For your Hobby: "Safety Net" tools vs. "Finesse" Tools

There have been at least a couple of posts on IMHO in the past year on folks and their areas of interest. One of them is here and focuses on raging debates within your area of geekery. The other asked folks to share what the best example of tools they used in their hobby - here. There may have even been a third related to insight about the tools you use in your hobby.

Well - here’s a new one: Safety Net Tools vs. Finesse Tools - what are examples within your hobby, how are the SN ones, well, safe and what do the finesse tools demand you to be able to do?

Although not my hobby, golf is apparently a good example: with new tech innovation, newbies can hit balls fairly straight over 250 yards. Ah, but ask them to angle around something or put backspin on a 9-iron and they implode. So pro golfers use fundamentally different clubs in many cases that are harder to master but enable far more finesse.

I have heard that chef’s knives can be like this, too - the pros use stuff that is harder to keep an edge on and maintain, but enables them to Get Their Chef On much better than those laser-edged sets we can get at Sam’s Club.

What about your hobby? For me, it is, once again, guitars - but in this case, guitar amplifiers. These days, you can get a fairly decent amp for $200 - $400 - and they are “digital modeling amps” - the maker has sampled original versions of vintage, amazing amps. You set your modeling amp to “1967 Marshall” and you get something reasonably close.

But. But - well, sure, they get close, but they kinda sound like a blanket is thrown over them. You play really hard - they sound the same. You play really gently - they sound the same. You modify the on-board Volume and Tone on your actual guitar - and they sound the same. You with me? You get the safety net of a decent tone that is hard for you to muck up - not a bad idea for beginners.

Ah - but if you get a real, well-made tube amp (matched with a good guitar) - very, very different. They can be downright unforgiving - every palm scrape on the strings, every variation in your picking/strumming approach - it’s all out there folks! In the right hands, you can take them to much (much!) higher highs, but there is NO safety net. If you can’t play in a very consistent manner and only inject variation when you have chosen to due so, a good tube amp is going to call you out and shame you. Personally, I feel like I am finally at a point in my playing where I can acquit myself decently on a good tube amp, but even a few years ago I was a mess…

How about your interest?


Really? I got nothing here? :confused:

If that’s the case, no worries - I thought this was pretty interesting and a way to learn about other folks’ interests…

I don’t know what to add. My current hobby is watercolor, but I don’t think of anything as really finesse vs safety. I do have standard brushes and paints, and even papers, and some that are specialty items.

Standard paints:

Ultramarine blue
Burnt sienna
Cobalt blue
Permanent rose


Any irredescent color
Any opaque color

Standard brushes:

#12 round
#4 round


Flat, angled, fan, mop, tiny, hake

Standard paper:

140# cold pressed


300# cold pressed (It would be my standard if not for the price)
hot pressed

Hm, I’ve never noticed any difference when playing tube vs solid state, other than the fact that tube kicks solid states butt all over the place. I’ve never noticed that I had to be ultra consistant when playing through a tube amp. At the same time I’ve always been pretty consistant when playing things. The first time I was in the studio (back in 87, believe it or not) I ended up triple tracking solos. That came about in a funny way. I had just nailed a take and the engineer was playing it back and had hit the record button on a muffed track to erase it. I played along with the solo without realizing that it was being recorded until the end when I played a bend a bit differently. My band and the engineer kind freaked when they realized that I had just doubled the track prefectly, except for the last bend. I ended up recording a third take and once again going off on the bend, purposely the last time, I got a nice outro bend thing going on with one take split hard right, one hard left and one in the middle. I had already double tracked all the rhythm stuff (through a Boogie and a Rockman*) and ended up doubling or tripling all the solos. That session I was running through a Mesa Mark II if I recall correctly. I know it was a Boogie and a Rockman. The rhythm tracks were nice and thick and the solo tone just kicked ass.

The downside was I tripled my amount of work :frowning:


*The Rockman had a great tone. The one I used was the engineers. I tried one out a couple years later and was totally disappointed with the tone. I think the engineer had hopped his up a bit.

Programming has tools in the format of languages.

On the finesse end of the spectrum, there’s assembler and C. On the other end you get VBScript and such. But it’s a very wide spectrum, and any single language still has it’s pitfalls at the moment.

A programmer who doesn’t understand computers at a relatively intrinsic level isn’t going to get much out of working in C, except practice in tracking down pointer errors. But for a C programmer to work in one of the higher level languages can be relatively frustrating since it’s not actually much easier to program stuff in it, but the program will be larger and slower.

I completely get this. I was a CompSci major in undergrad - we did machine code, assembler, C++ and higher-order languages and you’re right, I remember there being a distinct difference. Definitely flying without a net with the languages that were closer to the computer - refer to a specific memory location and then forget to update it and watch your program crater. Good times!

**Slee ** - from what I have heard you describe in your style, you are a very precise player. I am not - I am a blues-based rocker with lots of slop factored in. I wonder how that affects our observations? It’s like guys who played scooped-mids Mesa Rectos (for laymen out there - an amp with a specific tone profile, good for metal shredding) - I wonder how big of a deal tubes are for them?

I’m a photographer, which is a fancy way of saying that I pay the bills by doing various things ranging from frying hot wings to shelving books in a library.

For “Safety net” tools for Photography, you definitely have the point-and-shoot cameras. Some of them are mighty fine, don’t get me wrong, with very good lenses, high resolution graphics, so on so forth, but they’re fundamentally limited by their design. Only one lens you can use (on the fancier cameras, including most digitals nowadays, it’s usually a zoom lens giving you some flexibility) and the flash is similarly limited (can’t switch out for a different flash, can’t choose where the flash is pointed, control of hte flash itself is usually limited to turning it on or off). Examples of this would include probably most cameras your family used for snapshots, along with stuff like the Nikon Coolpix or Canon Powershot familes of cameras.

Farther along the spectrum, you have Rangefinders and Single-Lens-Reflex cameras, which use interchangable lenses and flashes to give you more control over what you’re doing. Some flashes can be angled up or to the sides so you can “bounce” the flash off of a wall or ceiling instead of firing it directly at the subject. This lets you have some control over how their shadows show up (ie: a low shadow instead of one directly behind them) and prevent the dreaded red-eye effect (which is caused by light from a camera flash going directly into the subject’s eyes, which bounce flashes and off-camera flashes avoid). Different lenses vary both in variety and performance, but also in general feel and behavior. Some folks might like lens A because when it’s in focus, it’s crisp and sharp, while others might like Lens B exactly BECAUSE the focus is softer (more flattering for people pictures oftentimes), and someone else might like Lens C because of the exact way in which things that are out of focus are out of focus. Every type of lens has it’s own upsides, downsides, and weird quirks. Examples of SLR cameras include newer ones like the Canon EOS series, and older ones like the Nikon F series. Newer SLRs can automate some or all of the necessary functions, so you can use them like a big high-end point-and-shoot if you want (sometimes I want to be an artist, sometimes I just want to take the damn picture and go home)

Rangefinders haven’t been as widely used in the last 30 years or so, but are more compact (and MUCH quieter) than Single-Lens-Reflex cameras, which depend on a bulky mirror assembly to let you see what you’re doing through the lens (the rangefinder instead uses some weird setup to project an image of what the lens is looking at into the viewfinder. It’s in focus when you line up the projected image with what you see through the viewfinder itself). Like with SLRs, the newer rangefinders have all sorts of automated features (auto focus, auto-aperture, auto-shutter, etc.) so you can use them like a high-end point-and-shoot if you feel inclined. For Rangefinders, the quintessential (and very expensive) example is the Leica M6.

Beyond that, you have the “Big Scary Cameras”, Medium and Large format, which have MUCH higher picture quality than you can hope for with a 35mm camera or it’s digial equivilant. These often are highly modular; you could buy a Mamiya medium format SLR, and have a wide range of flashes, lenses, viewfinders, and even format backs (want to use 35mm instead of 120? 120 instead of 4x5? Just slap a 20MP digital sensor on the bastard? Go for it, it’s your money) to suit your needs, but they are VERY expensive, compared even to the high-end digital SLRs, which can cost thousands of dollars. Another downside, is that these cameras can also be quite big and heavy, and it’s definitely hard to be discrete while pointing a Pentax 6x7" film cannon at someone on the street. If you see old movies, the guy with his head under a hood behind a big thing on a tripod, holding what looks like an exploding push broom in the air, is most likely using a Large Format View Camera, which you focus by looking directly into the back of the lens through the film plane, before placing the film back onto the camera and hitting the shutter.

In theory, you COULD buy a high-end professional camera, and just lean on the automated features and take great pictures; the only limiting factor is price (and bulk, oftentimes. The fancier pro cameras aren’t light or compact). Of course, you could just use a Kodak disposable point-and-shoot and take great pictures if you know what you’re doing, it’s just a matter of what options and quality of materials you have. For my purposes, I use a Pentax Spotmatic when I want to get into the details (manual focus, manual aperture (which controls how much light gets into the lens), and manual shutter speed). The only automatic thing on this camera is a little pin that stops down the aperture iris to the selected aperture when I take a picture or use the built-in light meter (this way, once I’ve set the aperture for the lighting, I can focus with the lens wide-open, giving me a much brighter image to work with in the viewfinder). Also, the 50mm 1.4 Super Multi-coated Takumar screw-mount lens for it is a trusted friend for me, being my prefered lens for a wide variety of uses.

Since my hobby is also my profession, I might be able to chime in here.

I work with polymer clay, and I primarily make jewelry. What I do can be accomplished sufficiently with my own two hands, a rolling pin of some type, a cutting blade, a bamboo skewer or a knitting needle, and some kind of oven. “Standard” studio equipment for people who do this regularly are a dedicated convection oven or toaster oven (the former is preferred), a pasta machine, a dedicated food processor, a brayer or an acrylic rod for rolling, a specific kind of cutting blade (called a tissue blade or pathology blade) and a variety of small canape or cookie cutters.

My studio contains several of each of the above, plus a heat gun, a specially-designed ruler that impresses increments into the clay, a rippled garnishing blade, a box full of x-acto knives, texture plates and rubber stamps, embossing powders, flocking fibers, specialized adhesives, assorted pearl, metallic and iridescent powders and pulvers, an extruder and a doohicky that makes using the extruder a lot easier, bead rollers, molds, a Dremel, a buffing wheel, and several gajillion other little things that are used for specific techniques.

I am a craft-supply junkie.

I am not sure how precise I am, I try to be pretty good about it but it is pretty hard, however I do tend to be pretty consistant which I think is the big issue. In other words, all my mistakes happen in the same place :slight_smile:

The metal guys do like the Mesas. I think that, with the amps being so over driven, a lot of the detail that might make the variations in playing obvious are buried. Playing reallyclean is way harder on a clean amp than a dirty amp.

I found something interesting. I have a little home studio setup and at times I use Amplitube. Basically, I line-in the guitar and add amplitube after I record the track. When I run straight into Pro-Tools my mistakes are way more obvious until I add in amplitube. It’s amazing what a little compression and a lot of gain will do.


Sheesh I’m yet another electric guitar player posting to this thread.

Since I do a lot of guitar rewiring, I’d say such guitars are definitely finesse tools.
For example, I have a switching arrangement for 3 single coils that uses 5 toggle switches instead of that ubiquitous Fender 5 way selector. You can get series, parallel, out of phase, single coil sounds and so on. So where is the lack of a safety net here? Well, with the traditional Fender 5 way you get the same 5 tones all the time. With my switching arrangement, if you switch to series and expect to get a “surf sound” - forget it. Also, some settings of the toggle switches produce no sound at all. (Heck it’s one of the consequences of choosing a sophisticated switching arrangement). So, if you are going to use such a guitar “live”, you’d better be damned sure you know what each switch combination can do - especially the ones that can make the guitar go dead. (Very embarrassing).

**Ragu **- That’s probably the quintessential example of what I am thinking about in the OP - a point-and-shoot vs. a fully manual camera. Great overview - thanks!

**Wolf ** - Sure, that makes sense - the more a guitar benefits from fine adjustments while playing the more you have to really have your act together. With my amps and guitars these days, I am finding I do a “BB King” - I am pretty constantly fiddling with my on-board Volume and Tone controls to get “my sound” based on what I want to hear for the song, the conditions of the space, etc. Requires listening hard and finesse to do it correctly…

Any time. :smiley:

In cooking:

Serrated vs Non-Serrated Chefs Knives: Serrated knives are able to cut through things better when they’re blunt but serrated knives stay blunt pretty much all the time since it’s almost impossible to sharpen them. Most good chefs have 1 cheap serrated knife around for bread and tomatos but every other knife will be non-serrated and regularly honed and sharpened.

Knife Angle: The edge of the knife can be sharpened from anywhere between 10 degrees to over 45 degrees. The larger the angle, the longer the blade will keep it’s edge but the duller it will be. Knives come from the factory with a very wide edge because most people can’t be bothered maintaining their knives but expensive knives have better quality steel which allows them to be taken down to a sharper angle but must be resharpened regularly.

Cast Iron vs Non-Stick: Cast Iron pans have to be seasoned by repeated use and you can’t use detergent on them or it will strip the seasoning but a well seasoned cast iron pan is as slick as the best non-sticks and performs exceptionally for high heat searing. Non-stick pans you can buy a cheap one every year and get great performance out of the box but you can’t abuse it like you would a cast iron pan and you cant get decent browning.


Sniper Rifle vs all other weapons: Sniper rifles give you lots of power and precision but you need to be accurate with it. If you don’t hit your target spot on, it’s a complete miss. With rockets you get splash damage and with machine guns you can spray and pray so you can still do damage if you’re slightly off.

In Computers:

Linux vs Windows/MacOS: Linux gives you control of many of the lower level system functions that are inconvenient or impossible to get to in more mainstream OSes. The expense of this is that Linux is much harder to use.

Gentoo Linux vs Other Distros: Gentoo Linux takes the linux philosophy to the extreme and gives you far more control that most linuxes.

Command line vs GUI: Command line interfaces are very powerful but harder to learn than GUI ones. Powerful command line interfaces allow for scripting and programability which can help you automate many of your tasks.

Keyboard shortcuts vs Mouse Navigation: If you know some common keyboard shortcuts for applications, then you can work much faster but they are harder to discover and learn than the equivilant mouse command.

vi/Emacs vs other text editors: Vi and Emacs are text editors on steroids and let you do edit text incredibly efficiently if you know what you’re doing. However, theres a fairly steep learning curve and mastery is measured in decades if at all.

hmmm - per my OP, sounds like you are definitely able to get your chef on…

re: knives: I always thought that a serated knife would tear up a tomato compared to a straight edge knife. That said, I don’t slice tomatos often, and when I do, I prefer to use one of those fingertip-removing veggie slicing things where you run the tomato back and forth over it and a horizontal blade removes it one slice at a time.

As far as sharpening goes, I bought a BSA-certified (IOW: “Probably Overpriced”) whet stone for sharping my pocket knife when I was 12, and the stone’s included instructions suggested a 28º angle, and included a little plastic wedge so you could see what that angle looked like. Presumably 28º, being about halfway between 10º and 45º, was considered a good compromise by whoever wrote the instructions.

Heh, when I play FPS’s, it’s often “Camping vs. Defending”. On a map where one side merely has to keep the other from getting through, such as the infamous “Bridge” mission on America’s Army, should the Defending team feel obligated to come out into the open to meet the Attackers, or should they, yaknow, defend from the hills and tower on their side of the bridge?

On a related note, in my dorm, there was much debate whether or not the Terrorists in Counter Strike should be allowed to use the Hostages as sheilds. I maintained that this wasn’t me being an irritating jackass so much as just staying in character (mind you, I PREFERED to play as CT, I like my M4)

Another problem for Linux is that support for mainstream applications, particularly games, can often be very hit and miss, depending on the whims of the product makers (who of course probably want to make the most money by making releases for Windows and Mac first, assuming they want to make a Linux release at all. OTOH, Linux tends to get the open source stuff faster than Windows users do, in my experience.

Oh, in Photography, there’s these two big ones:

Film vs. Digital: With good film, a good lens, and a good photographer, film gets better pictures than digital does, period, end of story. This is even more true once you get into the larger film formats such as 120, 220, 4x5, 6x7, and 8x10.

That said, good lenses and good film can get expensive fast, and even if you can do your own souping, it still takes longer to get pictures from film than it does to get pictures from digital, and if you’re a pro photographer, especially a photojournalist, time can be your most expensive commodoty.

It’s arguably more economical in the long run to become a good photographer if you use digital. Then again, film has smaller start-up costs ($150-200 for a film Canon Rebel vs. $600 and up for the digital Rebels). And just to even things out, no matter whether you use film or digital, if you’re using interchangable lenses, they’re just expensive, period.

The other big one in photography, of course, Canon vs. Nikon. Since Pentax is obviously the best, I’m not even gonna justify this one by going into it. :wink:

Within film photography itself, especially with some of the older photographers, you see the various divisions, Kodak vs. Fuji, Slide vs. Print, Ektachrome vs. Kodachrome (of course, there’s only one lab left in the known universe that still processes Kodachrome), and even black-and-white vs. color. I prefer Fujifilm cause that’s just the film I got into the habit of buying, due to it being slightly cheaper, I prefer print because slide film can be brutally unforgiving with things like flesh tones when you take pictures, though slides are fun to play with. I use Ektachrome beacuse it’s the only slide film I’ve ever used, and I prefer color in general, but black and white is cheaper for me beacuse I bought a 100 foot bulk roll of B&W film for $20 and I still have a dozen rolls of film left from that (also, it helps that I can do my own B&W developing).

Golf is good, but your example is flawed. Namely, newbies can get the expensive driver that will let them hit fairly straight over 250 yards. But pros use the same driver, with the “finesse” coming from the angle of the driver face. It’s recommended that an amateur, who has trouble getting the ball launched high on a drive, should use an 11-13 degree driver. The pro, who cares more about whether he can draw or slice the drive as needed, will use a lower trajectory driver. Between 8-10 degrees.

The better example is comparing irons to irons. There are “game improvement” irons, typically categorized by oversized clubfaces, displaced weight toward the bottoms and edges of the clubs, and gentler V shaped grooves that will give a more consistent hit from fairway or rough. Then there are varieties all the way up to blade irons (which most pros don’t even deal with any more). Pros are more likely to use smaller clubfaces, evenly weighted heads so that they can draw or fade as needed, and more extreme U shaped grooves that will give them better grip at impact (expecially on the wedges and shorter irons) that will create more backspin.

Similarly, golf balls range from two-piece titanium cover balls good for beginners (low-spin, tough covers) that will help them hit further and straighter, because the ball does not react as much with the club, does not spin as much. They’re basically rocks, and will be great at getting down the course, more forgiving to bad shots, but shite up around the greens. You have to bump-and-run everything. Up to the pro balls with three-piece construction (helps with creating spin and soft feel), softer cover options (will grip the clubface more at impact, imparting greater spin and more control), and different dimple patterns (which can react differently at different velocities or with more spin). There’s a reason that there’s such a difference between $10 for 15 cheap Top Flites and $45 for a dozen Pro V1s.