I decided to start the New Year by playing some guitar, a practice I’ve been neglecting. If I just played a few minutes every day, I would not backslide so quickly. Perhaps guitar practice could set a good example for so many aspects of my life where I tend to procrastinate and get distracted by side projects. With almost no effort, I’d be able to check something off the list for the first day of the year. To make it seem even more like a fresh start, I decided to use my good steel-string guitar, which I haven’t played in a while. For the last several months I’ve mostly played my wife’s classical guitar, primarily because she keeps it conveniently located upstairs, while mine is in the basement. This was getting better and better. Maybe I’d even return to my traditional practice spot.
First, I cleaned some floor space in the basement “storage room” which is where I often practice, mostly because it’s nearly soundproof so I know I won’t bother anyone. Perhaps because of its name, the storage room tends to accumulate stuff. If we don’t know where it goes, it goes into the storage room for later consideration. Obviously, today this included boxes of Christmas decorations, but the level of clutter reminded me that it had been some time since I ventured in there. One could not walk four feet into the room, the guitar was barely visible; but I would not be daunted.
I cleared away a few feet of floor space around the guitar. Big improvement. There was now a place to sit, a place for my little stage amp, and the guitar rose on its stand, beckoning me. Sure, the room probably still appeared completely full to the untrained eye, a set from a show about hoarders. Luckily, I don’t mind a bit of chaos; it feeds my art.
Last fall I’d sorted some arugula seeds in there, and twigs and leaves and arugula pods remained on the old green carpet. To be completely honest, there were also remains of radish seed pods and stalks of swiss chard. Being a new year and all, I decided to act really grown up and vacuum the little area before practicing.
The old “basement vacuum” was easy to find; it was in the storage room, right next to the guitar. I fired it up and took a couple of sweeps, leaving a dramatic swath of bright green, shockingly clean carpet. Within about fifteen seconds the vacuum began roaring like a jet plane. Something (radish pod? swiss chard stalk?) had obviously gone somewhere the Sears vacuum designers had not wanted seed pods to go.
It took a while to find a screwdriver to remove the bottom plate of the vacuum, but I searched until I found one, removed the plate and cleaned off what I could. That did not fix the problem. I removed the bag, which was full anyway, and patched together with duct tape. Oh yeah. Last time I used this vacuum I had intended to buy a replacement bag. Well, this time I certainly would. But not today. Nothing’s open on New Year’s Day. Anyway, I could not locate the source of the noise, and the goal was to play guitar. Cleaning was probably just a distraction. I put the vacuum back together. I’ve played guitar in corn fields and campgrounds; a few radish pods on the carpet weren’t important. I’m an Artist.
I began tuning the guitar. The cool sound of each string reminded me why I like this particular instrument so much. Strings tend to go flat over time, and these were a whole step flat. That embarrassed me; it really has been too long. The lowest four strings tuned easily. But the “second string,’ the high B, snapped almost immediately when I began to tighten it.
Well, you can play a guitar with one string missing if you have to, but you’re restricted to simple chords and work-around fingerings. That didn’t seem right for a New Year’s resolution kind of session. Maybe I had a spare string.
Sure enough, in the guitar case was a brand new set of strings. I could swipe the B string out of that set and be playing within two minutes.
On the other hand, new strings are always brighter than old ones. Their sound sticks out from the others. The strings on the guitar had obviously been on there a long time. Why not just do it right, this being the new year and all? Why not just put the whole new set on?
I took off all the old strings and threw them away. This in itself is progress; I used to keep my old strings in case I broke one and needed an emergency spare. But I’ve learned that it’s just compulsive to keep old things that should be tossed.
Once you have removed the strings, you should clean the top. It’s easier to get at the area near the sounding hole without the strings. I found some oil and cleaned the guitar. It looked great. I took the new strings out of their box. They were a brand I don’t usually buy and the strings had color coded balls on the end to prevent confusion about which string goes where. I tried to recall why I owned this unusual brand. Had they been a gift? Had I bought them at a music festival? I could not remember. It didn’t matter, it felt lucky they were in there at all.
But something was wrong. After I stared at them for a moment, I realized what it was. There were only five strings, not six. Obviously, I had broken a string at some point in the past and cannibalized the set. I checked the color coding. The string that was missing was the B string, the one I broke earlier today. So I couldn’t even dig one of my old ones out of the trash.
Instruments sound best when the strings all match. It’s just dumb to put five of one kind on and then add a single string of a different brand. Obviously, I need to go buy a new set of strings and put them all on together.
But it’s New Year’s Day. Nothing’s open.
I put the shiny clean (but stringless) guitar back onto its stand. The Rose Bowl is starting in a few minutes and I promised a friend I’d cheer for Wisconsin. Friendship is more important than any resolution.
Anyway, I’ve been intending to write blogs more faithfully this year. Maybe this is the day to work on that goal instead of practicing guitar.