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


Kate the State said...

Happy Birthday Dad. Glad you spent it changing your strings and not doing DIY or school work.


First born x

Dave Leeke said...

Thank you.

Back to the grindstone now though . . . have a good week.

Broach india said...

Great post! The fact that you means someone is reading and liking it! Congrats!That’s great advice.

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Dave Leeke said...

Er, thanks . . . I think.