I just changed the strings on the very mandolin that you see here in my photo. What a difference that little change makes! Once the new strings tune in I get a beautiful rich sound from my treasured two point mandolin. This little axe is close to a hundred years old and you can only get that beautiful tone if the strings are new and the instrument is adjusted correctly. It’s the way the thing was supposed to sound.
Last week at this time I was returning from the Great 48 hour jam in Bakersfield. I’ve been going for about five years now and once again it was way too much fun for one weekend. That’s why I keep going back every year. But it was not as great a 48 as it could have been for me this year. There is one simple reason for this sad fact. I am just too lazy.
I looked forward to the journey south with great anticipation. I had reserved my room very early and this year I packed a hot plate and sandwich maker so that I didn’t get caught in long lines, waiting at the crowded restaurants. That idea worked out great but I forgot the most important component of my preparation, being prepared musically. Sure, I worked up some new tunes and tried to hit the woodshed as much as possible so I didn’t sound too bad musically. But how you sound depends in part on what shape your equipment is in and that’s where I dropped the ball.
My beautiful instruments sounded dull because I neglected to care for them. I didn’t change my strings before the event, a cardinal error. In my defense, I must say that I knew the strings were old but they sounded OK when I was just noodling around at home. So I checked my string stock before leaving for Bakersfield and took the dwindled store with me south in case I had problems. I should have known better.
Problems there were but I wasn’t going to risk missing another great jam because I was changing strings. I HATE changing strings (with a capital H). I have a drawer full of lower strings because I keep breaking the thinner high strings. And looping that tuner head with a lock knot gets harder every time. Sometimes the wire pops over the metal head and often it gets stuck behind the bridge or the side of the fretboard. By the time you figure out where that crazy wire has run off too, you may have pulled a flaw into it that makes you wish you had never bothered to change your strings in the first place.
You fiddle and bass players are excused. Those strings you use are really expensive and fortunately they sound good for a very long time. But if you pick mandolin, guitar or banjo you need to change your strings. Do it now and you’ll be glad you did. My old timey mandolin sounds so good now I’m going to change the strings right now on my F5.