A music instrument in itself has a persona-meaning personality, as much as its player has. Well to begin with let’s look at the different materials each instrument is made up of.
We know that the hand crafted music instruments and the materials are the ones that give the richest quality of the sound. While those made of plastic will give a cheaper sound of a low music quality. The music instruments are in broader terms classified in five types : percussion, woodwind, string, brass and keyboard. Earlier there were only three classifications : the wind, the percussion and the string. Later with the advent of technology came in the keyboard(the electric).
In earlier times, primitive men made sounds with their bodies. From then on, the humans evolved to using objects like shells, stones, parts of plants to make sounds. The purpose of these, earlier was for ritual than that of entertainment. For eg: shell was used as the “shankhnaad” in the temple by the Brahmins before beginning their rituals and worship in the temple for auspiciousness. It was considered really pious. Flute then was considered to be played before the beginning of the hunt. And hence forth, the use of the sound evolved and so it’s utilities. The quality of the material used in the instrument affects it’s sound too. For eg: the sound produced by leather in the percussion will differ from a sound produced by a string used in violin or a guitar, and again the rosewood of the guitar will give a different sound than that of the spanish cedar or pumpkin of a tanpura. The metal of the metal flute will give a very different sound than that of a bamboo or a wooden flute.
The size of the instrument matters. Large instruments produce lower pitches and the smaller ones produce high pitches. Shape of an instrument affects the sound, the way it moves through in the instrument and rings out finally. So we did talk about the material , size and shape of an instrument that will affect it’s sound. But the very small and minute things, most often gone unnoticed, like the strings, the bridges, the boards, the Jivari of the tanpuras, all of these small things contribute to the persona of the instrument. For eg: the ivory bridge will sound different than that of a wooden bridge. The quality of the cotton thread used will affect the sound and put in life in to the overtone, rich buzzing character of the tanpura sound. Similarly the quality of the violin bow made from ivory and the horse hair will sound different every time it is replaced. The strings of guitars when replaced, the bridge when replaced, will give totally a different sound and change it’s character.
That said, when we talk only of the quality of material used in a musical instrument, size, shape of the instrument, how can we deny that each instrument would then have it’s own persona too. We already know how each musician is unique and how his playing style will affect the sound each instrument produces. Offcourse then the music style too. But how can we forget that one traditional 100 years old Miraj Female Tanpura is totally unique and will sound very very special and different than that of a Tanpura made of pumpkin. How can we deny that a tanpura without a Jiwari will sound different than that of one with it. It will simply put life in to the sound. How can we deny that a rose wood years old guitar, will always sound special than that of a guitar recently purchased. I am not underrating here an instrument as new and old. A new instrument may also sound really good and give out great sounds. But here i am going to jot out the importance of a personality of each music instrument. No two guitars will be same. Each has it’s own unique character.
So how did i come to this topic to blog about. Well to me, as a kid, i was always attached to my tanpura that we purchased for my riyaaz. It was very very special. I owned a very old 100 years old harmonium that I inherited as ancestral property of my great grandfather which was used in “Bhajans” and “Dhoons” as i belonged to a traditional Brahmin family. Since I was the one to pursue music since childhood, it was given to me when other possessions were distributed to the members. Post that i bought my own synthesiser-Yamaha PSR I425. And then joined my family Epiphone AJ100CE , acoustic guitar. I had no knowledge about guitars, but i just googled and concluded to something nice to suit me, as i wanted one for recordings. I had narrowed down my search to this epiphone that had a DI for the purpose of recording. I never needed any external equalizers or toners as i already have an eleven rack and other awesomest coolest plugins signature in my protools software that can craft the sonic textures of the recordings of guitars. So when i went to the Furtados store to buy this one, i just went through some few pieces and played them to see how they sounded. I liked this one with a big body, it gave a little deep sound and the rich tone soon clicked to my ears. It did not take much long for me to narrow down to the sound to select it. I was not a pro at it, but i chose what i liked and i really dont regret my ears for that! I found that it had a personality. It met my needs, of recording, it had a rich bass deep tone, nice projection and life was simplified for me. The strings came with the guitars and i really did not much had to worry about it’s selection. I soon got attached to the sound as i started strumming it and in no time, i got used to its sound. I started feeling, it was very very unique. I never played much of other guitars ever. But then this was my first love and i picked it up and it became my most favourite. We did few recordings with this beautiful soul and i was really happy as i used one DI and one microphone to track it. I had a thick rich beautiful sound of it when i recorded it. The sound of it soon became a very special part of my life subconsiouly. A little while later, i handed it over to my daughter as she began learning guitars. I told her, how to tune it and handle it and we were good to go. Offcourse she was overjoyed. She strummed it and her heart enjoyed it as much as i did. She too realised it had a unique personality. A very very unique sound of it’s own. There came a time when i was told to change it’s strings. And bummer! there we were. So we picked up the little guitar darling to the Furtados store. I tried replacing the strings with the same, that the brand Epiphone guitar came with. But sigh! there was not any of the sorts available for purchase. So i googled and also took a few references from guitarist i knew and got to know we could settle down on something and we chose D’Addario. Let me tell you, i am not much of a person with tons of knowledge about guitar instruments. But with whatever we knew and the consultant at the store guided, we settled down. I am a little too obsessed with my daw, my imac, synthesiser, guitar, microphone, headphone, all my instruments of studio and really don’t much like it when someone touches it or fiddles with it. These are my precious pearls and gems and i really maintain them and keep them with tons of care. We all know how expensive these are to own them. So i instructed the guy to change the strings very very carefully. They dont allow us to stand there in the workshop, while they do the maintenance of the instruments, however i instructed him to be really careful about the instrument. And me, my daughter and my husband stood outside waiting until he changed the strings chosen by us and brought our little darling back to us. And there when he got it back to us, I and my daughter were eager to see how it would sound. I would not have gone to change the strings, but we had to as it was a task to be carried out as a part of the guitar maintenance regime from time to time. I first took it in my hands and strummed it and i literally felt my heart torned in to pieces as i heard, the personality gone off from the guitar. The guitar lost it’s soul of the sound. The new sound hurt my heart and my ears. For a moment i could not believe what i heard. I knew the new strings were not sounding so rich and full. Not that the strings were cheap or not good, but the sound had changed. So i gave it to my daughter without much expressing myself hoping her to be happy. She strummed it and made a face to me saying: ” Mom, can’t we just get the old strings back” She continued “This is sounding horrible” I realised my daughter is a genius too, coz she has started learning to recognise and identify sounds. May be not a Phd but definitely better than a novice. On one side i was happy to see how my daughter could understand the change in sound. On the other i was a bit disappointed to see her sound go away. We both looked disheartened and we just looked at the manager who had confidently told us, that this new set of strings will sound great. We had no choice but to leave the store with the old strings wrapped up, circled and tied, handed over to us as we both mourned in silence, me and daughter looking at each other. My husband unable to understand what to say to both of us, just trying to solace us by saying : may be next time when you change strings, choose some other ones and they might sound good. It’s okay.
To mention it further, the truth was my guitar lost its soul- the personality of its sound. With those bundled strings handed back to us, all that was left to us, was this new personality of the guitar with new strings, having a new sound of its own. The old soul was gone. May it rest in peace. It took three-four days for me and daughter to be happy with the sound of the new strings. I was left with this old strings. They looked peaceful. Still so so beautiful. May be too much mush here. But yeah, that’s how i felt about it. May be i am going to free them by putting them in the free flowing river. Or just keep them in my studio table, hoping that the lost soul and the sound character will develop in to the new personality of the guitar with those of the new strings.
We all talk about musicians and their playing style. But we often do forget, that though inanimate, these beautiful music instruments are gems and so so unique and have their own individual personality. And when they live for long with the musician, they even develop a soul to them. I am sure most musicians can relate to this very well. For now i can just say and conclude that we were unhappy to see the old sound personality leave us, but i am fine with the new sound and have learnt to be happy with strumming our new stringed guitar. We lost one sound character from my bank. But we got a new sound personality and i am sure with those recordings and tweaking around here and there, i am going to smile. And That my daughter tuning it and playing it has started smiling again with this new guitar personality. We are going to miss the old sound. May you rest in peace and be peaceful wherever you are!
Pic: Old Strings Of My Epiphone AJ100CE