Monday, October 15, 2007

Zen and the Art of Guitar Maintenance

Metal is a strange genre. It appeals to a peculiar side of the male psyche that wants, more than anything, to be seen to understand things that other people don’t; to possess some insightful understanding that sees the merit in what others discard. It is, essentially, an exclusive club – a shared opinion that allows those who hold it to feel like an enlightened minority, that they appreciate something special that passes lesser mortals by. I dare say that there are some people who are in it because they really like the sound of guitars distorted so much that they sound like a motorbike with a kazoo stuck over the end of the exhaust pipe, but they are rare.

This is all stuff that I’ve said before, probably better and more coherently than I have here, but I was reminded of it today whilst setting up a guitar. The guitar in question, my brother’s, is fitted with a Floyd Rose Double-Locking Tremolo – it’s a bridge that looks like this:

Ugly isn’t it.

This giant chunk of chromed brass is a fairly recent invention: A refinement (of sorts) of your standard Stratocaster Tremolo, designed in the late seventies by a man named Floyd Rose. It has its advantages – it can bend the notes up or down 3-4 semitones without pulling all your strings out of tune when you return to normal pitch – which is useful, if you like that sort of thing. They do undoubtedly have their uses, not uses I particularly approve of, but uses nonetheless.

My beef, however, is with how teeth gratingly frustrating and impractical they are to work with: They take ages to get in tune, finger bending on one string brings the pitch of all the others down, you have to take the strings off to adjust the intonation, and, worst of all, if one string breaks the change in tension pulls of the other strings out of tune, and the locking nut & bridge makes changing said string impossible to do quickly – so if you break a string on stage you are totally fucked.

In this thing, however, lies further evidence that my theories about metal are not completely wrong. These machines are impractical, cumbersome and rarely used to an extent that counterbalances their many faults, even by their admirers. Yet they are, nonetheless, loved by heavy metal guitarists. They adopt very much the same attitude to them as I’d noticed in relation to their music; that these things are perfect in some way that mere mortals can’t understand. They dismiss all the faults as mere trifles designed to put off the casual user, leaving it for the purists who really appreciate it. I assume that this means that they take this approach to everything; I expect they find the turner prize interesting, and think Finnegan’s Wake is great.

I despair.