It was close enough for rock and roll: the fourth string, the G string, was only a few cents flat. For whatever reason, at that moment, it just did not sound right. The tuner gets connected and the low E string is plucked, then the A string. Both miss the mark by the same amount. The third string, D, was also off the mark. While the guitar is “in tune” with itself, it is out of tune with the standard reference frequency of 440 hertz. This happens when the guitar is transported between venues; changing temperatures, vibrations, jostling and bumps all affect the tension of the strings. Back to the low E string. Loosen the tension a bit, then tune up to the proper pitch. Using this approach keeps the tension on the string, to stay in tune. On to the second string, then the third, using the same technique. The increasing tension of the strings begins to increase the tension on the neck, go back to the low E string and make sure it has not gone sharp, then the next two again. Now on to the supposed culprit, the fourth string and yes, it is terribly flat. Tighten the tension a bit to stretch the string and loosen it before bringing it up to the note “G”. Keeping a watchful eye on the tuner’s screen to make sure the needle goes straight up, a slight twist on the guitar peg to increase the tension, and no movement on the needle. Another twist and no change in pitch. Maybe a larger twist? Then the sound that guitar players dread: it’s a sort of “pth-twang” and the snap and breaking of the string. Looking down at the strings and then up to the hand that is holding the wrong guitar peg and realize there has been too much tension placed on the now broken B string, the fifth string.
Oh well, it was probably time to get all new strings anyway.
When that happens during a practice session it is disheartening; when it happens during a live performance, that is a different story and quite a different tension! There a two great examples that leave most guitar players in awe. BB King and Stevie Ray Vaughan both continued to perform with a broken string, King even re-strings while performing. Watch BB King here and watch Stevie Ray Vaughan here.
Lutheran theologians teach about the Christian living a life in tension. We live in tension of being simultaneously sinner and saint, the tension of Law and Gospel, the tension of faith and works, the tension of living as a free person yet a servant to our neighbor. In the “close enough for rock and roll” times, we are in tune with ourselves. We think we are good enough to practice and just get by. In contrast, the times we need to tune to “the standard”, we need to be careful to put the tension on the proper string. We re-tune when we gather with other Christians, we can be in awe as we watch others overcome broken strings as they play on. Knowing that it is possible to play on gives hope. As the author of Hebrews writes, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Carefully consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”
Remember though, the standard to which we tune, which is the next verse from Hebrews just quoted: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
When you are tuning up and you realize you have missed the mark, remember that in Jesus there is forgiveness, life, and salvation: gather with Christians for Word and Sacrament, then rock on!
Trust the Promises,