Monday, November 28, 2016

Fact Checking Street Musician Daniel

Harping Upon Details

The comment below was made upon the blog of Alex In California, a "follower" of this blog, concerning the price of harmonicas.

This is particularly apropos of my task, for today, to order a harmonica for myself. I woke up at dawn, to learn that today is "Cyber Monday," when online sales are expected to eclipse "Black Friday" levels at retailers. And why not?

I could order Cheetoz online as a Christmas gift for Howard (Westra) and they will be sent fresh from the factory, without having been gorilla-handled by some store employee, who's attempting to cram them between the Smartfood and the beef jerky.

I can get a Hohner Special 20 in its latest incarnation for $39.95 online, through the Musician's Friend website.

This would not leave any money on my prepaid debit card for anything extra to go with it; like guitar strings, picks, pegs, a capo, perhaps...or food, as a matter of fact.

Part of me is saying: "Use every last dime to get the Special 20, and on your very first night playing it, you will be thrown at least a 20 dollar tip and will probably wind up making $39.95; a communique from the music gods, affirming the decision."

Another part of me is saying: "Get the reasonably priced 'decent' quality harp and a couple of sets of fresh strings and other little amenities like picks, and it will serve the purpose of being new and in tune and, most importantly, playable. Very few tourists will comment 'Is that a Suzuki? I like the tone of a Special 20 better. Sorry, no tip for you,' but more will notice that, whatever it is, it is in tune and the guy seems to really ripping into it (because he's not worried about hitting bad reeds)."

The important thing is that I order something pronto, so it might be here by the weekend.

The Comment
I ended up picking out a "Pro Harp" (which is just a Special-20 that's black instead of chrome) in A and that cost $46. Or about $2.50 face-value in silver dimes, for anyone reading this and spluttering and getting red and yelling at their screen: "But those only cost two-fitty back in 1962!". -Alex In California (blog reader)
I have done a little research and have concluded as follows:

The twenty-five 1962 "Roosevelt" dimes that might have bought a Special 20 when they (the dimes) were shiny and new, would be worth $29.75 if melted down today (assuming they haven't been worn thin at all) at today's spot price of $16.51 per ounce. Hardly enough to get a $46 harmonica.

You would need to melt down 39 dimes, to do that.

Cash For Harmonicas

Due to inflation, $100 in 2016 had the buying power of $788 in 1962 (according to a credible web site) and so, applying that formula, the $46 harp would have been $5.84 in 1962, adjusted for inflation; not "two-fitty."

That would have cost 58 dimes which, if melted down today, would yield $69.02 in silver bouillon.

Alex In California may have erred in his assessment of the worth of silver, but he was "spot" on about the price of harmonicas in 1962.

As the advertisement to the left shows, Johnny Cash, in 1970, was playing a harmonica which is comparable to the Special 20, and which was being sold for three-fitty.

Adjusting again for inflation, that should have made it around $2.62 in 1962, or very close to Alex In California's figure.

What strikes me is that, if 100 dollars in 1962 bought as much as $788 today, then that two-fitty harmonica should be selling for $19.70 in Guitar Center today, not 46 bucks.

Hohner harmonicas, then, have outpaced inflation by a factor of two, over the past 45 years. In other words, your money only buys 1/15th the harmonica it did when Eisenhower was president; that's not even one hole.
Perhaps this owes to their present popularity, compared to what it was when only Johnny Cash played the thing.
I'm leaning towards getting a Folkmaster harmonica for a bit under 20 bucks, along with a couple sets of strings, and leaving some petty cash on my prepaid card. I just haven't decided on the key yet, and will probably have to ride my bike and think about it; perhaps stopping at Starbucks for a cup of coffee.
I am leaning towards the key of G.
When I had only a harp in that key, I kind of got sick of the dozen or so songs that I was doing night after night with it. But then came along a couple of key of C harps, and recently the key of A Folkmaster which I am finally replacing. Perhaps it would be nice to go back to the key of G and revisit stuff I haven't done in a year. I would have the advantage of having them all "under my belt."

Barnaby Moves

Barnaby Chancellor, one of the champions in getting me to be able to play at the Lilly Pad, has moved to a place one street over on Dauphine.

This was kind of sad, as he used to sit on his stoop a lot at night when I was playing.

It was he and his girlfriend who ran Johnny B. and his amplifier off, after they thought that Johnny had come (lately) along and was trying to play over me, in a move to eventually muscle me off the spot (which he basically was; there would have been nothing from preventing him from showing up when I wasn't there and playing; which would have evolved into him saying things like "Just give me another half hour" when I showed up, etc).

And it was Barnaby, who was the staunchest critic of my harmonica playing, which forced me to focus harder upon learning the thing. His offer was still standing of giving me 50 bucks if I could play "Little Wing," by Jimi Hendrix on the harmonica.
I guess he means playing Jimi's guitar solo note for note, or at least recognizably, on the thing; because I already do play the song. Well, when I have a harmonica in the key of G, I do...

Couch To Let, Again?

The Craig's List ad to crash on my couch for 20 bucks a night has expired. The phone calls and text messages have stopped.

I am enjoying my solitude more. Thinking things like: "I wouldn't be doing this if I had a guest here," when soaking in the tub with the music of my choice playing and the door wide open so I can hear it, for example.

What I learned from the experience is that a much more carefully worded ad would have saved me headaches. It must be clear in the ad that this is a roommate situation and not a private room that the person can come and go from at will, having her own key.

What pissed me off about the Kay debacle was that she had e-mailed me, during the 6 week time span that she had the couch "reserved," with: "So how does this work, do I get my own key, and how to I pay you?"

I had responded and addressed all of that.

For her sake, I will assume that my response never got to her. Otherwise, it would make her seem like a real ditz for walking up upon meeting me and asking: "So, do I get a key?" D'uh!

If I do it again, I will target someone like Travis, and word the ad appropriately.

Then, I will not make the mistake of hanging out with whomever it is too much. That has the effect of blurring the boundaries between landlord and tenant, and before one knows it there is a "I hope you don't mind, but I drank some of your orange juice last night." moment. From hanging out and talking to you so much I was able to glean that you are the type that probably wouldn't mind if I drank some of your orange juice, type of thing...


alex carter said...

Oops! My dime-calculations were off. I was basing it on $2 a dime. Still though, "'Twasn't more'n'three-fitty back in my day"....

I'm actually kind of flattered you analyzed this as far as you did.

Basically, people are a lot poorer, with far less social/economic mobility than they had decades ago. The old song "King Of The Road" used to be pretty much fact for any single young male, now single young males are cowering in their parent's houses because no job they can get can actually pay for independent life. Going to college amounts to decades of debt; you may be paying that shit off in your 50s.

Now, many will agree that the Special-20 is a far, far better harp than the old Marine Band. If I were hooked on playing Marine Bands, the first thing I'd do is open 'em up and seal the comb with some sort of sealant, Thompson's Water Seal if nothing else, and that shit has to dry for 6 weeks before being painted, so they'd have to "season" a while before being put into my mouth.

But putting myself into your shoes, the most bang-for-the-buck thing I could do is get a slide and play some slide guitar. People freakin' LOVE slide.

If you're going to get more serious about harmonica, you've got to find a way to amplify it because you're blowing out harps (not to mention strings) trying to match the noise on the street.

One thing that attracts me about the harmonica is the ability - at least maybe after the requisite years of practice - to play guitar solos. I'm of the age that I grew up on guitar solos. Frankly most jazz leaves me cold, except for that I'd call pop-jazz, stuff like Autumn Leaves, that you don't need a musicology degree to like. I love blues because that's the root of rock and roll, and of course there's a usual mass of folk/popular/traditional stuff that anyone in the US growing up at the time we did, will have imprinted on them.

alex carter said...

What annoys me is, I'm pretty sure I threw away a chrome plated brass tube to a microscope or something that would make a rather good guitar slide, and would not cost me much to send to you.

I'll try to look for some good things to use for slides, maybe put a "care package" with some strings too, in the mail

Daniel McKenna said...

I found a socket to a wrench recently which might have been, I don't know, 11mm? -big enough to get my pinkie in, but it wasn't wide enough to cover all 6 strings; hard enough moving it longitudinally to get the pitches, without having to zig zag around to skip strings; plus, it was heavy. Heavy enough to tire the finger out in short order. Anyone who doesn't believe that it could have been "all that" heavy just needs to put on some ankle weights that are *only* a couple pounds and then walk to the store and back in them LOL

alex carter said...

When I was a kid that's how it was done. You used a socket. "Deep" sockets are the best. You just find a size that fits your finger, and a good auto parts store should have individual ones. They are heavy though. The old trick I heard about was the old timers would use a Coriceden (sp?)bottle, like a little glass aspirin bottle, so there are a variety of ways.