Four days into the new year and we got our first snow day.
Two snow days actually. The day before the storm, as is typical in Rhode Island, shoppers headed to one of two places — Stop and Shop and Home Depot. Occasionally, I’d imagine people will hit both. Milk and bread from one; generators, snow blowers and salt from the other.
As a rule, I try to avoid both on the day before a scheduled weather event such as a Nor-Easter or hurricane but In all honesty, I did find myself in Home Depot; I needed boiled linseed oil and tiny foam pads to insulate some drafty wall outlets.
Linseed oil is great for conditioning fretboards, and I figured that in between snow-day binging of Netflix and public library DVDs, it might be a good idea to finally clean up my guitars. One of my critical errands that day before the storm hit was Roberts Music so I could get some strings. Strings should be changed after every eight hours of playing. Yea, right. I generally hold out as long as possible — partly out of laziness, frugality and the fact it takes me months to amass eight hours of play.
When the tarnish from the strings blackens my fingers, I use a jewelry polishing cloth to clean them. When the polishing cloth stops working I know its time and it was time about a month ago. Interestingly enough, strings begin to “break down” once exposed to oxygen, humidity and contact with the player’s fingers. All sorts of variables will affect playability and longevity of those strings. Some take longer to tarnish than others, but then again everything breaks down eventually — its the way of things
I recall about ten years ago a neighbor of mine walked me through my first effort at changing out strings. Like anything else attempted for the first time I was intimidated. What if I break something; what if I do it wrong; what if, what if, what if…
“Quit worrying,” he said over the phone. “Go online if you don’t believe me. It’s really simple.”
I did, and it was.
On YouTube guitar techs for just about every US manufacturer have “how to” videos with different stringing techniques. That’s where I got the bit about the linseed oil but this week marked the first time I actually used it because the oil is not exactly cheap — $8 for a small can, the kind paint thinner comes in.
Shortly after re-stringing my electric for the first time, my neighbor was over the house and wanted to take a look at how I did. He amped up, played a few riffs and declared, “It’s like a brand new instrument.” Since then I have restrung my guitars with a variety of strings looking for the sound and tone I want.
And each time I say the same thing when I am done: “It’s like a brand new instrument.”
This time of year, in particular, that’s the goal isn’t it?
Take what is old and renew, rejuvenate before stepping forward into the atmospheric mystery of an untarnished calendar. A pity we only see this opportunity with consistency in that window during the month of January.
Last year US News suggested that 80% of all resolutions fail by the second week of February. Typically once tossed into the trash bin, those resolutions aren’t picked up, dusted off and re-purposed. No, we move on.
Which isn’t a bad thing, however every night can be a “New Years Eve” of sorts. Hell, If an old guitar can become a brand new instrument with a new set of strings and some linseed oil, why can’t “New Years Day” be every morning we wake up? Each sunrise we re-sting a familiar instrument, and each day is an opportunity polish and condition our way of living until the next sunrise.
However, we often engage to block that movement.
We get caught up in the supposed symbolism of a perceived opportunity which magically appears but once a year. We make excuses regarding the inconvenience of pursuing the task as a chore rather than a creative act imbued with devotion and tenderness.
Years ago I read a profile of a guitarist from Senegal who began playing on a discarded instrument that only had three strings. Over the years his talent grew to where he had become a know figure in Pan-African music. When asked about his technique and he replied that he did not play the guitar. No caressed it gently coaxing from the instrument her song.
Moving into this new year of 2018, maybe it is time to see the year as an instrument, one to be caressed each day as though its shining strings hold tight a secret song waiting to be heard. Perhaps, I might examine past failures and shortcomings that plague me not a downfalls or flaws, but as mere tarnish that bends the notes flat or sharp which can easily be removed with but the tiniest bit of pressure. In this way perhaps these first days, belonging to the first month, may exist as prelude to a composition waiting in momentary silence to sing.