This Road Of Music

By Alan Rhody

If you're a musician in this modern age of technology, seems like you can find just about anything you need, if, of course, you have the scratch to pay for it.

Let's take guitar strings, for example. These days there are multitudes of choices. I play bronze-wound acoustic strings. For years, there've been many brands to choose from, including Martin, Gibson, Ernie Ball, G.H.S., Dean Markley, D'Adario and on and on, all at approximately $4-$6 a set retail. It simply depends on trying different ones - phosphor bronze or regular bronze; light, medium, or heavy gauge - until you find one kind that suits your playing and taste.

I've been using Dean Markley medium lights for quite a while now. They're 80/20 bronze alloy, not phosphor bronze, which, it's claimed, hold their tone quality longer. I'm not so sure that's true; I just like the mix between light and medium gauge. I've also found that the "light" gauges of some brands are very close to the gauges of Dean Markley's "medium lights." So much for perfection in gauges - it doesn't matter as long as you can play in your own style and not have problems.

Then along come Elixir "poly-web" coated bronze strings that seem to have endless life and retain their new string sound for literally weeks, sometimes months, depending on whether you're a touring performer or a guitar player by hobby. Well, I have to admit I love the new Elixirs! I'm even carrying on a dialogue with the company about a possible endorsement.

Well, I'm minding my own business one day flipping through the paper and there it is - a full page ad for a mega-music store's Grand Opening. I missed the first mega-music store to hit Nashville a few months ago, a place called Throughbred Music. This latest of the "K-Mart" approach to music stores is called Musician's Planet Mars. Not only did they have incredible buys at this grand opening, which was to last only five hours, but they also featured an appearance from Paul Stanley of KISS fame. Wow! Who'd want to miss that? Well, me for one.

Then I spot the little box in the ad that really caught my eye: "Buy one set of Musician's Planet strings and get eleven sets free!" What? Yes, I read it again. Unbelievable! I figure how can one go wrong? I remember when I was first getting serious about playing the guitar, actually paying attention to what kind of strings I was using, I found out that through the Folklore Center in New York City you could order strings by the box of a dozen and save a bundle. Even now, if you're smart, that's how to do it, if your playing habits warrant changing strings frequently.

I feel the hook slipping into my mouth as I approach the mall.

I see the big semi-trailer trucks from the "Mars"-sponsored music school (These folks seem to have it all). I finally find a parking spot, not very close to the action. As I see the line of hungry patrons go around one corner of the building and then around the next corner of the building, and, because these are not small buildings, I sense a feeling of anxiety.

As I slowly keep walking, I pass a tent with a big sign that reads: "Line Up Here For Free Stuff." The line there isn't quite as long as the "Enter The Store Line." After about fifteen minutes of standing in the two-and-a-half- to three-block-long line to get in the store, a guy with the "all access" passes hanging around his neck comes down the line saying, "If you're just here for sticks or strings, you can get those in the tent."

I'll spare you the rest, folks. I got my box of twelve sets of strings after a two-hour experience I'd rather forget. I notice as I'm paying for them (at about $1.36 per set) that this company is based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Then I see in very small print: "Made in Korea."

Every string I've ever put on any guitar I've ever owned was made in America! What was I doing? Hurting the business I've loved for so many years? Taking money out of the pockets of U.S. manufacturers who pride themselves in their "hand-made" bronze-wound strings? Yes. I was. But hey, for $1.36 a set, I'll try 'em. They'll probably break real easily and I'll regret ever buying them. They're probably the cheapest excuse for strings ever made. We'll see.

Personally, I'd still go out and buy the Elixirs if I could afford them. They happen to be about three times as costly as the average string. So I'll probably stick with the Dean Markley medium-lights. What the heck. I just want to sound good.

Seriously, I do have a problem with these mega-stores. I seem to have a problem with "mega" anything. I guess it's because I'm an artist and I can fully appreciate not only close attention to detail and craftsmanship, but the close personal attention I receive every time I walk into Corner Music or Cotten Music here in Nashville or the Guitar Emporium or Mom's in Louisville. These places are not to be discarded for "more and cheaper." The age-old art of instrument-making and personal service should never be left behind in this "on-line," "mass-produced" world we're living in.

After all that, I'd like to invite everyone to the Twice Told Coffee House on Friday, August 21, where Tim Krekel, Turley Richards, Mickey Clark and I will demonstrate the age-old use of guitar strings as well as voices in a foursome show of Louisville natives. This particular arrangement of singer-song writers should be a blast, so come on out and support live music in Louisville!

Award-winning song writer and traveling performer Alan Rhody can be reached at P.O. Box 121231 Nashville, TN 37212 or on the world wide web at http://www.songs.com/ar