The Hub: ''Handcrafted Ralph Gleason'' ?

I've thought about this subject for a long time.

I guess it could be said that I was genetically predisposed to be a critic of advertising. Back in The War (y'know, WWII, the BIG one), when women were grudgingly welcomed into the workplace because their menfolk were off making the world safe for democracy, Mom worked in advertising for a small midwestern daily. She mostly dealt with placements, but occasionally, wrote copy as well.

Remember the period: newspapers, magazines and radio were the dominant ad media. All assumed their reader or listener had an attention span longer than the lifespan of a gnat, and at least a modicum of practical intelligence. In other words, things were DIFFERENT then.

Aside from the annoying radio jingles,ads were mostly stories. They told you how the Acme Veeblefetzer worked, how your life would be fulfilled if you bought one. Some of the ad-stories were works of art, and held you enthralled. Others were merely craft, but still conveyed a message with an economical use of words. Aside from Fitzgerald and Ogden Nash, Mom loved nothing so much as a clever slogan or a concise, gripping ad.

As a kid in school, my reports were reviewed by Mom's unflinching eye. I was expected to live up to journalistic standards, convey the five W's, learn not to bury my lede (to use the old-fashioned spelling). It was valuable training. Hardly surprising, then, that one sister became a reporter and editor, the other an English teacher. Me, I majored in journalism...and mechanical engineering? Occasionally, I've been called upon to write a few words. My brother? Well, he has a photographic memory when it comes to song lyrics, if that counts.

Before I hit my teens, I knew the work of David Ogilvy and George Lois, two of the most brilliant copy-writers of all time. I say that with admiration, and not a drop of smarmy condescension. I learned from them that ads could inform, ennoble, and make you laugh your ass off.

Ogilvy was a classicist: he attended Oxford, worked as a chef, ended up selling the cookstoves he used so successfully that he was recruited by an ad agency. He was a master of the catchy headline, his best-known being, "At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock." He was also a brilliant analyst of business and of human nature; some of his aphorisms can be read here.

Lois was a smart-ass immigrant kid who seized attention with outrageous headlines coupled with striking images (often by the photographer Carl Fischer). Lois' 1960's covers for Esquire were brilliant, often biting, sometimes just goofy: Ed Sullivan in a Beatle wig? (seen here. Lois also conceived the memorable "I want my Maypo" campaign, utilizing well-known athletes like Wilt Chamberlain and Mickey Mantle to sell to adults a cereal previously viewed as baby food.

So, you may well ask: what has this got to do with audio gear?

Audiogon is a community where, among other activities, folks sell audio gear through the use of advertisements. And frankly, a lot of those advertisements need help.

Let's think things through before writing an ad. What will a potential buyer want to know about my piece? Why is this model special?...yes, the reader may well know, but it doesn't hurt to elaborate. How has it been used, and maintained? Is it full of cat hair? (Don't laugh, I've seen it, and SMELLED it. Oogh.) Is the price firm? How will I accept payment, and to where will I ship? How quickly can a buyer expect response and shipment?

These are Mom's basic five W's, all over again: who,what,when, where, why. Don't forget that pesky "how", which messes up the structure.

And please: if this is to be a community, we're going to have to be CIVIL. The guy who offers $100 for that Krell may simply not know any better. Take a deep breath, have a cup of coffee. Just don't respond in the vicious way that I've seen all too often. The flip side is true, too: if you're going to make an offer, do your homework first. Look at other ads or the BlueBook, before you send that email. Don't be nasty, condescending, or snide. If you're going to make an offer, BE SERIOUS, and be prepared to BUY the piece at the price you offer, RIGHT NOW. Don't waste another member's time or falsely get his or her hopes up. Come on. Just be real.

Beyond the basics, have a little fun. Tell a story about the gem you're selling. I don't mean regale us with how your beloved Shih-Tzu, Mr. Snuggles, used to howl along with Norah Jones when you played the amplifier you're offering for sale (although that would be a good story). Really, though: try to be interesting. Provide enough detail that someone can BECOME interested; I've seen ads with headings so brief and sketchy that they baffled even an old ad-reader like me.

So: Ralph Gleason? If you're old enough to remember Rolling Stone when it was a tabloid newspaper, sold folded, with a vertical cover-layout like a magazine, then you're old enough to remember Ralph Gleason. Ralph was the Stone's premier music critic, who knew everyone, had heard everyone, but was always positive about it, informative and upbeat.

"Ralph Gleason" is also the name of an amp built by member Dertubemeister, and the subject of a remarkable, rambling, funny ad (seen here), which prompted my thoughts on the whole subject of ads, what they should be, and what they CAN be. If you think a clever, interesting ad is too much trouble, and won't make any difference, anyway: sorry, you're wrong. This ad was read over 1400 times in ONE DAY, and the amp sold within hours. Get the picture?

A good ad reflects the character of its writer, and judging by this ad, Lance Cochrane (AKA "Dertubemeister") is QUITE a character. Lance tells me he runs post offices ("it's only the government when it suits their needs") and builds amps for fun, out of whatever he finds. Tweak parts? "Nah, it's not the parts, it's the circuit." He never builds the same amp twice; each is a unique creation, which he signs and dates, befitting its status as #1 in an edition of 1. And why the equally-unique ads? "People like stories," says Lance. True enough.

The name "Ralph Gleason" came to mind, Lance said, because,"in audio there are always people who insist on being unhappy with whatever they hear. Then there are the guys who can relax and enjoy it." Lance saw the same attitude of acceptance and enjoyment expressed in Gleason's music reviews, and thus, an amp was christened.

Lance's ad, written in a style he calls "stream of obnoxiousness", is probably as divisive as his approach toward amp-building; one either finds its discursive narrative charming and engrossing (as I did), or WAY too long if one is used to reading only text messages (OMG! RU 4 REAL??). Whichever view you hold, you can't deny that Lance's ad is unique, a reflection of who he is. I look forward to the day when I can meet Der Tubemeister in die Taverne, and share viele Biere, bitte.

A good ad can not only sell, it can make friends and help build a community. Give it a shot. What've you got to lose?
Great post and excellent advice, if I may say so!

"5 Ws and a how" !
I purchased an amp here from Lance simply BECAUSE of the add. And I'm pleased as hell with it also.
Yes, the ad was "off the beaten path", but the readership number was helped by being an inexpensive tube amp. Curiosity drew me in (I read the ad-- and was surprised to discover it was an old Harman Kardon, Eico or something).

The ad writer seemed in love with his voice-- really, some editing would have made it even sharper. However, the ad did what was intended in selling the amp, and served as a soapbox for the author. A few of these ads would be plenty. I am glad to see diversity in ads, though, and some attempt at humor, even rant. One ad today rejected any offers of "$200 and some magic rocks" which I thought pretty funny.
I see that the amp is merely built on a Lafayette Radio chassis, but is of Ralph's own design. OK. I also notice that a previous buyer of one of "Ralph's" amps likes it, which to me counts for more than Ralph's feeling that expensive capacitor's aren't worth it.
Thanks for the comments.

Vander, glad you like your amp, and for pointing out the validity of my premise: what you write MATTERS.

Sones, having to edit myself pretty rigorously, I can forgive someone who says too much far more readily than I can forgive someone who doesn't even tell you enough to know what the hell is being sold. Those ads make me crazy. Okay, crazier.
I wish that all members would read this and take heed. Some ads are way too short with no information (and no picture!) and others are far too long, and include transcripts of magazine reviews. Good ads are written in an off the cuff manner that comes off as being open and honest. And of course, as you said, by all means include pertinent information! On the other hand, members who respond to ads should actually read them first, instead of immediately sending emails asking the seller questions that are already answered in the listing.
WoW the few times I menetioned something similiar in years gone by here on the Gon, I have been skewered big time. To be candid unless that ad grabs me I just move on. I want to be sold, there are far to many places to drop my coin. Unless you can sell me then that member has no sale from me. But heh I am no doubt in the minority here. But glad Audiogon Bill has stepped up to the plate, beware of the bean ball though.
The lack of information in many audiogon for sale postings of very expensive items really galls me sometimes. My favorite common statement is "if you're looking at this, you know what it is" or something to that effect.

No, do not assume I am so smart. It's your gadget. If you want to sell me an expensive item, at least tell me the basic specifications, like how many watts/ch, or something meaningful that distinguishes the item. If you can't spend the time to publish the basic relevant facts about an item, I will probably assume that whatever else is said is meaningless rubbish and look elsewhere.

Thanks for listening to me vent.....
Rox, Mapman, agree with you totally. Common sense just doesn't seem to be that common, sadly.

Ferrari, I wear a size 8 1/4 hat. I've been beaned (!) so many times that, as they used to say in Memphis, it don't matter none.

Thanks for the concern, though. ;->
Hi Mapman and Audiogon bill,

I consider pictures of the unit for sale to be more important than the specifications. I will list the power of an amplifier, and make sure that speakers have the grilles removed so that people can get a sense of the driver complement-- but past that, why not let the interested party find out what they will about the unit?
I am not suggesting a complete lack of specifications (and I, too, think the "if you're looking at this, you know what it is" phrase is false) but for me, a short statement of the flaws, if any, and anything interesting about the history of that unit is what the potential buyer would want to know. Audiogon ads are not an encyclopedia of audio gear-- the internet as a whole does that.

Mark (aka Sones27)
I'm not saying I expect the seller to sell that product IN GENERAL, with a full product-brochure. I do think the seller needs to provide full details on THAT SPECIFIC UNIT.

I just saw a pair of ads for expensive pieces that said only, "full details at manufacturer's website." Do you want to SELL your units, or simply IRRITATE people? The manufacturer's website doesn't provide any info on your specific piece, bub (or bubette). And that's what you're trying to sell, innit?

And while I'm ranting: PLEASE punctuate, PLEASE use the shift key. Those ads that look like a text-message from e.e.cummings make me want to punch the seller. ADS THAT SHOUT ARE IRRITATING,TOO!!

If you don't remember how to write a business-letter, or never knew, break out the Turabian from college, willya?

I don't expect ads to be formal; in my eyes, character and humor go a long way toward selling a piece. But DO provide information, DO be civil, DO make it readable.

End of rant. For now. ;->
I was afraid your post was going to lambast Dertubemeister's Ralph Gleason ad, and was relieved as I read on that your take on it was one of appreciation and admiration. I guess you also agree that 'fun' and 'perfectionist audio' can actually coexist.

It also occurred to me that no one who wrote an interesting and fun ad like that would slap together a crappy homebrew amp and try to pass it off on the A'gon community, unless he was a total scheister.

While I'm at it, I enjoy reading your missives as well. Keep it up :-)
" I do think the seller needs to provide full details on THAT SPECIFIC UNIT"

I agree with that. If they assert their unit is up to the manufacturer's published specifications, that is fine. I will likely trust at that point but will still validate later. I am a lot like Ronald Reagan in that way!
Six million dollar man: I've gotten into a lot of trouble through the years with folks who didn't think humor and the high end could coexist. They never liked my " Sebastian Cabot Sings Dylan" album, either. Their loss.

Mapman, did you say, " Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall," also?
Some paragraph breaks would have been nice. Streams of writing are great but even the writer has to stop for a breath of air (or massage that hand cramp). Good writing is an art form. And in this venue of get-in get-out, one has to be respectful and cognizant of the audience and their expectations of the material. I took a look at that ad and hit Back before getting a quarter of the way through it. You're making me do a lot of work deciphering your foot-long column of words, bub! A wall of text like that I find a bit disrespectful.

Still, I'd take ads like this all day over someone's 4 word all caps "WORKS GREAT NO ISSUES" ad with no pictures. Or the mother of stream of obnoxiousness ads -- the Daki Om ones. What the hell is that dude selling anyway? Has ANYONE read one of those things all the way through and found out? Talk about a soapbox! I actually emailed him once because I couldn't take it anymore -- suggesting that the sheer length of his ad was standing between him and me buying the product. He emailed me back, and said this:


If you don't get the message then you are either a dumbass or a smartass.

What ever is the case, go to hell."

It was like a punch in the face. This from a business? Hey, at least he was short and to the point. Sorry, that was a bit of a tangent but it truly was an unbelievable response.

Nice topic of discussion by the way -- there's a thread around here about worst audiogon ads. It's hilarious because everyone has seen them before. I think for ads, the simple thing is you need to write from the reader's point of view.
Uh-huh. Perhaps I need to speak with that...gentleman.

Thanks for pointing that out.

Regarding breaks---agreed. It gets a little too much like reading Faulkner, without them. Having grown up in the south, I was force-fed enough Willie F. to last several lifetimes.

Thanks for the comments!
It is always the advertising that sells the item. Word of mouth gets around eventually.
I really wanted to buy the Ralph Gleason partly out of my respect for him as a music critic (he and Lester Bangs were my favorites) and partly because I felt the ad was "real" and spoke to me. Not to mention that I do think Lance might be on to something with his opinions a design philosophy. I didn't get this amp because it sold quick, but in my correspondence with Lance he seemed to indicate another one was forthcoming.

So I've been keeping close tabs on the tube amp ads and low and behold last night saw the ad for the Daniel. The ad was just as captivating and "real" to me as the Ralph Gleason. I thought what could it hurt to spend $500 and see how these compare to my VAC Auricle Musicblocs. As a friend told me nothing ventured nothing gained.

Well this one didn't last long either. Wonder who got them;)

Entering the Lions Den...If you see a pair of Auricle Musicblocs for sale you'll know what happened.