What is the Unobtanium in the artistic tools you use?

The thread above asks about using the wood Pernambuco for a violin, but the point made within the thread is more important: for stringed-instrument bows, Pernambuco is the most desired material to be used.

Over time, with artists’ deep relationships with their tools, and marketing hype being what it is, pernambuco has transcended simply being a good wood for the job to acquiring the magic, the luster of being Unobtanium.

Another example is with some guitar effects - back in the day they used specific chips, e.g., made of a certain germanium blend - that have become the Unobtanium for those boxes. Aftermarket hot-rodders will take new boxes and swap in a New-Old Stock amazo-chip. My first-gen Proco Rat goes for a few hundred bucks on eBay because of its unobtanium chip.

In your world of art / tools, what is the unobtanium? Brushes made of some special hair? A type of paper or pen nib?

There are more in the guitar world, but I will let it go to see if this discussion has any legs.

For me – talent.

A really good idea.
A startling image.
A killer last line.

An affordable drill press with no bit-wobble.

I do have a 1977 script logo MXR Dyna Comp sitting around here somewhere. I’ll have to dig it up, been a while since I used it. And it does sound way better than the newer version.

A major publisher who will take a chance on a 250K-word debut novel.

Heh, there are two guitar effects that I lust after, but never buy. They’re expensive to get, and a little too fragile to be depended on at their age:

A Roland RE-201 Space Echo. It’s an actual tape delay. They’re actually pretty reliable for a tape echo, but it’s still a mechanical device. Nothing quite sounds like one.

A DeArmond 601 Tremolo. It’s also a mechanical device. It generates the tremolo effect by shaking a vial filled with an electrolyte fluid, which fluidly (heh heh) completes/breaks the electrical signal going to the amp. They sound too sexy, but the vial has a bad habit of letting it’s electrolyte fluid evaporate.

Ok, they’re not really unobtainable, but they’re impractical for their price. I’ve got a few old effects (e.g. an old blue/red Super Fuzz, a Univox phaser, and an original Memory Man), but they’re all solid state. The only thing that usually fails on them are the switches. When the unreliable effect is more than I want to spend on a guitar, it seems a fantasy.

I hear ya on that. I have a whole collection of gtr fx that never gets used because I have newer, less noisy versions. They don’t sound as good but for most of them the difference isn’t worth the cabling and noise factor.

A doctor who answers their own phone.

Okay, more seriously - cloth tape. They sell stuff they claim is cloth tape, but it doesn’t tear, shape or stick like the vaunted stuff the older nurses sing the praises of. They laugh at we newer nurses who hand them Durapore, excited because we’ve gotten our hands on “real cloth tape!” No, no it isn’t, apparently. Real cloth tape would change wound dressings all by itself and cook you dinner after.

Yep, I get it - a big break, or talent can be elusive. I am looking more for the “inside baseball” of what is considered super-special and why.

Heck, if a bow player could come in an comment on why Pernambuco is the bestest ever wood for bows, I would appreciate hearing it.

Sorry my answer wasn’t up to spec.

And sorry for coming across like a weenie. I was just looking to be educated on tools and such…which doesn’t appear to be happening anyway! :wink:

A Sharpie (or similar) pen that will blacken the edge of a laminated, mounted photo . . . yet will not have ink bleed onto the image, at the point where the pen first touches the photo.

Ugh - overpriced moleskines. “But Hemingway used them!” Yeah, well, I don’t think the material of the notebook was what made Hemingway a great. Maybe this is overly judgmental, but there seems to be an inverse relationship between the amount of time spent fretting over what kind of paper to buy, and the quality of the writing.

Older gas cans with spouts that work are becoming a hot item at garage sales these days.

You know, I’ve been thinking about this. I think that it might be a problem particular to musicians, and we do it to ourselves.

Most art forms use the equipment that they have on hand, and if they don’t have the necessary equipment, they make one. My wife’s a painter and print maker. There really isn’t an unobtanium in her world. She can just about make any substrates, print matrices and pigments she needs, provided she can find applicable raw materials. She doesn’t, because most are commercially available somewhere. The only thing in graphic art that I can think of that might be like that would be commercial photographic processes. Some of them really did cease to exist. Where it was practical, they’ve been revived by artists who used them. The ones that are gone are genuinely unobtainable without sinking truly vast amounts of money into the effort of recreating it.

How musicians do this to themselves is buy deifying a certain set of instruments or other equipment (often simply the same equipment played by our heroes). Fact is, you can usually get all the emotion and musicality you need from a student model. Worrying about that extra bit of sweetness in the sound isn’t usually affecting the performance in a meaningful way.

207cm old-school slalom skis, specifically K2 KVC’s. I’ll settle for 204, but you can’t find them either.

Fuck that new Clown-shoe shit.

An end mill which is hard enough to cut through steel easily, and yet not so brittle that it chips with the slightest impact or temperature shock (also cheap).

For folding pocket knives, cpm S90v is the present gold standard and one of the most expensive industrial/knife steels.
One of the most sought after and expensive knife handle material is prehistoric mammoth/mastodon tusks.
For Red Wing work boots, having a one piece sole made from Aztec Supersole.

From the Nat. Geo feature on the USS Constitution, live oak was the very best wood for wooden ship building.

Thoughtful; thanks. I am very open to any one artist being indifferent. But for painters, I have heard stories about the properties of specific sable brushes, or the special qualities of a pigment made some superspecial, secret expensive way - back in the day, wasn’t blue oil paint made by crushing precious lapis stones or something? Or indigo made from murex shells? The best Carrara marble for sculpture? There has been unobtainium tools of the trade. But I have no clue about the present day.

In terms of stories and musicians, oh yeah, we are a schizophrenic lot. As genres innovate, musicians use what is in front of them to make music. When that genre becomes Classic and songs and sounds get Canonized, then the tools used start to take on mystical properties.

I have a very good music friend who is a keyboards/synths guy. He fills pages of email to me telling me about attempts to replicate the “classic” 80’s synth tones - from Prophet 5’s, Oberheim OBX, Roland Jupiter stuff, the Fairlight CMI, Moogs, etc. - they were based on old chips, prone to weirdness in the first place, etc. He uses a combination of an old-school analog set of filters and some digitally-recreated patches. I can’t describe it and don’t quite understand it, but he will send me a sample where he gets that thick, huge, warm, swoopy white-noise analog like you hear in Gary Numan’s Cars and I know he has a smile on his face.

But that is a case where the old synths ARE pricey, but really only as collectibles or maybe for studio use. Most folks are using modern sampled versions.