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Saturday, May 27, 2023
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The Papa Files: Strings

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After digging out an old song to use in an article a couple of weeks ago, I became re-interested in music. Not listening to it—though I do now and then—but playing the songs I wrote in my late teens and early twenties, as well as those penned during that same span of years by my fellow elder, Stoney. To do so I had to archaeologically locate my old guitar, dust it off, and tune it. Fortunately, I remembered I still had, stashed in a small plastic box, the remains of my guitar paraphernalia: Finger, thumb, and straight picks; A Jim Dunlop winding key; An ancient can of Fast-FRet; A couple of capos; And most importantly a pitch pipe.

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I don’t know how old my guitar is. My grandfather gave it to me in 1980, when he was in his mid-70s and he’d had it for years. It’s scarred with chips and cracks and slightly warped at the bridge, but it still sounded good to me. And then I pretty much stopped playing in ’82, and completely abandoned music in ’85. It wasn’t until ‘98 that I picked it up to practice an old song and recorded it on my computer for my own posterity. But then I ignored it again, life was busy with grandkids and Exwork.

When I found my guitar the other day in a closet behind some boxes and a mound of my wife’s old shoes and purses, it looked darker, like the varnish had aged. But most notably the copper wires were greenish-black. I tuned it, but I knew I needed new ones.
My goal now is not to revisit my days of inspiration and hours of playing, but to transcribe a few of my favorite songs onto manuscript, including Stoney’s. To do so I have to play and sing the ditties on a guitar, figure out the notes on my granddaughter’s Yamaha keyboard, and slowly add them to a noteworthy composer on-screen staff. But man, paging through the notebooks, I am flummoxed by the chords we used. What the heck is a F#m6?
But first I needed to replace the oxidized threads of acoustic magic, so I found “All About Music” on my phone. It’s been a long time since I shopped in a music store. I walked in and immediately wanted one of everything. They indeed had new strings for the old guitar but unfortunately, they did not have new fingers for the old left hand. I wonder, does someone make spray-on calluses?

The young guy behind the counter picked up my guitar and quickly fingered off a riff. Then he gave it to an older guy, I think his father, and he played a couple of similar riffs. I’ve never been a riff guy. I was taught classical with my fingernails, but have also thumb-strummed melodies and jammed loudly with a straight pick. One time I tore a pick on the bass E and boy did it untune that string real quick! The father musician told me that he thought my guitar was a Gibson, based on the design of its head plate. Oddly, there is no maker’s identification anywhere. I don’t know where my grandfather got it or possibly had it made.

I also bought tuning pegs, aka machines, bridge pins, a new shoulder strap, and finally a stand, so now I can put it anywhere in the way I want without it damaging the walls. Of course, now I have to worry about running into it and tripping over it. Ah, well.
I replaced the strings and now I can play it as best I can. The relic of probably seventy years now looks distemporal with its adornment of new keys and strings and pegs, but I like it. And in fact, I probably need to tune it to the electronic keyboard, just in case my old pipe is slightly off. You know how subtle differences can lead to perplexing errors.

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