Roger Modjeski Obituary

You know what my father said
Well I’m not going to tell you
Some words that I try to live by
It’s none of your goddamn business

-John Hiatt / Shredding the Document

I wrestled with myself about writing this, I really did. I have known and worked and fought with Roger Modjeski since the 1990s. He has been an immense influence on my life as I know I was on his. He was brilliant. He was generous. He was greedy. He was visionary. He was shortsighted.

He was my friend & I’m truly sorry he left this world so soon.

This is not an attempt to tell Roger’s life story. It’s more of  stream of consciousness obituary. If any dates  or the timeline of events are incorrect, who gives a shit? And, I’m not telling anything that I wouldn’t have said in Roger’s presence. We had an occasionally difficult relationship but an honest one and we were always civil toward one another during our battles.

Roger grew up in Richmond, Virginia, the son of the dean of the dental school at UVA, Peter Modjeski. I mention Roger’s father because it was he who got Roger interested in electronics, tubes and circuit design when Roger was little more than five years old. When Audio Advisor wanted a photo of Roger to include in their catalog, Roger wanted to use the photo of him at six, sitting in his pajamas with the first tube amplifier he ever designed, a single-ended triode, of course. He was a surprisingly outdoorsy kid, loving to fish the local rivers and streams. Roger spoke many times of grilling fresh fish and making hush puppies out in the woods near his family’s home.

Roger experienced a very strong push & pull toward the last of the 1970s that ended with him in California, first working at IBM and later at his then dream job with Harold Beveridge. Bev used Roger’s abilities wisely (for the most part) and Roger developed the RM-1/2 preamp and power supply while he was at the company but soon thereafter Roger felt the push and pull, again that only going into business for oneself can satisfy.

RAM Labs came first, followed by RAM Tube works and finally Music Reference. I heard my first Music Reference product at Brooks Berdans’ store in Monrovia way back when. A few years later I was publishing The Audio Observatory. Being an admirer of his designs, I always sent an issue to Roger. At some point, he wrote me a letter, inviting me to meet with him in Santa Barbara.

RAM 1

Really, though, the real Roger came through in the bit of verse he included on a separate page.

RAM 2

I say the real Roger, but I really meant that this was Roger as he could be, and as I know he strove to be. But, it was hard for him to sustain this kind of sensitivity and reflectiveness, especially when it came to his business.

RAM Labs was born at the perfect time. Had it started a decade later few would have valued his properly tested tubes and engineering rigor. But, in the early 80s folks were just beginning to yearn for it and the attraction to his tubes, once established, continues to this day. Music Reference was founded on Roger’s personal investment of $4,000. That cash built the first run of RM-4 pre-pres and the rest is history.

One of the reasons I sold The Audio Observatory was to go to work for Roger. I’m not sorry I did it though nothing turned out like I expected (does it ever?). Roger detested the processes of building gear as much as he loved designing and prototyping it. The RM-10 was born of his desire to build both an eco-friendly amp and one that got way more power out of a humble pair of EL84 output tubes. Given the right speakers, it sounded (and sounds) spectacular. Its small size kept it from being as respected as it should have been but to those who know there’s no amp anything like it designed or built anywhere.

The RM-200 was my idea. I waxed lyrical to Roger about my Audio Research D-70 MkII and what I regarded (and still regard) as the magic of two 6550s in a hard-driven circuit. Roger listened to me, and he listened to the D-70 MkII. Still, the ARC offended his sensibilities. The driver and input stage were overly complex and the 6550s were simply driven too hard. One day, Roger asked me if a reverse hybrid, one with a balanced solid-state input driving (you guessed it…a pair of 6550s) would have any appeal. I asked him how much it would cost and he said we could sell it for $1850. That number fit nicely with the RM-9 MkII so I loved the idea. Well, by the time the RM-200 hit the market it cost nearly $3000.

Why? Because Roger hated the process so much that he kept raising the price, even before the amp was available and even though out best dealers and distributors had placed cash deposits based on the old price. The truth was that building the RM-200 was fairly easy (especially compared to the RM-9 MkII). Still, it nearly killed Roger and I do not exaggerate. His doctor advised him no fewer than twice to abandon the project and sell the company if he wanted to preserve his health. The RM-200 was everything it was designed to be though a lot of people just didn’t get it. It broke too many rules, spoiled too many assumptions about hybrids, and feeding tubes with transistors. Though we knew selling it would be an uphill battle, the reception (save for Stereophile’s Class A Recommendation) was hurtful to both of us. The price increase simply killed that amp and prevented it from being the unusual classic it could have easily been.

By the time I moved on from RAM Labs we were basically out of the equipment game. There was nothing being built. We had RM-9 SEs on hand and a smattering of RM-4 but that was it. The RM-5, the RM-10 and the RM-200 were all in suspended animation at that point. I had grown tired of making promises to dealers and especially our distributor in Singapore who had made a sizable investment in our gear and tubes. As Roger admitted to me one day, “It’s hard not having anything in your cart to sell.”

I visited Roger a few times while he was still in Santa Barbara and we always had fun hanging out and chatting, never about business. By then, he was building his custom SE stuff. That had been a kind of dream for him for a long time; build one, sell one. You see for Roger, the joy was in The Study as he called it. That was his process of going from inspiration to finished circuit. That was the part he loved and it had nothing whatever to do with business. Most high end companies are the opposite. The designs fly together, be they good or not so good, and then move on to production. It’s time to sell the damn thing is the collective battle cry of the high end.

Roger was caught between those two desires. He believed his real value was as a designer and, of course, it was. He used to say, “Why can’t I just design it and someone else build it?” That made sense, but in the end it was always his company and the idea of prototyping something let alone moving it on toward manufacture without him was unsound. Still, the glory of his designs do and will endure. The RM-10, the RM-9, the RM-5 and the Counterpoint SA-4 are among the most enduring high end products ever; and for good reason.

RAM 3

RAM 4

This Christmas card from way back when will always be how I remember Roger Modjeski. Working alongside him was many things, including fun. I will always wish that we could have accomplished more, with Music Reference especially. But, in the end, we did what we could and we did it our way. I know all of the owners of Music Reference gear will treasure their gear all the more now that he has slipped away from us. For myself, I wish only for one more sunny day in Santa Barbara with him, sitting outside one of our favorite restaurants, talking about the high end and music and life.

 

Roger Modjeski Obituary

The Truth About Drinking & Writing

The truth is that I don’t know very many hard truths about drinking and writing, or even exactly why writers tend to drink. That said, I will say that many of the learned explanations I’ve read don’t show much understanding, let alone truths either.

No less an authority than Psychology Today included gems like:

the drive for success of every kind

the hunger for prestige, fame, and money

Naw, that ain’t it…

Anyway, I do have some ideas (better ideas than those, anyway).

Crafting the Buzz

You’re a wordsmith, that’s great. And, if you drink when you write you also have to be a buzzsmith (yes, I did just invent that word) because too much alcohol, and this is news to no one, blunts perception, true sensitivity and the ability to articulate ideas.

But, what about just enough alcohol? Well, that’s a different story. I contend that, for me, just enough alcohol, just as it facilitates some conversations, facilitates access to ideas and word combinations that may well be elusive in a state of total sobriety.

The general accepted idea is that judgment is the first faculty to be affected by alcohol. But, think about what judgment can mean when applied to writing. It’s easy for judgment to become self-judgment, and self-judgment is very effective in closing down new and novel ways to think about things. Since when has that helped the writing process? There’s a chance that just enough alcohol can open the very doors that need to be open for the ideas to flow their best.

But there’s something else, too.

A Foil Against Writing-Induced Loneliness

I cannot tell you how many times people have asked me how I can spend so much time alone and writing, owing to my basically chatty nature. It’s not only difficult but it runs against some of my most basic instincts to be around other people and talking. When my office is quiet, and it’s dark outside, my first impulse is to call someone on the phone. But, if there’s something I want to write I need to replace that temptation for a while. I start with a snack and follow it with a drink. If I make good progress, I may have another drink, but that’s it.

The law of diminishing returns sets in after two drinks.

Is a Rum & Coke So Different From a Xanax?

When I get home from a long day and a hundred miles or more of driving and I need to write, I’m also going to want a drink. That’s the just the truth without a proclamation of pride or shame. I admit it’s an ongoing balancing act. I admit that I have also written effectively when sober as a proverbial judge. And, sadly very close friends of mine have had their lives ended by the ravages of alcoholism.

So Where Does that Leave Writers and Alcohol?

Writing, like living, is an art. There’s simply no rule book that governs the creative process. I can only say that I seek balance. I want to write. I want to see people and enjoy their company. I want to have a couple drinks and enjoy people and writing sometimes even more when I do without.

All of that said, I want to do all of this safely, in a way that protects me and everyone else. That can be the hard part but it’s also the most important part of all.

Enjoy & create, but take good care of yourself while you’re doing it.

 

The Truth About Drinking & Writing

Which Arm Should Power the Golf Swing?

 

When I was a kid, my father (who was a really, really good player) told me I had too much right hand in my golf swing and that it resulted in my then-constant slice. This was sadly not one of my father’s better golf lessons and it took me years to learn that the opposite was true.

Now, the funny thing is that even though I know this, I sometimes find myself driving the downswing, and even initiating my takeaway, using the energy and force of my left arm.

Trying to avoid this tendency got me thinking (seldom a good thing when it comes to golf, but a really good thing in this case) about what some Youtube golf gurus had to say on the subject. The first video is from Steve Johnston and the fun starts at around the three minute mark. Johnston actually says that, “The left arm just hangs and is inert until the right arm stretches it and creates leverage.” The crucial part lasts about three minutes and is worth watching again and again to get the idea to fully penetrate thicker heads like mine.

Next, up is Martin Chuck in this video from way back in 2011. Roll forward to the forty second mark and you’ll hear him say that, “The left arm just hangs.”

Now I know both arms work together in every good golf swing. But, I also know that I tend to let my left arm take over both in effort and feel. I’m right handed and I know my right arm is stronger and more coordinated than my left. But still, I need to relearn this lesson far more often than you would think.

Hey, I’m trying…

When I allow the right arm to do its correct share of the work, the club’s path back and into the downswing is both easier and tidier, for lack of a better word. Also critical is what Johnston says about pulling, specifically when he says outright that there’s no pulling with the left arm.

Again, I know I’m guilty of that more than I care to admit. When it comes to golf, reminders from those who know better are great to have and frequently needed (by me, anyway).

 

 

 

Which Arm Should Power the Golf Swing?

Everything’s easy, right?

I’ve not been around lately because I am trying to make hay while the sunshines on my second book. It’s coming along nicely, thanks for asking. I have an outside chance of finishing the narrative by my self-imposed deadline of December 31 of this year.

It’ll be close but I might just make it.

Anyway, I was having lunch with a preternaturally nervous and stressed friend yesterday. Does he deserve to be as wound up as he is? I don’t think so but it’s pretty much his natural state. He’s a little better some days and worse others.

We were parked at the bar of the local CPK and he asked why I wasn’t having a beer. I told him CPK had a lousy tap list. They used to make mixed drinks with Pepsi, for heaven’s sake.

He said, “I wonder why some of the local brewers don’t just get a keg in here. It would be easy.”

“Easy?” I said incredulously.

“Wouldn’t it be?” he said naively.

Before I not-so-gently corrected him I reminded myself who he was and how he thought. For him, everything is always simple and easy as long as someone else is doing it. I try to remind him that pretty much anything worth doing is located on the Hard Scale somewhere between difficult and impossible but he’s quite resistant to the reality of all things worthwhile.

Writing a book? Easy until you try.

Brewing a decent red ale? Easy until you try.

Learning a new language? Easy until you try.

Admitting something’s hard shouldn’t scare us away from doing it. We only have to care enough to take the steps that need taking, day after day.

Simple, right?

Just remember that simple isn’t easy.

 

 

Everything’s easy, right?

Rosemark Neo & Wide Top putter grip review

I realize most people don’t get excited about putter grips.

But, I think they should, if they want to make a more consistent stroke while applying less grip pressure. Grips are the only point of contact a player has with the club and you need the very best connection with your putter, the ultimate scoring (or non-scoring) club.

The first time I tried a Rosemark grip four years ago I was hooked.

There was no adjustment period, nothing to get used to, the grip just felt better from the first moment I used it. My assumption was that I liked the material, especially the microfiber underlayment and the polymer nubs.

There are at least two secrets to Rosemark grips.

The first is shape. Mark Cokewell head honcho at Rosemark told me the cross-sectional shape of the grip is the result of mapping the hand’s points of contact with the grip. The other secret, especially on the older versions I have used for the last few years, is the combination of the microfiber foundation and the polymer nubs I mention above.

Rosemark

Mark Cokewell had this to say about his latest models.

“The Wide Top is a non taper non pistol hexagon grip that was designed around the contact points of the hands. It has a wider face thus the name Wide Top. We came out with the Wide Top early 2018 and it has won three times on the LPGA so far. Jasmine Sawannapura (Marathon Classic) and Brooke Henderson (Lotte in Hawaii and Meijer in Grand Rapids). All of our grips except the 7Teen are available in both MFS (Microfiber Silicon) with the beads AND Neo (Neoprene) smooth. The Neo grip material is super high tech and stays tacky when cold/wet or with sweaty hands. It won’t get slippery when dirty and it’s washable although it rarely needs to be cleaned. It will last at least twice as long as a PU material grip (SuperStroke). The MFS grip has a Microfiber base with silicon beads added to enhance feel and tackiness. The Microfiber wicks away moisture while the beads provide the tack. A synthetic breathable coating is applied last to enhance tackiness where the beads are sans. The areas of the grip void of beads are super receptor areas where the finger tips and thumbs make contact with the grip. This feature provides better tactile feedback of the ball coming off the face of the putter and aides the golfer to develop a better sense of pace on putts and also feel when putts are hit off center.”

Grips installed

Here are the original Rosemark designs on my gamers and two of their new designs.

The Neo is second from right and the MFS Wide Top is second from left. Me? I could make putts with any of them but I must say that the Neo is really growing on me. I thought I would miss the nubs (Mark Cokewell calls ’em beads, by the way) but I didn’t.

In the end, it may be that the overriding benefit of using Rosemark grips is the cross- sectional geometry that, for me, makes it not only easier to set my grip pressure and forget it but also to enjoy superior feel in all weather.

Still, I love the texture of all of the Rosemark grips, so I think that’s  huge issue, too. A grip that feels better will perform better in the same way that a club that looks better behind the ball is likely to result in better ball striking. The materials and designs employed by Rosemark allow their grips to convey a lot about the quality of the strike. And, the better the strike the more likely your putt is to stay on its line and roll the distance you need. I have not used any other grip that gives me the feel of a putt, whether long or short, anywhere near as well.

Why be uncomfortable when you can be so, so comfortable?

Go out there and make some putts!

https://www.rosemarkgrips.com

Rosemark Neo & Wide Top putter grip review

The Rosemarks are installed, so let’s talk about the thrilling topic of Grip Solvent!

Yes, they’re perfectly aligned.

Yes, they’re fully seated.

Yes, I am a little too precise with this regripping thing and I’m not sure why.

I’m not even going to burden you with a blow-by-blow account of my grip replacement protocol.

Instead, let’s talk about grip solvent. I know, that’s some nasty, boring stuff.

IMG_1622

For years, I’ve used the Clubmaker brand, though I always disliked the smell and its tendency to cling to my hands even after repeated washings. So, I decided to try Wedge Guys grip solvent. It was reputed to smell better or at least less bad.

It’s true. It doesn’t smell bad at all and the order doesn’t seem to linger in the air as long as Clubmaker.

But…

There’s a problem. It also isn’t quite as uniformly slick when you’re installing the grip, no matter how much is used. It’s like there are slick spots and sticky spots and this is no good especially when you’re installing expensive grips.

Also…

The stuff dries very slowly and, this is a weird one, stays a little slimy even after it’s been on a grip for weeks.

How do I know this?

I know because I removed a few grips weeks after I installed them and the grip caps were still slimy and almost damp. Remember, this is SoCal so it’s both hot and dry.

So, my experiment is over…I’m sticking with Clubmakers.

Sorry, Wedge Guys!

The Rosemarks are installed, so let’s talk about the thrilling topic of Grip Solvent!

The new Rosemark Grips have arrived!

Grips

Regular readers know I am a huge fan of Rosemark grips.

I have been a believer in Rosemark since 2016 and I use their grips in all my putters.

I am very excited to learn if these new grips can meet or possibly exceed the standard set by the original Rosemark designs that I’ve used with great success.

Only time will tell.

They new ones look great and I’ll be installing them pursuant to my usual obsessive-compulsive grip installation standards later this afternoon.

 

The new Rosemark Grips have arrived!