December 14, 2018

Horse 2496 - Imperfect And Cheap Is A Better Story Than Perfect And Expensive

Oh dear.

My 3-string chocolate tin guitar, has decided that it didn't want to be a guitar anymore and after it had happened Mrs R reported that "it just gave up"; before questioning if this was a humidity issue. I don't know how hot or humid that it got out in the western suburbs of Sydney during the day but I do know that it sat in a car on Sunday afternoon; which meant that the glue which held the headstock in place, was under a fair amount of stress. Humidity could very well be a true assessment.
Am I worried about it though? Not if the slightest. When I consider that the one which I got in a kit was No.1 and my 1-string diddly-bow Spamjo is No.2, then all that will happen to No.3 is that it will be built into No.3A. I kind of love the fact that this guitar is writing its own legend. Since the world is made of stories and No.3 was tuned to EBE with the high strings of a guitar, then maybe I have to restring it with less tension and give it a lower voice. No.3A will be the guitar which went through puberty and whose voice broke (somewhat literally).

I have seen guitars built by people whose skills exceed those of professional luthiers. Having said that, I still think that from an aesthetic point of view, the best cigar box guitars are those which are obviously the cheapest. I have seen cigar box guitars for sale and prices into the many hundreds of dollarpounds  and while there is something to be said for the ridiculous amount of craftsmanship that goes into them and the fact that I admire the entrepreneurial and mercantile skills, at those prices you can buy a commercially made guitar.
There is something wonderful in the brutality of cheapness that appeals to me. I saw one guitar recently which was made out of an old oil can and the grime from the oil was still all over it. I love that this was turned into a guitar because it was cheap. There's more of a story there than a purpose built fancy pants piece of precious craftsmanship which never ever gets used.

I think this principle applies to more than just guitars made from cheap bits though. I think that it is worth applying to all sorts of things.
I completely understand the rationale behind buying a high performance car and then placing it in a garage. I also understand why you might want to take a racecar which has won something and place it in a museum. This is about preserving and maintaining a thing so that people in the future can look at it. There's nothing necessarily wrong with wanting a nice thing to remain a nice thing and not expose it to the possibility of damage.
However, I always feel sad for the thing that has been preserved. Every museum in the world is essentially a collection of dead things that will never have life in them again. Putting a car in a museum is to betray the purpose for which it was designed; to go very very fast. A television set from the 1950s that is in a museum, should be showing something like Leave It To Beaver. Ornate jewellery from ancient Britain might look pretty when it is sitting in a glass display case but it isn't displaying the power of the wearer if it remains unworn.

It gets even crazier in the world of numismatics. Coin collectors value condition as a quality of the piece in question. The very nature of coinage is that it clinks and rubs together in people's purses and wallets. Even as I look through my wallet now, I can see coins that are not even ten years old that display obvious signs of wear. They have a story which is mostly unknowable, where they are passed from person to person, facilitating commerce as they act as the tokens for previous work performed in the production of goods and services. Again, this is an ancient story and coins of thousands of years ago have a similar story. A bronze As of the Roman Empire will have moved through the hands of bakers, farmers, soldiers, artisans and tradespeople, as it acted in the process of moving value from one person to another.
As a coin collector, I am also painfully aware of Proof and Uncirculated sets, which by definition have never taken part in commerce and never will. Proof coins have polished fields and frosted details; they are the model examples of the coins in question. Proof coins which are sealed away inside their special packs, are museum pieces; whose owners are individual curators of museums of dead things. As far as I'm concerned, an 1878 Penny with Britannia on one side and Queen Victoria on the other, is an inherently more valuable thing than a Proof Penny of 2018, even though the latter has been polished, frosted, made to an obviously better standard and placed into a special set. The former which can be found in a "junk bin" at a coin shop, not only took part in commerce but did so at the centre power of an empire at a particular time in history.

I don't think that I am alone in my preference for things that have been used, abused and reused. To me this is like the Star Wars versus Star Trek question. Star Trek is known for its unbridled optimism. Right across the Star Trek universe, all of the spaceships including the ones owned by villains are all reasonably clean. The Star Wars universe on the other hand has actual junk dealers who pick their way through rubbish to make stuff. Somehow I think that most of us would prefer to live in the Star Trek universe but think that the Star Wars universe is more believable. I like the look of the Star Wars universe more for that reason and often wonder about what we don't see in those films. Surely somewhere there must be planets full of malchicks and regular schmoes who take the train to work, in factories that make all kinds of stuff. Eddie Izzard's bit about a guy who works in catering on board the Defence Sphere No.1 (Death Star according to rebel scum propaganda) under Mr Stephens has to have an element of truth about it because all of those technicians, ground crew, systems operators and pilots have to eat at some point. By the way, what happens on board something that has to deal with many species of aliens' poop? There has to be space plumbers on board the Death Star.

I'm not particularly worried about having to rebuild my 3-string guitar because at very worst, it will only cost a few pennycents. When you build a thing out of something that has the value of junk, then the emotional investment is minimal. In this case, it will take a few screws and some glue and that's about it. It already uses a dead AA battery for the bridge and rivets and a hinge for the tailpiece and so a couple of extra screws can not change the aesthetic of the thing even an iota.
I will end up using the other three strings which came out of the set and tune them down to GDG, which means that it will have a significantly lower voice than before. I don't think that that's remotely an issue either because since it doesn't pretend to be anything other than home made, not only does it not have to look pretty but I would argue that it looks better if it doesn't.

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