SES­SION shenani­gans

The stu­dio gui­tarist’s guide to hap­pi­ness and per­sonal ful­fil­ment, as re­lated by ses­sion ace Mitch Dal­ton. This month: All the strings you are.

Guitar Techniques - - INTRO -

Aman goes into a shop to buy a packet of salt. Ev­ery shelf from floor to ceil­ing is crammed with noth­ing but Sodium Chlo­ride of all types and in ev­ery con­ceiv­able size. In fact, there ap­pears to be noth­ing else avail­able from this par­tic­u­lar em­po­rium. He com­pletes his pur­chase but feels com­pelled to ask the owner about his re­mark­able one-prod­uct range and whether he sells huge quan­ti­ties of salt.

“Me? Not re­ally. I can sell two, maybe three pack­ets per week. In a good month, a dozen packs, tops. But the guy that sells me salt - boy, can he sell salt…”

Due to the de­bat­able ca­reer choice made in my yoof af­ter care­ful in­de­ci­sion (and cur­rently re­sid­ing in my bulging “It-seemed­like-a-good-idea-at-the-time” file), I ap­pear to have ac­quired a wal­let bust­ing num­ber of spare strings for my Sotheby’s sized col­lec­tion of fret­ted in­stru­ments. A per­fectly rea­son­able and en­tirely nec­es­sary re­quire­ment for a geezer who has picked, ham­mered and bent his way through life, as it were. Nev­er­the­less, there is of­ten a tip­ping point in most ar­eas of em­ploy­ment where pre­pared­ness morphs into para­noia, nor­mal turns into neu­rotic and well… Fen­der turns to Flat Wound.

These mus­ings oc­curred re­cently when I mounted a mas­sive search and res­cue op­er­a­tion in pur­suit of an es­o­teric light gauge re­place­ment bouzouki third string (La Bella, since you don’t ask).

Where to start the mis­sion? I re­paired first to my pur­pose-built guitar store, de­signed and con­structed to my own ob­ses­sively high com­pul­sive stan­dards, com­plete with in­de­pen­dent tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity con­trol, bi-level shelv­ing and wardrobes (don’t ask). And in so do­ing, I was forced to take stock in both prac­ti­cal and psy­chi­atric terms.

The sim­ple con­clu­sion is that I’m clearly not at all well.

My first port of call was as much to do with mem­o­ra­bilia as it was to Martin, Markely or Monopole. A cosy nook gave up its con­tents read­ily. A plethora of old style CD stor­age boxes lay neatly stacked, colour coded and metic­u­lously or­dered. And no. I am not pre­pared to ad­mit to an ex­act num­ber. Let’s just say that we’re not talk­ing dou­ble fig­ures - just. In pass­ing, I must tell you that these shoe­boxbut-much-nar­rower items are nigh on per­fect in size for the busy per­son­al­ity dis­or­dered plec­trist to lo­cate his metic­u­lously clas­si­fied col­lec­tion. I lifted the first lid and mar­velled at my own mad­ness. The at­ten­tion to de­tail was enough to have me sec­tioned on the spot.

Strings stored by brand, gauge and in­stru­ment. Strings with long de­funct or rarely seen la­bels - Black Di­a­mond, Guild, D’Aquisto, GHS White Bronze, some get­ting on for 40 years old. I re­called my visit in 1976 to the shop in East­bourne where I pur­chased the se­lec­tion of sin­gle Gib­son elec­tric strings of ran­dom gauges that greeted me, each still in­di­vid­u­ally wrapped and sealed with no re­gard for fu­ture environmental con­se­quences. Back then re­cy­cling was some­thing you might per­form dur­ing The Tour De France, for all I knew. Happy days.

I moved on to what Ac­ces­sory Archivists may well one day call The Post­mod­ern Col­lec­tion. Should you de­cide to at­tend the ex­hi­bi­tion, do al­low a full day to get the most from your visit. There are three alu­minium cam­era cases of in­creas­ing size, com­part­men­talised with flex­i­ble di­viders. And the full-length shelf in the Mu­sic Room given up to con­tem­po­rary sets and the ever evolv­ing cur­rent “String chang­ing in progress” stash. Some­thing for the en­tire fret­ting fam­ily, I would claim, with un­char­ac­ter­is­tic mod­esty.

It was once so sim­ple, was it not? Elec­tric guitar? Just whack on a set of Light Gauge 10-46s for your Strat. Want to rock out and bend the be­je­sus out of your Les Paul? No prob­lemo. On with the Su­per Light 9-42s. Acous­tic? Hmm. Do we go ‘Light’ (that’s 12-53 in acoustispeak) or maybe ‘Ex­tra Light’ (11-49) for fin­ger­pick­ing stylings? But what about the long-life poly­mer coated ex­am­ples by brands such as D’Ad­dario and Elixir? There is no es­cap­ing it. Best to buy all types and stock­pile ‘em to avoid sleep­less nights. And with that, the seeds of in­san­ity are sown. How about up­ping string gauges on the electrics to in­ject a tad more metal to the pedal? In which case Medium gauge (11-49) could be the an­swer to an Iron Maiden’s prayer. But wait! One can now pur­chase the fret­ting equiv­a­lent of shoe half sizes - Su­per Light Plus (9.5-42) and Reg­u­lar Light Plus (10.5-48). So let’s add that to the on­line overkill. And while we’re about it, wouldn’t the PRS Cus­tom sound killing with Hy­brid Su­per Tops and Reg­u­lar Bot­toms (9-46)? And surely it can’t hurt to fit the Gretsch with Hy­brid Medium Tops and Heavy Bot­toms (11-52)? Ny­lon Clas­si­cal - Nor­mal or Hard Ten­sion? Au­gus­tine or Savarez? The Jazz gui­tars - Jazz Light with a wound third (12-52). But fit­ting one axe with Flat Wounds is a handy op­tion too, right? And now on to the spe­cial­ist in­stru­ments - Banjo. Light for Blue­grass, Medium for trad. Ukulele. (Pi­cato?) Man­dolin. And, er... Bouzouki, which is where we started, I do re­call.

I’m bonkers. There, I ad­mit it. But it was cir­cum­stances made me this way.

So, you can now add ‘para­noid’ to the di­ag­no­sis.

And ‘poor’.

See you next month, as­sum­ing they haven’t come for me.

I lifted the lid and mar­velled at my own mad­ness. the at­ten­tion to de­tail was enough to have me sec­tioned

For more on Mitch and his mu­si­cal ex­ploits with the Stu­dio Kings, go to: www.mitch­dal­ton.co.uk

And you al­ways won­dered why Mitch’s grin looks a bit... well... mad!

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