While my fingers gently weep

©2021 Michael Raven

Happy winter holiday, whichever you practice out there in the world. I hope it has been at least tolerable for those who dislike the season, and joyous for those who do like these weeks at the end of the Gregorian calendar.

I was inspired to clean up a guitar last night that had suffered a mishap a while ago and only much later did time reveal that the mishap was worse than originally thought.

I had the guitar out, sitting under a casement window as I was rearranging my “mancave”. In the process, one of the cats discovered she could get up into said casement window to look into the window well (yay?) and decided to push over the one thing that was invading the space and I had forgotten about: some granular silica dehumidifier in a bucket. Except that the silica had long ago pulled out lots of moisture in the air and had turned into a sludge silica. No longer granular, the sludge silica dumped down on top of my newest electric guitar. It wasn’t fancy, but it was the nicest one I have ever had.

Sloosh, slime everywhere. And impossible to clean up, but I did my best. And I thought I had damned near done a perfect job of it until about three months later when I got the urge to pull out the guitar again and saw I had missed enough silica slime for it to continue to collect humidity from the air and rust out the strings and a number of the metal details (including the screws on the pickups). I cleaned the guitar again, immediately broke the low-E string and wept. And then, left it alone, heartbroken — in residual slime and rust.

Well, I have been chatting with a fellow blogger recently about maybe (okay, likely) doing something collaborative in terms of music and they thought it would be nice if some of my guitar influence showed up in the effort. My arthritis makes it almost impossible to play the acoustic guitars I have (the tension on the strings is significantly more than on an electric guitar), so I debated if I should try to save the newer guitar, or just use my old beast of a Yamaha that has long ago seen better days (used and abused, and not new when I bought it). I plugged the newer SGR into my amp and the pickups still worked, so I stripped off all of the old strings, wiped everything down with chemicals probably not recommended to clean the surface of said guitar, then wiped down all of the rusted metal bits with some WD40 to see how much rust I could lift off. Then I restrung it with some old Ernie Ball Slinky’s I’d forgotten I had sitting around and let those buggers stretch a bit overnight.

Most of you guitarist out there know that there is no way the guitar is going to be in tune when you put on a complete set of new strings until they stretch a bit. I know of a few tactics for stretching out strings on the fly while on stage, but it’s not really worth it to do that with six new strings.

Aside: I’ve discovered I am less than impressed with the through-body stringing of this guitar. It is a fussy operation and I’d much rather string through the bridge, where my strings won’t have to find two holes to go through.

I played for a bit this morning and only managed to break one string while tuning (yeah, I had gotten too used to the tension on acoustics and tried to put too much on my A-string). My dexterity is shit. My finger positions, always “creative” to begin with (I taught myself chords and ignored the numbers on the finger positions in the diagrams and have my own system), were even worse than before thanks to the arthritis. My lift-offs and hammer-ons were abysmal (I also have an unconventional way of playing, which utilizes lift-offs and hammer-ons for color, often momentarily changing a standard chordN into a chord7, chord9, or chord4, mid-strum or between chord changes). Everything was substandard. And my un-callused fingertips became hamburger in short order.

But, dayum, it felt good to play again. I played like total shite, but I felt like a million dollars.

I’ll never claim to be even a very good guitarist, let alone a great one. I break too many rules and I’m technically crap. But it still is my favorite instrument to compose with, much like some people gravitate toward the piano to write songs.

I had to stop because, well, it hurts to type even. No blood, but I’m not doing slides on my bass guitar (that’s another story, but really enhanced the “goth cred” I had when someone saw blood dripping from my bass strings during a show) and, well, I’m smarter than I was back when I last bled on my guitar.

I’m not terribly sure that having me add guitar to the collaborative effort is all that wise, but at least I’ve done a little noodling around and shaking off the crust of the years. And doing so made Christmas tolerable for me this year, for the first time in years.

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