String ’em up!

Close-up of guitar frets and strings

Today was the first time, I’m ashamed to say, that I’d changed the strings on my Burns Brian May guitar. I’d got it into my head that the Grover Locking Machine Heads (tuning pegs, to you and me) would be difficult to operate.

Quite the opposite. They were a dream to use: slide the string through, begin to tighten and they automatically lock the string in place on the machine head. It couldn’t be simpler. They do exactly as it says on the label.

What was difficult, however, was stretching the strings in on a guitar with a knife-edge / floating tremolo. In the end I had to hold the trem down while I stretched the strings in, retuned, stretched a bit more, retuned, ad infinitum. It took me about a hour to get the tuning settled. Thankfully, the strings on the other two guitars — electro-acoustic and acoustic bass — were much easier to change and tune.

I’ve had an article from the US Guitar Shop magazine in my guitar resources folder since 1995. It’s kept me absolutely right on how to replace strings since then. So I’ve scanned it and offer it to you below. (I’ve reformated the layout to make it easier to follow.)

Finally … the Right Way To Put On Strings

by Mike Duffey

Guitar Shop, February 1995

Say you just strung up your guitar and every time you play it, it goes out of tune. I’m sorry to tell you that you probably strung it up improperly — surprisingly, it’s even a common error among advanced players. So get yourself a fresh set of strings and let’s try it again. Proper stringing is one of the most basic lessons for guitarists, but once you learn how to do it, the rest of your guitar-picking life will be ever so much smoother.

Diagrams on how to correctly string a guitar

Acoustic steel-string and standard electric guitars

First, we’ll deal with the easiest guitars to string: the acoustic steel-string and standard electric.

  1. Start by attaching the low E string to your bridge; there are so many different types of bridges out there, but I’m sure you can figure out where to put the ball-end.
  2. Next, take the string and thread it through the proper tuning machine stem. Leave enough slack in the string between the tuner and bridge so that the string pulls taught approximately 4″ from the fretboard (this equals about 1 – ½” length-wise).
  3. Here’s where it gets tricky. Once the string is through the stem, bring it around the stem in the direction away from the tuner knob (see Figure 1).
  4. Take the string end under the section of the string that originally entered the stem and then bend the string at a right-angle away from the face of the headstock (see Figure 2).
  5. As you tighten the string up, the friction of string-against-string should keep it from slipping.

Once you are used to this manner of stringing, you will find that it’s an easy on/easy off method that can’t be beat.

Classical and Nylon-string guitars

Unfortunately for you classical/nylon-string guitarists, your stringing method is a little tougher.

  1. Start at the bridge. Feed the string through the appropriate hole, then lead the string back under itself next to the saddle.
  2. From here you take the end of the string and wind it around the section of string directly adjacent to the bridge two or three times (see Figure 3).
  3. Take care to leave the string end pointing toward the center of the bridge.
  4. Now to the headstock. Leaving practically no slack in the string, fish the string through the appropriate tuning post.
  5. Bring the string around the post, wrapping around the section string that first entered the post and finish the loop by threading the string back under itself (see Figure 4).
  6. Again, as you tighten, the string will tighten against itself and therefore not slip.
  7. Lastly, take a graphite pencil (a good ol’ #2 will do), and twist the point in each nut string slot. This will allow the string to move freely through the slot.

And that’s all there is to it. I hope these stringing methods will help to keep your guitar in tune. The explanation was a little like telling a blind man how to tie his shoes, but if you stick with the pictures, you’ll do just fine.

Mike Duffey does guitar repairs and restorations at Future Music in Media, PA, in addition to finding time to play local jazz and pop gigs, and teach around 50 guitar students a week.

Delivering job applications

A stamp that says Urgent

This last week I’ve filled in two job application forms, both for very different jobs at The University of St Andrews — one in Education Liason, the other in IT. Both posts caught my imagination and I’ve been quite excited filling in the application forms imagining how I might carry out those roles using the skills and experience that I’ve accumulated so far. I just have to wait and see.

Because the deadline for application forms for one of the posts is tomorrow, I’m driving up to Cellardyke tonight to stay over so that I can hand-deliver the form to Human Resources tomorrow morning and get back to Edinburgh without having to lose half the day.

Something that I’ve found really helpful when filling in my forms are a couple of sheets that I’d prepared a few years ago. On them — and I need to update them once again — I have a kind of elongated and exploded CV, detailing fully my previous academic and job experiences (exact dates, addresses, contact details, responsibilities, training courses, etc.). I also have another sheet listing all my places of residence with full addresses and dates. Those two sheets have saved me so much time in the past, and are easy to update as and when I need to.

How to be a Programmer

Button with Enter Code written next to it.

I can’t remember how I stumbled on this essay “How to be a Programmer: A Short, Comprehensive, and Personal Summary“, but it was probably via

I’ve not yet had the change to read it through fully, but I have printed it to PDF so that I can access it at a later date, and on my Psion if I want. It really is worth a read.

Debugging is the cornerstone of being a programmer. The first meaning of the verb to debug is to remove errors, but the meaning that really matters is to see into the execution of a program by examining it. A programmer that cannot debug effectively is blind.

In some ways it reminds me a little of a book that my friend Bernard recommended many years ago: Code Complete by Steve McConnell.

Code Complete is now in its second edition, and has its own website: where you can download sample chapters and example code.

The book is packed with examples of good practice, and tips galore. Back when I was spending more time programming my Psions in OPL I found little tips like prefixing all my global variables with a lower-case ‘g’ really useful, eg gHighScore. It meant that at a glance I could tell whether a particular variable in a procedure was local or global. Simple, obvious, and quite beautiful.

There have been plenty of examples of good behaviour that I’ve been able to incorporate into my web design practices, such as the importance of planning and designing before building, and techniques for self-documenting the code. I even managed to squeeze a sermon out of a one chapter a few years ago: comparing our faith to software development. Sometimes a piece of code says do x, y and then z regardless of what else is going on at the time; at other times the code depends on where it is, and what else has happened. Sometimes our faith is like that too, sometimes we’re in a different place when God comes a visitin’ again.

The day that I preached that sermon there was a visiting computer programmer from Texas in the congregation in Inverness. I was blessed by that, and if I remember correctly the comments that I got at the West Door as people were leaving he was about the only person who fully understood that particular metaphor that day. But then God is like that sometimes: sometimes part of the message is tailor-made for that one person.

I wonder if I can get a sermon out of “How to be a Programmer”?

Folders trick in Windows XP

Screenshot of my music folder in thumbnails view showing images of album covers
Now my Queen album MP3s are easier to find than when they were all in yellow folders.

Here’s something cool that I didn’t know until today — and me that knows everything! hehe ;): if you place an image file in a folder in Windows XP and rename the image file folder.jpg and then view the parent folder in Thumbnails view each folder shows the image file in the middle of the large yellow folder icon. Which is great for quickly finding music folders, for example. (See screenshot above.)

Finding the right font

Logo for Identifont website

The Identifont website has come to the rescue this evening as I’ve been retyping a few of the documents I lost when I accidentally trashed my hard drive in September of last year.

The idea is simple. You answer a number of questions about the font you’re looking for based on what the various glyphs (characters) look like and it will attempt to identify the font for you.

So, for example, the first question is “What type of tail does the upper-case ‘Q’ have? (Ignore the shape of the tail.)”:

  • Crosses the circle.
  • Touches the circle.
  • Below and separated from the circle.
  • Tail extends or lies inside circle.
  • Circle is open, tail part of same stroke.
  • Not sure.

As you progress through the questionnaire Identifont gives an update on how close it is to finding a possible match, eg “2441 candidates. Approximately eleven more questions.”

The documents I’ve been re-typing are for our holiday cottage in Cellardyke. Foolishly I’d not taken a back-up, but thankfully I did have a hard-copy of the Booking Form and Prices Summary Sheet and after trawling three times through my list of installed fonts I gave up and called on the help of Identifont, which after about 12 questions — and my squinting closely at the print-out — suggested that it might be one of

  • Gill Display Compressed
  • Gill Sans Condensed
  • Jigsaw Light
  • EF Lucida Casual T
  • Tantalus

“Ahhh … Gill Sans!” I exclaimed. “That’s it!”

It wasn’t.

But it was GillSans Light, a Type 1 Adobe font. Identifont had correctly identified the font family, which was a great help.

Thanks go to James Frost who first showed me the Identifont website.