WooHooo! This posting is the fiftieth blog post for The Unbrokenstring Crew!!
I asked my high school sweetheart and wife of thirty-eight years, Glenda Latchaw, to tell her story concerning a disturbing event that she witnessed while shopping for guitars. This story is offered in juxtaposition to my blog entry http://unbrokenstring.com/engineers-tips-selecting-first-guitar/ and is intended as food for thought for parents who wish to encourage their children to pursue music.
How Not to Buy Your Child a Guitar
Or maybe I should call this How to Embarrass Your Child in Public. Or maybe more importantly, How to Teach Your Child to Hate Playing Guitar.
I had gone with my darling husband to Guitar Center (shameless plug, you’re welcome…) to look at Ibanez guitars (I had just bought David a used one that he had played and fallen in love with to replace a stolen guitar and I was curious…) while he delivered repaired amps and picked up broken ones for his side gig, Unbrokenstring.com (You’re welcome, dear…). I had talked myself into getting a nice little Ibanez classical that I could bar all the way up and down the neck with my bad finger and I had just failed to catch my favorite salesperson, Laura before this family came into the area and grabbed her.
It looked to be a nice enough family, mom, dad, and two young boys. The oldest was somewhere in the middle of the grade school years and the youngest was maybe kindergarten or thereabouts. I heard Mom mention to Laura that they were there to buy the older boy his first guitar for his birthday since that was what he’d requested. I thought, “How nice. Kid’s got an interest in music and they’re going to encourage it instead of letting him sit in front of the tube.” That was pretty much the last thing I heard Mom say. I figured it’d be fairly quick. I mean, Laura has the boy try out some guitars, he picks one out, and they buy it. Right?
Dad opened his mouth next. I could immediately tell he didn’t want to be there. I’m not sure if he was unhappy that the boy wanted a guitar and not some more … intellectual instrument (my intuition’s favorite choice), or that this was going to cost him some money, or that the boy had made a decision without asking his father’s opinion.. Dad seemed a bit of a control freak. And he obviously wanted out of there as soon as possible. He as much as said so as he was staring at his watch. (What a way to make a child feel special. Way to go, Daddy Jerk!)
The boy was not permitted to look at anything on his own. Daddy Jerk did the looking. He wandered to the classical/flamenco wall. “Those have nylon strings. I don’t want one of those. The strings don’t last. I need steel strings so they’ll last.” Evidently the fact that nylon strings are gentler on delicate young fingers never crossed his mind. (Hello? If it hurts, he ain’t gonna’ practice, dodo…) He wandered on to the other walls.
“Those with the thin bodies, they don’t last as long, do they? I don’t see how they could. And they’re not as loud. They can’t be. The body’s too thin. I want a loud one.” He grabbed an adult-sized guitar off the wall. “Here, try this one. Really hit it. Be sure it’s loud enough.” The boy strummed it like you strum a guitar. “No, not like that! Harder! Like this!” He put his hand up next to his shoulder and swung it down like he was using a machete to cut off his toes. “It needs to be a loud one!” (Hate your neighbors, do you?)
He kept looking at the adult-sized guitars, pulling one, then another down and handing it to his son. “Try this one.” Laura tried suggesting he look at the ¾-sized guitars for the boy. Daddy Jerk told Laura, “No, I don’t want a small one. I want to get something big so he can play it for a long time, but not too expensive in case he doesn’t stick with it.” Yes, the child was right there, hearing that his father half-way expected him to fail. Mom said nothing. Laura looked a bit shell-shocked by this time. I was biting my tongue and wondering if my self-control would hold. My husband would have been proud. (He knows me. I don’t deal well with idiots and tact is not my strong suit…)
He asked Laura questions. Stupid ones, mainly. Laura was still too dumfounded with his behavior to say much, but that was okay. He wasn’t listening to her. He didn’t care what she had to say because she didn’t agree with him. He continued looking at adult-sized guitars. He never once asked the child what he wanted or what he thought of a particular guitar. He never noticed that the adult guitars actually forced the child to extend his right arm straight out from the shoulder to put a guitar under it. He never asked the child to try and reach across the neck with his left hand to see if he could actually ‘play’ the guitar. What mattered to him was that the right hand could make a lot of loud noise. (You jerk, just set the kid up to fail, why don’t you?)
The boy kept sneaking looks at the smaller classical guitars and the ¾-sized ones. For a smaller person (ahem, like me and that poor child) the adult-sized guitars are just too hard to handle. The necks are too wide, the bodies way too big. The boy knew it. He managed to take advantage of Dad’s distraction by the ‘big, loud’ guitars once to get his hands on a smallish classical. He put his left hand on the neck and was playing around with it. He could reach all the way across and fret that sixth string. He was comfortable with it and it looked good on his knee. It tucked neatly under his right arm. Daddy Jerk saw him. “Put that back. It’s too small. And I said I wanted steel strings on it.”(Hey, whose birthday gift is this anyway, <insert obscenity of your own choice here>?)
Another customer eventually took pity on the boy and handed Daddy Jerk one of the advertised ‘under $100’ guitars that he’d been playing, saying he’d been thinking about buying it himself. It was a name brand, Yamaha, I think. It appeared to be satisfactory in the loud requirement. It was still too big, but not quite as too big as the others Daddy Jerk had pulled down. Daddy Jerk looked interested. He was ready to get the flip out of there and here was this guy recommending this guitar. Perfect.
He looked at Laura. “What about tuning it? I’m going to have to tune this for him.” (What? Wait a minute! Isn’t part of tuning it part of learning to play it?? Did I miss something here?) Laura mentioned that the particular guitar they were looking at had the built-in tuner and demonstrated how it worked. “That’s good. We’ll take this one.”
And then on the way out of the acoustic room, Daddy Jerk asks, “Do you have any books of chords and things that he can use?” I interpreted that as “I don’t want to have anything else to do with this idiot instrument that my idiot child wanted,” even though all I heard was “I, I, I,” throughout the whole hour of excruciating hell that he had just put his son through in picking out ‘his’ birthday guitar.
In summary, this is how not to buy your child a guitar:
- Act like you have something more important to do. This will make him feel really special.
- Don’t let him look for himself. After all, you know best and it’s your money.
- Don’t buy a guitar that fits his size. He’ll grow into it, assuming he stays with it long enough.
- Don’t buy a guitar that he can actually play using both hands. It just needs to be loud. He won’t need all those extra notes on the neck for a long time.
- Don’t consider something that might be easy on the left hand’s fingertips. Pain’ll make him want to practice all the time.
- And most importantly, don’t ask what him what he thinks. You’re buying him the stupid guitar he wanted.
I hope the boy’s still wanting to play his birthday guitar, but I doubt it. Thanks, Daddy Jerk. I hope your younger boy asks for a real drum set and bangs on it all the time.
Glenda has published articles for The Texas Clogger Magazine, and was the creative genius behind the selection of ‘unbrokenstring’ as the Web identity for the blog you see here. She is the dance instructor for The Rhythm Cloggers of Houston, Texas, is a charter member of The Science Fiction Book Club, and serves as staff for sixteen cats on the Sprawling Branch Latchawvian Cult Compound, hidden somewhere in northern Brazoria County, Texas.