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  #1  
Old 12-26-2013, 06:58 PM
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Default Why do we assume that handmade is better?

Got into a discussion at work today about the benefits of robotic assembly over human assembly in the electronics field I work in. It is a forgone conclusion that robots do far better work with far fewer errors working within tolerances human beings will never achieve.

All of this got me thinking about musical instrument building. I would be willing to bet if I offered you a maple drum set made by hand by a drum builder in a workshop for $2000 most would take that over a maple set made by robots in a factory for $500. My question is why?

Doesn't it stand to reason that a robot could cut a more precise bearing edge than a human hand? Couldn't a laser eye detect minute flaws in that bearing edge that the human eye could never detect? Wouldn't each drum set be far more consistent from one to the next? Logic would say that all of that is true, yet we cling to the idea of human drum makers making superior products.

I am by no means saying that I am immune to romanticizing the role of the drum builder or luthier. My dream guitar is one that is built by hand by a luthier that I have been following for years. I am just throwing the question out there to get some different opinions on the subject.
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Old 12-26-2013, 07:03 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

Your premise is that physical perfection is the ideal measure of desirability. When it comes to musical instruments, I think more esoteric factors influence our decisions.

Mojo may not be measurable by industrial robots, but it can sure affect how we approach and feel about instruments, and thus affect the music we produce on those instruments.
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Old 12-26-2013, 07:05 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

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Originally Posted by eclipseownzu View Post
Got into a discussion at work today about the benefits of robotic assembly over human assembly in the electronics field I work in. It is a forgone conclusion that robots do far better work with far fewer errors working within tolerances human beings will never achieve.

All of this got me thinking about musical instrument building. I would be willing to bet if I offered you a maple drum set made by hand by a drum builder in a workshop for $2000 most would take that over a maple set made by robots in a factory for $500. My question is why?

Doesn't it stand to reason that a robot could cut a more precise bearing edge than a human hand? Couldn't a laser eye detect minute flaws in that bearing edge that the human eye could never detect? Wouldn't each drum set be far more consistent from one to the next? Logic would say that all of that is true, yet we cling to the idea of human drum makers making superior products.

I am by no means saying that I am immune to romanticizing the role of the drum builder or luthier. My dream guitar is one that is built by hand by a luthier that I have been following for years. I am just throwing the question out there to get some different opinions on the subject.
We can just throw creativity out the window and go with the machine-perfect product!

Hell, for that matter, we can just do away with drummers all together. Too imperfect. You have to pay a drummer, but a drum machine you only pay for once, and it's perfect!
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Old 12-26-2013, 07:09 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

I think your reasoning is good but I don't know much about either process. I would think the hand builders still need certain machinery, and the automated process would still need some human input along the way.
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Old 12-26-2013, 07:12 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

Making drums myself I can see the OP's point. On the other hand, robots are programmed by humans. An entire run of instruments could be messed up before someone catches the glitch.

Of course, drums do not have to be made perfect to sound good. That's hype. I don't know any drums that are made exclusively with hand tools. There's always some power tools involved. But drums are not much more than a cylinder with two membranes. If you put the lugs on straight you're good to go.
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Old 12-26-2013, 07:12 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

It's a good question. I guess you hit the nail with the idea of the romantic notion. I think robotic assembly would churn out far more consistant results. That said, robots are only as good as their last calibration. I can speak more of guitar construction than drums.

Gibson uses a PLEK system that is a machine that levels frets and cuts the nut slots. My Gibson SG had the e slot so far out of alignment, it was barely playable. I do my own nut slotting, and this was no big deal, so fixed it myself. I think a person would never have let that through... Then again, where was the quality check before shipping anyway?

Overall, I think the concept of 'handmade' is a bit over stated. Every place uses templates, and then machines follow the templates repeatedly. Just because some guy puts each piece on the table and locks it down does not, to me, mean "handmade". yet, Gibson products are supposedly handmade, because some guy puts the machined neck into the machined neck slot and glues it by hand.

From what I've seen of cymbal making, on the other hand, is really a handmade product.

Handmade also would mean there are fewer thousands of pieces, and each one would be somewhat unique because of human "error". Without saying if handmade is better or not, it certainly would take more hours as well, warranting some of that higher price.
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Old 12-26-2013, 07:17 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

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Originally Posted by Dr_Watso View Post
You're totally right. We can just throw creativity out the window and go with the machine-perfect product!

Hell, for that matter, we can just do away with drummers all together. Too imperfect. You have to pay a drummer, but a drum machine you only pay for once, and it's perfect!
10/10 reply.

I'll absolutely pay more for a handmade product (anything, not just drums) over a mass produced, machine-built copy of a copy of a copy. And I have and I couldn't be happier.

A hand crafted product means that there will be minor inconsistencies from product to product which makes it unique. It means that my drums are mine and there are no others identical to them. Somebody put hard work and hours upon hours and attention to detail into my drums and I appreciate and respect that.

To me, robotic-made drums don't have the soul that hand crafted drums do.
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Old 12-26-2013, 07:23 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

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Originally Posted by eclipseownzu View Post
Doesn't it stand to reason that a robot could cut a more precise bearing edge than a human hand? Couldn't a laser eye detect minute flaws in that bearing edge that the human eye could never detect? Wouldn't each drum set be far more consistent from one to the next? Logic would say that all of that is true, yet we cling to the idea of human drum makers making superior products.
it depends on the nature of the task. In drum making, yes, some tasks are better performed by CNC machines, etc, but some are better done by hand. It also depends on the type of shell construction. Let's take the task of selecting the boards / plies as an example. Especially in solid shell making, there's a lot of skill in selecting the most appropriate boards for the task in hand. If you're just layering up ply shells from sheet, & your focus is economy, then automation of the process after initial delivery inspection is quite a bit easier, but still requires big volume to justify the outlay.

Take bearing edges as another example. A CNC mill will cut edges very accurately, but it's only as accurate as the guy who loads it onto the machine. A human interface is still necessary, if only to ensure there's no shavings under the shell. Bearing edges cut by hand, are of course, cut using a machine. There's really no difference in accuracy, but there is a difference in monitoring of the process. Wood is a natural material. Especially on certain solid shell constructions, tear out is possible when machining the edges. Someone doing this on a router table or spindle moulder will see that directly. On a CNC mill, not so obvious.

What it really comes down to is this. Economy of scale. Only if you're making a lot of one thing does it make sense to use CNC gear. It's a big investment, & not appropriate for every situation. It's much more expensive to program a machine to make a small run than it is to make the small run by hand.
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Old 12-26-2013, 07:24 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

Most drums are made by machine, aren't they? I saw the DW tour and a human puts plies into molds to make shells, and a CNC machine cuts edges and likewise drills the holes. It takes a human to assemble them but that's not "hand made", is it?
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Old 12-26-2013, 07:39 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

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Most drums are made by machine, aren't they? I saw the DW tour and a human puts plies into molds to make shells, and a CNC machine cuts edges and likewise drills the holes. It takes a human to assemble them but that's not "hand made", is it?
I suspect that you are correct on this one. My post was purely hypothetical, but as you can see, we got a couple of posts that gave credence to my idea that we romanticize things that are built by hand.
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Old 12-26-2013, 07:43 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

Things made by hand, at least by professionals, have an attention to detail that mass produced products lack. I'm sure Andy would agree. His drums come with features and quality that you don't find in cheaper, factory line drums.

If money wasn't an issue, who would ever choose a Snuggy over an hand made Amish quilt?
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Old 12-26-2013, 08:02 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

In my opinion any industrial process(not just robots), is going to be limited to producing things from materials that are indistinguishable, and won't be able to take advantage of limited quantities of high quality input material.

Wine making is a prime example. Yes, they can churn out very consistent flavored wine in large batches, however it is the grapes selected from that especially arid and sunny location or harvested just after a freeze, that produce the most flavor, however if you run these grapes through an industrial process, it will lose money, and probably not be as good as the smaller wine makers. Paradoxically, the smaller wine makers are often competitive with the larger manufacturers, because there is demand for super consistent wines, such that the prices for the less than perfectly consistent grapes might be less to begin with.

In drums, an example might be getting a burl veneer or stave construction drum, the cymbal smiths are well know for cherry picking the blanks etc.
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Old 12-26-2013, 08:03 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

It's an interesting point, but I think the time and care that go into a hand made kit would go above and beyond a machine built one, which is only as good as the person who programmed it. It's important to remember how much it varies between different builders and different machines, but if it came down to the greatest drum maker in the world vs the greatest drum making machine I'd have more faith in the person to create a better product.
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Old 12-26-2013, 08:18 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

I don't assume it. Lots of handmade prototypes existed before mass produced products hit the assembly lines. You have to get the design from somewhere. Handmade can be better, but it isn't a given.
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Old 12-26-2013, 08:33 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

Like anything, some handmade things are better, some machine made things are better. I would rather eat a handmade pie.... but for roller bearings, I'll take the machine made product.

I prefer my drums to be as handmade as possible, but with precision machining where it is required. So drums fall in the middle between handmade and machine made.

Handmade things are old-fashioned. I mean that as a huge compliment. Old fashioned things bring me comfort. There's an indefinable quality a handmade instrument brings to the table that a machine made instrument can't.
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Old 12-26-2013, 08:54 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

Let me add a bit more detail & a thought or two.

We're talking about the shells, right? If we're talking major brand hardware (lugs, brackets, etc), with very few exceptions, they're all made in the same way & on the same continent. The moment you move away from the die cast sintered metal model, the price jumps massively. Even a move to cast brass makes a big difference. Solid brass makes a bigger difference, then a more complexed shape machined from solid costs 5 - 10 times the price. Produce your hardware outside of Asia, & the price doubles again. There's no such thing as "hand made" metal shell hardware, it's all by machine, yet there are vast differences in quality, both in terms of reliability & sonic performance. The point here being that quality is a decision taken based on cost vs. benefit. Hand built or "robot" doesn't enter the equation.

Back to shells. There's no substitute for human attention to detail. Ok, that's more of an inspection function than a crafting function, but one tends to go with the other. Then there's the human input element. Applies to ply shells, but so much more with solid shells, the touch, the experience telling you if the cut is too deep for the grain orientation, etc, etc. Metal objects can be made on a repeating basis with great reliability, but with solid wood, every piece is different.

Small batch production brings attention to detail that volume production never can. If it's volume production, the price depends of efficiency & speed. variations in the raw material doesn't sit well with a mass production model. In a perfect theoretical world, you can CNC everything, but it's rarely practical to do so unless you're at automative component volumes. In the end, the real difference is time & passion. Spending time with something tells you so much more than a tick box check list of inspection criteria, & having a craftsman make the instrument from start to finish yields so much more information than one person performing a single task can ever pick up on.
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Old 12-26-2013, 10:34 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

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Originally Posted by keep it simple View Post
Let me add a bit more detail & a thought or two.

We're talking about the shells, right? If we're talking major brand hardware (lugs, brackets, etc), with very few exceptions, they're all made in the same way & on the same continent. The moment you move away from the die cast sintered metal model, the price jumps massively. Even a move to cast brass makes a big difference. Solid brass makes a bigger difference, then a more complexed shape machined from solid costs 5 - 10 times the price. Produce your hardware outside of Asia, & the price doubles again. There's no such thing as "hand made" metal shell hardware, it's all by machine, yet there are vast differences in quality, both in terms of reliability & sonic performance. The point here being that quality is a decision taken based on cost vs. benefit. Hand built or "robot" doesn't enter the equation.

Back to shells. There's no substitute for human attention to detail. Ok, that's more of an inspection function than a crafting function, but one tends to go with the other. Then there's the human input element. Applies to ply shells, but so much more with solid shells, the touch, the experience telling you if the cut is too deep for the grain orientation, etc, etc. Metal objects can be made on a repeating basis with great reliability, but with solid wood, every piece is different.

Small batch production brings attention to detail that volume production never can. If it's volume production, the price depends of efficiency & speed. variations in the raw material doesn't sit well with a mass production model. In a perfect theoretical world, you can CNC everything, but it's rarely practical to do so unless you're at automative component volumes. In the end, the real difference is time & passion. Spending time with something tells you so much more than a tick box check list of inspection criteria, & having a craftsman make the instrument from start to finish yields so much more information than one person performing a single task can ever pick up on.
Ditto. Drums made of wood almost demand human contact.
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Old 12-26-2013, 11:58 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

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Originally Posted by eclipseownzu View Post

...Why do we assume that handmade is better?...

Wow - A question that cuts to the core of things - ha ha.

Most people want to cling to the last, smallest semblance of human dignity,
before becoming completely subservient to the machine.
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Old 12-27-2013, 12:14 AM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

Some thought bubbles and speculations ...

I think about music itself in terms of "hand made-ness". At one end there's slick, professional products. Production methods include state-of-the-art technology and a large knowledge base. This is the top selling product with internationally-based promotion and distribution.

At the other extreme is obviously hand made, uneven output. Production methods are based on personal knowledge and skill, with basic tools. Emotion plays a greater role. Distribution and promotion ranges from nil to local.

Each approach has its fans. As always there's plenty middle ground, and the line is getting murkier with home sequencing resulting in technologically-based local product that can be distributed and promoted internationally via the web.

Still, in all areas - music, drums, household items, clothes, etc - "hand made" is slowly phasing out. There will be demand for handmade products for some time to come because of its emotional appeal and closer connection to nature, but eventually almost everything aimed at the middle classes will be tech-based. The skills required to create quality hand made product will diminish, to be replaced by more high tech skills. Everything changes over time.

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Old 12-27-2013, 12:26 AM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

I worked in a country where a lot of bakeries touted their goods as being "hand made." I thought ewww, that means they keep putting their fingers in them!
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Old 12-28-2013, 04:00 AM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

I think the best products, in general, are those that are created with equal parts precision machining and human scrutiny. A machine doesn't always know when it's made an oversight, and a human doesn't always know when it cut a few thousandths of an inch off.
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Old 12-28-2013, 04:59 AM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

I currently own 3 vintage drum kits from the 50's and 60's. I also own 4 modern kits that are under 5 years old in the intermediate to pro levels. I appreciate the consistency and near perfection of my modern kits, but the subtle imperfections of my vintage kits is what gives them personality. I like that they are not perfect. I like that each drum is unique. I don't like the vintage kits more than the newer kits. I just appreciate them for what they are.
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Old 12-28-2013, 05:56 AM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

I suspect that we're in similar industries. I've been a process engineering manager in several multinational EMS's as well as working at various OEMs including ones with internal manufacturing. Done a lot of the early work on SMT reliability for the military and so on.

If you're in the same field you'll note that while a Fuji machine can repeatedly put parts within micros of where you want them, the solder doesn't always end up the same. Variations in the oxidation of components, adhesion of the solder during printing and subsequent volume changes and a multitude of other variables affect things.

Now consider a piece, or multiple pieces of wood. Tremendous natural variation. Slap multiple pieces together with micron precision and you'll still get wildly different results. I have a friend, Bill Chapin, who makes the best Telecaster type guitars I've ever seen. He buys wood blanks from the same sources as other independent builders. But somehow he has a special feel for how to orient the body on the blank so that the right blend of different densities come out. He builds other models which are very well made and compete with other specialty builders, but that special affinity for how a Tele works makes his a cut above everyone elses.

The Plek was developed by Suhr. They make very high quality guitars that are consistently better than mass produced Fenders. Even better than most "custom shop" ones that I've played. But the only ones that have real "magic" in them are the ones John makes himself. Like Bill with the Teles, John has a feel for Strats. There are a few other folks that manage that as well. All are dealing with very complex aspects of how the wood resonates in different spots and the feel of how the neck joint goes together. Stuff that can't be easily automated. John has automated quite a lot, and achieves a very high standard. But there are still things he can do that other builders or their machines can't.

I used to hang out at Gene D'Amico's shop when he was on the west coast and watch him hand finish bearing edges and talk drums with him. Recently I finally acquired a set. The bearing edges are as smooth as a baby's bottom. Not only are they perfectly even, pulling a head over them and tuning it results in completely consistent vibration all around. These things ring for days, even at very low pitches. Having cut a few edges and hand dressed them myself, I can appreciate the touch and craftsmanship in these drums. If you were machining perfectly homogeneous material, you could let a computer do it. But as Andy said, the speed of feed depends on the wood being cut at the moment. And that takes practiced and skilled hands to achieve the kind of precision you're expecting out of a robot.

I'll keep my robots at work for the things they do well, and use trained people for the things they can feel and compensate for that would take too many force feedback sensors and software to even come close to. And I'll keep my handmade drums that perform in a way no instrument entrusted to a computer can.
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Old 12-28-2013, 07:11 AM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

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I'll keep my robots at work for the things they do well, and use trained people for the things they can feel and compensate for that would take too many force feedback sensors and software to even come close to. And I'll keep my handmade drums that perform in a way no instrument entrusted to a computer can.
An absolutely excellent post, & defines the importance of sensory elements in crafting perfectly.
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Old 12-28-2013, 09:39 AM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

I seriously doubt any of the main drum manufacturers have any robots in the production line - perhaps with the exception of the surface treatment. Even that is a question mark.
There is still loads of manual work involved which is why they are moving from UK/Germany/Japan/USA to China/Taiwan/Indonesia.
There wouldn't be anything to save if it was all automated as robots costs the same all over the world.
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Old 12-29-2013, 07:03 AM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

It seems to me that when an item is to be used at a professional level a lot of them are hand made. Like for instance, almost all race cars are hand made, the hi horse power engines in the cars are hand machined and hand built. Fire arms used in competitive shooting sports at a pro level are hand made. The ammo is hand made too. Some even melt their own lead and cast bullets. The best surfers are on hand made boards. The best skiers are on hand made skies. the best motocross racers run hand built versions of a factory made bike. The best custom motorcycles are almost always hand made. Rolex watches are hand made. Diamonds are cut by hand.
It also seems to me that a personal item ,like your drum kit, that you play with your hands should have the same effort and love put into its creation, as you have put into learning your craft.
just sayin.
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Old 12-29-2013, 04:21 PM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

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It seems to me that when an item is to be used at a professional level a lot of them are hand made. Like for instance, almost all race cars are hand made, the hi horse power engines in the cars are hand machined and hand built. Fire arms used in competitive shooting sports at a pro level are hand made. The ammo is hand made too. Some even melt their own lead and cast bullets. The best surfers are on hand made boards. The best skiers are on hand made skies. the best motocross racers run hand built versions of a factory made bike. The best custom motorcycles are almost always hand made. Rolex watches are hand made. Diamonds are cut by hand.
It also seems to me that a personal item ,like your drum kit, that you play with your hands should have the same effort and love put into its creation, as you have put into learning your craft.
just sayin.
great first post Mike, & welcome to the forum :)
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Old 12-30-2013, 07:20 AM
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Default Re: Why do we assume that handmade is better?

You know, I don't even feel the need to justify why I want something hand made. I just do.
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