If you're interested in the history, origins and availability of "light" gauge strings, the following link to Eric Schoenberg's site, will at least get you started:
The pre-war production of steel guitar strings was driven by demand and pre-war demand for steel guitar strings came mainly from white dance band guitarists playing archtops desperately looking for volume above all else, in an era prior to the invention of the electric guitar.
And the cheapest and lightest gauge strings generally available in rural areas until the late 1960's were Black Diamond brand strings which came in one gauge only, 13 to 62. Try putting a set of those on a cheap, mail order, parlour without a tailpiece and tuning it up to concert.
And why would the old blues players have ever used modern light gauge strings if they'd been handed to them for free? If anyone needed volume, they certainly did.
I'd be very interested in any evidence you may have that 11 to 52 gauge string sets were widely available in the rural South, prior to WWII.
: With even further respect Chris, it is
: nonsense to say that only heavy strings were
: available pre-War. What is your evidence for
: perpetuating this myth?
: There are photos of string packets,
: catalogues etc from this period and it is
: clear that strings were offered in light
: gauges. The technology clearly existed or
: mandolins and banjoes would have been
: impossible to play.
: BW Johnson was said by BW McTell to play
: with a steel tube on his finger.
: Best, Phil
: --Previous Message--
: With due respect, Wax, there was no such
: as 'light gauge' strings, prior to WWII. so
: I've no Idea where you got that information
: I bow to your superior knowledge about the
: instructions given to Patton by his
: --Previous Message--
: You are making a lot of assumptions here
: are unfounded.
: It is pretty clear, aurally, whether a
: player is playing with the guitar held
: upright, or as you say
: "bottleneck" style, or lap style,
: which, by the way, does not necessarily
: imply the use of a hard edged knife. Many
: such as Mance Lipscombe, played upright with
: the back of the knife, which was often
: rounded, not square. Some would use the bone
: of the handle, etc. And some would use round
: edged steels made specifically for the
: purpose, then as they are today. I have an
: Oahu steel that was probably made in the
: If a player fretted notes, while also using
: a slide, as, for instance, Robert Johnson
: did, they were playing upright, and likely
: using a bottleneck or pipe which would stay
: on the pinky finger while fretting with the
: other fingers. Fretting while playing lap
: style, in which the strings are usually
: raised, is cumbersome at best and generally
: impossible. Patton never fretted while
: playing slide, and most who listen closely
: before making pronouncements feel he likely
: did play lap style.
: Yes, fretting well above the neck join is
: another good clue, but not an impossibility
: while playing upright/bottleneck. I have
: seen several accomplished players flip their
: left hand palm up to slide well beyond the
: neck join while playing upright.
: Listen for fretted notes. If you hear them,
: the player is holding the guitar upright. If
: you only hear slide or open notes, there is
: a good possibility, though not a certainty,
: the player is using lap style. Both of these
: styles were commonly used in the pre war
: Also, these players were intelligent enough
: to know that if they wanted to tune
: excessively high they should put lighter
: strings on their guitar. Most pre war
: players used a much lighter (.018') plain
: 3rd string, which would reduce tension
: somewhat as well. Try this, move all the
: strings of a light set over one string, and
: leave off the bass string. Then sub in a
: .009" or even just another .012 for the
: high E string. Now tune up to Standard at F#
: or G (I don't believe Patton went above F#
: in Standard, or B in Spanish). Feels about
: right, doesn't it, and you end up with a
: plain .016" third string. I tune my 95
: year old, well bellied Stella, strung with
: lights and a plain .018" third, up to
: Spanish at A and leave it there til next
: session without a care. Been doing that for
: 15 years and notice no change in action over
: that time. These guitars are built light,
: but not poorly, and they play best when
: played hard.
: There's no indication that Patton was
: playing and not just posing in that picture.
: He most likely would have had the guitar
: flat on his lap if he was actually playing.
: The photographer probably asked him to hold
: it up so the guitar was more visible.
: Your cat has no claws and the pigeons are
: chortling. There is endless aural evidence,
: but you likely have your evidence from
: books. Listen, experience, experiment, see
: what you find out.
: --Previous Message--
: Just to put a cat among the pigeons, I was
: wondering if there's any actual evidence
: that Patton, Blind Willie Johnson, Robert
: Johnson, or anyone one else, for that
: matter, actually played and/or recorded
: using what we now call
: "bottleneck" style guitar in the
: 1920s or '30s?
: Enlargements of the (relatively) recently
: discovered "studio" portrait of
: Patton, clearly shows him playing
: "knife" style on a "12
: fret" parlour held at 45 degrees on his
: Further evidence in favour of Patton's use
: of "knife" style, comes from
: recordings like "When Your Way Gets
: Dark", played in open A, which features
: regular slide excursions up to the 17th fret
: (assuming he was tuned 'up' to open A, or
: the 19th fret, if he was tuned 'down' to
: open G and capoed at the 2nd fret), which
: are hardly easy to play
: "bottleneck" style. This lick
: found it's way into Robert Johnson's
: "Come On In My Kitchen".
: Both Patton and Johnson also often tended to
: play slide out of 'Spanish' tuning pitched
: in keys as high as B and B flat.
: We tend to forget that pre-war steel string
: sets came in just one gauge: 14 to 64. Prior
: to the mid-'30s, guitars had no adjustable
: truss rods and only a few, top-of-the-line,
: instruments even had an inert truss rod.
: Cheaper instruments within the financial
: reach of blues players would not have been
: able to take the string tension of a set of
: steel strings tuned to open A without
: Just in standard tuning, a string set like
: this tuned to concert on a guitar with a
: 24.8" scale, generates 220 lb ft of
: torque on a guitar bridge. That's probably
: more than the peak torque your car puts down
: to the road through its driven wheels.
: Skip James recorded using a Stella 12
: string, strung with only 6 strings and tuned
: down to "cross note" 3 frets below
: I suspect everyone else tuned down and used
: a capo. Try playing bottleneck on a "12
: fret", tuned to open G and capoed at
: the 4th fret to play in the key of B. What
: used to be your 12th fret is now fret 16.
: Now play that Patton lick that used to go to
: fret 17, but which now goes from fret 16 to
: fret 21. Easy, isn't it?
: Now forget about "bottleneck" and
: play it "knife" style, as I'm
: convinced they did, back in the day.
: Any thoughts?