Clearing a space on the desk in front of me I have all the tools I need to change the strings on a guitar. The thing is, I’ve had this odd anxiety about re-stringing creeping over me recently and I feel a lot of shame about it.
Who on earth feels nervous about changing the strings on a guitar? I’ve been doing it for over forty years.
I loosen the old strings, cut them off, remove the bridge pegs, and begin to wind in the new set. It’s fine until I start to increase the tension and the tone of the string increases with every turn of the tuning peg, building to an intolerable expectation.
If you’ve ever had a string break on you while you’re tuning it the shock at the sudden “twang” is palpable, and I don’t like it.
Why am I telling you this? It’s because one of the things that makes anxiety worse is our intolerance towards it, especially if it seems a ridiculous and unnecessary fear.
Turning to Google I am amazed to find that fear of guitar strings breaking is not at all uncommon. “Guitar string phobia” returns just shy of one million results.
I’ve learned a lot about phobia from my friend Martin, who is a recovering alcoholic. Not because he is afraid of things, apart from any items that are not in alphabetical or chronological order, but because of the way his addiction recovery has been underpinned by a refusal to be shamed for his difficulties.
Most people are ashamed of their anxieties. I too was ashamed of my guitar string phobia, until I decided to tell all of you about it here.
For the record, I am also afraid of heights, being stabbed (this is quite reasonable you might think, but it is related to a complex relationship with knives since I cut off the top of my finger making a pizza some years ago and then a particularly harrowing episode of “Cracker”, which made me faint), fairground rides (since my brother knew someone who repaired them and told me how easily they break), and balloons.
This last one is probably the most shaming of all but, funnily enough, I feel completely at peace with it because my dad was afraid of balloons and I know that phobia can be inherited, so it’s plainly his fault.
My dad was also anxious about bats because he worried that one might get caught in his hair. This was ridiculous for two reasons. Firstly because he rarely encountered a bat and, secondly, he was bald.
So, I’m coming clean about my guitar string phobia while reminding you about something else that is true of anxiety and phobia. You cannot let it overpower you.
I still use knives because to avoid doing so would have a drastically limiting impact on my life, as you’d know if you’d ever tried to slice bread with a spoon.
But, I avoid heights (I am possibly one of the few people who has visited Paris without venturing up the Eiffel Tower), fairground rides (since stuffing a stick of candy floss into my dad’s lap when petrified that “The Waltzer” we were riding on was going to spin off into the distance carrying us with it), and I won’t go anywhere that balloons are being inflated (which means I am never asked to be involved in the preparation for parties).
Anyway, I’d better get on with these strings. I’d put my fingers in my ears if I could but that makes the whole task much more difficult, so I guess I’ll have to tough it out.
Funnily enough, I’ve just realised that the fear of balloons is pretty similar to the guitar string thing. They are both about sudden unexpected noise. So, it’s probably all my dad’s fault anyway.