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