Recycling the ivories

Effluvia, Music

Time to deprecate the 88? Here's where old pianos go to die.

Nearly 365,000 were sold at the peak, in 1910, according to the National Piano Manufacturers Association. …In 2011, 41,000 were sold, along with 120,000 digital pianos and 1.1 million keyboards….

Last 5 posts by David

65 Comments

65 Comments

  1. Wilhelm Arcturus  •  Jul 30, 2012 @9:37 am

    We have a Kimball upright in our family room that my great grandparents bought in 1905 and which has been handed around ever since. I suspect our house will be its last waypoint on the way to the dump. We only took it off of my mom when she moved because we happened to have a spot for it, but it is horribly out of tune (last tuned, according to the marks, in 1982), neither my wife nor I play, and our daughter shares our disinterest.

    However it is a very nice looking. My great grandparents opted for an upscale model with a nice finish and extra decorative accents. So it just anchors one end of the room, supports a wide array of pictures and such on its top, and acts as a magnetic attraction for any toddler entering our home. It is safe for a few more years.

  2. eddie  •  Jul 30, 2012 @10:00 am

    A video posted on YouTube by one mover showing pianos being dumped drew violent remarks. Commenters said they felt sickened and called the scene barbaric, painful, outrageous, even criminal. “Stop the horror!” one wrote.

    Whatta buncha ignorant whiners.

    There was a time when pins and needles were valuable household heirlooms. Or when you would take your shoes to the cobbler to repair them, and keep bringing them back again and again, because that was still cheaper than buying a new pair.

    When something that was once an expensive and revered luxury becomes so commonplace and affordable that we start throwing it away, that's a very good thing. It means that humankind is that much more prosperous.

  3. S. Weasel  •  Jul 30, 2012 @10:08 am

    Eh. Lovely old seasoned hardwoods, ivory and ebony. They should make 'em into ukes.

  4. Grifter  •  Jul 30, 2012 @10:13 am

    @eddie:

    Pianos are not commonplace or more affordable. They, like most quality instruments, are still high-priced items.

    And not everyone thinks that the disposable consumer culture is a good thing.

  5. Connie  •  Jul 30, 2012 @10:23 am

    I've seen a jeweler who makes gorgeous pieces out of recycled piano ivories. That way the keys get put to a good second use and the wearer can have guilt-free ivory pendants.

  6. Windypundit  •  Jul 30, 2012 @10:26 am

    Pianos themselves may not be commonplace or more affordable, but as it turns out, people don't want pianos; they want to make music. A cheap Casio synthesizer keyboard will do that well enough (plus a lot more) and you can move it by tossing it in the trunk of your car, without having to hire a specialized moving company and having it re-tuned.

  7. Grifter  •  Jul 30, 2012 @10:28 am

    Windypundit:

    If you don't see the difference between a real piano and a cheap Casio synthesizer keyboard, it is not going to be easy to explain it to you.

    Suffice to say, I type on typewriters (even though I own a computer), own a traditional fountain pen(in addition to the ballpoints), and if I could afford it would own a piano (I do own a keyboard, though).

  8. Connie  •  Jul 30, 2012 @10:29 am

    I wish my house had room for a real piano. I dislike my Casio because it doesn't sound or feel right. It's great for rehearsing with, or jotting down a quick composition — but when I want to PLAY and enjoy the music it just doesn't cut it.

  9. Wilhelm Arcturus  •  Jul 30, 2012 @10:30 am

    @eddie – Well, it means that some Americans are much more prosperous I suppose. If you were an American piano maker, probably not so much.

    Not that I think we should somehow support the manufacture of things people no longer want. But very few changes in life can be viewed as a universal win. Somebody has to lose.

    And I am sure we can all come up with a few points of view in which our ability to simply throw stuff away rather than fix or maintain would not be seen as a "very good thing."

    On the bright side, scarcity drives value as well. Maybe people junking all their old pianos will make mine valuable some day. That would be a very good thing… for me.

  10. Tsarina of Tsocks  •  Jul 30, 2012 @10:47 am

    @Eddie – pins and needles and shoes don't have personalities. Or maybe they do, but not on the same scale (heh) as a piano that has been part of a family or a career. It's the musical version of "if these walls could talk" – and it can.

    *:: why yes, I do have two grand pianos, each carrying a metric buttload of history and lore, and I can't stand to give up either of them ::*

  11. eddie  •  Jul 30, 2012 @10:57 am

    Pianos are not commonplace or more affordable.

    Going by the NYT article, it seems that you can have as many as you want for free if you're willing to go pick them up and haul them away.

    And not everyone thinks that the disposable consumer culture is a good thing.

    That's true. There are a lot of idiots in the world.

    f you don't see the difference between a real piano and a cheap Casio synthesizer keyboard, it is not going to be easy to explain it to you. Suffice to say, I type on typewriters (even though I own a computer), own a traditional fountain pen(in addition to the ballpoints), and if I could afford it would own a piano (I do own a keyboard, though).

    Sorry, I meant to say pretentious idiots. My bad.

    But very few changes in life can be viewed as a universal win. Somebody has to lose.

    Somebody has to change. Adapt. Improvise. Overcome. The ones who lose are the ones who think that the rest of humanity owes them a living doing the same thing they've always done.

    And I am sure we can all come up with a few points of view in which our ability to simply throw stuff away rather than fix or maintain would not be seen as a "very good thing."

    We call those points of view "bad at math".

  12. Roscoe  •  Jul 30, 2012 @10:57 am

    This happened to us. My wife had a beautiful upright from her grandmother. But nobody played, and it took up room that eventually we didn't have. We paid some guys to haul it away, I have no idea what became of it.

  13. Grifter  •  Jul 30, 2012 @11:03 am

    @eddie:

    *sigh*
    Now you're just being a troll.

  14. eddie  •  Jul 30, 2012 @11:04 am

    Maybe people junking all their old pianos will make mine valuable some day.

    I wouldn't get your hopes up. If old pianos were going to be valuable someday, people wouldn't be junking them today.

  15. eddie  •  Jul 30, 2012 @11:10 am

    My apologies. It seems I woke up with some bile in my gorge. Strange it came out over pianos, of all things.

    Anyway. Rah rah, free markets, creative destruction, and all that. Yay.

  16. Gal  •  Jul 30, 2012 @11:11 am

    Ah, the tried and true "everyone who disagrees with my opinion is an idiot" argument. I just switched over to this tab from an MMA Forum where peopled had just pointed out the immaturity of such rhetoric.

  17. Gal  •  Jul 30, 2012 @11:12 am

    Hmm. Tag closing fail.

  18. Gal  •  Jul 30, 2012 @11:13 am

    And I didn't realize it would carry over to the next comment.

  19. David  •  Jul 30, 2012 @11:22 am

    Fixed. Shall I delete the sequellae?

  20. Gal  •  Jul 30, 2012 @11:41 am

    It's your, blog, do what pleases your eyes the most. I admitted to participating in MMA discussion, having my goof-up with the tags stay known is minor by contrast.

  21. Mike  •  Jul 30, 2012 @11:54 am

    We have my wife's great-grandparents' upright in our living room. Its a thing of beauty.

    I wonder if one factor is how often people move these days. In my grandparents generation and even my parents generation, you were often living in the house you'd die in by your mid 20's. These days, with so much more mobility, pianos seem more like a giant boat anchor than a loved instrument.

  22. eddie  •  Jul 30, 2012 @12:04 pm

    Gal: It's not an argument, merely a statement. I'm not trying to persuade anyone, I'm merely expressing my beliefs.

    Moreover, "the disposable consumer culture is bad" is not an opinion akin to "the corpus of Mozart is bad" or "GJJ sucks!" I'm not saying that anyone who disagrees with my opinion is an idiot – that would itself be truly idiotic (or immature, I suppose). I'm saying that anyone who believes "the disposable consumer culture is bad" is factually incorrect, and so egregiously incorrect that their belief rises to the level of idiocy.

  23. Grandy  •  Jul 30, 2012 @12:13 pm

    When Jon Skeet coded the universe in Lisp (no, he did not hack it together with Perl, for fuck's sake), he did it on an IBM-Model M keyboard and not a typewriter.

    Fact.

  24. David  •  Jul 30, 2012 @12:13 pm

    @eddie Although I wouldn't frame the claim quite so stridently, I believe your point is a good one– or that it can be made good.

    When I teach material culture to my students, I sometimes throw this at them:

    I: What's better, the handmade gift or the mass-produced machine-made gift?
    They: The handmade! So meaningful! So rare!
    I: The one you love gives you a compact car. Do you want (a) the one s/he whittled and rigged, or (b) the one s/he bought after the computer-controlled robotic slaves manufactured it in a suburb of Murfreesboro?
    They: Erm… Well, I, uh…. b.

    The fact is that although we invest a good deal of non-material and non-economic value in emotionally coded factors such as handicraft and historical lineage, the mass-produced things are generally better/stronger/faster, more ecologically responsible, more democratic, and (to epitomize) more loving than their technologically superseded forerunners.

    That's not saying we have to forsake beauty for Bauhaus (and that's not necessarily a mutex anyhow); it's merely to say that for most purposes, it's better (across many economic, social, and practical dimensions) to wield a tech-wielding meta-technology than to wield its technology directly. Or, to put the matter slightly differently: some problems are solved problems, and the artisanal age was, at best, a proto-industrial rough draft of those solutions.

  25. David  •  Jul 30, 2012 @12:14 pm

    @Grandy And since Lisp is as close to pure useful thought at one's fingertips as we're likely to come, that's a product endorsement with heft!

  26. En Passant  •  Jul 30, 2012 @12:39 pm

    David wrote:

    Here's where old pianos go to die.

    Except for the few selected for a very special kind of death.
    Grifter wrote on Jul 30, 2012 @10:28 am:

    If you don't see the difference between a real piano and a cheap Casio synthesizer keyboard, it is not going to be easy to explain it to you.

    Very true. No Casio sounds even remotely like a Bosendorfer grand.

    That said, a pianist friend with professional concert skills but an amateur by choice (much easier to make a living as an engineer and play with elite amateur chamber groups), recently switched from a grand in his smallish house to an excellent piano synth.

    It synthesizes nothing but piano, and quite well, even duplicating appropriate timbre over the entire dynamic range of an actual grand, as well as damper, unacorda and sostenuto pedals. Keyboard is even mechanically engineered to duplicate the fingertip "feel" of a real piano action.

    Lots lighter and takes up much less space.

  27. Ancel De Lambert  •  Jul 30, 2012 @12:41 pm

    @David
    "What's in there?"
    "Only what you take with you."

    "Fuck, killed him you did?!"

  28. eddie  •  Jul 30, 2012 @12:42 pm

    David – Indeed, you make my point good, better than I could myself.

  29. David  •  Jul 30, 2012 @12:45 pm

    @eddie I wasn't sure whether that was your point! I only know it's among mine. Glad you overcame your spleen.

  30. Paul Baxter  •  Jul 30, 2012 @12:46 pm

    As a working piano technician, I can testify that the number of pianos going to the dump is dwarfed by the number that SHOULD be going to the dump but haven't yet because of sentimental reasons.

    When people ask me if it's worth it to move their grandmother's piano to their home, I often ask them if they are driving their grandmother's car. Pianos are filled with parts that wear out. Any of those parts, hypothetically, could be replaced, but in general, the cost of doing all of that work would be far more expensive than buying a new piano.

    OTOH, a certain amount of the new pianos being sold should have never made it past QA and should probably go straight to the dump. But that's another discussion.

  31. David  •  Jul 30, 2012 @12:49 pm

    @Paul Baxter
    Based on what you've seen (and for those not enjoying a Bösendorfer Budget), which brands or models ought one to avoid, and which ought one to embrace?

  32. Thorne  •  Jul 30, 2012 @1:03 pm

    Got two pianos in the house…

    - the wife's 110-year-old passed-down-through-the-family upright

    - a Yamaha digital piano with 88 accurately weighted keys

    Guess which one gets played a hell of a lot more than the other. ;)

  33. M.  •  Jul 30, 2012 @1:08 pm

    1. @eddie: As if there isn't enough stuff hanging around dumps as it is.

    2. I loathe piano music.

  34. Paul Baxter  •  Jul 30, 2012 @1:09 pm

    In general, pianos being made now in the US, Germany, and Japan are high quality instruments. One of the tricky things is that some of the Chinese and Korean manufacturers have been buying up the names of older, out of business piano makers, so you do have to do some homework when dealing with new and unfamiliar pianos.

    Larry Fine's Piano Book is not bad for a general guide to piano purchasing. In general, though, price is generally pretty indicative of quality in this industry.

  35. David  •  Jul 30, 2012 @1:12 pm

    @Paul Baxter Thanks!

  36. Grifter  •  Jul 30, 2012 @1:21 pm

    @eddie:

    "I'm saying that anyone who believes "the disposable consumer culture is bad" is factually incorrect"

    On what facts do you base that, since it's pretty obviously an opinion? Bearing in mind that, by specifying the 'disposable' aspect of modern culture, David's argument (while not one I disagree with wildly) is not relevant.

    There are people (and I'm not even saying that I'm one of them, but I would stray far from saying they're "factually incorrect" or idiots) who believe that the modern culture's emphasis on throwaway items, as opposed to items which should have lasting value, is a bad thing, from an environmental and cultural standpoint. This doesn't mean that they prefer "handmade" to not, but rather that they prefer high-quality, long lasting goods over the current "oh, just throw it away and buy a new one" model.

  37. eddie  •  Jul 30, 2012 @2:19 pm

    Advancing technology makes everything easier to produce from scratch than to restore to new condition. This is largely due to increasing returns to scale in manufacturing processes, whereas restoration has no way to achieve such scale.

    For a given amount of resources, you can have either:

    a) Ten widgets which break down, then get thrown away and replaced by ten new widgets, OR

    b) Ten widgets which break down, of which five get restored, leaving you with five (mostly) good widgets and five broken ones.

    B is objectively better.

    If you're feeling sentimental for the original widgets, feel free to hang onto them rather than disposing of them. You can restore them as a hobby. Have fun. And be glad that the disposable consumerist society has provided you with enough resources that you can afford to have such a fun hobby.

    ————

    Addressing what might be the disconnect here:

    "Disposability" has nothing to do with whether or not something is "high-quality" or "long-lasting". It's purely a matter of replacement cost vs. restoration cost.

    It's a delusion of high-status elites (and would-be elites) that their preferred consumption goods are "high-quality". Generally speaking they're simply high-priced, with the high price serving to make it a status good. Accordingly, the cost to restore something (to fix a Rolex, for example) is a lot lower than the cost to replace it. Whereas with pretty much any watch where you're paying for the cost of manufacturing rather than the cost of brand name maintenance, the best way to repair it is to buy a new one.

    Fortunately, even the idea of "disposability" (here being used to mean "non-durable") is basically a myth, too. As we grow more technologically advanced and wealthy, we're able to make more and more things more and more durable at less and less cost. A Corolla will last as long as a Ferrari, a Timex will last as long as a Rolex, and all of them will last far, far longer than they would have a hundred years ago. So overall, our "disposable consumerist society" is giving consumers what they want: cheap disposable stuff where it doesn't matter, and cheap durable stuff where it does.

    Yay progress.

    … and this has something to do with pianos, although I've mostly forgotten what by now.

  38. Grifter  •  Jul 30, 2012 @2:26 pm

    "Disposability" has nothing to do with whether or not something is "high-quality" or "long-lasting". It's purely a matter of replacement cost vs. restoration cost."

    That's not true at all. Something intended to be disposed of will often be, by nature, designed to be less long-lasting as an item that is intended to be repaired and kept. (e.g. tissue vs. handkerchief…one is paper, flimsy and intended to be thrown away, the other serves the same purpose but is not flimy, made of paper, or intended to be thrown away).

  39. Stuart Brown  •  Jul 30, 2012 @2:39 pm

    Eh, even though a bit of me winced at this, I think we should remember that pianos are not violins. They do not improve in sound quality with time, and the mechanisms fail as they age. Older pianos may look nice but give me a modern new build for playing satisfaction any day.

    This is not to endorse eddie's view of consumer culture, to whit I cannot help observing:

    I'm saying that anyone who believes "the disposable consumer culture is bad" is factually incorrect, and so egregiously incorrect that their belief rises to the level of idiocy.

    "X is bad" is a value judgment: anybody who asserts of a value judgment that it can be factually incorrect (in italics, no less!) is to my mind better qualified for the labels of "egregious", "idiotic", and probably "irredeemably dogmatic" into the bargain.

  40. eddie  •  Jul 30, 2012 @2:54 pm

    "X is bad" is a value judgment

    There are some bottom elephants. "Death, suffering, and human misery are bad" is one of them. I assume my interlocutors share that prior with me.

    "Prosperity is good" follows from that, and "the so-called disposable culture produces prosperity and is therefore good" from that. My reasoning and conclusions may be wrong, but even if wrong they are in the realm of objective fact, not opinion.

    Unless I'm wrong about the bottom elephants. But if I am, then there's really nothing to talk about.

  41. eddie  •  Jul 30, 2012 @2:58 pm

    Grifter – do you repair your handkerchiefs?

  42. eigenperson  •  Jul 30, 2012 @3:18 pm

    As some who has dealt with ancient, broken-down, out-of-tune pianos, I can appreciate wanting to get rid of them. A piano that doesn't sound good is just a useless hunk of wood and metal.

    They are really hard to get back into working condition, and require extensive replacements of parts.

    If the construction is of high quality, you'd be better off rebuilding your old piano than junking it (assuming you want to actually use it, of course), but your average early-20th-century piano is no Steinway.

  43. Grifter  •  Jul 30, 2012 @3:21 pm

    @eddie:

    1

    "Prosperity is good" follows from that, and "the so-called disposable culture produces prosperity and is therefore good" from that. My reasoning and conclusions may be wrong, but even if wrong they are in the realm of objective fact, not opinion.

    No. It does not follow from that, except in your opinion. Prosperity does not necessarily equal a disposable culture.

    2: I don't own handkerchiefs, because I don't prefer to use them. It was an example. Back before the rise of the disposable tissue, I'm sure they did repair them. Now we consider handkerchiefs an affectation (because we prefer throwing away a piece of paper every time we blow our noses).

    Me, I'm actually on the fence, because I recognize the utility of some parts of our disposable culture, but you keep saying that anyone who doesn't see it as a universally good thing is stupid or "factually inaccurate", showing that you do not seem to understand what that term means.

  44. Stuart Brown  •  Jul 30, 2012 @3:24 pm

    Well, eddie, I do think you are wrong about the bottom elephants, but I also think you are wrong that there is nothing to talk about if there are no bottom elephants. Indeed relative morality precisely requires of us that we do talk (discursively), in order to persuade others, whereas people who believe in bottom elephants tend towards, well, statements of judgment as fact, and statements that people who disagree must be idiots.

    What do you mean by "prosperity is good" anyway? That's an extremely vague statement. Is prosperity a measure of the overall capital, or its distribution within society? Do you include sustainability within your concept of "prosperous"? If prosperity today comes at the price of resource poverty tomorrow, is that "good"?

  45. AlphaCentauri  •  Jul 30, 2012 @5:45 pm

    We moved into a house that had an old upright left behind in it. It had been painted red and was missing a few keys, the bass sustain pedal, and some strings and their pegs. (I'm not sure of the proper piano terminology.) It was unplayable in its current condition. We tried finding someone who wanted to come get it, we tried finding someone who wanted to reclaim the metal, but finally we had to smash it to pieces with a sledgehammer to get the pieces small enough for the city trash collectors to take away. And I'm a packrat who dabbles in playing the piano. Just because pianos are a good thing doesn't mean any individual piano will ever be worth the cost of repairing it.

  46. Bruce  •  Jul 30, 2012 @6:24 pm

    @grifter – I think a reasonable percentage of the people who are sending their pianos away to destruction are making exactly the same choice you are and for the same reasons.

    "and if I could afford it would own a piano"

    It is costing people too much to store and/or maintain these pianos and no one else wants them, so what else should a rational person do?

  47. Ben  •  Jul 30, 2012 @6:40 pm

    David,

    My brother has an acquaintance that, for a hobby, makes cars. I do not drive (during university I tried, I found myself too easily distracted) but even I find some of the unique aesthetics he develops appealing.

    His vehicles are fully functional and some feature 'custom built' components, created by professionals. So, simply because something is not fabricated in an industrial setting, does not mean a car made by a friend would be worth less.

  48. Chris R.  •  Jul 30, 2012 @6:53 pm

    The free market has spoken.

  49. Grifter  •  Jul 30, 2012 @7:46 pm

    @Bruce:

    I totally understand that position. It is eddie who refuses to recognize why some people might find be upset to hear/watch them be destroyed.

  50. John David Galt  •  Jul 30, 2012 @7:52 pm

    @eddie and grifter: It's a matter of taste whether to prefer traditional things like pianos or mass-produced substitutes. But the mass-produced versions are both affordable to a lot more people, and more efficient if you have to move or store them, which is why more people (net) are getting rid of the traditional items than buying them.

    The increased wealth that makes "throwaway culture" possible is indisputably a good thing (IMAO). This holds true even if you prefer to avoid throwing things away. There is such a thing as obsolescence, and not all of it was planned.

  51. John David Galt  •  Jul 30, 2012 @7:52 pm

    BTW: If your ivories are real ivory, is it now illegal to sell them? :D

  52. darius404  •  Jul 30, 2012 @7:57 pm

    It is eddie who refuses to recognize why some people might find be upset to hear/watch them be destroyed.

    He never said he didn't understand why some people might be upset. The arguments you're making are subjective ones based in personal sentiment, while he's trying to make arguments about human progress. He may or may not be wrong in his arguments. But he certainly has not argued that sentimental reasons for disliking this are bad, nor has he stated or implied that he didn't understand the sentimental reasons. He's just not arguing from the standpoint of personal sentiment.

  53. Grifter  •  Jul 30, 2012 @8:12 pm

    @John David Galt:

    I totally understand and cannot fault those who say "Meh, it's pianos, I don't care", but eddie went quite a bit far beyond that.

    I also do not disagree with: "The increased wealth that makes "throwaway culture" possible is indisputably a good thing", but that's not what he said.

    @Darius404:

    He called them "ignorant whiners" and "pretentious idiots" and said that their opinion was somehow "factually inaccurate". I would say that he has "argued that sentimental reasons for disliking this are bad".

  54. Grifter  •  Jul 30, 2012 @8:16 pm

    Quick correction/clarification: I don't disagree with JDG's "more wealth is a good thing", but I think "indisputable" might be taking the statement a bit far (some people might argue that our wealth has come at the expense of others and so isn't an "indisputably" good thing. I try to stay away from absolutes unless I'm absolutely sure of my position).

  55. Allen Garvin  •  Jul 30, 2012 @8:51 pm

    Pianos are obsolete monstrosities of the industrial age. They contain very complex key mechanisms that, by simple key touch, accelerate and propel a hammer with considerable force against extremely tightly taut metal strings to produce sufficient volume to be heard in a concert or dance hall (maybe over the sounds of dancers) or a church (over the sounds of singing). In the age of amplification, there's little benefit in most circumstances, outside of a classical concert where amplification is frowned on. For almost every other circumstance, a digital keyboard is beyond sufficient, and has numerous other advantages.

    I've got four keyboards: a 1981 Matthew Redsell harpsichord (45 keys), a 2004 Zuckermann fretted clavichord (also 45), a cheap 61-key digital piano, and a 25-key M-Audio keyboard that I can carry anywhere and play bed. The clavichord and harpsichord both have very simple action. 19 out of 20 maintenance tasks (basically, anything but a soundboard repair) can easily be undertaken by an amateur with no special training. Tuning is a breeze with a 99-cent ClearTune app on my iphone (6th comma meantone!).. Unlike some overly complex machine, there's no worry that you'll ever do anything to seriously damage it.

  56. Tsarina of Tsocks  •  Jul 30, 2012 @10:46 pm

    OK, so I'll be the pretentious idiot. I'm cool with that. (As it happens one of my early 20th century pianos is a Steinway; the other is a rare Deco-case Knabe. More to the point I've played on both of them all my life; so have Heifetz, Horowitz, Janis, Rubenstein, and a few other equally pretentious idiots – sometimes using their fingers, sometimes using oranges and other found objects. They mean something, and they're still worth playing and maintaining. Think I'll hang onto them, thanks all the same.)

    As to whether the hand-made or the mass-produced gift is better…? There are only two good answers to that. One is "Mu." The other, the spinner's answer (to life, the universe, and everything, or more to the point to almost any question we're ever asked), is "It Depends." Or sometimes "four pounds." No, I had it right the first time – "It Depends." On context and a thousand thousand other factors.

    The real problem with committing too deeply to some forms of mass production, or modern improvements in same, is that at a certain point old technologies are lost and lost permanently, and not all of them deserve to be discarded out of hand without some thought for what is lost. For instance, to take an example from the textile world… denim. Anybody remember denim? The last of the mills that made real denim shut down years ago, and there IS no fer-realz denim in the world any more now, except in thrift shops and rag bags. This is fine for everyone who's willing to settle for the flimsy modern crap you can buy today, but some of us miss having real jeans that could stand up to some punishment, that improved with age and wear.

    If that makes us pretentious idiots – like I said, I can live with that. As crackpots go we're pretty harmless. If we're willing to spin our own yarn and weave or knit our own fabric to get the quality we want – hey, we enjoy doing it, and no one is the worse for it.

    But here's the thing. Sure, we know you can buy socks for a buck at Walmart – a lot of my friends literally wear the t-shirt to that effect. If you've never worn custom-fit handspun/handknit socks you don't know what you're missing, and if that ignorance is bliss to you, fine, that's no skin off my nose. I would only submit that it does NOT qualify you to make an informed judgment as to the relative virtues of the two.

  57. M.  •  Jul 30, 2012 @11:28 pm

    @Tsarina of Tsocks: I bought my scarf and toque off Etsy for about $30 apiece. They're made of some fancy Japanese wool and extremely well-crafted. They've lasted me about four years of heavy use. Every mass-produced scarf, toque, or pair of gloves I've had has fallen apart in less than one winter's worth of living in Toronto.

    I'm a big fan of machines, but some things are still better done by the attentive eye and careful hand of real live human beings. There's a very good reason that industries which utilize voice recognition software (such as the documenting of your vital healthcare record and procedures) still employ proofreaders and quality assurance editors.

  58. Tsarina of Tsocks  •  Jul 31, 2012 @1:07 am

    @M – Just so. Machines are great for a LOT of things; but there are some things that machines can't do. There are also things that they won't do, for the simple reason that the customer base for mass-produced goods doesn't want them. It might not be impossible to come up with a machine that could make some of the yarns I make – though I don't think that's the way to bet, because I know something about how textile machinery works. But it wouldn't be practical, it wouldn't be commercially viable, because the market is so limited and so specialized.

    There's a place in the world for both. There's a lot to be said for the cheap and the fungible; I have plenty of it in my life and I appreciate it. But those of us who make certain things by hand do so largely because it is the only way to get exactly what we want.

    (Sorry, didn't mean to drag this so far into the textile world and keep it mired there; if I were illustrating it with something else – food, say, or indeed music – it would be more accessible but a lot more long-winded, and it'd probably get political, and that'd be ugly. Textiles work because on the one hand they are so universal, but on the other most people don't give them much critical thought.)

  59. Ben  •  Jul 31, 2012 @1:57 am

    Tsarina,

    Your exclusion of naturists is appalling. (Attempt at being humorous :) )

    It seems as though we are just discussing a continuum of 'tool use' between the manual and the automated. Manual tools allow for greater control while automation allows for greater productivity. Hand made rarely means that only hands were employed in the production of an object. (Hopefully you are not just grabbing your sheep's wool and yanking)

    It just seems important to note that being a product created with 'entirely manual' tools is not by nature inferior or superior to one made by 'entirely automated' tools. A mass produced thing may possess a pleasing aesthetic, durable form, ease and efficiency of function, et cetera… Conversely, a hand crafted object may be grotesque, fragile and impractical.

    Another commonality in this discussion seems to be whether or not 'uniqueness' has value, independent of aesthetics. For me, I would say no – I usually just require functionality from clothes, computers, food, and so on.

    Do you see things as being valuable because they are hand crafted? Or is the value that the specific qualities that you desire tend to be less available by automation? (you said that "those of us who make certain things by hand do so largely because it is the only way to get exactly what we want." Which would lead me to think that if there were a cheap, mass produced good that had the desired qualities – you would elect to purchase that over the relatively expensive with identical properties).

  60. Patrick  •  Jul 31, 2012 @6:51 am

    :-) The blog post, article and discussion have actually been very useful to me. My father-in-law offered us their old piano. I've been researching digital pianos for a while and am on the verge of buying one but the offer of the piano, which is the one on which my wife learned to play, has made me think that maybe we should move it to our house instead of buying a digital. But having read the blog post, article adn comments, since it is not a high-end, high-quality piano and it is probably in need of serious repair, not to meniton the cost of moving it and re-tuning it, I think I'll go digital. Thanks to all!

  61. eddie  •  Jul 31, 2012 @9:52 am

    He called them "ignorant whiners" and "pretentious idiots"

    More precisely: I called the commenters on Youtube ignorant whiners, I called those who believe the disposable consumerist culture is bad idiots, and I called you pretentious.

    "Idiots" was perhaps rhetorical excess.

    I would say that he has "argued that sentimental reasons for disliking this are bad".

    Then I've made my points poorly, as I certainly don't think that sentimental reasons for disliking something are bad. But if darius404 is the only one who sees that, then the fault is undoubtedly mine.

  62. Grifter  •  Jul 31, 2012 @10:20 am

    @eddie:

    Just to be clear on what you actually said (silly me, I like to know what peopole actually said):

    "Sorry, I meant to say pretentious idiots. My bad."

    You didn't call just me pretentious, something I still might have argued, you referred back to the people who you had previously called idiots. Words mean things.

  63. David  •  Jul 31, 2012 @10:25 am

    @Patrick FWIW, I'm reliably informed that the touch-sensitive Yamaha electric pianos are quite nice.

  64. Tsarina of Tsocks  •  Jul 31, 2012 @10:29 am

    @Ben – Actually, I rather thought that was the point I was making – hence the adherence to "It Depends." There are a lot of mass-produced things that I will buy rather than make; I am thankful to be able to do it, and will be the first to admit that they are better, or more practical, than what I could produce myself if indeed I could produce anything of the kind at all. (David's example of the car pretty much says it all, but a lot of smaller disposable items come to mind as well.) All I'm getting at is that in any arena it is fatuous to draw a hard and fast dividing line between mass-produced and not-mass-produced and declare one inherently superior to the other because of that attribute alone. Some things, in some contexts, are better done one way, some the other. And there are still a few skills that cannot be replicated by machine; just as there are some important tasks that can't be accomplished by anything else.

    It isn't just about uniqueness and it certainly isn't always about aesthetics; it's about quality of manufacture. The "functionality" you demand from clothes? Case in point. And there I'm not just talking about hand-made (though I will maintain that certain types of well-constructed garments made by me will outperform anything you could buy off the rack, in terms of fit, comfort, and durability) – that whole rant about denim was not about hand-made, it was about a method of large-scale manufacture with a high standard of quality that has now been lost because it was declared economically obsolete. Do I think that's a pity because I am sentimental about history? Well, sure. But for the most part I think it's a pity because I believe that one of these days we will wake up and wish we could get real denim again… and we will be screwed, because nobody really knows exactly how to make it, and the machinery itself has been junked. Those who forget history, in this instance, may be condemned NOT to repeat it.

    The other thing I was trying to get at is that preserving old technologies is at least a Hippocratic notion; those who don't hold with, or care about, individual craftsmanship as applied to any of these areas are at least not harmed by those of us who do, so there isn't really any good reason I can see for suggesting that we are somehow impeding anyone else's progress toward a Brave New World.

    Choice of tools? It only matters if it affects the results. (I wrote the book on this one – historical cookbook, in fact, wherein I made no bones about using modern implements to produce dishes from two centuries ago, or reasonable facsimiles thereof. Chopped is chopped.) It happens that there are some cases where the choice of tools does make a difference – spinning is one such, certainly – or more to the point where choosing the best tool for a particular job will produce the desired result more effectively and more efficiently than swimming against the tide. Sometimes even having a hammer doesn't quite turn everything into a nail. Sometimes tools and manufacture are fungible… sometimes they ain't. Both scenarios have their place in the world.

    Or, as Bertha Damon put it, "I believe in a balanced universe; some poppies, and some puppies."

    As for "yanking the wool off the sheep by hand"? There's a word for that. It's called "rooing," and it is STILL the best method to use on certain primitive breeds, like Icelandics and double-coated Shetlands. ;-P

  65. eddie  •  Jul 31, 2012 @11:03 am

    Are you trying to make the point that I called the youtube commenters pretentious, or are you trying to make the point that I called you an idiot?

    My apologies for the imprecision. I was feeling poetic.