdotally, the value proposition for Fender and Gibson has been steadily eroded by products from other makers. Yes, I fully get the “wank value” of owning a Les Paul, but objectively there are dozens of alternatives at much cheaper prices and the quality gap is narrowing all the time.
Whats left for them? Joining Harley Davidson in acquiring 100% of a diminishing market? We all know how that works out.
Cheers & keep up the good work.

All true, and I know for a fact that if I were still playing, it would be on my old Rickenbacker 4001S through… well, not my old Roland RB-120, because it died the day before my last gig in S Africa, all those years ago. [cue spooky music]

It was one of the best-sounding bass amps ever made, by the way, and it was one of the very few which could handle the high output from my Rick (which I always played at full volume from the guitar controls).

So much did I love that guitar that if by some miracle I could play bass again (arthritis, don’t ask), I’d be playing that same old Rick… but instead of trying to resurrect the old Roland (great though it was), I’d probably get one of the new amps. Well, I say “new”, but in fact it would be a new version of my old Roland. (You may all return your shocked faces to Sarah Hoyt now.) They stopped making the RB-120 back in the early 1980s, if that helps. Here’s the Cube 120XL:

Note to Reader Tony: forget that valve stuff for gigging; this is the business, with all the different amp effects built in. (I actually owned the smaller 30-watt version of this amp a little while ago, and I loved it.)

See? I can change if I have to. Especially as this amp weighs about a tenth of my older double stacks, and my back still gives me an occasional twinge to remind me how much I abused it back then.

Anyway, here’s a pic of the old band setup at the OK Corral Club, just outside Pretoria, taken in May 1977:

Yeah, that’s me (age 22) on bass at bottom right. I can’t remember what amp I was playing through back then, but it was either a Fender Bassman 120 or a Marshall 100-watt rig (can’t see it clearly in the pic).

Note also the various Gibsons and the Fender Strat. Yes, we supported them way back then too. (Marty’s Les Paul was a ’63 and Kevin’s Strat was a ’65. I don’t remember the year of the Flying V, but I think it was a new one, i.e. 1975-ish.)

Where was I?

Oh yeah. Unlike Reader Tony, I wouldn’t go back to gigging; I’d only play old standards (Gershwin, Carmichael etc.) in a four-piece house band (piano, bass, drums and either a horn/clarinet player or a female torch singer), in an old-fashioned night club where people dressed up and danced cheek to cheek:

You may call me old-fashioned, if you wish. I wear the label with pride.

Flight Of Fancy

Back in the day when I played in a band, the various members had some rather interesting hobbies: Drummer Knob collected sports cars (and still does), Guitarists Kevin and Donald collected venomous snakes (the idiots), Keyboards Player Mike had his private pilot license (PPL), Guitarist Marty had his chopper pilot’s license, while Bassist Kim… well, I did a lot of testing of the effects of alcohol on the human body. (The band was my hobby.)

Anyway, Mike also had a two-seater ultralight aircraft, and I went up with him on several occasions. It was great fun, and it looked something like this: essentially, a wing with a”pusher” (rear-facing) motorcycle engine attached.

While I was looking at pics of old planes last week (for the RAF’s centenary), I happened upon something which made me stop and think: “I’d love to have one of those and fly it around.”

This is the Airco DH.2, designed by Geoffrey De Havilland himself (PBUH), and while it’s a little more aircraft than an ultralight (with two wings and a substantial tail assembly), the principle is the same: a “pusher” engine mounted behind the pilot.

I’d just use a modern engine (Honda Gold Wing?) in place of the old underpowered 100 hp Gnôme Monosoupape rotary engine, which had a rather disturbing tendency to lose its cylinders in flight. (And yes, I’d very much like to keep the Lewis machine gun too, thankyouverramush.)

I know the DH.2 is only a single-seater, but then if I wanted to go the extra step and carry a passenger as well, there’s always the Royal Aircraft Factory’s F.E.2b:

…also with the machine gun, of course.

I’m too old for this stuff now, more’s the pity; but let me tell you, given half the chance, I’d do it in a heartbeat anyway — in either aircraft, even without the guns.