It’s a job I do almost every day. You’d think I know what I’m doing. Most folks would.
Alongside the Lovely Lady, I’ve spent most of my life in this little music store. Folks bring in instruments almost daily for me to repair. The most common request I get is to replace the strings on guitars.
Six strings. Take the old grungy ones off—replace them with shiny new ones. It’s an easy job—one I could do in my sleep. Or, so I have thought.
Today, as I finished up one such job, I learned that familiarity is not the same as expertise. One implies comfort, the other, attentiveness.
The old, rust-covered wires had all been removed, the fingerboard cleaned and oiled, and the bright, bronze-colored strings put into place. All that remained was to tune the guitar, a part of the job I pride myself on.
I’m good at this part! Bringing the slack strings up to tension, I can almost always tune them to pitch, without a tuning aid of any sort, within a quarter-step of standard. Then, with the tuning fork, completion of the job is a cinch, my sensitive ear enabling me to complete the job easily.
Do you note just the tiniest hint of pride in that last paragraph? Perhaps there is more than a hint. Funny. I hear the words clearly—in retrospect, that is—which a wise man spoke many centuries ago. Pride goes before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)
I had completed the initial rough tuning and, with an electronic device attached to the headstock of the guitar, attempted to complete the job. Note I said attempted.
The results were somewhat less than stellar.
The first string settled into tune easily. Likewise, the second. When I got to the third string though—that’s when the problem began. Perhaps it was before; I don’t really know.
I must have been distracted. Or maybe, tired. It doesn’t matter.
I plucked the third string to listen to the pitch as I increased the tension. Twisting on the knob, I waited to hear a change in the sound. All that happened is it got really hard to turn the knob.
I kept twisting, wondering as I did if the gear inside was damaged. Suddenly, there was a loud BANG! and the knob became quite easy to turn. The other thing that happened was the immediate stinging sensation on the back of my hand as the tip of the broken string hit it.
Drops of blood rose to the surface immediately and I put the back of my hand up to my mouth to draw away the blood and soothe the sting.
There was nothing to soothe the sting to my pride, though. It was an amateur’s mistake. The fingers on one hand had plucked the third string repeatedly, awaiting change, while the fingers on the other hand twisted the knob for the second string.
There is only a space of about one third of an inch between the strings. One third of an inch.
Such a small distance. Such a disastrous result.
Perhaps this is the place I should end this little morality tale. I should talk about our sinful nature and how close we come to doing what is right. I could even suggest that the slightest deviation from the right path will lead to destruction. If we keep all the law, but err in one point, we are doomed. (James 2:10)
I don’t want to end the story there—mostly because that’s not where it ends. I didn’t leave the broken string on the guitar. I didn’t carry the offensive thing into my back room to await an ignominious fate in the distant future.
When the customer arrived to retrieve his fine instrument moments later, he picked up a perfectly beautiful (and in-tune) guitar. He ran his fingers across the strings and mused at the astounding depth of tone and beauty.
Every time, Paul—every time—I am amazed at the difference when the strings are changed!
With that, he was gone. The stunning instrument will be played on a stage this weekend. The audience will marvel.
Did you really think the story would end because one idiot got a third of an inch off? I suppose some could write that story. Not I.
I’m a believer in grace. Second chances. Broken strings which are replaced with new ones—and then replaced again—and again.
So, I’m a little off.
That is true for any human who can read these words.
Pain ensues. Blood flows.
The music is still not finished.
The Master Musician is making a masterpiece, a work of art.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
(Ephesians 2:8-10 ~ NIV)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.