Friday, November 12, 2010

782 In Search of a Decal

782 In Search of a Decal

Even those of us who don't play bluegrass crave a Gibson Mastertone. It's the Stradivari of banjos, if there can be such a thing. It's loud, it's bright, it's heavy, it's easy to play. The company has been making them since the 1920s. The design has survived at least three changes of company ownership. And practically everything else that looks one it is an imitation or knockoff -- and probably inferior.

So when an opportunity to acquire one at a below market price arises, what would you do? Take a chance, right? This thing, as pointed out in a previous post took a circuitous route home and finally arrived. And like any banjo you buy from an unknown source, you take it apart and look it over. Serial number? Check. Same serial number on the neck and on the body? Check. "Mastertone" engraving on the fretboard? Check. Matches pictures of the model? Check. Official "historic" decal on the inside of the body? Uh... where IS that? It's missing. Is this a forgery? Does it matter? It looks like what it's supposed to be. It plays like it's supposed to play. It sounds like it's supposed to sound. It's 30-some years old. But there's no "Mastertone" decal on the inside of the body.

So let's write to the seller, Ralph, (Almost all banjo players are named Earl or Don or Ralph.) Ralph doesn't answer right away. Okay, so let's seek expert advice. The leading non-southern authority on such stuff is a guy named Stan Jay who has a stringed musical instrument store, Mandolin Bros., in Staten Island New York. "Hey, Stan, sorry to ask you about a musical instrument that you are not yourself offering for sale, but... you ever see one of these without the decal?" Stan writes back -- almost instantly -- no worries in asking questions about instruments that aren't in our inventory, we get those all the time." And then he answered the question: "who knows what they were thinking but there were years when Gibson didn't put those decals on their instruments."

Soon thereafter, Ralph sends an e-mail: "I refinished the thing and had to scrape off the original decal to do it." So one way or the other, this one's authentic. Which is comforting. But really irrelevant.


--Now having watched a few of the new Conan O'Brien shows on TBS, it's possible to say with authority that he's a fine example of the Peter Principle, that putting him on the "Tonight Show" probably made Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, Ernie Kovacs, Jack Paar, and -- most of all, creator Pat Weaver twirl in their graves. Conan was an elevator companion at 30 Rock for many evenings when he was a (pretty good) writer on Saturday Night Live. He's a nice enough fellow, but he's just not funny.

--Where are the Pat Weavers in today's relatively sterile world of television? It's not that we're less brain-ful than we used to be. It's just that there's too much at stake to be innovative.

--Weaver created not only "Tonight," but "Today," and radio's "Monitor." By the mid-1950s, his bosses thought he was "too highbrow," and canned him. After "Monitor," the only similar programs available were "All Things Considered" on NPR and "Bloomberg on the Weekend," both shameless road shows of the original.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

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