Saturday, 8 February 2014

stringing all day

". . . word had got around about the way US players were stringing their axes, Duane Eddy and Eddie Cochran had told of how players would buy a regular set of strings and an extra first or banjo string, move them one over and throw away the bottom string. This opened a whole new world to us." Albert Lee (quoted in 17 Watts? The Birth of British Rock Guitar)

Once a secret has been given away, everyone can take advantage of it. Rock'n'Roll changed the World - for better or worse we'll never know. However, the guitar has always been a prominent part of the sound - and, indeed, look - of it. Whilst many jazzers continue to string their guitars with telegraph wire, strings for most players seem to have got ever skinnier. Perhaps there's a correlation with ties but that's for another time.

As a youngster in school, like many others before and since, I sat in lessons bored to tears. I would sit drawing wild designs for improbable-looking guitars on every scrap of paper and most exercise books much to the chagrin of my exasperated teachers. At home, I would cut out the images of guitars from the Bell Guitar Catalogue (I must have sent off for hundreds of them from the adverts in the back pages of Melody Maker) and carefully stick them to equally as badly cut out pieces of cardboard from various Cornflake packets. I would adorn my Action Man with them and vicariously imagine myself looking like them on stage in some future Rock'n'Roll World. They probably looked much like the mid-1970s Glam years did anyway. Eventually, I managed to convince my parents that I really did want a real one and that I would learn to play properly. Well one of those came to be.

I was once advised (or read somewhere) that Strats should be strung with gauge .10 as the highest (E) string. For many years I have used what are called "Light Gauge" but about two years ago I decided that as I never perform and only play at home - not that often, truth be told - why don't I just string my guitar with light strings? So I've tended to use .09s mostly and these ageing fingers have found them more pleasant to play. So, I'm happy with the gauge I use now. But the main problem - the perennial musician's* Holy Grail - is the sound.

Up until about 10 years ago I was able to buy "Vintage" strings by Danelectro which were wonderful. They felt nice to play and genuinely sounded different - they certainly had a different feel to most "Slinky" strings. Unfortunately they stopped making them a few months after I was offered by a shop in Ipswich to get me a box of ten sets. If only . . .

Nowadays there are all sorts of new-fangled materials and ways of making strings. Many musicians hanker for what is considered a "vintage" sound. I'm definitely one of those. I know it matters little to anyone else but as a bad musician, like a bad worker, I blame the tools available. It's obvious to me that I don't make much improvement in my playing because my guitar doesn't have decent strings on. What is worse, I can't find any decent strings. The last set I had on until this afternoon were actually Fender Bullets. These are strings that Fender designed especially for Stratocasters but no, not good enough for me.

I've found the perfect strings for my Fylde acoustic guitar, new-fangled covered Elixir which last for ages. I recently re-strung my 12 string - and that's not a task undertaken lightly - using D'Addario. The damned thing stays in tune now! But why oh why can't I find any decent vintage sounding strings for my electric guitar?
Well, Holy Grail found.

I spent the afternoon keeping out of mischief (and the kitchen) whilst Mrs Dave was making a cake for someone's birthday and decided to try a new set of strings. These are supposed to be handmade pure nickel and round core and boasted a wonderful vintage sound. Okay, let's go for that then.

. . . and what a difference. Blimey, they really feel lovely to use and they sound great. Okay, I've only tried them through a tiny Vox practice amp but they sound great. Finally, some nice vintage-style strings that have replaced my affection for the old Danelectros. At last. Now I can no longer blame the fact that I haven't got decent strings for my lack of progress. Now that the guitar feels better and sounds better I should have no reason to pick it up and play it more often.

*Yes, I know I'm not really a musician.

Old men of rock and roll
Came bearing music
Where are they now?
They are over the hill and far away
But they're still gonna play guitars
On dead strings, and old drums
They'll play and play to pass the time
The old wild men
Old wild men
Old wild men, waiting for miracles

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

weather forecast: bare, gloom and mis'ry everywhere

You don't need the paper to tell you all the news
If you stand by the reds or you're true to the blues
Lift up your eyes instead of looking down at your shoes
You might see what a state we're in

And I'm alright Jack - pull up the ladder
Alright Jack - I'm safe on the wall
Alright Jack - and if you climb just a little bit higher
But the higher you climb the further you fall

Our lords and masters are playing politics again. The Education Secretary is singing the praises of teachers - he looks more and more like Kaa the snake from Disney's The Jungle Book every day. I know which one I'd rather trust.

Yes, they're gearing up for an election next year. They're all at each other's throats, sharpening their knives and stabbing each other in the back. As always, we're the ones who'll suffer. This time, though, we have Mr Farage and his band of dangerous clowns to worry about too. Today's news about the Thatcher government being involved in the Amritsar massacre in 1984 could be very awkward for the Tories. 430,000 Sikh voters upset. There are approximately the same number of teachers in the UK (2011 figures - the latest from the government) too. Hmm . . . I suppose we live in interesting times after all.

Isn't that an supposed to be ancient Chinese curse? Although according to Wikipedia it should actually be: It's better to be a dog in a peaceful time than a man in a chaotic period.

 Still, at least the sun's been shining for a few days so it can't be all bad. What's that Sweep?

Saturday, 1 February 2014


I hear the rhythm of the rain begin
A shining broadcast on the silver wind
Will you receive these programmes deep within your soul . . ?
The moon is melting in the blazing sky
I hear the flames sing, but I don't know why
I hope that only shadows see me cry (for you)

As I wandered in to my local, quite a few members of the English department were there having been there for a fair while. Several may have already been less than sober. Patrick, the previous landlord of my other local, sitting on another table, wanted to say hello and shake my hand (such a Gentleman). I knew his drinking partner too. His mate is a "friend" of one of our neighbours who happens to be an older single lady (say no more, nudge nudge). Anyway, these two gentlemen shook my hand and said hello. All of a sudden I seemed to be trapped in a Carry On film: "Phwaar, you and all that crumpet*"; "If you need a hand, give us a call" etc, et al.
Anyway, there I was with the English Department - I've been the only male member** of the department for many years now. We left after a while to go for our Christmas do - late/early (delete as necessary) - to another restaurant. Truth to tell, I had planned to leave early as Mrs Dave and I were supposed to go for a walk around a part of Suffolk we didn't know well. Well, gentle reader, as you may be able to guess, that didn't happen.

Up around the bend . . .
Mrs Dave woke feeling a little "under the weather" whereas I felt a few centimetres above her. Just about. Suffice to say, we didn't wander around Woolpit and I think she's going to have an early night between you and me. However, I was afforded the opportunity to wander down to the beach - well, the bit at the bottom of our road - and realised that after all the rain and poor weather buffeting the land, it was actually a rather nice day. The photo is a quick snap of the end of our road looking away from the beach. A bit breezy, yes, but still glorious.
Whilst allowing normality to seep in we have taken the day easily - a wander up to the butcher here, a drive to Waitrose there and a steady attempt at a chore here and there. Real Ale, keg bitter, white and red wines from various suppliers doesn't really work as a game plan. But hey! Who cares? Gradually the day has unfolded into one of absolute joy.
Yep, I'm not joking. I, unlike many of you lot out there, am not really a member of the "Digital Revolution". I find the whole digital experience to be a difficult one - I'm Sgt Howie to your Lord Summerisle, I tell you. However, today I managed a feat that many before me have slipped upon:
That is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap,

That's right. Moving your whole iPod library to another computer and then synching it all together.
Oh yes, I have actually managed it. I ain't even lyin' or nuffink. I'm not joking, I really did spend ages - months - trying to learn how to move an iTunes library from one computer to another. Evidently, it's impossible - or very difficult. I kept reading about free software that would do it, but they never seemed to work. But I chose to download everything onto a hard disk and go from there.

Now, gentle reader, I'm not sure if you feel that anything you ever did for your parents was worthwhile (and I'm struggling as to whether or not anything I ever presented to mine was worth a sh . . .) but Third born sorted it all out so easily. Hang on! I did manage to get all of my 7600-odd songs from the iTunes library on the old computer to save on to a hard drive and then transfer on to the new one.

Now, I was going to come over all technical but to be honest, I'm so happy that I can't be bothered. When my son told me that the laptop would "wipe out everything on your iPod and then replace it with what you've put on" I'm sure you could empathise with me when I felt that if it all goes t. . . up then me and the digital world need to part company forever. But . . . it only bloody well worked!

No downloading of crap free software that doesn't work or lead you anywhere beyond madness or self-loathing. It works and can be so easily rectified that I wonder why I've spent so much time checking it out (to no avail) when I could just get on with it and save months.
Suffice to say, I've spent most of the evening uploading "new" albums on to iTunes. And just in case you're wondering, yes I do have a glass of red wine in the other hand.
The digital world can go on unabated but the Old World is still there in the background. Hmm, a bit like the Wicker Man, then.
*Yep, "Crumpet" was the term used
** phnaar phnaar - yes, you're the only person who noticed