Collections

I dislike reality television.

There.  I said it.  You can take your loggers and your duck callers; keep your stranded-on-the-desert-islanders; you may even hold onto your bachelors, dancers, and voices.  I don’t care for reality television.  It’s a little too fake for me.  Now, there’s an oxymoron for you–fake reality television.

Except…

Well, I do have soft spot in my heart (the Lovely Lady suspects it’s actually in my head) for the collectors.  The junk buyers and the pawn shop owners–even the road show antiquers.  I like to see what people collect.  I love it when someone has unsuspectingly put together a collection of valuable objects over the years, and finds that it is worth a fortune.

“Oh.  I don’t know.  I just picked them up here and there.  You know–just found them and had to save them.”

I live in hopes that the pickers will one day walk in my music store and find junk on my back room shelves worth thousands of dollars.  I suspect that they would find little to pique their interest.

I did come to a realization the other day.  I have put together a collection of sorts.  It could actually be worth a bit of money, if I could only cash in on it.

The old fellow brought in his guitar one afternoon earlier this week.

“It just buzzes and sounds horrible.  I’ve had it for years but it’s never sounded like this before.”  Almost, it seems to me, he is like the child who has just broken his favorite toy and is begging his mother to fix it for him.  Almost.

I have never learned the art of the build-up.  I cannot spend the time looking over the instrument, pursing my lips and wrinkling my forehead as I try to cipher out the issue.  I have no patience with shop owners who act the part and ask the customer to leave the instrument for a few days.  There is more money to be made by doing that, I will grant you that.  But, it is not my way.

No.  I speak three words and head for my work bench.

“Just a minute.”

A few turns of an Allen wrench later, and a quick retuning of the strings and I carry the instrument back to the customer.

“Play it now.  See what you think.”

The man looks at me with suspicion.  What kind of fool does this shop owner think he is?  The guitar was useless a moment ago–surely it will be useless still.  I motion him on over to the stool sitting nearby and he sits gingerly on the edge of the plastic padding.  Strumming a chord tentatively, he frowns.  He shifts back on the stool and, pulling the guitar up onto his lap, tries again.  A few more chords, followed by an arpeggio or two, and then a full blown riff.

He looks up at me with a grin spread across his face and exclaims, “I don’t know how you did that, but it’s perfect!”

Somehow, I knew it would be.

It’s not that I’m prideful or want to boast of my abilities.  I have no reason to do so.  It’s just that I’ve seen this scenario played out countless times before in almost the identical way.  It’s not always a guitar; sometimes it’s a clarinet, or a trumpet, or even a banjo.

You see I collect specialized knowledge.  I have done for many years–as many years as I’ve worked in the music business.  When the customer before me asks how I know what to do to make his guitar play right, and he almost certainly will, I’ll tell him the truth.

“Oh.  I don’t know.  I just picked it up here and there.”

The Lovely Lady has seen this act before.  We have discussed the need for me to parley this collection into a steady income, but I have no flair for delaying tactics, no driving need to capitalize on knowledge which has been shared with me freely.  I may have to modify that over the next few years.  Retirement looms on the horizon.

We are a species of collectors.  All of us.  We are especially adept at picking up and collecting knowledge.  But, we also love to collect things. If we want to be successful in collecting, to make the process profitable, there are a few things we need to remember.

Look for opportunities to add to our collections. 

I have always been happy to add a new technique to my collection of instrument knowledge.  The doll collectors are always looking on the shelves of the flea markets for collectible bargains.  The adrenalin nuts are always seeking new adventures and challenges.  Be ready to snag that next treasure.

Beware of the fakes and clunkers

I can’t remember how many times the folks on the shows have been disappointed by items passed off by charlatans as genuine, when in fact, they are simply designed to take people in.  There is no value in such items–with the exception of the cautionary lessons learned.  Early on in my own process of collecting repair techniques, I learned the hard way that you don’t want to over tighten the truss rod in a guitar neck with that handy Allen wrench.  Let’s just say that guitar necks can be expensive to replace, and leave it at that.  Collect things of value, but reject the worthless imposters.

And, one note of caution.  Know when to say when

There is a fine line between being a collector and a hoarder.  Don’t fill your house up with plastic Walmart bags or beanie babies.  It is true for knowledge collectors as well.  I know some people who do nothing but memorize information and spout it to their friends and acquaintances.  They are not in high demand at social functions.  No one really needs to know the distance between the guitar fingerboard and the top of a jumbo fret as opposed to a micro-fret, nor is it important to remember and share the information that the common mosquito is actually a member of the nematocerid fly family.

I assume that, by now, the reader is aware I am speaking of deeper matters as much as of the everyday collecting we do.  We are, without exception, products of our environments. That means that we will collect the things in which we immerse ourselves.  I spend most of my time with musical instruments and thus, cannot avoid acquiring knowledge of the same.

But what about all the other hours I spend immersed in different activities?  What am I collecting then?  

I wonder what the museum room of my mind really looks like to the Keeper of all Knowledge.  What kinds of valuable things have I collected over the years of my life?  What have I hoarded that I need to pare down?  What kind of garbage have I filled up usable space with?

I’m still struggling with the price structure of items from my vocational collection.  The old joke about the  fellow who repaired the lady’s automobile with just a turn of a screwdriver comes to mind.  When she got the bill for $110, she suggested that it wasn’t fair to be charged that amount just for him turning a screw.  The reply came from the mechanic.

“Oh, I only charged ten dollars for turning the screw.  Knowing which screw to turn?  That costs you a hundred dollars!”

I’ll get that sorted out one of these days.  Still, I’m wondering.

Is the rest of my collection actually worth anything? 

Time will tell.

“You can keep a piece of candy in its wrapper for up to twenty years.  After that, it turns into a hideous black goo.”
(Darlene Lacey ~ Curator, Candy Wrapper Museum)

“…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
(Matthew 6:21)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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