The Best Gift Ever: A Lifetime of Musical Joy

The gift of a vintage trumpet allowed me to play in my grade-school band—pure joy! (Photo by Chris Bair at

When I joined the fifth-grade band, my mom found a 40-year-old trumpet for me, a big surprise. We didn’t have the money for a new one. The first thing I did was to run out the front door and blat out some not-so-musical notes for the whole neighborhood to hear. I still remember how wonderful that made me feel. Pure joy!

A dear friend of mine and I so loved playing trumpet that within a year we progressed beyond the scale exercises of school band to playing Al Hirt’s hit “Java” as a duet in front of the whole school. We certainly weren’t child prodigies—we just loved to make music! In the midst of my concern about my first public performance, the joy of making music for others and for myself was overwhelming.

I was lucky to get that very old trumpet. It was much easier to play than the new student horns that were available to rent. If I’d had to struggle with my instrument at the beginning, I might have given up.

This vintage B&K amp packs a powerful listening punch.

What reminded me of this childhood story was an old amp that a client recently gave me. It was beaten up pretty badly, scratched and dented, with an unintelligible label on the back. It would certainly have been overlooked on a shelf of old electronics. But just listen to what reviewer J. Gordon Holt said about it in Stereophile magazine back in 1995: “At $395 [$717 in 2021 dollars], the B&K ST-140 is the amplifier of choice for the perfectionist on a tightish budget. It is a veritable triumph of design, and perhaps the most cost-effective amplifier I know of.”

He was comparing it to amps that cost thousands back then! Even today, this old amp is a musical treasure. I just cleaned it up, and now it will give someone with almost no budget a chance to hear their music at its finest. A first step into a lifetime of that musical joy!

If you are running on a tight budget and own a cheap system, it can keep that musical joy from you. It’s better to start with a grand old used treasure or an obscure brand known for its sound. So if you inherit equipment, don’t judge it by its appearance. Get help to appraise its musical performance and match it with equipment that’s sophisticated enough to bring you that joy. The money you save can be put toward a more refined source or better speakers.

Here’s what can happen if you don’t go for the quality of the music first:

  1. Purchasing an inexpensive system that’s incapable of musical subtlety starts decades of moving from system to system based on vague dissatisfaction without gaining much improvement.
  2. Stocking the house with small, powerful speakers may fill each room with sound, but that can never give the music any subtlety. No goosebumps, no joy.
  3. Seeking help from a friend or salesperson who builds a system based on their tastes rather than yours can result in one that doesn’t mesh with the musical qualities that are important to you. Musical satisfaction can evade you for years, even after lots of expensive upgrades.

The bottom line is that it’s not about buying new or used or current or old. It’s about joy. Listen for live. Listen for life. Then notice if you’re experiencing that joy. And there is no better time than now.  That’s the right time to treat yourself to the Joy of Refined Music. Music that comes to life!