Voltarol - related music

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

A pat on the back for Barnes and Mullins

For those of you who don't know, Barnes and Mullins are a long-established musical instrument wholesale company. Amongst the many products that they distribute are guitar stands, and that is where this story starts.

I own a very fine Bartram electro - acoustic guitar which, unlike most production-line guitars these days, has a nitrocellulose finish. There are many advantages to using this lacquer but it is not as robust as modern acrylic and polyester finishes. A few years ago, when I was still gigging regularly, I bought a couple of guitar stands, the sort that have a tripod base and an extending arm that supports the neck of the instrument in 'U' shaped recess with a safety bar. The supports are generally covered in plastic foam of some sort, to protect the instrument from the metal of the frame. After using one of these for a while I noticed that there was a place on the neck of my guitar that was becoming discoloured and tacky. A closer inspection revealed that this place coincided with the point at which it was supported by the stand. Research revealed that this was not an uncommon problem. There was some chemical element in the foam covering that was interacting badly with the cellulose, and so deeply did it penetrate that I had to have the neck of the guitar stripped and treated to render the rogue chemical inert before it could be refinished. That cost me £200!

The offending stands were disposed off. By this time arthritis had put an end to my professional playing but I still wanted to keep the guitar on a stand in my front room. A guitar that spends all its time in a case doesn't get picked up and played, and I like to keep mine to hand for those odd moments during the day when I fancy a quick plunk - if you'll pardon the expression. So, I went in search of a new stand that wouldn't present me with the same problems and eventually bought a TGI 'A' frame - style guitar stand that seemed to fit the bill. The stands are distributed by Barnes and Mullins who, because the company had been aware of the potential problems with plastics and cellulose, had specified that suitable materials were used by the Chinese company that manufactured them.

The guitar has sat happily in my front room for the last few months, resplendent on the new stand and all has been well - until the other day. I was restringing the instrument and giving it a clean when I noticed a thin yellowish mark on the back of it which did not respond to polish or a damp cloth. Close inspection revealed it to be a discolouration in the cellulose and a little bit of very rudimentary detective work confirmed that the villain in the piece was my new guitar stand. But it was not the foam that was responsible - there is no foam involved in this design. No, it was the plastic itself. Despite the fact that the design results in the absolute minimum contact between the instrument and the support, it was enough to allow a chemical reaction. Then I noticed my wooden floor. There were similar yellow marks on the floorboards where the feet of the stand had rested. The floor is finished with Bourneseal which is not related to cellulose as far as I know, so this was an entirely new development.

I decided to give Barnes and Mullins a call to alert them to this problem and I was soon speaking to someone who was most concerned and said he would bring the matter to the attention of the managing director immediately. He took my phone number and promised me that I could expect a call back before the day was out. As it happened, when the call came I was out. Now I've dealt with problems with companies before, and my experience has generally been that in such circumstances one very rarely gets a follow-up call. But the message on my answerphone was clear. The MD was out of the country for the next two days but would contact me on his return. And he did.

I hadn't been thinking along the lines of recompense so much as the possibility of the problem happening to someone else, but Bruce Perrin 's first response was to offer to replace the current stand with one of their - far more elegant and expensive - wooden stands. He also offered to pay to have my guitar refinished and when I pointed out that this would cost several hundred pounds he did not baulk, and stressed that the company fully accepted the responsibility for the situation and would go out of their way to correct it. He also said that he would make sure that there was an adequate warning of these potential problems with all further stands sold.

The next morning a package arrived by special courier. It was my new guitar stand. It is all wood, with cork protection for the points of contact with the instrument and looks very fetching in my front room. It's not the sort of thing that I would take out on a gig but I'm very pleased with it nonetheless. So - hats off to Barnes and Mullins for the best possible customer service. I'm frequently the first person to moan about bad service from big companies so it makes a very pleasant change to be able to sing the praises of one!