January 18, 2018
It doesn’t take much to make a big difference. The other day when I was practicing my bass, I noticed that the E and G (lowest and highest) strings were buzzing, indicating that the strings were too close to the fingerboard and needed to be raised. Last summer when I had my bass checked out by the repair shop, they replaced the old, possibly original bridge with a new adjustable one. It’s a simple principle; instead of being made as a single piece of wood, the feet of the bridge are cut and drilled to receive a threaded rod that raises or lowers the height of the bridge. For anyone unfamiliar with the terminology, the bridge is in the middle of the instrument body; the strings run from the head of the instrument, down the neck, pass over the bridge and down to the tailpiece. There is roughly 150-250 pounds of pressure on the bridge of a string bass, meaning those little threads have to withstand some pretty intense pressure for everything to work well.
To rid myself of that pesky buzzing, I loosened the strings and rotated the adjusters. Nothing happened. They kept turning, but the bridge didn’t rise. So today I took the instrument in to my bass professor. As we turned the adjusters, they would grab, then release, which indicated that the threads were stripped. We removed the bridge, turned the adjusters, and everything raised up just fine...until we replaced the bridge and started tuning the bass. Suddenly there was a loud pop. The adjusters had indeed stripped their threads and were unable to bear the pressure of the strings.
When you think about it, compared to the pressure they must withstand, there’s not much surface area on a threaded rod, or in the wooden hole into which they are threaded. Usually, it’s enough, but not always. The difference between success and failure is surprisingly small. Life itself can be like that, too. Races are won or lost by thousandths of a second, a fraction of a degree can spell the difference between a billiard ball landing in the pocket or bouncing off the rail. A single element of an equation determines a right or wrong answer. A single additional sin can be the final straw in a marriage that is on the ropes.
By the same token, a single step taken in the right direction, a simple act of repentance, a small kindness, a single word of forgiveness can be just enough to turn a life around, to bring hope where there has been despair. I had saved the old unadjustable bridge, and we installed it this afternoon. I can once more make music, or at least make an attempt at it. It’s not quite right; after all, it’s more than eighty years old, but it works, and I’ve been reminded of an important lesson: A little means a lot. Maybe tomorrow, whatever little I can do for someone else will mean a lot, and enable that person to make beautiful life music once more.