Friday, May 13, 2011

Changing Strings (in more ways than one)

Oh joy. 12 old skanky-ass strings.

Let me be clear from the very start: I hate changing guitar strings. Simply put, it's a pain in the ass, and even after 34 years of being a guitarist, I still manage to screw up something pretty much every time I remove old strings and put on new ones. I'll do the winding in the wrong direction and have to reverse course, or find myself with too much/not enough string length for proper winding on the post. I also tend to stab the sharpened ends of the strings into my thumb and fingertips, and I consider myself lucky if I get through a string changing session without poking my own eye out.

Day of Change
Today, I prepared by doing several Zen-based calming exercises, and then tackled changing strings not only on my Martin D-18V, but also on my cheap backup guitar, the Rogue RA-100D. Not only was I changing both guitars' strings, but I was also trying out a different kind of string than I'd usually used on each, and was interested to see how it would end up affecting their respective sounds. Previously, I had used a rather heavy-gauge string on the Martin (though they're still listed as "medium"): the Martin MSP4200 phosphor bronze, with gauges of 13-17-26-35-45-56. Yeah, pretty thick, but I loved the rich tone.

It's the first time I'm trying a different string on the Martin. Can you blame me for being concerned?

Recently, I spoke to a guy who is many times more knowledgeable than I am in regard to care and feeding of high-end acoustic guitars, and he let me know that in addition to having a terrific tone, the lighter gauge Martin MSP4100 was actually better for the guitar's neck tension over the long term. That alone was enough for me to want to give them a shot. You'd think with the miniscule change in thickness (gauges 12-16-25-32-42-54), you wouldn't notice a big difference. Au contraire, mon ami! While I lost a little of the boominess in the low end, the shimmer that I get in return is fantastic. I'm really going to enjoy playing it at my next show, as is my fretting hand (it feels quite a bit easier to play as well).

One Down, One To Go
I keep the the little cheapie guitar around for two things. First, I use it for alternate tunings so I don't have to spend time during my shows retuning my guitar multiple times. Second, it's great to take on trips or to kick around the house in ways I'd never consider with the uber-expensive Martin. It had previously had very light (and very cheap) strings, so it actually got a little more ballsy with the Martin MSP4100s. My only scary moment of the entire string changing experience was when, in bringing the Rogue up to concert pitch, a couple of the bridge pins threatened to pop out and come hurdling toward my forehead at mach 8. But they stayed put, and all is well.

I do hate changing strings, but it's definitely nice to have two clean and freshly-strung guitars when it's all done.

One thing that you should do while changing strings: give your guitar a once-over with a cleaning cloth, and also use the opportunity to do any small maintenance work. I'd had a slight issue with a rough spot on the tuning mechanism of the Martin's G string, but a tiny dab of Vaseline solved that quickly. I"m happy to report that with the new strings, both guitars are sounding better than before, and both feel much better.

Now I need to go dispose of my old strings in some hazmat receptacle. They're the type of things that would require a tetanus shot if they impaled anyone at this point. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

No comments: