Poly Inserts-The Never Ending Debate
Alright, folks, during the time that I have been writing for BTB, Kris has asked me to keep a neutral stance. Don't pick sides, don't try to get too involved in any type of controversial stuff. Just write good pieces that you as readers will enjoy and benefit from. I think I'm going to stray a bit from that today, but still be as informative as possible.
The topic has been debated, yes, "beating a dead horse" debated, on most all call trader and call making sites of call makers using Echo inserts. So I figured I would write up a short little piece explaining what MOST call makers have issue with regarding this, and why that is. Remember, I say most. There are some folks who don’t care, and some who are going to belly ache about "Echo stuffers" any way they go about it.
First off, let me start by saying that I am not against someone using a pre-made insert. Echo sells more of their molded poly inserts to call makers to use in a year's time than I will ever sell calls in my lifetime. There's a couple reasons for that: it’s a dang good sounding insert, and it allows someone to become a call maker at an entry level. Entry level being the key word.
Some guys never intend to move on from this level, and that’s fine. There is room in the big pond of call making for all sizes of fish to swim. Using these inserts can benefit a beginner in a couple different ways, too. It allows someone just starting out to get some lathe time, develop some turning and finishing techniques, and maybe sell a few calls to help offset the expense of getting into turning calls. I don’t think most folks realize how expensive it is to get into call making at first, especially if you start out with better equipment and intentions to be in it for the long haul. Myself, I have 3 lathes, a duplicator that I use to turn barrels, 7 custom jigs that vary in price up to $325 each, tons of materials in stock, band saw, and a drill press, not counting what I've spent over the years in wasted materials for prototypes, sand paper, and other stuff. So, as a beginner turns a barrel, he can use a pre-made insert. And there are tons of them out there now, not just Echo. He (or she) is learning how to turn wood quickly and efficiently, learning how to apply various finishes, and is able to pocket a little money in return. As he develops his call making skills, he can then develop his own toneboard, and use the same money to help pay for a custom jig of his own design. And I will always recommend someone starting out working on their own board to use a flat jig. It may take longer to get an end result, but you will know more about what makes a call function this way, and be a better call maker in the long run.
Here, now, is where the varying of opinions usually come into play. Maybe you were aware of Echo selling their poly insert to call makers, maybe you weren't. And here is a possible reason why. There are guys all over Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and all of the call trader pages selling "custom" calls with a hand turned barrel (or in some cases, even a CNC barrel) and a pre made polycarbonate insert. And they like to throw in buzz words in their sales pitch about hand turned, or the big one lately is hand tuned. And, now I don’t want to seem petty about what someone else prices their product at, I've seen them selling for $80 on up to $300+ in some instances. Here's my problems with it. What makes a duck call is the insert, period. Barrel length will change a duck call slightly to a skilled caller, but most callers will never know the difference. Same with barrel material. Wood will be maybe a fraction quieter than a harder material, but the sound comes from the insert. So these guys are selling Echo inserts for more than what Echo sells them for. A quick search shows you can buy the insert directly from Echo for $6, or buy the insert in a barrel made of diamond wood for $56. Yes, it may seem petty, but to someone who truly makes a custom call, it’s a bit of an insult. And the inserts come from Echo (or any other pre-made insert maker) tuned and ready to go. In the case of Echo, they're tuned by guys who are contest callers, some of the best in the world, including World Champions. Why would you need to re-tune the damn thing? Do you really think you're going to improve upon that? And I haven't even brought up the misrepresentation of what the insert is actually made from. Lots of guys call them acrylic instead of polycarbonate. Big difference. I believe there is a company out there that makes an insert that looks almost identical to the traditional Echo insert that may be a poured acrylic instead of polycarbonate, but it is not in any way the same as a cast acrylic insert turned from acrylic rod. There is a ton of deception in the way these guys market their calls, and folks unknowingly fall for it.
Anyone who has asked me in the past, and I've had several folks ask, which is why I decided to write this, I've told them price point and simply being honest about what you are selling are the two biggest factors in folks appreciating what you are doing and your "for sale" post turning into a meme war that you end up deleting. I'd be willing to bet that if you simply stated in an upfront manner that you are a beginner, using Echo to learn the tricks of the trade and help offset tooling and costs, people will go out of their way to help you out. They'll buy a call from you and add it to their collection as a "before" call, and later come back to buy an "after" call. I've seen it happen a ton. Waterfowlers as a whole are a generous bunch. Just look at all of the benefit stuff you see from call makers and call collectors alike to help someone in need. When you start your sales pitch off as a custom hand turned call for a ridiculous price, you've opened up a can of worms you won't likely get the lid back on any time soon. Sell them for, say, $60 max, be up front about the insert you're using, ask customers to give the finish on the barrel a good examination, and tell them to be honest with you about what they see. You will learn to take some feedback as well, since in today's society, everyone thinks they need a trophy and haven't been told often enough they've screwed up in some way. Believe me, I've gotten my share of messages when I first got into this about things I did wrong. And there are definitely some awful MiGs floating around I wish I had back. I'd even be willing to bet there are several that simply got chunked because they weren't what the customer was expecting. But I learned from it, and got better.
I can promise you, as a call maker myself, keep this in mind as a customer, and call maker alike. Watch the posts on the pages, see how guys who keep their stuff hones and reasonably priced are treated. See how the guys that post their stuffed calls up for $85 or more get treated. There's a stark contrast in the two. Lots of times other call makers offer advice to the guy who's honest, give him words of encouragement. And most often, the guy who is overpriced is awfully quick to be defensive when someone asks about what it is he's actually selling. Keep an eye on the folks who are honest about it. In a few years they'll be the ones making calls that provide memories for a father and his son, and the other guy won't even be around any more. Remember, after all, it is about the memories we make.