Wednesday, September 9, 2009
yo-yo #'s 58 & 59: freehand Mg's
one of my most persistent memories of autumn 2005 is of playing that g-d "duncan boy: around the world" video game. remember? it was a big promotion by duncan. you played their video game (on their site, of course), and every week they announced a batch of prize-winners. said prizes ranged in value from their shrink-wrapped t-shirts to their "hardcore" plastic line to... the illustrious... freehand mg. although it would have been cool to win anything, the mg was the only prize i really wanted, and i'd be lying if i said that, month after month, i didn't feel a twinge of jealous anger as i watched other folks score them (among them my good friend, joey fleshman - JERK!!!)
i played that game... WAY too much. i even got really ridiculously good at it, and by november, my name occupied like 7 of the top 10 hi-scores. (this is depressing to look back upon and admit, because it was not a good game.) edit: i found it. try it out here.
the freehand mg had made its debut at the world yo-yo contest a year before. rumor of it had circulated through the boards for some time, nudged lightly by the postings of its architect, steve brown. released as part of duncan's 75th anniversary extravaganza, the mg was to catapult the standard of "yo-yo luxury" to new heights. though it was supposed by many to be more a marketing ploy than anything else, it ended up a spectacular player, easily better (in my opinion) than anything made by duncan before or since.
the most brilliant move steve made in creating the mg was commissioning the great shinobu konmoto (s. kon) to hand-craft it. sure, it came in a big wooden box, and yeah, it had a bunch of special-edition counterweights, and it had that fancy ceramic bearing, but big deal. shinobu is THE quintessential yo-yo craftsman. anyone who knows anything about the highest standard of yo-yo's knows his name, due to his creation of multiple "world mod contest" award-winning pieces, including "nostalgia", held by many to be the single most aesthetically incredible yo-yo ever made. although the work of eric wolff is admittedly "more my style", s. kon's use of crazy materials (origami paper? a coke can?) and intense dedication to his craft more than qualify him to be referred to as the world's pre-eminent modder. my favorite of his creations (which i have only seen in pictures) has to be the "revolver", which is itself, a raw freehand mg encased in form-fitting leather. try as i might, i cannot imagine a more exquisite yo-yo.
the mg was forged (rather than machined) from 99% magnesium, with around 1% other goo (and stuff) to help stabilize it. raw magnesium is, of course, highly flammable, so there was some discussion as to whether the 1% would offset any risk of blowing up one's house. i can't say i know the science there, but having owned 5 mg's (and having walked the dog hard with one), i haven't destroyed anything besides my preconceptions regarding what "a fine yo-yo" is.
for april fool's day in 2005, dave's skill toys ingeniously photoshopped a "museum of yo-yo history" mg pic into a radioactive neon green, changing the caps to read "freehand Pu", and put it on the storefront for $1,000,000. several idiots on the skill toys board were convinced (in some cases for years) that there was, in fact, a plutonium freehand. some even e-mailed steve about it. i wish i could find that picture.
the first run of mg's came in two colorways: a sparkly red powdercoat (which remains my favorite yo-yo color EVER, and directly inspired the special edition flying v's to follow this post) and a clear anodized silver. initially i assumed the latter was just raw magnesium, but having seen steve's prototype mg's, which have developed a beautiful oxidized patina, it's clear that their coated (lol - get it? ok that was dumb). a few years later (after duncan sold out of the first run - 250 of each color?), they released another series in either blue sparkle or black ano. the 2nd run differed from the first structurally in that on one side, the response area was recessed. by 2006, recessed pads had become all the rage, and the mg's flat response area was becoming outmoded. they also had new caps, which were awful.
the first mg that i ever played was actually one of the black ones. i was at va states 2006, and the aforementioned joey fleshman asked to use my metal yo-yo (an hspin g&e2), which i handed over slightly grudgingly. joey nonchalantly passed me what i assumed was a non-descript freehand, white zero caps and all. after a few throws, i was totally mystified as to how this zero easily outplayed my good & evil. it was absolutely smooth, the response was perfect, and it seemed to grind forever. i told joey as much, and he said "well it ought to be good - it's an mg!" i was so shocked, i almost dropped the thing right there. he used fhz caps so that no one would be inclined to steal it out of his case, which i found both wise and slightly depressing.
i refer to that experience often when i hear someone say the mg plays just like a fhz... yeah... like the best one you've ever played times a thousand. the mg uses the same guts as the other freehands, but the weight distribution is TOTALLY different. the tolerances of magnesium compared to that of plastic enable a level of smoothness that's TOTALLY different. even the material itself feels cold and alien and strangely refreshing (even compared to aluminum yo-yo's). if you honestly can't tell a difference between them... you need some more experience before making sweeping pronouncements. no one who has spent a significant amount of time with a freehand mg AND a plastic freehand has ever tried to convince me that they play the same. granted, the differences might not be valuable to you at all.
there are lots of fine reasons to want a yo-yo, the most obvious of which is certainly the level of play. people want a yo-yo that will enable them to yo-yo as "well" as they can... but even that takes on different subtleties. most kids i know would say they want a yo-yo that "lets" them do the hardest tricks they know, preferably with ease. that outlook has never much appealed to me. i think it's useful to push the limits of your play, but it's also useful to try yo-yo's that make you work. these mg's handle anything i throw at them, but neither is as easy to set up or work with as any number of modern aluminum models. it's just as reasonable to want a yo-yo that makes you feel a certain way, which is definitely the case with me and these yo-yo's (actually... probably MOST of my yo-yo's). the value of a thing isn't always directly tied to its utility... or at least that utility isn't always defined so linearly.
people get really worked up over the mg, i think because of its outlandish retail price. the natural assumption is that, since it's the most expensive thing out there (or one of them), it needs to play "better" than everything else or it amounts to a colossal waste of money. the issue with that is that there is no "better" than than everything else. the best feeling i've ever taken from playing yo-yo has been with a beat-to-hell 20 year-old wood one. i wouldn't sell it for $1000, let alone $400... but that doesn't make it worth a damn to anyone else. i've had just as much FUN playing imperials as this mg, but somehow, that fact doesn't make me regret paying a lot for the latter (nor would i pay more than $3 for an imperial - weird). virtually every performance yo-yo on the market now can outplay the mg by SOME standard, but those standards are all as artificial and subjective as the ones we use to judge between this or that yo-yo player.
the mg costs $400 (at least), but it's "worth" what it's worth to you. mg's almost NEVER resell for retail on the boards or on e-bay. they aren't really a good financial investment; certainly in the short term. but that's not really why you buy it. i like the way mg's play. they have a weird, undefinable character that you don't find anywhere else, and which i vastly prefer to any other duncan (including the screaming eagle line). i also like them for the nostalgia, and for the community's fervor around the time of their release. it reminds me of a time when, imo, duncan and its crew was the most exciting thing in yo-yoing. i likewise associate those memories with that time when yo-yoing was at its coolest (and still pretty new to me). playing the mg rekindles those feelings, and that's "worth" it to me.
the first mg i actually acquired was the red one you see here. i bought it from steve as he began selling off some of the arsenal that had taken over his attic in 2006. i've played it alot, but it's only got one legitimate ding, which it earned in its first hour of play at the playground my daughter and i used to frequent. at some point thereafter, i picked up a "spare" red, which i ended up relinquishing. i just purchased another for cheap, but am not likely to hang on to it. the black one has a great texture, but i don't play it as much (i'm not a big grinder). since i first saw them, i DETESTED the 2nd run's caps, and so i've made sure that all of my mg's get a pair of the o.g.'s, which i find classy and understated. some guys prefer to rock their mg's nude, but for me the bright white caps and their contrast with the yo-yo's body is a big part of the aesthetic appeal.
sometimes, i'll admit, i get caught up in the "value", myself. i look at these two yo-yo's and i think "over $800 (though i can't actually say i paid that)! that's the per capita gnp for some of the world's poorest nations! and i have it allocated to TWO YO-YO'S???" it is pretty striking, and it underscores the ridiculous ways in which i've spent my money... but then - so does the rest of my collection, and if you're reading this, so does yours, (probably, to some extent). it's natural to hold a really expensive yo-yo like this and feel guilty for having it. it represents a lot of roast beef sandwiches. maybe i should sell them all and donate the proceeds to charity, right? the mg's inherent extravagance naturally engenders these feelings.
but it's not necessary to abandon all material possessions in order to be a good, giving person. if we, who can afford expensive toys are honest with ourselves, and are willing to recognize our privilege, using it to do a little good in the world, then that may be enough. playing yo-yo isn't yachting or car collecting (the $800 pricetag of a pair of mg's wouldn't buy me so much as a steering wheel in those hobbies). it's important to apply some perspective, and in fact, keeping a nice yo-yo as a sort of talisman might even encourage one to live a little more generously (wishful thinking maybe?).
i dunno... these mg's are going to sit somewhere. better, i tell myself, that they sit somewhere they're appreciated, played, and enjoyed. better that they bring some joy out of someone, who can then pass it on and share it with the world. better that they make me aware of my blessings, many and varied as they are, that i may be more willing to give of my joy, my time, myself.
one thing is certain to me: i don't feel like withholding any aspect myself when i play them.
... and you can't put a price tag on that.