The Lightbulb Moment: Time For A Change (of Strings)
A letter, documenting the moment when you realize that things aren’t what they used to be but that you have the power to amend the situation. This particular moment, and the frequency with which it occurs, is different for everyone. That said, this letter highlights a few subtle signs to help you determine when it’s time to make some modifications.
I love you. You are my best friend, my rock, and my roll. You are the one I turn to for enjoyment and fulfillment, inspiration and creation, understanding and obsession. I admire your frets and the way the thin bars of metal shimmer under the bright lights beaming over the stage. I enjoy the weight of you on my shoulder as I carry you into a lesson or to a gig on a Saturday night. I take great pleasure in seeing you at rest in the stand next to my desk, simply waiting to be picked up and plugged in.
The sound of your pickups makes me think of the great African Elephant roaming the desert with loud, thunderous steps that shake the earth. They change personality with the turn of a knob, reminding me of James, Jaco, Jerry, and Jack. Your neck is beautiful and familiar, with complex wood grain that appeal to my eye and support the movement of my fingertips. You are wonderful.
But lately I’ve been thinking… something seems different about you. We don’t have the same connection, the same spark and excitement that I remember. There was a time when I felt like we could do anything, where the sound of my slapping could inspire the most stubborn wallflower to hop on the dance floor and shake a tail feather. You used to be bright and clear, where the attack of the pick brought authority and energy to the music we made together. The individuality of quick sixteenth notes, the effortless movement all along the fretboard, the feeling of clean steel beneath my calluses, the freedom of inhibition. That is what I remember.
How did we get here, bass? What has happened in the past few months that brought about this change in our relationship? Was it the hours of woodshedding? Or perhaps it’s because I didn’t have time to wash my hands at the gig… the waitress brought out the food ten minutes before starting last night. Or has it been time for a while now? Have I been in denial of this necessary change, secretly hoping to avoid having to start all over again? Or have I been oblivious and unconcerned? I guess now it’s time for a change. Of strings, that is.
We’ve had a good run, current set of strings. You’ve done your job well and have been trustworthy, performing expertly under the pressure of my fingers. You’ve withstood the changes of the seasons, the slight shift of the neck, and even that time I adjusted the bridge to lower the action. You sounded sweet and tender on the ballads we’ve played, heavy and aggressive on the rock and roll anthems, and perfectly reminiscent of the old-school soul serenades. Thank you, strings, for being everything I needed.
And now, as I move on, I remember all of the lessons I’ve learned from you. I know that it will take a month to become comfortable with your replacement and that in the beginning, I’ll regret my decision to dispose of you. I’m sure I’ll be shocked by the brightness of the new strings, as my ears have become accustomed to your darker and subtle nature. My fingers may stumble around on the cold rigidity of the fresh set until they settle in and have acquired a little bit of dirt and a little bit of funk. It will, as always, take some getting used to.
I bid you adieu, old strings, and look forward to this fresh start. You were wonderful, but all good things must come to an end.
As for you, bass, may you be happy and enlightened by this necessary transformation. Give me the sound I’ve always wanted, the comfort I desire, and the freedom of expression that makes the music better. Thank you, my friend.
All of the best grooves,
Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!