Blogging is running a bit behind my actual musical life, thanks largely to almost certainly my only actual holiday of the year bookended by weekends playing. Hopefully I’ll catch up over the next few days, freelance publishing work permitting.
Anyway, casting my mind back to Saturday 27th May, I was gigging down in Sutton (or technically its sub-suburb Belmont), on the south-eastern fringes of London, with Kindred Spirit. We were doing essentially a full evening’s music, barring a short warmup set from one-man covers act Nick Higton, who trades under The Aultones. Now in general that band have tech setup down fairly slick when we’re using our own PA (house sound techs tend, understandably, to draw a sharp intake of breath at a five-piece with four vocs mikes and instrument range including violin, flute and saxophone!). However, a few years of changing violin strings annually in order to keep a good sound, rather than because they were in danger of snapping, had led me, dare I admit it, into some complacency over the real need to carry spares amid the bustle of other life events. The D string on my electric violin took it upon itself to correct this fault by developing a fault of its own – when I opened up the case it was unravelling and clearly there was no way it would sustain any tension.
This was looking very grim, until a brainwave from Kindred Spirit’s guitarist, frontwoman and general mainstay Elaine. Who simply suggested using one of her spare guitar strings. I should say at this point that I would never dare do this on an acoustic instrument! But the electric violin is a much more robust and (mechanically) simple piece of kit, as well as a much cheaper one that could easily be replaced like for like if everything went terribly wrong. And at least ball ends are pretty much the same on any string, so there was enough of a starting-point. We went through a bundle of guitar strings, comparing widths and settling on trying a G. One mystery to me even as an occasional guitarist is why the strings are always so very much longer than they need to be! Of course this was much more true fitting to a shorter instrument, and violin pegboxes don’t allow you to wind lots of string round the peg the way you can on a guitar headstock, so a pair of scissors and significantly more effort than I expected trimmed the string down to a feasible length.
After all of this I was expecting trouble on many fronts – not least that violin strings always stretch and go flat for the first little while, and my experience as a guitarist is new strings there slacken more when they are first put on. Here I had a gig to play! Actually, the new string kept tuning better than I would normally expect of a violin string. And, just as much to my surprise, it sounded fine once fed through the pickup and amplification chain – even blending adequately evenly with the other three ‘proper’ violin strings (admittedly they are also all-metal strings, recommended for use with a piezo bridge pickup, and the similarity in construction presumably helps). I’ve actually played another gig since on the same string and may leave it in place for one more if that allows me to put on a full new set of strings and have a set of spares, rather than an another interim fix.
Morals of the story: firstly, never say die! The gig actually went off well and the string crisis didn’t cause problems once we were going (unlike the sheer heat and humidity, which caused my violin as a whole to go about a quarter-tone flat by the interval!). Secondly, if in desperate need, guitar strings can be used as violin string substitutes (but I still don’t recommend it except on a solid-body instrument you’re reasonably cavalier about) …
Come back next post for more gig-related dramas, this time less of my own making and taking place at a steampunk convention in Crewe.