When The Details Matter
How important are the small details? Sometimes they matter. Sometimes they don’t. Knowing when they matter is the secret.
Yesterday I took the broken guitar to be unbroken. The guitar repairman works out of the lower ground floor of a very nice guitar store, full of rather expensive custom and limited edition guitars and boutique amplifiers and effects.
What most caught my eye was a display full of hand-painted custom ZVex pedals. They were wonderfully finished in gorgeously evocative colours. Every detail was perfect. Zachary Vex, the founder of ZVEX used to frequent a music forum I was part of and I have fond memories of chatting with him back when I lived in India. It’s great to see the way the company and his products have evolved.
Today was a lovely spring day; warm, but not hot. I walked to my local art and office supply store to buy paper for the next edition of the Modularity zine.
I’ll be printing it again on Sakae Technical Paper. I took three 100-sheet packets to the counter and the staff told me it might be cheaper to buy a 500-sheet ream. I agreed to this idea initially, but it turned out the ream was another brand. It would have been a decent paper for my personal printing needs, but not for the zine.
It’s a small detail, the brand and type of paper, but it matters when you’re selling a product based on its quality and distinctiveness. Showing that you care about your materials is a way to respect your craft and also your audience.
Which Details Matter
Back when I frequented that forum, chatting regularly to Zack and other guitar effects makers like Robert Keeley and Dave Fox, I was also experimenting with my own effects pedals. I collaborated with a UK builder (with the tremendous help from my father as well) on a couple of pedals that were very well reviewed in UK guitar magazines.
But I could never design a pedal that worked well for me. The ones I made didn’t look good, or they didn’t seem distinctive enough. I had an idea of perfection in my head and that idea killed every actual prototype I could build with my limited skills. The details were not right and I talked myself out of doing it as a business.
Mind you, the ZVEX pedals back then didn’t look as good as the ones I saw yesterday. Back then they were still great-sounding, professional products, far better than I could make, but they didn’t have the visual wow factor the products would acquire over many years of production and countless improvements along the way.
Getting the details right matters. But what matters far more is making the thing in the first place. The details don’t count for anything if they aren’t making an existing thing better in some way.
For the next edition of the zine there’s at least a dozen details that I hope will make it better than the last one. Some are big, others are small, but together with the details that went into the first one (like the choice of paper), it goes some way to making a better product.
And it goes a long way to making me feel better as a creator. I’ll take finished over nearly-perfect-but-never-released any day.