Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Give it Away, Now

I try to not let politics nor religion creep into these pages about music.  Music should be a happy, non-divisive place, and both politics and religion are often tools used for both . However, something needs to be said about making  musical goods in China...

There are any number of really good arguments of why musical equipment makers shouldn't do this: patriotism, putting Americans to work, we've heard them all.  But one I've haven't heard and have been thinking about is how the manufacturers are trading short-term profit for long-term longevity.

When a company has something produced offshore, they have to specify what they want made.  That often means the American firm has to teach the Chinese company how to make it, along with any proprietary technology that company specifically developed and used in manufacturing.  Now, the Chinese are long known for industrial espionage, outright stealing of American technology.  However, by manufacturing American goods using American technology for an artificially low price, industrial espionage becomes unnecessary.  That technology is handed over to the Chinese (and other countries as well), and the American manufacturer, in buying the cheaply-made good,  pays for the pleasure of giving away his secrets.

This idea wasn't dreamed up in a vacuum.  I spoke with a bass guitar manufacturer who glowingly told me how he straightened out mistakes made on the production line in a Chinese factory. That line made instruments for nearly every major manufacturer in the US.

Eventually, I believe the Chinese manufacturing bubble will burst.  American lawmakers and manufacturers seem to be slowly coming to their senses, so more and more things will begin to be made in the USA again.  But by then, the horse is out of the barn. The Chinese will have the technology, expertise, and brand new factories with which to make these same goods on their own, without the Americans at all.  And then the fun starts...

American manufacturers will see their goods duplicated and sold worldwide for about one-tenth the price they now charge.  Only in this scenario, the difference will be that American manufacturers won't see any profit at all, only the theft of their ideas marketed globally. I suspect they'll have one hell of a time surviving.

So, manufacturer, if you're looking for quick profits, make hay while the sun shines.  And buyer: know that you're a part of it. If you don't tell the manufacturers, either directly or by voting with your dollar, you're complicit. I recently refused delivery on a bass because it was made in China (the manufacturer's website, which I researched before purchase, said differently). Eventually I bought American.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Never was, never will be.

Monday, November 14, 2011

So I moved to Florida... Let the Bass Games Begin

It's a big move, with lots of crap to take with me.  People accumulate a lot over the years, and I've accumulated a music store's volume of basses - most of which go unplayed.  So it occurs to me what a great idea it is to sell my fretless, since I haven't played it in years.

Now, this is the one-same awesome fretless Alembic that's on Rick Olaguer's songs to the right. It sounds magnificent. "I'll never play fretless again," says me to myself.  And on to eBay we go.

After a bunch of negotiating, off it goes to a nice guy in North Carolina.  He loves it, but is going to have it refretted.  Go figure.

I arrive in Florida, Tampa-ish, and start making my presence known. My bud, Ron Zebron, is working mightily on his originals, and says he wants me to play bass on them.  Killer, methinks. I love Ron and love his songs. "I'm thinking fretless," Ron says. The irony thickens.

So off I go into the nether regions of Sarasota to acquire or somehow purloin a fretless.  Alas, none to be had.  Never fret (sic), there is the internet. And there I find the dearth of 5-string fretless basses available. Immediately, it occurs to me to defret one of my long-unplayed basses, but which? Most I actually don't like anymore, because the strings are too close together. These are the basses - fine ones though they may be - that are being sold.

I become interested in an inexpensive LTD fretless 5. Specs look good. Sam Ash has them. Off I go. I play one. Strings are too close, just like the basses I'm selling.  But they show me an MTD that can be had 5-string fretless, as the MTD Kingston Saratoga.  Now, bear in mind, there are only a couple of manufacturers that make a fretless 5 anymore, much less one I can afford (I'm long done with "boutique basses), so I'm running out of options fast. Out comes the card, the order is placed.

A couple of days later it arrives. Sigh. Made in China (the website said Korea).  This pisses me off. I made a commitment to myself to buy as little from China as I can (more on this in another post), so I check before I buy. MTDs used to be made in Korea, but they have let their website lapse. Anyway, the pickups can't be adjusted high enough. And it just sounds like poop - nothing like a Jazz Bass that, assuming from the pickup design, looks like was intended. Even though it plays OK, the negatives queer the deal. Back to Sam Ash I go.

Fortunately, I am a likeable soul (ahem...) and Carlo and Steve at Sam Ash Sarasota are super accommodating. After much playing and replaying of basses, I decide I'm going to buy a Mexican Fender DeLuxe Active Jazz Bass V . At least, if I buy Mexican, the guys who made it weren't in the US illegally. My plan is to have it defretted. Definitely the long way around, but what's a boy to do?

The bass arrives.  And... I love it. Best Jazz I've ever played, and that includes the vintage 1965 Jazz I had years ago. Better than Pedulla's version, leagues better than another Mexican J that I used to have. It sounds awesome, and as I'm playing it, it occurs to me what a sin it is to alter this bass. So now I have a killer Jazz bass, fretted.  And no fretless. And the irony is getting too thick to even cut with a machete.

I close my eyes, reach into my bass closet, and pull out one of my unplayed basses; off to the luthier I go. "De-claw her, " I say. But because it's now into the holiday season, might take awhile to get done.


So, I sell a killer fretless to have fewer basses. 3 months later I need to buy a new fretless, and end up buying a fretted bass that I didn't need. And I end up defretting one of my older basses anyway. And the overall number of basses I now have? Right back to the same number where I started. And my wallet is thinner.

Well, at least I have different basses that I like better than the old ones.  Maybe I'll play them all now.

Zebron and James