Saturday, September 15, 2007

typewriters and banjos

We drove to my dad's today in yet another unfortunately failed attempt to get the RV started. The fuel just isn't getting through. We're not ready to give up yet, although it is frustrating.

Whenever the kids go to Grandpa's house, they act like little Vikings, looting and pillaging anything they can get their hands on. Which is okay with Grandpa; he has been cleaning out years of accumulated stuff, and apparently almost nothing is sacred. Even two old manual typewriters.

I'm old enough to remember writing high school papers on an electric typewriter, and I did even have some experience with the manual ones. My kids have grown up with the computer, never knowing anything but an electronic keyboard and printer. So I am amazed that they are utterly fascinated with these word processing dinosaurs! Really, they brought them in first thing and have been typing steadily since we got home, even fighting over who gets to use the typewriter. The ribbons, amazingly, still put out enough ink to make typing legible. I wonder if we can find replacement ribbons somewhere.

I am also fascinated that these old typewriters were made by gun companies, Remington and LC Smith. Apparently the machining needs of metal gun parts and typewriter components were similar enough that these companies were equipped to do both.

I did find the time to sneak off to the best little music store in the world, Homestead Pickin' Parlor in Richfield, MN, about a 20 minute drive from my dad's house. We go a long way back with this store; when we discovered folk and bluegrass music back about fifteen years ago, we started stopping in, taking lessons, buying instruments, and making friends with the owners Marv and Dawn, and employee Bruce. When I walked in today, Marv, Dawn, and Bruce were there to greet me, and even though I had not seen them in over a year, they were eager to talk with me, ask about the family, and get caught up with what we've been doing lately.

I was there for more than mere chitchat, however. I walked into the instrument room and scanned the banjos, looking for an open back, preferably a Deering Goodtime, which I have been reading about online. I found one, a slightly fancier and pricier model than what I was looking for, and tried it out some. I must explain, at this point I know almost nothing about banjo playing, so "trying it out" meant just strumming the strings, getting the feel of it, listening to the tone. I told Dawn I was interested in learning old time banjo (as opposed to bluegrass banjo; there's a difference in style, but the big difference is bluegrass banjos are ten times as heavy and way more expensive). She said they might have a less fancy version of the banjo I was trying out in stock, but not on display yet. She asked Marv, over the intercom, if they had it; it turns out they did, he just had to set it up (put strings on, make sure bridge is in the right place, etc.) He brought it out in about ten minutes.

Again, I know next to nothing about banjo, but my musical sensibilities were telling me this instrument felt right, sounded right, and I NEEDED TO HAVE IT! I think my mind was made up in about a minute or less, but I at least wanted to look like I wasn't such an impulsive buyer. Which I NEVER am. What I was really thinking about was, okay, I can get this same instrument for maybe $75 cheaper on Ebay, if I get lucky. However... "set up" is important. When an instrument is shipped from a seller you know only by a feedback rating, you never know if it has the right strings, good bridge position, etc. You might end up taking it to a music store and paying $25 or more to get it set up right. Also, you just never know how the instrument has been handled previously, you don't even know what it sounds like! But, most importantly...the store owner just spent ten minutes setting up this particular instrument so I could try it out. I know he knows his instruments, and he knows how to make them sound good, and he will stand behind any instrument he sells. Not to mention they're great people, devoted to good, personal service, and good friends. I would be betraying some of my deeply held values if I set it down and said "I'll see if I can get it cheaper on Ebay! Bye!"

So now I have my Deering Goodtime banjo on layaway. I hope to have it in my hands soon. What a strange feeling; why am I doing this? With so many other instruments, and so little time, why do I feel so strongly compelled to learn something totally new? I don't know. But, I am way excited. :)

9 comments:

Madcap said...

I love your enthusiasm! Where can I get me some?

arcolaura said...

At fiddle camp this year (I take the guitar workshops), James dragged me along to a fiddle workshop about bowing technique. Being who I am, I listened and watched intently, and tried some of the motions for myself. Back at the cabin, I asked James if I could try a bit. This was a bold step. Ten years ago I gave up on fiddle, concluding that if I were to get through the awful beginner sounds I would have to have started when I was a kid and could stand to listen to myself. But now, I had some new ideas, and I wanted to try. James started teaching me "Twinkle, Twinkle," and I started thinking, oh-oh, I don't need to play another instrument...

At the end of the camp I walked up to "legendary fiddler" Gordon Stobbe, the bowing workshop leader, and told him, "If I take up the fiddle, it's your fault." He said he would gladly accept responsibility.

Floridacracker said...

Good for you! You deserve it.

Junior wants a guitar for his birthday!

Deb said...

Madcap- I don't know, it's a new (or old, but welcome back) thing for me lately.

Arcolaura- It's great to be learning, and wanting to learn more, in this adult part of our lives! I took up violin in fourth grade, but traded it for flute in sixth. I don't know if I could have made the transition from violin to fiddle. :)

FC- Acoustic or electric? Good thing either way!

elise said...

I always wanted to play the piano so now in my 40's I am teaching myself to play using the second hand keyboard I bought. My latest challenge is a simple version of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music). As I get better and better at making one hand do one thing while the other hand does something else, I get very excited and proud. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks! I think it is a very good thing to learn new things throughout your life.

RuthieJ said...

Good for you Deb, on your banjo purchase. It will be fun for you to learn something new.

Deb said...

Elise good for you for learning the piano! I took piano lessons when I was a kid, and it's a great foundation for learning other instruments.

RuthieJ- Yes, I think it's time for me to learn something new, to get out of this musical rut I've been in lately. But I've put bowhunting on my list of things to learn!

Dan Trabue said...

Great news. I love that my donna has taken up clawhammer - it's so much more fun to play along with on guitar and mando than dulcimer (which was also cool, just not as great as banjo).

Hey, I know you've just bought/are buying this, but for your NEXT purchase...

http://www.banjoteacher.com/GoldToneBanjos/indexBanjola.htm

The banjola! Strung like a banjo, sounds like a mandola...

Deb said...

Dan- Glad Donna has taken it up too...there's just so much rhythmic and musical potential there.

A banjola! Gotta have one...