Saturday, 12 September 2009

I Ain't Ever Satisfied

I'm a bouzouki fetishist. Ever since I got my hands on a cheap Roumanian model earlier this year, I've been utterly hooked. There's just something different about the feel, the sound - the 660mm scale length (longer than most electric and acoustic guitars) seems to fit my bass-stretched fingers, I love the 'not-quite-the-same-as-a-12-string' effect of the lower two pairs of strings, where the plectrum typically strikes the 'octave up' string first - don't know exactly what's going on, but I can't help myself. I'm addicted, and "Bouzoukiholics Anonymous" aren't going to be getting a call any time soon. You get the picture...

Anyhow, I'm already looking to replace my current instrument with something...well, better, frankly. And that's where the difficulties start, because the supply of bouzoukis around here isn't exactly bounteous. There aren't several different, widely-available models to choose from at each price point - let's not forget, this is primarily an acoustic instrument, with arguably greater variation between individual examples than when you're after a slab of mahogany, maple, and rosewood with some lumps of metal and plastic screwed onto it. So buying on-line is, arguably, even less of a good idea - although that having been said, there's a guy been trying to sell a 10-string Freshwater example on Ebay that if I had the cash, I'd buy in an instant. Hey, my 'reason' is a slave of my passions - and if it was good enough for the great philosopher and historian David Hume, then that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

All this does, as usual, omit the key problem with my purchasing budget - I don't have one. But still, it was a perfect day to trek round the music shops in Edinburgh, to see what the top end of the market was like - just for comparative purposes, you understand. Careful research when considering such matters is always very, very important - not to mention a lot of fun.

Now, I know, bouzoukis don't generate a significant proportion of any of the local retailers' profits. They probably barely pay for their slice of the de-humidifying and heating bills, frankly, but of the three properly expensive ones I got my hands on, precisely none were fit for immediate sale. Which, at the prices they were asking, simply isn't acceptable.

The cheapest of the trio, a £950 Fylde, should, if it had arrived from the maker in such poor condition, (rather than it resulting from poor storage, handling, and neglect while languishing in the shop), have been sent back without delay. There were some serious intonation issues (nae adjustable bridge saddles here - count yourselves truly fortunate, electric guitar and bass owners), and the overall 'dead' sound and feel of the instrument were beyond the quick "slap on a new set of strings" fix. It was honestly worse than my £99 Ozark beast at home (although admittedly I tried several cheapies, and was very lucky to find a satisfactory one). When you consider you could buy a decent 3/4-sized double-bass for that kind of money, well...

It's bigger, £1050 brother was ok (nothing inspiring though), if in need of some general care and attention, but just like the £1500 (hey, we're in fantasy unaffordable land, why not?) Steve Agnew model in another shop, urgently required a new set of strings. That said, if the Agnew one had been re-strung properly, it would have been absolutely lovely, and far and away the best of the three for tone and playability. As it was, I didn't want to give it back...which is saying quite a lot, given the listless, lifeless nature of what it was equipped with.

Trouble is, bouzoukis aren't, as I said before, what you might call 'volume sellers', and inevitably they come way down the list of priorities for busy music shops - just below banjos, I reckon, but possibly ahead of beginner accordians - so are likely not to be checked and maintained very often. Except these weren't the low-end, 'budget' range examples - these were instruments that represented a major financial outlay for most folk, so you'd have to feel very confident about them before committing to buying. So failing to maintain them properly is unimpressive, to say the least.

But then I would say that - I'm a bouzouki fetishist, after all.

No comments: