Wednesday 26 January 2011


When I was playing in the Primevals the first time round, in 82-84, I used heavier and heavier guitar strings to try to get away from breaking strings as frequently as I broke strings. Rehearsals, gigs, even soundchecks sometimes. I went up through the gauges- the heaviest I used were 14s. Some of the guitars I had back then (a Danelectro in particular) didn't like heavy strings. I sold that because it was likely to come apart in my hands. But part of my shtick back then was to hit the guitar really hard - it really does make a different sound when hit hard. And some of the earlier Primevals songs need a real strong arm on the guitar to make the whole thing ring. I didn't bring my wrist into play much at all for strumming. I can still freeze-frame the moment near the end of a set at Strathclyde Uni when one huge strum/clang went wrong and lifted most of my right index finger's nail off on the E of my Les Paul. As I saw the nail fold and flap, I thought "that's going to sting in a bit". I finished the set, and then spent ten minutes with my hand in the ice bucket backstage. I vaguely recall gaffer tape being part of the maintenance * protection regime until the nail grew back. 

When I left the Primevals (for the first time) in Feb 85, I did my best to improve my technique, and moved down through the gauges. I rejoined later that year to help out while the band was "between guitarists". I ended up staying for 6 months, recording a Kershaw session, recording the second album (Soundhole, produced by Richard Mazda who also produced The Fleshtones & Wall Of Voodoo amongst many others), and of course doing a bunch of gigs. I had worked down to 11s, and wasn't breaking as many strings. By then I owned better guitars - a Les Paul, a Telecaster, and a Gretsch Double Anniversary (which was the prettiest guitar I have ever owned. Shame it wouldn't stay in tune). I left the band before they headed off for 6 weeks round Europe. Round about this time I read an interview with James Burton - I loved his sound - and he was asked "What advice would you give to young guitarists?" He replied "Use lighter strings". So I tried 9s, and found that the guitar behaved differently - you can't ding it as hard because the strings will just fly off. So I learned a lot about dynamics of playing, and since 1986 I have played 9s on all my guitars. I haven't broken very many strings, even though they are light-ish. 

*dramatic music*

Now I'm playing Primevals tunes again, I was thinking about hitting the guitar harder and also about how there is more clang and twang with heavier strings. So I've re-strung my Tele with 10s. It is MUCH louder when played acoustically. The strings took longer to settle in to tune, but I'm looking forward to trying them out through the Twin Reverb tomorrow. I'm glad I worked my pads up before starting this upgrade. But now I need to restring the Strat (other guitar for the tour) with 10s as well - the spring whammy bar may need both jiggery and pokery to settle this. And I'll need to buy more spare strings. I'm sure that there will be an audible difference at the next rehearsal - it will all be worthwhile. 

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