Thoughts From Dear Old Dad: Life’s Hard Lessons

A long time ago, Dear Old Dad wrote many  posts to share his insights into the music making experience. I recently rediscovered a batch of these files. We will be sharing them from time to time

I learned to frail on an old Harmony banjo. You know, the one with a composite pot/resonator and a neck/dowel combo that looked like it was transplanted from a barn broom. Yeah, it was cheesy and crude but it was mine. I played it every chance I got while I was learning to play and sing. Like most novices I finally decided that I was ready to move up to a “real” banjo. I visited a local music store but they specialized in guitars and band instruments. These folks admitted that they could not be of any real help. I then asked my banjo friend if he could help me find and buy a really good banjo. He was more than happy to oblige.

He told me that he knew of a first rate banjo for sale by a dealer at the Gilbertsville Farmer’s Market. He was vague about the details but he assured me that this was “the banjo” for me and that he could personally vouch for the character of the dealer and the quality of the banjo. Well, what I knew about banjos at the time amounted to almost nothing. My friend had been playing for decades and he owned a lot of banjos so I put myself in his hands.

We arrived at the dealer’s stall on a Friday evening. The guy had lots of banjos, guitars and mandolins hanging from the ceiling and laying on tables. He saw my friend and reached for a banjo. He was expecting us. The dealer handed me a very old banjo. It had friction pegs and a spun-over rim. It was hard to tune and it did not have any real tone or volume. I didn’t think much of this banjo. My buddy got very uneasy. He told me that this was a great deal and that I would be sorry if I let it go. The dealer was just disgusted that I could not see the quality in this banjo. I walked right into the trap. I handed over $150.00 for a banjo based entirely on someone else’s endorsement. My $25.00 Harmony was a better instrument than this thing.

I now know that the endorsement was not real. My “friend” got a kickback from the dealer for delivering a pigeon. I later took the banjo to a shop that specialized in banjos to see if it could be made playable. The owner just laughed and said that there was nothing he could do. This banjo was junk when it was made and it was junk now. I asked to look at some real banjos. There was no pressure. The shopkeeper answered my questions and let the instruments do the talking. I bought a high quality modern instrument and I never regretted the investment.

There is a lesson here:

View all endorsements with some cynicism. Friends or acquaintances may mislead you by accident or by design. What is good for them may not be good for you. Be especially wary of anonymous endorsers on the Internet. One of the first tricks in guerrilla marketing is to create a flood of gushing reviews by unidentified “experts”. You have no way of knowing who they are or if they even exist. Remember that guerrilla marketers will do and say anything to get your money. Take your time. Think things over. Visit an acoustic music shop and look at several brands and models. Buy the best instrument that you can reasonably afford. Just be sure that when you open the case you feel the inner glow that emerges when you hug an old friend.

It’s a cold world. Bring a blanket.

More later. Till then, don’t step in anything soft.

Pat (Dear Old Dad) Costello