Guitar Shopping: We Reap what We Sowed

Yes, I went to visit Guitar Center again.

When GC’s first started to show up, there was a strong curiosity plus a strong backlash proclaiming SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL MUSIC STORE.

Now that I look around, there are three chains and very few local music stores.  We now have great selection combined with lowest-common-denominator service.  It’s not a pretty picture.

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Since I’m still a healthy guitar player (with an unhealthy case of Guitar Acquisition Syndrome), I do like to get out and see what’s new.  And what’s used, if possible.  Besides – I had finally saved up enough money to buy some picks!

Now I need you to help me keep my secret.  If my car finds out I blew five spare bucks on picks, it may develop problems.  Out of spite.

The first thing I noticed was a prominent display of Fender’s Road Worn guitars.  I read about these earlier but haven’t seen them yet.  They’re made in Mexico, way too expensive for made in Mexico, and the folks at Fender did a tremendous job on making the guitars look road worn (hence the name).

I picked up a total of two Strats and two Teles to get the feel.  Of course I was hoping to find some incredible necks on these babies.  Of course I was nonplussed at the necks.  What was impressive was that due to lack of finish, they all felt really `live’.  I’d recommend checking them out next to the stock Fenders.  If they play nicer, buy one.  Or two, I don’t care.

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There are a bunch of Marshall stacks available.  After checking out the prices, I discovered the key: the taller they are, the more expensive they are.  There was a hand-wired Hendrix Stack for way more than I paid for my car.  I’m not entirely sure why Jim Marshall needed to make his stacks taller but there we are.

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My wife is a frustrated percussionist (among other things).  We got to look at all the interesting forms of hand percussion with foreign names that we could not even dream of pronouncing.

Fortunately I learned early what a vibraslap is.  Unfortunately it’s difficult to describe a sound in words.  Although the name is more appropriate to a sex toy, a vibraslap makes a noise kinda like a rattlesnake.  It pops up a lot, notably in Jimi Hendrix’s version of `All Along the Watchtower’.  I bought one for the wife (a sex toy and a vibraslap) to add to the growing mountain of percussion she’s collecting.  She seems to really love rain sticks.

The great thing about checking out percussion turns out to be alternately the best and worst thing about shopping for anything else at GC: you are left alone.
Not a single helpful GC employee accosted us during our Saturday Percussion Spree<tm>.

Feeling that it was time to go (largely because my wife was attempting to drag me out bodily), I went after the one thing I knew I’d achieve success with: picks.

Of course I was wrong.

I can’t remember for the life of me which picks I use.  Years ago one used Fender picks; soft, medium, or hard.  These days one uses tortex, latex, or anything else except plain old plastic – in colors.  I seemed to remember using orange picks but there must’ve been a run on orange picks, as I couldn’t locate any.

While I’m trying to figure out this conundrum for the ages, I half hear some guy talking to the person at the counter about altering a price.  Counter Person tells him he can’t alter the price; customer needs to take it to the assistant manager, who ok’d the price alteration in the first place.  Besides, he is the only one at the counter and can’t leave.

While this delicate negotiation is taking place, Counter Person asks if I need picks or strings before he leaves.  Why yes, I’d like some picks.  Ummm… green ones, because they’re really ugly (and somewhat medium).  I’m just about to ask for the yellow ones, which turn out to be a bit stiffer, when Counter Person completely dematerializes.  It was like magic, only worse.

In the meantime, Helpful Door Person comes over to watch the counter.  When I say watch the counter, I mean watch the counter.  That is approximately all he did.  Perhaps he didn’t have Cash Register Privileges – who knows.  He definitely snapped to attention when someone came in asking about harmonicas, which he dutifully pointed out with the aid of Door Person Number Two.

My wife is starting to vibrate visibly.  She keeps asking me how many GC employees it takes to point out a harmonica.  I strongly suspect we haven’t seen the last one yet…

I’m fond of helping myself at times like these.  Unfortunately I didn’t think I could leap the counter with quite the panache in which it happens in my imagination, so I decided the better of it.

A scant thirteen minutes later, Counter Person rematerializes, apologizing profusely for the delay and offering me a cocktail.  I decided on just the picks anyway, so it was simply a matter of paying for them and hightailing it outta there.

It is at about this point that you are saying to yourself `There’s no possible way he could pay for some picks and have the transaction go smoothly.  Maybe the police showed up, claiming his bank card was stolen.  Or a freak train blasted past the counter, taking out all the cash registers.  A complete power failure, affecting every GC in a four hundred mile radius.’

Strangely enough, the transaction went exactly as it should.  They didn’t even ask me for my vital statistics or a blood sample.

My wife, thrilled that this chapter of her life was over, moved toward the door.  She knew I wasn’t done yet, so she went out to the car.

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I have very few requirements.  It doesn’t take much to amuse me or keep me happy.  Usually it’s a matter of hearing someone at a guitar store say NO.

Do you have any lefties?

No.

Can I have this at the price you advertised it?

No.


See – it’s that simple.
I figured I could get my jollies today by asking if the Road Worn Fenders will be made lefty.  There’s no way they could be, so I could hear my Sacred Syllable and be on my way.

On the way over, I was knocked out to see a pukeburst Strat!  For those who don’t know, pukeburst is my name for Fender’s antigua finish.  Picture a sunburst that goes from avocado green to harvest gold.  It’s positively hideous and it’s my favorite.  My number one Strat is a pukeburst Strat.

Of course the pukeburst Strat was backwards (right-handed) but it was in great shape and I was curious as to its origin.  I figured I’d ask about it in addition to hearing my Sacred Syllable.

I looked for some Helpful GC Employees and could not find a single one.  There happened to be one employee behind the guitar counter so I figured I’d ask him.  His nose wasn’t dripping, giving him that Managerial look.  Unfortunately he was also a bit busy, so I patiently awaited my turn.  At one point Managerial acknowledged my presence and said he’d be with me next.

What do I hear while I’m waiting but the same bundle of joy who was annoying the Counter Person about altering the price.  He is now annoying Managerial.  Only the dynamics are getting really difficult to figure out because there’s a Dad in the mix, along with a really snotty fifteen year old to whom everything is obvious and his dad is a Total Gomer.

As best I can figure, Bundle of Joy is `helping’ Dad by giving suggestions on where to get lessons for Snotty Son.  What Managerial is doing is not exactly clear, but take it from me, he made it look like he was working, regardless of what he was doing.  He even consulted one of the Nose Dripping Salesmen briefly, for some indeterminate reason.

This conversation went on for what seemed like an hour, but in reality was closer to fifty five minutes.  The really odd thing was that there seemed to be no motion to this dance; like a beat up old rowboat tied to a dock, slowly moving up and down with the currents.  [that's called a simile - it's a literary device, as opposed to an effects device]

Bored, I restrung the pukeburst Strat left-handed.

They continued their conversation.

I detuned the guitar, plugged it into a solid state amp, and made the most nauseating metal wiki wiki wheedly noises possible.

The conversation shifted to live venues for Snotty Son to watch Death Metal.

I pulled out the can of lighter fluid I always carry, soaked a very expensive Paul Reed Smith custom guitar, and set it on fire.

Did you know Snotty Son has recorded twelve songs with his band, `Snot and the Amoebas’?  He’s a regular prodigy, he is.  Dad is proud.  And straining to remain hep.

I twirled the burning PRS over my head, chanting the Chinese Fire Death March as loud as my lungs could chant, then brought the entire flaming mess down into the hand wired Jimi Hendrix Marshall full stack.  The amp promptly did what all of Jimi’s amps did: it blew up.  Then caught fire, taking out the rest of the amps in that row.

As I walked out, defeated, Bundle of Joy was advising Dad on what recording gear to buy to capture the essence of Snotty Son’s songs.