Thursday, February 28, 2019

Online cheating and competing

OUR NO. 1 COMPETITION at Second String Music is the internet. It can be hard to match online deals, so we try our best to offer unmatched service, advice and an unhurried store experience. It's been eight years and we are holding our own.

Yesterday we had a frustrating experience with an online retailer. A customer came in and wanted to get a Boss Acoustic Singer amp. They are brand new. We ordered it from Roland, then were told it was out of stock until April.

The customer told us about an online dealer, Sweetwater, which offered the product for $350 (not in stock till April too, though they don't tell you that). When we agree to carry a certain brand, we sign what is called a MAP agreement, where the prices are pretty much set by the dealer. MAP on this particular item is $499. Sure, we can do sales and we offer the best price possible, but this keeps bigger companies from underselling the small retailer like us.

We aren't sure how Sweetwater can offer the product for that price, even though it isn't available for another month. Do they buy so many of them that they get a discount? We don't know.

What we do know is that when this happens, we let our dealers know. Let's just our rep at Roland isn't happy. We'll see if Sweetwater gets into trouble or maybe has delayed delivery, who knows.

In the meantime, we'll do our best to match online prices and keep the small retail experience alive and growing. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it often is.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Heading To The Lou

SATURDAY IN ST. LOUIS, I'm meeting with my brother Steve. He lives in Phoenix and he's flying in so we can go to the Blues game in the afternoon and the cigar bar after (and maybe before) the game. We are staying by the airport, so I'm looking into transportation to and from downtown.

There is a Metrolink, but I'm wondering how long it will take to get downtown from the airport. There are also lots of places to park downtown, but which ones are the best?

Steve and I don't mind walking so we have choices. It's likely we'll park at Union Station and hoof around before and after the game. Unlike other big cities, St. Louis is relatively easy to get around and not horrendously expensive.

The Blues have won 11 straight games and are starting to garner national attention. They play in Dallas Thursday night, so by the time the Big Bad Bruins roll in Saturday they could be going after 13 in a row. As I've always hated Boston from my time growing up in Montreal, it will be easy to root for the home team. Let's Go Blues!

Blues fans are loyal, passionate and love their team through thick and thin. Well ... most of them, anyway. Some of the Twitter comments right now are classic. We are going to win the Cup! We are the best! Get the victory parade ready!

Winning 11 in a row is impressive, but this is February, not April.

Still, the game will have a playoff atmosphere and it will be a blast to soak it all in.  The Hart boys are ready!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Ja Ja Jamming!

THREE DAYS AFTER another epic store party, we are starting to recover. Sheryl and I had a blast and our eighth anniversary was a roaring success.

We had a big day in the store, and a jam session interrupted only by Frank Haxel somehow winning the Bedford Memorial Beer Can Bowling Invitational for the second time. Many thanks to all who came by and hung out, like Travis Hoffman, who arrived around noon and jammed almost to the end.

I'm going to leave somebody out, but Jim Puskar and Jim Percy were there early too, and when Paul Lester showed up with his magic mandolin we really got going. Rick Emery showed up, saw what was happening, then went back to his car to say farewell to his wife and dog, and he and Adam Yates fired up the keyboards. Cori Lyssy got her pipes warmed up and belted out the tunes.

Patrick Ballard, brother of local audiologist Kevin Ballard, arrived to do some picking. Literally. Patrick is a judge who lives in Alabama and is a flamenco guitar player, and he gave a concert later that night at the Unitarian church. Patrick played his brother's Breedlove acoustic guitar and used his amazing fingerstyle talents, and there were few times when I was playing that I got lost just staring at his fingers on his strum hand.

Cheeseburger drummer Kirk Gribler and his lovely wife Susan arrived with a batch of chili and the fixins. There wasn't any left at the end of the night. Everybody loved it, everybody.

The Pleasant brothers showed up to try out a microphone and ended up playing on a couple of songs. Can't say I've ever played a Backstreet Boys tune at one of our jam sessions, but we have now. They blew the roof off the store party and it wasn't even 3 p.m. yet. Geesh!

I also really enjoyed our new friend Vicky, who recently bought a Luna guitar from us and is learning how to play. She showed no fear and hung right in there, even sang on a few songs. I have always said playing with other people is the best way to learn. She even figured out how to cheat on the dreaded F and B chords. See? Learning is fun!

In the afternoon, Pete Magliocco and Ted Holt showed up. They haven't played much since Ted and Libby brought a new bundle of joy home a few months ago, and it was great to hear them again. Lincoln Smith and Isaac Lester jumped in to play along too, bringing back memories of the "Uninvited Cajon" incident from two years ago. This one worked out better!

Finally, Blake Gardner and Zac Bentley came by, bringing back memories of The Funions (Zac filled in on bass for a few memorable gigs) and I think they had just as much fun playing with Cori Lyssy as they normally do at Blake's shows.

Again, if I'm forgetting somebody, my apologies. So much fun! Sheryl and I again thank everybody for a great eight years and we'll try our best to make No. 9 the best one yet.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Beer Can Bowling drama

THE HIGHLIGHT OF Saturday's eighth anniversary party at Second String Music is the Bedford Memorial Beer Can Bowling Invitational. Sheryl and I are very excited about it. We are not sure why it's called "Invitational" because you are playing if you walk into the store Saturday. But it sounds good. It will start around 3 p.m. and be inside, because the salted sidewalks in front of the store just aren't up to snuff right now.

Our first one was one year ago. Frank Haxel, Adam Yates and I invented the game. We had to make the pins during a Friday happy hour and it was rough and took about an hour, but we did it.

We line up 10 beer cans in front of a contraption made by Frank. We take the rug off the floor by the stage and Frank meticulously marks out the spot for each can. Then we mark off about 35 feet to the throwing area by the counter.

Wait a second ... I just made a recycle run and we are out of cans again! This means we will need to start over on Friday afternoon. I think we will be OK. I looked for Frank's contraption the other day and couldn't find it because it got brought upstairs at some point, and we cleaned the second and third floor landings in January, and never clean up if you expect to find something later, but we will find it. I think Sheryl knows where it has been put.

You get three throws. Each of the 10 cans is worth one point. The cans are reset after each throw. If you hold a beverage while you throw, you get one bonus point.

Frank won it the first year and it's kind of a fog - store parties can do that to you. But I think he had the angle figured out or something. We use one of Angus' balls and it isn't exactly round anymore, so you have to throw it with spin or something.

We think Frank may have cheated. So we wrote "Shut Up Frank" on the trophy. "Shut Up Frank" is Cori Lyssy's nickname for Frank. She says it a lot, even when he isn't here. BTW, Steve Rees' father made the trophy and it's a thing of beauty.

Pete wins and breaks the trophy.
Then during our Saturday Before Thanksgiving Party, controversy erupted when Pete Magliocco won it. His first throw was very poor and he stepped over the line, and for some reason one of the marshals gave him a replacement throw. This marshal received a lot of wrath for the ruling. Wait. The marshal was ... me. So I screwed up and in a moment of weakness I gave him another chance.

Turns out Pete's total beat my total by one pin, so I ended up screwing myself out of the title. There was a lot of howling and chest beating and threats to call the police (who were already there) until somebody said "It's time for the SoCo toast!" and everybody forgot about it.

Then he broke the trophy. Or somebody did. (It's been fixed by our resident trophy repair person, Steve Rees.) Our memory of the epic store party is a bit ... foggy. If you know what we mean.

I hope you join us Saturday. Bring your top Beer Can Bowling game, because it's bound to be epic again.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Jam session etiquette

WE'LL BE MAKING a lot of noise at our eighth anniversary party a week from Saturday. We plan on a jam session in the store and they are always a blast.

Here's a couple of things to think about when you come on over to hoot and holler ...

1. Bring Your Own: Sure, you might just be stopping by and want to sit in on a few songs, and then it's fine to grab a guitar and jump right in. But taking a new Second String Music guitar off the stand is ... well, we usually have to polish out scratch marks afterwards. If you know you are going to play, why not bring your own guitar? We get the argument that "you are a guitar store so you should let people just play your guitars." True. That happens, and we are fine with it. But we also sell guitars, most are brand new guitars, guitars that have been played a few times but aren't all dinged up. You can't sell a car as brand new if it's been driven a bunch of times.

2. It's Acoustic: We prefer jam sessions without plugging in. It just makes everything easier. Guitar-wise, it's hard to go electric because of cords and volume. We do have some small bass amps that are perfect for jamming the four string.  Jim Percy always brings a fun assortment of percussion stuff to bang on, and it's never too loud.

3. It's For Everybody: Usually there are one or two people who lead the jam session, but if you have a song you want to do, do it! There are all kinds of skill levels and if you just want to strum along a chord at a time, rock on. I encourage all my guitar students to attend and play along because it's a great way to learn and get better. Or just sit and watch. Or just sing along. There are no grades or judges.

4. The Right Songs: It's probably not a good idea to play Bohemian Rhapsody or Carry On My Wayward Son or Close To The Edge or the entire Tommy rock opera. The easier the better, "Three chords and the truth," as Dylan allegedly said. We like all kinds of music, from rock to country to pop to whatever it is kids listen to these days. Good lord, I sound like my parents.

5. Have A Good Time: It's supposed to be fun. Don't worry about what other people think. Just close your eyes, dive in and do it!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Eight Is Great story party!

GEESH - HOW THE heck did we make eight years fly by? Second String Music celebrating with our annual store anniversary party on Saturday, Feb. 16, and we hope you can make it.

Above is a video of the legendary Luke Lyter playing a song in our original location at Eighth and Washington. I couldn't think of a more fitting thing to play as we enter our ninth year in business.

What I remember most about that first year was how Sheryl set everything up and we learned on the fly. That building was perfect for our start, though we quickly outgrew it and the landlords were a challenge. I started giving lessons in the little room on the south side, as did Warren Riley on Saturday mornings.

I'm trying really hard to remember the first jam session we had. I vaguely remember Jake Owen was in town for the firefighters concert and his band walked in while we were playing. I looked it up and he played in Quincy on March 26, 2011, so our first jam session was barely a month after we opened.

Steve Rees had just come over with a bunch of interesting instruments, and I recall Jake's band getting a huge kick out of the various banjos and other things on the walls.

For our first anniversary party, getting everybody in became a challenge. Because our space was so packed we had to really work on clearing out room in the back for the jam session, and pretty soon we had 40 or 50 people in there and it was on. Frank Haxel was amazed at the number of people and the fun we were having. Here were perfect strangers sitting around and rocking out. I said, "That's the power of music." I also remember someone buying more alcohol half way through the party. We always seem to run out somehow.

Really, the anniversary party is just a way for us to reflect and be grateful we are still here. Small business retail is not for the faint of heart. So many people have helped us a long the way and it's been an adventure.

We'll start around noon and have a jam session, followed by beer can bowling and general frivolity all day and into the evening. We'll have food and beverages but we encourage you to bring your own if you want - there's plenty of room in the fridge and we always need more.

We are also knocking 10 percent off our bass amps and bass guitars this month. We have a few of the Fender Rumbles and Roland Cubes and they are amazing.

Eight is great! Help us celebrate at Fifth and Maine and make it another epic store party.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Reviews are good

WE RECEIVED AN interesting review on Yelp Saturday. We do get all kinds of reviews on social media -  most all are positive. Some are from people with bones to pick and gripes to get out. If we help them feel better, well, so be it.

This review came from a young man who walked in the coffee shop door Saturday afternoon while there were a few other customers in the store. Sheryl was by herself behind the counter (3 p.m. on a Saturday, I was at Wingfest). The man poked around a while which most coffee shop patrons do when they wander over. Most aren't even  musicians but just want to see the store. We love that but tend to leave them alone, which we are rethinking after this review....

Anyway, the review was very positive and we appreciate the feedback. The reviewer mentioned that the silence was "unwelcoming," but that was because Sheryl had not turned the iPod back on after several young kids were rocking out. They had just left so the silence felt like heaven for just a few minutes.

He also mentioned people should buy stuff at Second String Music so "the lady at the desk will lighten up a bit and we can have an Awesome Music Spot that we all want!!!!"

We love the enthusiasm. We'll try better next time he comes in to greet him. With Quincy School of Music closing we really will have some growing pains. We will have to stock more band items like the really expensive reeds and mouthpieces Gus had in this store. It will be a big challenge.

We invite everyone to shop local and give us great feedback. When Sheryl opened this store eight years ago, she had no idea what she was doing and freely admits it. The customer feedback has made this store great and we will continue to learn from it. If she needs to lighten up, please come over and help her do it. The serious business of running a music store can wait if you don't mind taking her mind off it.

We are always looking to up our game and make your experience in a small local business positive. Thanks for the kinds words and encouragement!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Eight years? Really?

EIGHT YEARS AGO today, Feb. 1 2011, it started to snow. It didn't stop for a long time. By the time it was done, we had about 2 feet of the white stuff on the ground, and it paralyzed Quincy and the surrounding area for four or five days.

In the beginning ....
I was working at the Whig and Illinois State Police Trooper Mike Kindhart took me out on I-72 the day after. It was sunny and cold and the highway was still a snow-packed mess. It looked like a combat zone .... cars and truck off the road everywhere. There was a massive semi in the woods on the exit to Marblehead, and it probably took a good week or more to pull everybody out of ditches and medians.

Right around this time was when Sheryl and I were planning to open Second String Music at Eighth and Washington. Sheryl would plow her way down the sidewalk to the store every morning with our border collie, Lucy.

Geesh. Eight years?

It's gonna be 50-plus degrees Sunday. Might have to have a stogie and think about it.