Coincidentally, on the day after my band played the Pig Roast (see elsewhere), I got to attend the Kimberton Hamfest. Ironically, the events are completely unrelated: the Pig Roast involves food and the Hamfest involves hams. Got it?
OK, by hams I mean amateur radio operators. A hamfest is a flea market for radio geeks. Since I am an aspiring radio geek, my presence was mandatory. I have been an aspiring radio geek since I was twelve, off and on (currently on), which I suspect moves me out of the aspiring category. I claim the aspiring designation as I’m still no good at it. So much for perseverance.
Also coincidentally, the Philly Fall Guitar Show was taking place fifteen minutes down the road from the Hamfest, so it was essentially like Disneyland for me. I could well take some time to debate the naming of the show, as it wasn’t in Philly and this quite obviously isn’t the fall, but I suspect this to be a fruitless argument.
HAM, AS OPPOSED TO PIG
Picture all your favorite radio geeks, perusing tables and tables of electronic gear, parts, accessories, and the odd stuffed animal. Now picture this happening in ninety four degree weather with approximately ninety four percent humidity. Yes, the Philthy metro area has been getting it up the old Heat Wazoo lately, with no relief in sight. I don’t remember when the last sub-ninety degree day was and the forecasters don’t indicate we’ll see one any time soon. Of course if a weather forecaster predicted sun during the day and dark at night, I’d bet against it.
Kimberton is a lovely little town-let, approximately northwest of Philly. Of course I am making all of this up: the only thing I know about Kimberton is how to get to the fire station, where the Hamfest is held every year at this time. And speaking of this time, my wife was looking forward to attending this year, as she has missed every single Kimberton Hamfest since we started going. Not to be outdone, she had to take this year off due to seizures (or something that very closely resembled them – rant elsewhere). I wonder if this is some sort of valuable diagnostic clue for the doctors. Heaven knows they haven’t been able to shed even the smallest bit of light on the situation as yet. But I digress (again).
Aside from oppressive heat and humidity, it was a glorious day for a Hamfest. It was an even more glorious day for staying inside in the air conditioning, but there weren’t any hamfests happening there, plus I don’t get out much (no, really?). The `fest was well-attended but somewhat undersupplied.
The first item that talked to me was a Hallicrafters SX-62. This is a shortwave radio of the class we like to call boatanchor, because it’s old, uses tubes, and weighs more than your car. I believe the SX-62 to be the heaviest radio Hallicrafters made, as well as the nicest-sounding, making it a very interesting piece for the collection (as if I had a collection). I like my radios like my cars: the heavier the better.
Out of the blue, or actually out of the field of my right eye came Bob (whose real name is Stu, but we’ll call him Bob), leaping to cover the space and shake my hand. I usually run into Bob at hamfests and guitar shows, as he is an inveterate electronics geek, guitar player, and tube nut. Neither of us holds a ham license, which is kind of funny, considering how much time we spend around them.
Bob told me I didn’t need an SX-62, even after I explained how heavy it was. He did not appreciate my by-the-pound qualification for radios. But I am going to outsmart Bob one of these days. The military had a radio produced called the R-390 that weighs at least seventy-five pounds. One day it will be mine [cue evil laughter]. I don’t even have any guitar equipment that weighs that much. Musicians hire roadies to move their stuff around. Radio listeners (and hams) don’t have any such luck (which might explain why people are getting rid of their boatanchors cheap).
I found a couple of ten meter radios for sale and located a decent deal, while the few discretionary dollars I had were still screaming to get OUT of my wallet. For the uninitiated, ten meters is a band of frequencies right next to our good friends, the CBers (inbreds). When conditions are right, one can hear many states away on ten meters.
Nothing else caught my fancy, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view). I love really old electronics and radio magazines but there were few.
IT’S THE GUITAR SHOW, THEN
So off we went, Bob and I, to the Fall Philly Guitar Show (argument above). When they say they’re going to open at ten, they’re not kidding. There’s nothing more frightening than a few hundred guitar players loitering about a convention center, waiting to get in. Well, actually there are probably many things more frightening, like Americans Idle auditions, but let’s keep our focus, shall we? Adding to the spectacle was the fact that most guitar players are genetically incapable of being anywhere at ten in the morning.
Some people love the smell of napalm in the morning… I love rows and rows of guitars and goodies, waiting to be caressed and stroked (and hopefully purchased) for hours and hours.
Bob purchased a very nice equalizer at the Hamfest, with plans of unloading it for a profit at the guitar show. Bob’s hopes were completely dashed by the first (and only) comment he got on it. Some guy, seeing the equalizer, asked Bob if he’d like another (or two).
I got down to business quickly. My business is finding really cool left-handed guitars. To be brutally honest, this is an almost impossible job, not to mention hideously expensive and generally futile. But I am content to keep trying. Many trips to Disneyland are better than one, right?
It was not a good day for the left-handed. The first gem that attempted to go home with me was a seriously blemished, white lefty Made in Mexico Fender Stratocaster body. It apparently took the law of gravity very seriously when it crashed to the ground. The finish was a mess but the body was intact, and for thirty bucks, it was a bargain. I could hear the voices telling me this was my chance to build my first custom guitar. The excitement was mounting as I considered the possibilities. Oh, the ugly colors I could paint it!
But like a large, bitter valium, common sense barged through the door and walked away with no sale. Sure, it was only thirty bucks. But by the time I purchased a custom lefty neck, hardware, and pickups, that thirty dollar bargain would be in the multi-hundreds, about what it would cost to buy an almost new one. God, I must be getting old. I woulda snapped that sucker up like an iced smoothie on a ridiculously hot Philly day. Unfortunately the smoothie was the only thing I got out of that, admittedly colorful, internal argument.
The best place to purchase Random Guitar Stuff<tm> is at a guitar show. The best way to completely forget every little piece and thingie you need to purchase at the guitar show is to physically attend the guitar show. POOF – like magic, everything you knew you needed is nowhere to be found on the internal (or external) list.
Finally I remembered I needed a replacement leather handle for my tweed Deluxe, which snapped a few months back, vaulting the amp groundward at a rapid rate, unseating all of the tubes, and knocking the speaker back loose. Fortunately the amp works but it’s awkward to carry, to put it nicely. And guess what one could not come by at the guitar show with a pound of fifties… that’s right – vintage lefty guitars and leather amp handles (of any variety).
Even though it felt amusingly personal, we continued to peruse the gear. I found one or two lefty Strats that I liked a lot but the price was off-putting, to put it mildly. It’s amazing that guitars that were pieces of dung when they came out are now `vintage’, commanding four or more times what they went for new. Not to mention the fact that this makes me feel vintage.
It was a good day to go to the guitar show if you were looking for Marshall amps (as opposed to Marshall the cocker, who is not for sale at any price). One guy had an extremely old, orange-covered Marshall P.A. for the bargain price of five thousand. As amusing as that was, it couldn’t hold a candle to the white (custom color) `68 plexi half-stack, on which was a tag proclaiming $19,500. If I could afford that much, it would have been a great investment; as opposed to a car, which only devalues.
GOOD WOOD, MAN
A new trend is smaller luthiers (guitar makers), bringing their wares to these shows. They are doing some incredible things with wood. This is not standard fare, no sir. This is very intricate inlay, including small wood inlay on necks. And many of the knobs were made out of wood too, which impressed me.
Bob is a great guy but like most of us, not without issues. We were looking at some magnificent handmade basses. He took one look at an oddly shaped one and proclaimed `this is deeply disturbing’. I verified with the lady standing behind the table that this was the first time she had ever heard that phrase applied to these basses. When pressed, Bob stated that there was something about its apparent lack of symmetry that was disturbing to him somehow. I inquired as to whether he was beaten up by a bass as a child but got no further input on the subject.
I suppose it was a bit of divine retribution that I got slightly embarrassed during this exchange, as I usually spend my time making the remarks that embarrass others. To make up for this, we had a pleasant discussion about Jeff Beck’s little female wonder of a bassist (Tal Wilkenfeld). She holds her bass at such an angle that there’s always a breast peeking over a cutaway. For guys, this just adds to her appeal as a musician. The nice lady agreed with me, referring to it as her one headlight. Now it was Bob’s turn to be embarrassed, thus rendering us even for the day (temporarily).
Bob also saw what I believe was a harp guitar, which he referred to as `that guitar with a growth.’ I try never to go to a guitar show without Bob. It’s just not the same without him.
I had done all the shopping I could by this point. I got home from last night’s gig at one, got up at seven, and had very little left with which to drive home. Bob was still full of antagonistic energy and headed off to demoralize several other merchants.
It it weren’t for my wife going all amusement park ride with seizures, it would have been the best weekend in a really long time.
P.S. Mrs. leftystrat approved that phrase.