Do It Yourself Entertainment for Grassroots Musicians

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Marc Bristol and other Washington State grassroots musicians wail away on a gutbucket, washboard, and jug (the axe is a gag).

Even homesteaders need to relax and enjoy themselves from time to time, right? And almost everybody these days wants to cut his or her cost of living. So how about a little do-it-yourself entertainment? 

And that’s what this column is all about. Down-home music that you can make, and the instruments (which, in some cases, you can also make!). 

Hot Tips For Grassroots Musicians and Do-It-Yourself Entertainment

You say you need some new strings for your guitar — or maybe want to spend some winter evenings building a kit banjo — but the nearest music store is 50 miles down the road and the snow’s so deep that you can’t get your pickup out of the barn anyway? Well, don’t despair, because I’m going to tell you how you can have those goodies — as well as a whole slew of other musical items — delivered right to your mailbox for less money than you would have spent in the store in town!

For grassroots musicians there are, you see, a goodly number of mail-order music stores that sell musical merchandisers around the United States. Since these outfits aren’t supporting storefronts in the high-rent district (and because many of the mail-order outlets deal in volume) — they usually offer discounts of up to 50 percent on most everything but quality handmade instruments.

I’ve prepared a list of a few reputable mail-order music store merchants, and — for the sake of comparison — I’ll include sample prices wherever possible. So, get out a paper and pencil to order the equipment you need for some do-it-yourself entertainment, and let the postman start walking!

Mail-Order Music Stores

Elderly Instruments (East Lansing, Michigan) offers about the most extensive acoustic stringed instrument catalog that I know of. And, the Elderly folks have spiced their booklet up with solid information on how to mount a skin head on a banjo, find instrument building materials, or order publications that deal with folk music.

Of course, the catalog also lists such things as harmonicas, recorders, kalimbas (the African thumb pianos), and so forth. In addition, Elderly sells instructional and entertaining books and records (most of the records from companies mentioned in my last column are available through this catalog). They also offer parts and tools for the instrument builder.

Guitar’s Friend (Sandpoint, Idaho) offers an instrument catalog which is similar to Elderly’s. Handmade instruments seem to be the first love of these people and — as such — are the subject of a brochure that is included with the price list. I haven’t seen Guitar’s Friend’s newest catalog yet, but the artwork in previous issues has been a downright inspirational level of artistic effort.

Musician’s Supply (El Cajon, California) provides mail-order discounts on electric guitars, basses, amps, special effects devices, microphones and such. This outfit also carries some acoustic guitars and banjos, replacement parts, accessories, harmonicas, books and a few educational records (although their emphasis is on guitars).

While most of the companies listed here offer rapid service, Musician’s Supply claims that they ship all orders on the same day that they’re received.

I’ve ordered from three of the companies mentioned in this column and always received my merchandise in less than two weeks. Of course, if you need something for a gig tomorrow night, you’re still stuck with a trip to the music store, but — with just a little planning ahead — you can mail order and get a better deal!

Gurian Guitars Ltd., INC. (Hinsdale, New Hampshire) is into the instrument building scene in a big way. Their catalog lists schools that teach the subject, books about instrument building and sources of tools. Gurian also sells — by mail — wood and parts for homemade guitars, mandolins, lutes, violins, dulcimers and banjos.

String Instrument Service, INC. (Bay Village, Ohio) caters to the instrument builder, too, but this firm offers prefabricated kits and parts in partially finished states. Their prices appear to be higher than Gurian’s, but if you want some of the work done for you, this is the place to write to.

Freeport Music (West Babylon, New York) has a greater variety of merchandise available than most mail-order distributors. In fact, Freeport offers more items than I can name here. As an example, though, their list includes electric and acoustic stringed instruments, drums and percussion instruments, horns, strings, accessories, blank music paper and so on.

Freeport is also the only outfit I know of that sells the Mussehl and Westphal Musical Saw … the only instrument of that kind on the market since 1921. I’ve been corresponding with Mr. Dan Wallace, who recently purchased the saw business from Clarence Mussehl (an 84-year-old gentleman who’s been supporting himself in the musical saw business for nearly 60 years!). Watch this column for a future interview with Mr. Mussehl.

Warehouse Music Sales (Fort Worth, Texas) like Freeport, sells a wide range of brand — name musical merchandise. They advertise a 30 to 50 percent discount off the manufacturer’s suggested list price and will send you their catalog (which features rock-and-roll band equipment, bluegrass instruments, and books and accessories) on request.

Natural Music (Marblemount, Washington) is a small home mail-order business, which deals in strings and accessories for acoustic instruments. I don’t have their catalog on hand, but I’m sure their prices are competitive (at least) with those in most music stores. They’ll send a price list if you ask for it.

Stewart-MacDonald (Athens, Ohio) specializes in banjo kits, parts, and custom necks and inlays.

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