“Yeah,” instructor David Barrett answered. “Little Walter was famous for playing whatever mics he stumbled upon. But even if you could find one of the actual mics he played through it won’t help you sound like Walter did.”
Barrett went back to his instruction but eventually “That Guy” raised his hand again.
“I Goggled vintage tube amps and found that Junior Wells used Word War Two Czechoslovakian vacuum tubes that he plugged in out of sequence. I bought some really expensive dead stock tubes on EBay but my amp doesn’t sound any better.”
“I don’t know what specific tubes Wells used,” Barrett answered, a little more annoyed this time. “But there are online sites with schematics of all the different permutations you can try but I don’t think any of them will help you sound like Jr. Wells.”
Barrett returned to the subject at hand. Before too long, “That Guy” stuck his hand up again.
“Someone told me that the best players like Walter Horton used to soak their harmonicas in vodka and that would change their tone. Could I…”
“Look,” Barrett finally interrupted, “Stop researching the Internet and stop fiddling with your equipment. You want to be the best? Stop buying crap and stop fiddling with your electronics. Instead, stick the harmonica in your mouth and blow!”
A few years after that my friend Soren came into a little windfall. With the money burning a hole in his pocket he went to his favorite golf store. He told the old man behind the counter that he had this gift money and wanted to spend it on golf. He couldn’t decide between new drivers, a titanium putter, or a new bag and shoes. The old man eyed him suspiciously for a minute and then asked what he wanted to accomplish.
“I want to be a better golfer.” Soren said proudly.
“You want to be the best? Put the money back in your pocket, go to the golf course and take some lessons.”
Last week I went to FootWorks and treated myself to the awesome new Garmin 620 running watch I’ve been lusting over. Besides telling time, distance, caloric consumption, and pace, it will also monitor my V02 intake, running cadence, ground contact time, and even my vertical oscillation (whatever the hell that means). It’s the best running watch out there. There’s only one problem. It doesn’t make me run any faster.
Neither do the new SmartWool PhD light micro running socks I got. They’re the best — super comfortable, incredibly moisture-wicking, and have cool red and blue speed lines that make them look fast even when I’m standing still. Only trouble is that after I put them on I finished my run at the same speed as I did with my old cotton socks.
Even my brand new Adidas running shoes didn’t help. Yeah, they’ve got lightweight cushioning, firm heel cup support, and are the same shoes Meb Keflezighi wore when he won the New York Marathon. Hell, he won Boston in 2014 with a best time of 2:08:37, less than half my marathon pace. But even with Meb’s shoes on my feet I just don’t go any faster.
When I told the guy in the cycling store who was fitting my road bike that I was embarrassed it didn’t compare to the best 16 pound, $12,000 carbon fiber masterpieces he was used to working on, he looked up slowly and said, “It’s not the length of the spear, it’s the strength of the hunter.”
It’s not the rock star’s vintage Stratocaster, it’s not the ace’s tennis racket, it’s not the celebrity chef’s ceramic knife, it’s not the hotshot lawyer’s $8,000 Brioni suit, it’s not the starchitect’s CAD/Cam program, it’s not the super agent’s Jimmy Choos. It’s not the Pulitzer Prize winner’s SLR, it’s not the Emmy winner’s laptop, it’s not the successful marriage’s diamond ring, it’s not the happy child’s Christmas gift, and it sure as hell ain’t my running shoes. And it’s not yours, either.
But when you finally do figure out what it’s not you will also know exactly what it is.