Friday, 23 December 2011

Strings suspended for a strip down

Apologies for a blogging lay-off rather longer than intended. I've moved house, changed computer, criss-crossed Europe, had five weeks of building work done and damn near lost my mind .. but for those waiting with bated breath to see how the bass crisis turned out, take that sigh of relief now… THE BASS IS FINE.

Ease those pegs
We left the bass without strings being cleaned off after a two-year sting with flatwound strings, which makes a giant Ukrainian contrabass sound rather jazzy .. that’s an interesting combination .. think smoky clubs full of men in well-worn tweeds with leather elbow patches, cravats and horn-rimmed glasses sitting at tables crammed with rows of empty pint pots holding schnapps glasses to their lips while choking back tears, waxing their moustaches and murmuring along to the sounds of the Steppes.. The Gadfly, Kalinka,  Kamarinskaya, Bereyuzoviye Kalyechke, Lara's Theme etc. These gigs can get rather emotional you know...

I had to take a break from the Russian repertoire for duties in Europe in the service of the Inca Babies so October was the perfect time to give the contra a breather, slacken off those strings and let it chew carpet for a couple of weeks. Now it’s back in the saddle with a refreshed fretboard and re-strung with the marvellous Moscow strings previously mentioned (see September 2011) just in time for the biggest gig of the year: the annual Kalina Balalaika Orchestra charity fundraiser for the homeless of St Petersburg at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music.

So here’s a brief resume of how we did it. First all the strings came off, then a bit of essential maintenance – a clean up of the body, check the neck, clean off any dust and dirt and ease the tuning pegs with some WD40 to keep them flowing (above).
The contra bass is so big that you can’t reach from one end of the instrument to the other so it's almost a Laurel and Hardy sketch to hook the loop of the string around the peg on the bottom while winding a very long and slack new string around the tuning peg three feet (1 metre) away. 

After a little trial and error I decided to enlist the help of a glamorous assistant (left) to get this bass beast under control. The danger then of course is that the loop slips off the grooved peg on the base of the bass while you’re tightening it and goes twanging through the air, slicing through necks, taking eyes out and so on and wreaking carnage.. when all you’re trying to do is change the sodding strings. 

Thankfully none of this came to pass and my glamorous assistant emerged unhurt.. that tiling brochure isn’t there by accident.. it’s a cunning first line of defence. 

Then with the onset of European Death Rock duties pressing I tightened the strings to the correct tuning and left the bass for a day or two to settle down before coming back with a pair of pliers to tighten up again and tidy up the surplus string wire above the peg.  

And that’s it. 

It’s a bit more of a struggle that re-stringing the Fender on the left of that picture but these Moscow strings are so thick I can’t imagine having to do it again for a good few years. Which leaves me free to concentrate on my vodka-lifting duties in between songs.

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