Dulltown, Europe: Today’s random dictionary words are: arcanum, suasion, truchman, prozymite, meathe, and excambion. Please have these words looked up and placed in suitable sentences ready for Professor Mouldie first thing after breakfast tomorrow morning. Extra marks will be awarded to students having well-polished escutcheons.
Years ago, when I was in my teens, I used to like to go and hang around in the local musical instrument shop on Saturday afternoons; I expect kids still like to do this. It was great being surrounded by precious and lovely guitars, guitars with exotic sounding American names such as Gretsch, Fender, Gibson, Rickenbacker; they were so expensive and shiny, and somehow magical, they seemed to be in a different league from the cheap European-made, second-hand shop ones, that we played. There were guitar amplifiers there too, solid, heavy, fabric or ‘leather’ covered things with plenty of knobs on them, and bulbous sparkling glass thermionic valves visible if you leaned over and looked into the back. They had mystical names like Vox AC30, and Fender Twin Reverb, and Selmer Zodiac.
Kids who were in local bands used to hang out in the shop too; they would tell anecdotes of good gigs, bad gigs, fights in the audience, and of having to sleep in the backs of smelly worn out vans amongst piles of guitar cases, drums, and sound equipment – ah, happy days…
But there was one chap who would occasionally be there, he was much older that us; he was a thin modestly dressed chap about twenty years our senior, he was a proper guitarist, who played jazz, who almost certainly could read music. He was quietly spoken and was a nice bloke (which, in my experience, is quite unusual for a jazz musician).
He would often pass on useful things about guitars and playing them. He once said to me, ‘If you come across a new chord, or technique, or a nice little run, don’t keep it to yourself, pass it on to your friends – it’s no good being mean with information, share it! If other people do play your new riff, they are not going to sound like you anyway – spread the knowledge! Don’t be competitive and stingy.’ He was a good man. I have always heeded his advice.
He also showed me a very useful thing regarding putting new strings on a guitar. Most people just poke the end of the string through the hole in the post of the machine head and wind it, and wind it, coiling the string up on it, until it finally becomes tight. The more string you have wrapped around the machine head, the more chance there is of it moving and adjusting itself, and slipping out of tune. Some people actually tie the string to the post with a knot, which probably works reasonably well, but it is a rotten job trying to get the bloody thing undone later when a change of strings is needed.
The method the jazz chap showed me was (he said) the way that they used to do it in the Gibson factory. Once you get used to it, it is quick, simple, and reliable. Here’s a quick little drawing of the front of a guitar head I have done for you:
Rotate the machine head until the hole in the post is at right angles to the guitar head as shown; poke the string in and pull most of it through, then arrange it as shown above; as the string tightens, the loose end is trapped hard against the post and is held very tight. Tune it up and snip the floppy end of string off with a pair of pliers.
(If you happen to have a proper Fender guitar which has machine heads with slots in the posts you won’t need to do all this – Leo Fender solved this string attachment problem very elegantly many years ago.)