Doc Stevens on Making Your Guitar Strings Last Longer… and getting the sound of the old blues and roots musicians.

Monday, March 12, 2012 9:05 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: One thing that I have learnt about the rural Americans that I have gotten acquainted with is that their poverty and their distance from shops makes them very resourceful.

This is not an American trait per se, but it is a trait of people without resources the world over. A difference in America is that the rural Americans have access to the castoff items that are thrown away by others and sometimes those things are in fact worth repairing or using the bits from to make other things.

In the posts about the home made guitars that Doc has, you can read about how he made his own guitars from cast off bits from other guitars. He took them and put them together and assembled them on a plank, or in a box, and then set them thing up as a guitars.They are not pretty and definitely look home made, but they make noise and get the job done.

Buying guitar strings is another area that is a struggle for many rural Americans. Many of them live an hour or more from a music store, so there is the economic factor of being able to afford transport, along with the price of the strings. As a result, they have to learn to make their guitar strings last longer.

I have seen Doc take the strings off of his guitars and boil them, to get the dirt out of them, and then watch him run a little olive oil on them as he runs them between his fingers before restringing the guitar. He says this makes them play a little better and keeps  the rust off.

Doc: Yeah, Tondy, I always dip my finger and thumb in olive oil and then pull the strings between them before putting them back on. Then I wipe them off on a rag. Treating the strings makes them last a lot longer and makes the strings play easier. 

People make all sorts of fuss about the old mountain musicians and old blues musicians, and they try to get that same kind of sound that they hear on them old records. 

Well, first of all you are listenin’ to the music of POOR people. They ain’t had no fancy ‘quipment. They had old cheap guitars and cheap strings that was years old! They had to make things last. That old sound was just what they sounded like. It wasn't special or nothing. If you take a cheap guitar and a cheap amp, and then take care of your strings, your guitar will sound like the ones on the old records!

These new guys can go out an’ pay a thousand dollars for a guitar and another thousand for a amp and put new stings on his guitar every month and then wonder why he don’t sound like the poor people whose music he likes! Well it ain’t gonna happen on a rich man’s guitar and amp! What's he do then? He spends more money buyin' pedals to get that old sound, and maybe a new amp, so he can get that old style tone he is hungry for. Back when them records was made, here's what tone choices you had: Treble, bass and middle. You turned the knobs on your amp til it sounded right, and then you turned the knobs on your guitar til it sounded right. That's all them guys knew!

Another thing to do to make your strings last is this: Instead of just pushing the strings through the hole in the tuning peg, you want to first wrap the string AROUND the tuning peg four or five times, and then push it through the hole and tighten it up.

You end up with the peg havin’ four or five turns of the string, then the part where the string goes through the hole in the peg, and then the rest of the turns where it is being tightened as you tune it. It makes your strings last at least twice as long.

It helps your guitar to stay in tune longer, and keeps the strings from breakin’ so easy. Strings is ‘spensive an’ if you live out here in the country, it takes you half a day to run up to Waldorf an’ get ‘em and then get home. Plus the gas costs more than the strings. We got to make our strings last longer out here.