Departments of JSI: School Programs and Delivery

Departments of JSI

It’s time for another installment of Departments of JSI! This series highlights the different people in our company. We’re able to run such a large business through the expertise of and collaboration between our different departments. Everyone has a skill they use to accomplish everything from coordinating rental trips to selling instruments to repairing instruments to shipping things on time and safely. This series will help you get to know the variety of people and jobs that are done here at JSI.

The School Programs and Delivery department are the people you see at our rental nights throughout New England and New York State. They handle any deliveries, exchanges, and other transactions done through school districts or at rental nights throughout those areas. They are constantly in contact with teachers and school administration to make sure everyone has what they need.  We asked some of them to talk about what they do:

What is your position at JSI?

Justin Davis: School Program/Guitar Specialist.

Natalie Harrington: I’m the Rental Delivery and Programs Manager.

Steve Soucy: I am a School Programs Specialist. This means I work specifically with teachers and administrators of various public and private schools in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to cater our products and services to meet the needs of their string/orchestra programs.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Justin: My days tend to be quite varied. Some days I will be setting up and repairing guitars, others I will be scheduling with and otherwise contacting teachers to ensure that they and their students have all of the proper instruments and accessories that they need to succeed. In the busy times, mainly the start and end of the school year, I will be visiting each of our programs in Connecticut and Southern Massachusetts while also helping out the rest of the team where needed.

Natalie: That depends on the season. My top priority is always working with our teacher clients to ensure we’re meeting their programs’ needs. Sometimes that means driving to schools myself; other times it’s coordinating staff, vans, instruments, and product to send on the road. I always need to be at my desk for at least a few hours a day to answer emails, update our service trips web page, and make sure everything is ready to go for the next delivery.

Steve: In September, I start the day at my desk to answer any questions or fill any requests made by teachers and clients the previous night or earlier that morning. Then it is off to the workshop to review and pack instrument and accessory orders for the event that night. Once we are packed, we head off to the event. There we unpack and prepare for parents and students. Afterwards, we pack up, head back to the workshop, and unload. Once unloaded, we close up the workshop and prepare for the next event.

What is your main instrument?

Justin: I call guitar my primary instrument but violin was my first instrument and I played that all through school as well. I was always a bit of a jack of all trades with experience with viola, cello, mandolin, and ukulele as well.

Natalie: Violin. I started in the Suzuki method when I was four, and continued to play seriously, even becoming concert mistress of my orchestra, until I graduated from high school.

Steve: Electric Bass

Did you go to school for music?

Justin: I went to the University of Maine, double majoring in music education and guitar performance.

Natalie: No, actually: I got my degree in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Wellesley College.

Steve: No, economics.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Justin: My favorite part of my job has always been seeing the excitement that a new player has when they first pickup their instrument. You can just see in their eyes that this will be a lifelong learning adventure for them.

Natalie: I love a challenge! We rent to over 100 school programs throughout New England and New York, so there is a lot to coordinate. Doing my job well involves keeping an eye on a wide variety of staff, procedures, and departments, and anticipating problems so I can solve them before they happen. Never a dull day!

Steve: Working with schools and music teachers. Providing students with a high quality instrument that allows them to enjoy playing music and develop a life-long passion for it.

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Departments of JSI: Front Staff

Departments of JSI

It’s time for another installment of Departments of JSI! This is a series that highlights the different people that work within our company. We’re able to run such a large business through the expertise of and collaboration between our different departments. Everyone has a skill that they utilize to accomplish everything from coordinating rental trips to selling instruments to repairing instruments to shipping things on time and safely. This series will help you get to know the variety of people and jobs that are done here at JSI.

The Front Staff are among the most visible departments in our company. If you’ve ever come in to our Newton location, you have probably talked to a member of our front staff. They handle everything from rentals to selling merchandise to fitting chin and shoulder rests. We asked them to answer some questions about themselves and their jobs:

What is your position?

Justin Davis: Guitar Specialist/School Programs Specialist

Julie Metcalf: I am the Assistant Store Manager at JSI.

Amy Nolan: Store Manager

What is your favorite part of your job?

Justin: Finding the perfect instrument for a player, whether that be a first time student or a more advanced musician looking for a forever instrument. The process of pairing an instrument to a player is very rewarding.

Julie: The most exciting thing we do in the storefront is rentals! All kinds of people, young and old, come in each day looking to play an instrument for the first time. It is magical to share with them my joy and enthusiasm for music. I take care to help them select the right instrument and set them up with evrything they need to get started. Rental customers come in each day with many different needs: maybe the player grew and needs a bigger size, or there’s an open seam on a rental cello, or a violinist has a broken E string. It’s rewarding to be able to help people on their musical journeys.

Amy: Helping everyone from kids to adults find joy in music!

What does a typical day look like for you?

Justin: A typical day can include setting up each guitar to a tight specification to ensure proper playability, intonation, and quality. Working with customers to find them the perfect guitar, mandolin, or ukulele. Scheduling and/or visiting a school program to service students’ instruments to ensure that they are practicing on the highest quality rental instruments possible.

Julie: I work in the storefront every day, assisting customers who come in the door. I do a little bit of everything: helping people find sheet music, advising them on strings, fitting chinrests and shoulder rests, and showing accessories like cases and music stands.

Amy: Everything from renting instruments to new players and helping advancing players select higher quality instruments to working with local teachers to make sure they have everything they need for their students. I enjoy working with staff at all levels of the company to ensure great levels of customer service and a love of music all around.

What is your main instrument?

Justin: I have played violin since the age of 7 and started playing guitar in middle school. I have always been a jack of all trades and “master” of none. Anything with strings I can probably play it. But if you were to force me to pick one, I suppose it would have to be guitar as that is what my degree is in.

Julie: Violin. I have played many different styles of music on violin and viola.  I mostly play fiddle for contra and square dances in the Boston area. I also play jawharp, and I am learning banjo and guitar.

Amy: Cello.

Did you go to school for music?

Justin: I went to the University of Maine and double majored in music education and classical guitar performance.

Julie: I went to Berklee College of Music, where I studied violin performance.

Amy: Yes, University of Southern Maine, studying piano and cello.

Were you a Johnson renter growing up?

Justin: No.

Amy: I was! I had only been playing for a couple of years when I switched to a JSI rental cello and had a great time. Later on my family used the rental equity to purchase a cello once I could play a full-size, and I still play that instrument!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Mandolin Line Based On Popular Classic Models

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The mandolin has a rich historical history. While we associate mandolin primarily with folk music these days, the instrument is more versatile that you may expect.

The Mandolin Family Is Based On Classic Instruments

The mandolin family is based on classic instruments from the baroque period. The mandolin started its life in classical music. In fact, many famous composers wrote mandolin concertos including Antonio Vivaldi. This instrument family itself is a lot like a traditional string trio. The mandolin is the treble voice, the mandola the inner harmony, and the mandocello bass support. Mandolin orchestras, as they are commonly called, are still around today.

Because the mandolin has the same tuning as a violin, it is a reasonable transition for any violinist looking for a new challenge. It means using a pick rather than a bow, but since the fingerings are the same between the two instruments many players can make the transition with a little practice.

Over time, the mandolin evolved from a small bowl-backed instrument meant for ensemble playing to a solo instrument mostly used in bluegrass and country music. The Gibson Company and their sound engineer Lloyd Loar are credited with modernizing the “bluegrass” (F-style) mandolin. With a powerful, clear treble voice and a decorative curling scroll, the F-style mandolin is an instantly recognizable instrument by sound and appearance.

Mandolin Eastman

The Eastman Music Company still follows many of the classic designs developed in the late 1920s through the mid-1930s (known as the golden age of mandolin building). Along with the F-style, the teardrop-shaped A-style mandolin is a popular choice for players who tend to play more chords than leading lines.

Mandolin Styles Graphic

Eastman offers a great selection of both A and F style mandolins in a variety of price ranges. Featuring all solid woods and hand-crafted precision, Eastman mandolins are terrific instruments for everyone from the new player to the veteran picker.

The Guitar Shop of Johnson String Instrument offers many of Eastman’s best mandolins, all of which are set up in house to ensure proper playability, tone, and intonation. Though we may be best known as a violin and guitar ship we are a mandolin store as well. Visit us in store or online to see our full selection of Eastman mandolins.

Back to School 2016: First-Time Players

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It’s that time of year again, though with our recent heat wave here in Boston, it may not feel like it yet!

Is your child starting an instrument this school year? Not sure what they need? Whether they are taking lessons through their school or elsewhere, their teacher will have a list of what they require for their students. However, we can also give you a basic list of what your child will need to succeed:

Back to School Blog Instruments Subheader

Where are you getting your instrument? For a child just starting lessons, many families choose to rent. This is a great way to have access to a high-quality instrument without the financial commitment of purchasing one. All of our rental outfits come with an instrument, bow, case, and rosin. They also come with insurance, which includes things like broken strings, accidental damage, and size exchanges. Check out the video below to learn more about our well-respected rental program:

Not interested in renting? Buying is also a great option! When shopping, make sure that the shop you buy your instrument at has a trade-in program. Keep in mind that most children are not going to start out in a full size instrument; they will need something smaller and will change sizes as they grow. Our sales department at Carriage House Violins has a trade-up program that allows you to trade any instrument or bow purchased with us for another of equal or greater value. Keep in mind that if you buy an instrument, you will be responsible for the cost of repairs and strings.

**A note about instrument shopping and rentals: Always work with a reputable shop. You may notice lower prices on sites like Amazon or eBay. To learn an instrument, you need something that is high enough quality that it works with your child, not against them. Quality can’t be guaranteed on sites like these, but it can at shops like Johnson String Instrument whether you choose rent or buy. 

Back to School Blog Books Subheader

Almost all programs require a beginning method book. Your child’s teacher will tell you which one they use. Make sure to pay attention to the edition they ask for; a lot of publishers make significant changes between editions and group classes all use the same book. You can find our full selection of method books here.

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No matter which instrument your child chooses, you’ll need something to help stabilize it. For violin and viola, this is a shoulder rest. For cello and bass, it’s an endpin rest. Both help the player hold the instrument and promote good technique. Talk to your child’s teacher about their preference.

Back to School Blog Music Stands Subheader

Some teachers list music stands as optional, but they are important. Like a podium for a public speaker, it puts the music at a comfortable level and angle. You don’t need anything fancy – our JSI folding stand will do the trick! It comes in a wide variety of colors and is easily carried and stored. We also carry other models and non-folding stands here.

Back to School Blog Extras Subheader

These things required but highly recommended for players of any age:

  1. Metronome/Tuner: You can find some great apps that do the same thing, but sometimes a dedicated device just works better. Available as individual products or combos, we carry all major brands and models.
  2. Practice Planner: These are great for tracking practicing, recording assignments, assessing progress, and all-around organization.
  3. Flashcards: These are a great tool for beginners. They are available for all instruments in different positions as well as for general music.

Don’t forget: Your child’s teacher is your greatest resource! They will tell you exactly what they want their students to have. If your child is taking lessons locally, many school districts and teachers have arrangements with us to have a rental night where you can pick up all of these supplies at school in your area.

We hope everyone has a great start to the school year!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Electric Instruments: Pickups

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This post is part of our ongoing Electric Instruments series. Check out our previous posts on finding an electric violin, getting started with your new electric instrument, and choosing an amp

You want to start experimenting with electric violin, but you either don’t want a second instrument or need something budget-friendly. What’s your best option? Electrify your acoustic by installing a pickup! Now for the harder question: which pickup should you choose? Like finding the right electric violin or amplifier, there are different factors to consider. First let’s take a look at different pickups options that are available:

The Realist

This is one of our favorite pickups at Johnson String. Designed by Ned Steinberger of NS Design fame in collaboration with David Gage, the sound quality is fantastic. Even though the pickup element sits under the bridge, your instrument’s acoustic tone will not be affected. However it can only be installed by a luthier, so it is not easy to remove.

The Band by Headway

Players looking for a pickup that is easily installed and removed don’t need to look any further than The Band. This instant-fit pickup wraps around the body of your instrument using Velcro, making it easy to take off when you don’t need it. The Band produces a strong, lively tone suitable for a variety of styles from fiddle to classical.

LR Baggs Violin Pickup

If you are looking to transform your violin into an “electric-acoustic,” then a replacement bridge like the LR Baggs violin pickup is a great option. Featuring a transducer embedded in a Despiau Superior bridge blank, this pickup will effortlessly capture your instrument’s inherent dynamics. However, this also means the pickup requires professional installation to fit your instrument. The LR Baggs was our pickup of choice when creating our JSI Performer-Acoustic Violin.

The next step in selecting a pickup is to consider your needs. If you need to be amplified on a regular basis and do not mind leaving a pickup on your violin, the Realist or LR Baggs are great options. If you need a little more flexibility or only need to amplify your violin once in a while, the Band may be the one for you. It is difficult to make a wrong choice with any of these options as each produces a great sound that can always be tailored with a little EQ.

Finally, all of the pickups mentioned in this post are “plug and play.” This means that once installed, you can plug straight into an amp or PA system and start rocking and rolling. While preamps are not required with any of these pickups, they are highly recommended. Look for my next post to find out why!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Alex Wagner

The Bow Series: Selecting A Bow

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Are you or one of your students shopping for a new bow? Finding the right bow can be harder than choosing your instrument, but don’t worry! While we can’t match a bow to you like Mr. Ollivander would a wand, our knowledgeable sales staff are the next best thing and our latest video is here to help.

In “Selecting a Bow”, we teamed up with violinist Eric Silberger to show you what to look for in a bow. With the help of our Director of Sales and Acquisitions Matthew Fritz, we explore the different factors to consider and how to approach what can feel like a daunting process. You’ll find tips and tricks for players of all levels and bows in all price ranges. Check out the video here:

This video is part of a larger collaboration between Carriage House Violins and Four String Films: The Bow Series. This collection of videos is dedicated to exploring different topics relating to the bow. Our first video, An Introduction to Bow Strokes, features Eric Silberger demonstrating common bow strokes on violin. Missed it? Check out his incredible technique here:

Like what you see? Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great videos!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

What is Instrument Insurance?

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Instrument insurance is an important part of caring for your instrument. Professionals use it regardless of their genre and music shops have it to protect their inventory. Whether you recently bought an instrument or own one that isn’t already insured, we highly recommend purchasing a policy to help protect your investment.

Insurance What Is Subheader

It’s exactly what it sounds like: an insurance policy with specific coverage for your instrument(s). It usually takes the form of either:

  1. A rider on your current renter’s or homeowner’s policy, or
  2. A separate policy through a company that specializes in insuring musical instruments

Insurance Why Should Subheader

Any insurance policy is about financial protection should damage or theft occur in the future and instrument insurance is no different. It is designed to protect you against things like theft, accidental damage, and devaluation. Always check with the insurance provider about specific coverage questions, but most companies will cover common problems that can happen with musical instruments.

Insurance Options Subheader

Rider: This something you can add to a preexisting renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy. This is a great option if you are not a professional musician but still want protection for your instrument. Be sure to ask about the kind of coverage a rider has with your current insurance company before adding anything.

Separate Policy: If you use your instrument professionally, this is what you will need. The main companies used by most musicians and shops in no particular order are:

  1. Heritage Insurance Services, Inc. 
  2. Clarion Associates, Inc.
  3. Huntington T. Block Insurance Agency, Inc. (formerly known as Merz-Huber)
  4. Traveler’s Insurance (they have a valuable items policy that includes musical instruments)
  5. Total Dollar Insurance

The benefit of these companies is that they understand the specific nuances of musical instruments and their value. It’s also a good option if you have multiple instruments, a lot of equipment, or travel frequently.

Insurance Policy Subheader

You will need a couple of things before you start looking:

  1. A list of items you need to insure. Many companies will insure everything from instruments to electrical and recording equipment, sheet music, and cases but always ask the company what is and is not covered first.
  2. Up-to-date appraisals for all of your instruments and bows.

Once you have this information, start shopping! Talk to the companies you are considering about any concerns and ask what they specifically cover in their policies. Make sure to compare deductibles as well as rates. For example, if you have a $1,500 instrument and the deductible is $1,000, that policy may not be your best option. Get quotes from everyone you are thinking of using, decide what will work best for you, and enjoy the piece of mind that comes with knowing your instruments are protected.

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Ukulele Line Modeled On Prized Classic Instruments

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While their name may suggest a focus on other fretted instruments, Cordoba Guitars makes exceptional ukuleles in a wide range of sizes and prices.

The ukulele first appeared in the Americas (most notably in Hawaii) by way of Portuguese immigrants during the 19th century. Having evolved from the Portuguese braguinha, a small strummed instrument commonly used to accompany a folk singer, the uke continues to be a popular instrument for musicians of all ages.

These Ukuleles Recreate Some Coveted Models

Cordoba Guitars designs their instruments based on time-tested building techniques and aesthetic features such as hand-inlaid wooden rope-style rosettes and bindings. When Cordoba began expanding their ukulele line, they sought to honor the rich tradition of the instrument while still making efforts to innovate and carry it into the 21st century. Using patterns established two hundred years ago, many ukuleles in the Cordoba line are available in a number of different sizes such as soprano ukulele, concert ukulele, tenor ukulele, and baritone ukulele. Having such a wide variety of sizes allows the player to find the perfect instrument for their hand size and tone preferences.

Starting at only $89, ukes made by Cordoba Guitars are sure to provide you with years of enjoyment strumming ukulele chords. Whether that be on your couch, by a campfire, or in the park, the ukulele has an amazing ability to evoke a sense of calm and transport you to an idyllic island in the Pacific.

For more information on the Cordoba Ukuleles carried by Johnson String Instrument, please visit our website.

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Justin Davis

Fiddles and Violins: What’s the Difference?

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We’ve all heard the terms “fiddler” and “violinist” used interchangeably. Maybe you associate one term with specific genres or prefer to be called one over the other. You may also be confused as to why we’re quibbling over labels.

A Fiddle is Just a Violin–isn’t it?

Yes. A fiddle is a violin and vice versa. Fiddle refers to a style of playing rather than a completely different instrument.  However, the specifics are not that simple. Fiddle can refer to a number of different genres including country, jazz, rock, bluegrass, old time, and so many more. It can be a traditional acoustic instrument or an electric fiddle.

But what’s the difference???

“Fiddle” and “violin” are used to describe the same instrument in different genres of music. What most people call fiddling consists of traditional styles that were historically taught by ear and passed down between generations. This was music you would hear at a community dance, at house parties, or on the back porch. It was meant to be heard over a band before amplification and in some cases to simulate multiple instruments at once, so many techniques were originally intended to help the sound carry over a band or in a large space. For the purposes of this post, when we say “fiddle,” we’re referring to old-time, bluegrass, and similar styles.

When people talk specifically about the violin, they tend to be referring to classical players who were trained by teachers over an extended period of time. Classical music incorporates written music and was historically heard in churches, concert halls, small salons, and similar venues.

There are some additional differences as well:

Physical

While none of these adaptations are required to play one style or another, many fiddlers make some changes to their instrument:

  • Flatter bridge. Some players request their bridges to be less rounded to make string crossings and double stops easier to play.
  • Different bow hair. Many fiddlers (or players of other alternative styles) will use a combination of or completely coarser hair. Since these styles are more percussive and require more aggressive bow techniques, this helps keep the bow hair from breaking.
  • Flatter profile. This brings the strings closer together, again making string crossings and double stops easier.

Technical

Since these styles are different, the techniques vary too:

  • Positions. Classical violinists are all over the fingerboard while traditional styles require less shifting, almost never going higher than third position.
  • Alternative Bowing Styles. Fiddlers use percussive techniques such as chopping, while classical players have a less percussive type of bowing style.

Keep in mind that we’re talking about these genres in the broadest of terms. Some prefer to play more within one or the other, and many fall somewhere in the middle. Regardless of what genre(s) you prefer to play, we have everything you need to make playing your instrument enjoyable!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Summer Program Necessities

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Summer has finally arrived!

Excited yet?

In addition to the school year being done and the promise of warm, hopefully beach-filled days, many of you are getting ready for summer programs. Not sure what to bring? We have a few suggestions:

THE BASICS

  • Extra Strings. This may be the single most important item to bring excluding your instrument. In most cases you won’t be near a shop and you do not want to be in a bind because you didn’t have an extra A string. Bring at least a full set of new strings, and hang on to those old ones that may be less than ideal but better than nothing in a pinch.
  • An organized way to carry your music. Maybe you have a music pocket in your case that works just fine. If not, a messy pile on the floor you grab before running to rehearsal is not gonna cut it. Whether it’s a backpack, tote bag or something else entirely, make sure it safely fits those original parts.
  • Tuner/Metronome. Yes, many of you have an app on your phone. However, it is nice not to have to drain your phone battery. Plus, these metronomes and tuners can be much louder and more versatile. Go for a combo to take up even less space.
  • Peg Compound. This product is small but useful. It’s helpful in both summer and winter to help pegs grip and to lubricate them. When you are far away from a workshop, this can be an invaluable product.

THINGS THAT GET LEFT BEHIND

  • Water Bottle. Hydration is the key to success. You may not be rehearsing in the AC, and these programs, while rewarding, are also tiring and can take a lot out of you. Stay healthy and hydrated.
  • Sunblock. This is an important and easily forgotten item. You’ll be spending a lot of time outside. Stay protected! Playing a violin with a severely sunburned shoulder is not fun.
  • A Fan. AC is not a given in the dorms you are most likely staying it. Even a small box fan in a window can do wonders for air circulation.
  • Pencils. This is a no-brainer. You are a musician and need a pencil in rehearsal. Grab a package of them before you leave (and a sharpener if you prefer non-mechanical ones) so you’re not caught without one.

ONE LAST THING!

Before you leave, visit a luthier. Get your instrument and bow looked over. Be sure to let your luthier know if you will be going somewhere with a drastically different climate so they can prepare your instrument accordingly.

Have fun and work hard!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons