Feelers On The Dealers
Billy Punter travels to Humbucker Music in Leicester in the hope that he'll pick up a bargain
Leicester's a funny town. Not as in humorous, particularly, although if you look at the name for long enough it can be pretty amusing. Try it. Spend ten minutes or so gazing at the word 'Leicester' and you'll see what I mean — it ends up looking like a kind of pasta or a Transylvanian surname.
No, I mean that Leicester's always appeared to me to be one of those great English nowheres like Peterborough, St. Neots, Bognor Regis or Darlington. I'm sure thousands of aggrieved inhabitants of all those towns will now write, phone or even visit with long lists of just how much the nightlife of their particular domain resembles that of New York on a busy Saturday, and how their locality is poised to become the centre of a massive cultural renaissance — but until that happens I shall remain oblivious to the charms of all those places and more.
And so Leicester — nicely situated in the centre of England with convenient train, motorway and air connections (as the Chamber of Commerce no doubt put it) — has, despite the fact that it is widely acclaimed as the boot and shoe capital of England, remained a bit of a nonentity to me. I have more than a passing knowledge of it and yet it holds all the charm to me of putting my nose next to a traffic warden.
Luckily, however, it's got a few things to recommend it which I do know about; some good country pubs, a lively market and a good selection of Indian restaurants are among its attractions and now, I'm pleased to report, it's got a music shop which is well worth a visit. You never know, soon Leicester might heave itself out of the nonentity league.
The music shop responsible for this upsurge in interest is called Humbucker and is on the outskirts of the city, in an out-of-the-way area which appears to consist mostly of Coronation Street-style housing and small shops selling plastic washing-up bowls very cheaply. It's been going a few years now, and seems to have built up its business by concentrating on second-hand gear and by making itself the sort of place that is worth going into again and again. After all, where it is it's hardly likely to attract a massive amount of passing trade so a regular clientele of musicians is essential for business. And luckily, they've managed that, through advertising all over the place, through offering good prices on second-hand gear, and through doing after-sales service and gear hire as well as the usual buying and selling.
In theory, that means that it's a good shop, as unlike places which get a good passing trade and therefore can be complacent about attracting people and keeping them as good customers (some of London's West End shops being shining(?) examples) it has to — and has — managed to get people returning again and again for strings, leads, and all the other rubbish you purchase to keep your gig-bag full to overflowing.
So when I tried this theory out in practice I was pleased to see that it was as good as I'd hoped. The assistance was prompt and friendly, and when someone came in to sell a bass cab the price offered was fair. I spotted a good selection of both new and secondhand gear; a few nice Ibanez guitars, a lovely old Telecaster, and a pair of matched fretted and fretless Mustang basses were among the stringed goodies. There was a Korg Mono/Poly and an Octave Cat among the keyboards, and a Roland Jazz Chorus and lots of Traynor gear were among the amps. There was also a smattering of drums, effects and recording gear, including the Fostex A-8, and a pretty red Simmons was being drooled over in the window.
But, mean as I am, there were a couple of things I thought could have been improved. There was a definite scarcity of prices on gear, so you had to ask an assistant every time your eye struck something good, and when I tried out a guitar, I was given a seat and an amp swiftly — but one was a distance (and in the wrong direction) from t'other, meaning that I played through a Jazz Chorus amp with the chorus switched on, and had I been a juvenile guitarist I could have attributed the sparkling sound to the guitar not the amp. A little bit of a salesman's trick, that one, and not what I'd call entirely fair play.
And another quibble yet more minor — the shop is not huge, and the stock does tend to take over slightly. Could some form of stacking not be introduced, because at present a good half of the amp stock is invisible — and there could be some gems under that great heap of speaker cabs.
But those are the only complaints I had about Humbucker — it's definitely a shop for the musician and collector rather than the poser, with the accent on gear rather than flash surroundings, but if you're enthusiastic about a good selection of stuff and no-nonsense deals, try it out. Go to Humbucker; you might just pickup a bargain.
Feature by Billy Punter
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