Testing one, two, three! : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Testing one, two, three!

Miracles in meerschaum: the mic pipes

by Ian Punnett

Photo by Joe Brandmeier

Photo by Joe Brandmeier

“The man has great pipes.”

No greater compliment can be paid to the voice of a professional broadcaster than “The man has great pipes.” I should know. As a lifelong veteran of local morning radio and syndicated overnight shows, those words of awe and respect have never been said about my voice. Compared to most air personalities and authoritative newspeople, I sound like a cartoon character.

But as any pipe smoker knows, any man can have great pipes if (a) he is willing to spend enough money, (b) he goes to the right estate sales or (c) he knows a world-class pipe carver. I have gotten to know Burak Servi, and he and his Turkish team work miracles in meerschaum.

And it would take miracle workers to bring my dream of “mic pipes”—inspired by radio’s most iconic microphone designs—to life.

Like most decent miracles, mine started with a vision. I indulge my love of pipe smoking ritualistically, on special nights when the heavens are clear, when the business of the day needs the perfect capstone before bedtime. It was on such a night last year as I was looking up at the stars, drawing some dark mocha smoke from my favorite, GDB magnum-sized bent briar, when I had a vision of a classic studio microphone that was also a pipe. As I smoked my briar, I reflected on the recent news from my doctor that I was going to have give up my full-time radio career if I ever wanted to see any progress with my severe, omnipresent tinnitus (a permanent whistle-buzz in my ears). If I could no longer be behind a mic for a living, I imagined, at least I could be behind a mic pipe for life.

Classic mics and classic pipes have a natural connection, of course. Orson Wells, Walter Cronkite and Daniel Schorr are just a few of the legends from the golden age of radio and early TV pictured in publicity shots broadcasting in a cloud of pipe smoke. In fact, it’s hard to tell what’s more beautiful in those old black and white photos, those amazing microphones or those elegant pipes.

For example, the RCA 77 Series microphone, popularized in the 1930s by the RCA Corporation, might be what most people picture if you asked them, “What does a microphone look like?” With its distinctive capsule-shaped design that appears at home either hanging upside down from a boom or sitting up for a newscast on a mic stand, wherever you see the distinct outline of an RCA 77 Series mic, you know it means “speak here.” If you ever need a reminder of the endurance of that symbolic shape, just look at the “mute” button on your nearest iPhone.

“In the late 1950s it is reported that all three major networks were using the 77 microphone,” says Steve Raymer, director of the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting in St. Louis Park, Minn., a showcase for early radio and television technology. “Plus any recording studio that RCA or Columbia were involved with [was] using the 77. It doesn’t hurt that both Larry King and David Letterman have 77s on their desk. People identify with the images they grew up with.”

So sacred is the silhouette of the RCA 77 Series to me that I felt like it was an almost holy obligation to either get the detail of a mic pipe, honoring it perfectly, or not have the carving done at all. It would take tremendous service from a true artist. And as I know now, you cannot spell service without “Servi.” Burak Servi is the co-proprietor of www.meerschaummarket.com, a manufacturers’ representative of Turkish craftsmen and a proud inheritor of Turkey’s meerschaum pipe tradition.

“During the late 1800s and the early 1900s, meerschaum was mined here in Eskisehir, Turkey, and exported to Vienna, Austria,” Servi says. “The Turkish government banned the exportation of raw stone in the 1930s and wanted to take the art (of meerschaum carving) to Turkey. So Austrian artists came to Turkey and trained talented Turkish boys who were going to be the master carvers of the future. Since the 1930s, meerschaum is only mined and carved in Turkey in my city of Eskisehir, and the art [has] been transferred from generation to generation.”

Burak Servi himself was one of those generations continuing the Turkish tradition. “In 1978, my father started this meerschaum business, and with the help of me and my brother, who were in the United States during the 1980s, the business grew in a short time. My brother and I were attending shows and doing door-to-door smoke shop marketing. So this was a family business. My brother and I were marketing worldwide, and my father in Turkey was in charge of the production.”

The intricate, inventive and often whimsical production of the meerschaum pipes pictured on Servi’s website convinced me that these Turkish artisans could transubstantiate my divine vision into stone. I considered finding a wood carver, but, as Servi says, “Unlike briar, meerschaum is a mineral (hydrous magnesium silicate) that is light and more comfortable for smoking. Also it is more suitable for carving and creating great art [that] is unique and belongs to Eskisehir only.”

So, I emailed Servi some color photos of the RCA 77 Series mic and my specs for a pipe. The way I saw it in my head, the bowl would consist of just the top two-thirds of the mic so it wouldn’t be too big, heavy and awkward, while the heel of the bowl would be cut so it would stand flat on my desk. Also, I wanted the arms of the microphone’s bracket to pull back and form the shank of the pipe. At first, I thought it might be too much to ask, but Servi assured me that he had the perfect man for the job. “This is a great idea. F. Can is one of my carvers, and he loves to do things like this, something new and something no one has made before.”

Read the rest of the story by subscribing to Pipes and tobaccos magazine or the online digital edition.

Tags: , ,

Category: Feature Article, Pipe Articles, Spring 2013

About cstanion: View author profile.

Comments are closed.