Man strings

Sorcha Wilcox plays in a band called Dowser and is a PhD candidate at Deakin University. Here she reflects on a less-than-ideal experience in a Melbourne guitar shop.

I’ve been playing guitar since I was like, fourteen, or something – basically from since I first heard Thin Lizzy. Since then I have shared the standard girl-who-plays-guitar-in-a-rock-n-rollesque-style-band problem which is being ripped on by guys. And girls too, sometimes, which is even worse because girls are almost conditioned to not support each other in the face of misogynistic bullying.

Rock n roll (as a very general term) music is very male dominated. I know it, you know it, we all know it, right? Right. Thus music/guitar shops are reflective of this.

I used to get slightly nervous walking into a guitar or music shop because, well, this may sound paranoid, but they’re always full of guys ready to tell you you don’t know what you’re talking about. And they love doing it. You can see them begin to sweat with excitement. If I were a stronger or less-sensitive person I’d probably rip ’em a new one, and I’m sure there are plenty of girls that have but I’m not very quick with the wit.

Anyway, about two years ago I started playing in a kind of doom band and had to get a guitar set up at a place I hadn’t been to but had heard good things about (from some male friends, come to think of it).

It went like this:

“Hey.”

“Hey. What can I do for you?”
“Well, I wanna get my guitar set up for super heavy strings and for lower tuning.”
“So you want a set up with, what, wait – what strings do you have on there now?”
“Well none now, I took ’em off, but – “

“What, so then, like nines or something?”
“No, more like twelves.”
“Twelves?”  (This is seriously the guy’s face.)

“Yeah, is that a –“
“Wait, pick one from here, which ones?”
“Those there. The twelves to fifty sixes.”
“Twelves are fuckin’ man strings!”

” Um-  ”

“Oi, Gus – this chick wants man strings on her guitar.”
“Man strings?” (This is Gus – well, I’ll pretend his name is Gus)
“Yeah, wants twelves!”
“But they’re fuckin’ man strings, fer men, like.”
“You sure you want twelves?”

“Yes?”
“Tell ‘er they’re man strings, for dudes.”
“What’s all this guys?”
“Ha. This chick wants to get a set up with twelves.”
“Seriously? Only dudes can play fuckin’ twelves. Tell ‘er. What for? What are you playing?”
“Like, doom kinda stuff.”
“Really? You’re playing in a doom band?”
“Well, kinda doom stoner stuff, I suppose, yeh.”
“Right? Right, well, they are man strings.”

I mean, y’know. Total face palm. Looking back now I can’t believe how much shit I took. Somehow I thought that ignoring being treated like shit in the face of a fucking arsehole rather than kicking that fucking arsehole made me less affected by it but apparently not. I’m actually kind of embarrassed I didn’t tell them as much that day. It was definitely not a “you’re not cool enough to be in here” thing and absolutely a “you’re a girl – get fucked” thing.

Now days, I have a more “fuck y’all” attitude (in my head, at least) when I approach the counter and rather than getting annoyed at the little girl treatment I just laugh about it with people later.

I told my friends about this too. I was having a great time recounting the story, havin’ a laugh about it but they were all like “Dude, that’s fucked.”
“Well, yea, it’s kinda fucked, but that’s, y’know, nothing completely unusual.”
“What?”
“Dude, that shit’s standard when I go into any music shop. Except for yer man Cargill down in Seaford. I think it was his son or something who served me, some younger guy. Total babe but anyway…”
“Oh, that guy? Totally.”
“I know, right?”
“What, so, they make fun of you?”
“Well, I wouldn’t really call it that, I’d say they’re just-“
“Dude, they’re making fun of you because you’re a girl. That’s so, like- “
“Al, c’mon, you’ve copped this shit with me all through music in school and stuff.”
“I know man, it’s just normal. Just like when I was at work and I had short hair and they were all calling me Justin Bieber and shit.”
“What, who?”

“Like, my fuckin’ boss n’ shit. Everyone.”
“But you’re a girl!”
“I know, tits n all, right? Nup. Bieber.”
“Fark.”

Now, I could go on to tell you about how terrible this set up was and how many times I had to go back in to get it fixed (including leaving the giant spring out of the Bigsby and having to re-cut the bone nut, and then put in a whole new one because they shagged it), and how in the end I made some guy give me cash back outta the till and then the owner called me up asking what happened and said he’d do the guitar himself for free (“I do Chris Cheney’s guitar, so I know Gretsches”) but it’s still got a couple of major issues.

Overall it was a terrible customer service experience but there’s no fun in that story. And I don’t want to sound like a middle-aged woman complaining about her retail experiences. Heard enuffa tha’. So, each time I went in to pick it up:
“Yeh, hey, I’m here to pick up a Gretsch under Gorcha?”
“Oh! Yeh, the Gretsch. Man strings.”
“Man strings chick is back.”
“Yerp. I did the set up myself. So much tension, thought maybe the neck might break off. You better be careful with tha’.”
“Cos, y’know, twelves are pretty heavy.”
“Yeh, they’re real man strings.”

Sigh. Funnily enough, when my boyfriend went in to get a similar set up they didn’t say shit to him. Then again, his beard is giant. Cunce.

I would be interested to know how many girls feel the same looking back on their past “Fuck you – you’re a girl in music you piece of shit” situations, no matter what genre we’re talking about because we’re fighting the same fight.

I feel totally different about it now and to be honest, the fight we have fought so far, in Melbourne anyway, is very noticeable. Now I find myself challenging guys on their shit comments or their attitudes. Or pointing out when guys are like “Oh, I think I should pull out of this bill because there are no women playing and there’s controversy about it” but never looking at or acknowledging me in the conversation and talking to the guys standing with me, regardless of the fact we have met several times (fuck that one really pisses me off – “Oh, I’m so conscientious that I don’t realise I’m shitting on you whilst being conscious of my shit”).

P.S. The shop was Deluxe Guitars in South Melbourne. Fuck them.