Strings, Head-joints, and Mouthpieces

Day 148 Week 22 Q2 Monday, May 27, 2024

Differences in prices for musical instruments can be astronomical. There are many factors, from tonal qualities, tactile ease of playing qualities, range of expression, beauty, and collectability, all of which combine into a combination of interwoven psychological and physiological attributes impacting the single most crucial issue of all. Do you feel drawn to play this instrument or not? To some extent, it does not matter why. The instrument you want to play is the one you will play, the one you will spend more time with, the one you will get better at, and the one that provides the most satisfaction.

Like all relationships, it is a complex dance we perform. And it is highly nonlinear. Sometimes, we all fall prey to the shiny objects syndrome, where we lust after something or someone. But of course, you do not want to construct a life based upon shiny objects, for they rarely have staying power. There are, after all, logistics that come into play.

Those who are experienced learn how to tell which attributes have a nonlinear impact on the total performance and desirability of anything and anyone. Here are a few secrets from the world of music that cost-effectively provide exceedingly high satisfaction and performance.

1) Strings. I have many times put expensive, high-quality strings on lower-quality, less expensive musical instruments to excellent effect. Inexpensive string instruments come with low-quality strings. For example, a $200 to 500 dollar electric guitar may come with strings that cost the manufacturer $5. Replacing them with strings that cost $20 to $30 can make such a huge difference in sound quality and playability that you will be amazed. Then, taking the time to adjust the action and intonation can lift things even further up toward much loftier performance capabilities.  Two days ago, I spent 90 minutes and twenty dollars replacing the strings and making the adjustments to transform an instrument completely. Over the years, I have transformed cello, bass guitar, seven-string guitar, electric guitar, and even acoustic guitar in this manner. Do not underestimate the importance of simple, low-cost improvements.

2) Head-joints. My wife plays the flute and has determined that increasing the quality of the head joint (that part you blow into) costs a fraction of the cost of leaping to the next level of the instrument and has a similar impact.

3) Mouthpieces. When I purchased a saxophone many years ago, upgrading the mouthpiece dramatically narrowed the gap between several hundred and several thousand dollar instruments. Did it entirely close the gap? No. But could a $100 investment produce $1000 of improvement? Definitely.

The point is that you do not have to make nonlinear spending leaps to significantly improve the quality of instruments, sound quality, and playability.

Now, metaphor time. What equivalents of strings, head joints, and mouthpieces exist in other domains?

Can the way you speak, dress, and carry yourself have similar amounts of impact? Or can others represent you, and your ideas radically increase your value and acceptability? I frequently encounter brilliant and talented individuals who are so clueless about communication that they handicap themselves badly enough to fail at their endeavors. 

Not only musicians need to consider strings, head joints, and mouthpieces or their metaphorical equivalents.