Changing strings: All At Once, or One-At-a-Time?

What follows was written in response to a question on Facebook about the advisability of removing and replacing a guitar’s strings one-at-a-time vs. taking them all off and then replacing the set. There were, of course, arguments on each side, so this is merely my personal experience…

I have been playing the same Martin D-35 guitar I acquired new in 1965, which has–except for its trip from the factory–been strung only with light gauge strings. When I change the strings (which, for a few decades, I would do three times a week–I’d put on a new set for Friday’s gig, another set for Saturday’s, and then a new set Monday to get me through the teaching week), I loosen all the strings, and then snip them all off…  In the late 1980s, my pace slowed way down, and ultimately I became the consummately lazy string changer, as I was no longer playing in a band, and really don’t mind dead strings when I play for myself, so now string changes are but every few months.

I worked in a Martin shop for almost a decade, and later became a Martin dealer myself for a couple of decades more: I did the same on all the instruments–new and used–purchased for resale.

I can honestly say that I have seen no downside to this technique after >1000 string changes on the guitar I still play daily, or on any of the thousands of guitars that have passed through the shops.

From my perspective, other than just speed, the upsides for this cut-’em-off-replace-’em-all technique are that:

(1) After removing all the strings, it’s easy to clean the dust off the peghead and between the sound hole and bridge.

(2) After placing all the strings through the bridge, it’s very easy to reach inside to make sure that each string’s ball is snuggly up against the bridge plate–a rather important step, IMHO.

(3–maybe) Having removed all the strings facilitates putting them on in a sequence that precludes always being in your own way when you attach them to the tuners’ spools, i.e. strings 1 & 6, then 2 & 5, then 3 & 4.

YMMV, of course, but after thousands of guitars and having changed my own beloved D-35’s strings all those times for well over a half a century, I have found absolutely no reason not to do it this way. I shall be happy to report back after further extended testing. 🙂

BTW, I should add that while I do follow this  same method when I change banjo, mandolin, etc. strings, I do not do or advise this on instruments having sound posts, as they are likely to fall out of position, and I really don’t enjoy resetting them.

My Selection of a Flatpick. Ho-hum…

Okay. Outside of my entomological writings, this is probably the most esoteric, arcane, and boring topic I’ve ever felt obliged to document: my personal flatpick selection.

Now, first off, let’s explain what a “flatpick” is: it’s the thing everyone thinks of when someone says “guitar pick.” Here’s the shape most people probably think of, but picks are available in all sorts of sizes, thicknesses, shapes, colors, and materials.

(See what I did there?) Many of those variables are simply a matter of personal preference, and a discussion of each of them in detail is grist for another mill, so let’s just say that a pick’s material and flexibility can have a huge impact on an instrument’s tone.

For many decades, I had used a pick of the size and shape shown above: in particular, one made by the Dunlop Manufacturing Company of Delrin brand of polyoxymethylene thermoplastic, and being 1.14mm (0.045 inches) thick. I had settled on this pick because I liked the tone it drew from my go-to guitar, a 1965 Martin D-35.

However, I opened an acoustic stringed instrument music store in 1998, and suddenly had a nearly infinite array of picks available, comprising all the possible variables. In fact, at the time, I still had quite a collection of 20-30 picks made of tortoise shell, which had been legally sold in the 1960s, during which time I coincidentally worked in a music store and had bought a bunch. Genuine shell picks, you know, became the Holy Grail of picks when their sale and trade were appropriately–if belatedly–banned by CITES.

So, one day my then-teenaged son Alex and I set out to find which pick suited me best. I had already decided that there were many I just don’t like (great big triangles, tiny little picks, super thin, nylon, stone, metal, etc.) and had narrowed it down to a selection of 20-some-odd picks that I sort of liked, including a genuine tortoise shell pick and some other very expensive, boutique picks.

We then prepared a grid, and did a paired comparison test, for which I was given 2 picks at a time to compare by playing my D-35 (with my eyes closed the whole time). The only criterion was which of the two produced tone that I liked better.

My son and another person who was there (sorry, I don’t remember who that was) knew what picks I was trying, of course, and they not only wrote down my preferences, but each of them also privately indicated which tone he preferred in each pairing. There was no discussion at all. To further explain the process, but using only 5 items for brevity, a grid such as this would used:

Pick 1 Pick 2 Pick 3 Pick 4 Pick 5
Pick 1
Pick 2 1
Pick 3 4 3
Pick 4 1 4 4
Pick 5 1 2 3 4
Times Won
Pick 1 3
Pick 2 1
Pick 3 2
Pick 4 4
Pick 5 0

Where each item is compared head-to-head with each other item, and the “winner” noted at their intersection. Clearly, in this example grid “item 4” was preferred over every other pick, while pick “1” beat all the others except “4”, etc.

So, among the 20 or so picks I compared, the overall “winner” (also selected by the two listening “witnesses”!) was…a Dunlop brand 2.03mm (0.084 inch) thick, Delrin pick marketed as a “JAZZTONES 207.”

Dunlop JAZZTONES 207 pick
Dunlop JAZZTONES 207

I still use these picks, despite having tried numerous–as well as some very expensive–other picks over the years. Oh, and before you ask: I gave all those tortoise shell picks (which had ranked around 5th, as I recall) to a friend who was convinced their being “forbidden fruit” had made them the only picks to use.

Friends Don’t Ask…

A few words about the world of retail…

Despite my background as a research scientist, I have a fair amount of retail experience, having worked in a retail music store 1964-1971, and later as a music store owner 1998-2014.  It is this experience that leads me to repeat what another retailer told me once:

Friend don’t ask friends for discounts.

What this means is pretty simple: If your friends own businesses, you want them to succeed.  For their businesses to succeed, they must make a profit.  

Most small retailers pride themselves on establishing relationships with customers.  They want you to like them; to enjoy dealing with them. They want you to feel welcome and important to them…because you are.

If you value a small business friend, don’t ask for a special price. Instead, be sure to proclaim your support: insist on paying the regular price.  

Profit margins in the music business can be remarkably small. The monies needed to pay rent, utilities, insurance, advertising, employees, and a gazillion other overhead expenses must all come from the markup.  If a small business incurs $100 a day in such expenses, it doesn’t mean it has to sell $100 a day to break even.  It means that it must bring in $100 per day beyond its cost of goods sold.  

Only profit permits growth if there’s anything left after expenses. If, though, store owners wish to eat or put gasoline in their cars, such expenses, too, must come from profit, which can seriously restrict growth…or eating.

So remember, when you’re asking a friend to sell something to you for wholesale price, you’re not only not helping at all with your friend’s expenses, you’re costing that friend time and money directly from his pocket.  If your friend gives you a great discount, remember that he didn’t have to pay less for the item–on the contrary, you’ve reduced his return on investment in a manner similar to asking a friend to withdraw money from an interest-bearing account to provide you with an interest-free loan.

So support your friendly local storekeepers.  They know who you are and appreciate your business. Whatever little bit extra you may pay to them not only keeps them in business but feeds on their families.

Remember:  Friends don’t ask friends for discounts.


Bill Keith: In Memoriam


Sadly, Bill Keith died on 23 October, 2015.  He was to me first a banjo god, then a banjo hero, and ultimately, a friend.

Bill was well known and highly regarded in the banjo community, not only for his bringing melodic-style play to the forefront of three-finger style, but for his co-invention with the late Jim Bump of Keith Tuners which not only obviated having an extra set of cam actuators on the peghead (“Scruggs tuners”), but made possible the accurate on-the-fly retuning of all four strings. Heck, if you want to go all out, install 4 Keith Tuners in addition to a set of Scruggs tuners–talk about some interesting possibilities!

Furthermore, it was Bill Keith who took it upon himself to tab out the body of Earl Scruggs’s recorded work and then convinced him to publish the book Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo.  Unfortunately, their joint effort led to a financial disagreement and a lawsuit, and while they did settle, they never reconciled.

In fact, it was their differences that leads me to write this story about Bill. When I was operating my banjo-centric music store, ZEPP Country Music, Inc., I sold Keith Tuners, Keith Tuning Pegs, and Bill Keith-branded strings.

One evening, while I was on the telephone chatting with Bill, he lamented that he had recently been at a bluegrass event also attended by Earl Scruggs, who was to be honored one evening.  He told me that he had taken with him all his hand-written transcriptions for the book to show Earl and mentioned even taking along his first edition hardcover copy of the book, all in hopes of reestablishing communication with Earl*.

He then told me that his was a rare copy of the book whereupon and wherein Earl’s name had been misspelled!  I was curious, so he explained that in the first printing, “SCRUGGS” had been printed in a rather stylized font, and no one had noticed that it had been misspelled “SGRUGGS” wherever that font had been used.

That happened to be the cover, the dust jacket, and the title page inside, which is effectively the dust cover illustration in black and white.

scruggs_titleAccording to Bill, the first person to notice was–naturally–Mr. Scruggs himself.

While Bill was telling me his story, I had wandered back to my teaching studio where I kept my personal hardcover copy of the book.  Guess what?  Mine, too, is the misspelled edition.  I took it with me the next time Bill and I would be together, and asked him to sign it.  He pulled his copy from his car trunk and showed me not just Earl’s signature in it, but the stamp where it had been entered as evidence for the suit Bill filed against Scruggs seeking remuneration for his work.

As he signed my book, he laughed and said: “Be sure Earl doesn’t see this, or he’ll never sign your copy!”.


I always figured that I’d simply present it to Earl with a blank page open, but I just never had the chance, I’m afraid.

The real irony, I suppose, is that I’d had my copy of the book for over 30 years at that point, and I had never noticed the misspelling!

Adieu, Bill, my friend; you shall be sorely missed.

*Bill was very disappointed, because he told me that when he and Earl came upon each other in the hall, Earl would neither look at him nor acknowledge his presence.

The Dreaded Bum-Diddy–What’s Up With That?

With his seminal, 1948 publication (the first edition was mimeographed!) of How to Play the 5-String Banjo, the late Pete Seeger created the first book aimed at teaching “folk” style banjo.  I.e., his book was not about classical style for the parlor and not about the minstrel style taught in the late 19th Century; it was about how everyday folks in the mountains and on the farms and in the mines played their traditional and homespun music.

Happily, the book is still in publication ( and covers many aspects of playing the instrument.  It’s well worth having and makes for some very interesting reading.

In the book, Seeger presented a right-hand technique that he referred to as “a basic strum.”  He used this style frequently as accompaniment to his voice, and many of us old “folkies” learned it from his book back in the ‘50s and ‘60s.  The style is now often called “up-picking” or “Seeger-style.” 

bum-dittyIt’s quite a simple approach:  One picks upward on a single string, then a beat later brushes a chord down across several strings using the back of one’s ring (or other) finger, which is in turn  followed a half beat later by the sounding of the 5th string downward with the thumb. 

For those who read music, this repeated quarter-note-followed-by-two-eighth-notes is an easy pattern of “one two and three four and”, but many banjo players and would-be banjo players cannot read music.  So, to explain this rhythmic pattern, Seeger called it the “bum-titty bum-titty” pattern.  There are many verbal things that suffice to demonstrate this oh-so-common rhythm; one of my favorites is “cheese hotdog cheese hotdog.”  

Give a listen:

Unfortunately, Seeger’s being the only book available until ca. 1970, many of us learned this pattern and then taught it to others. Furthermore, in his introduction to clawhammer (which he called “frailing”), he applied the same rhythm with the only difference between his up-picked “basic strum” and down-picked “frailing” being whether the single notes picked on the first and third beats were picked upward or downward.

So, I and lots of other people–including many authors of the subsequent method books over the next few decades–learned clawhammer using the “bum-diddy” rhythm, ensuring its place in the banjo lexicon (note that the term has been “cleaned up,” lest someone take offense at the term “titty”).

Fast forward a few decades to Dan Levenson who astutely observed that clawhammer players of old-time music don’t actually play “bum-diddy bum-diddy” all that often. Instead, they tend to play what is sometimes referred to a “bump-a-diddy” or simbump-a-diddyply “diddy diddy diddy diddy,” i.e. a stream of eighth notes (occasionally interrupted by leaving out an eighth note for emphasis). 

Here’s what this sounds like:

Dan started preaching his “Ain’t No Bum-Diddy” observation, and it has really helped people to learn clawhammer far more easily.  So, you’ll find that many modern pedagogical clawhammer approaches don’t even teach bum-diddy, and you’ll also find many who started with the bum-diddy bemoan that fact and the difficulties that it caused in moving forward, especially regarding the incorporation of a technique called “drop thumb.”

Even Pete Seeger himself said he would not have started with that pattern were he able to do it all over!  So if you’re just starting out and want to learn to play old-time banjo, do yourself a favor: find a teacher or method that isn’t based on bum-diddy, and teaches you how to get right into clawhammer as it’s most often played.

On Scooping Banjos for Clawhammer…

The question arises not infrequently in clawhammer discussions as to whether or not it’s a good idea to have a “scooped” banjo.

Now for those unfamiliar with this term, it refers to replacing the higher frets (typically those above the 17th fret, though this is widely variable) with a lowered section of the fretboard. (While it is normally only the fingerboard that is affected, it’s usually called “scooping the neck.”  The Deering Goodtime banjo is an example of a banjo having no separate fingerboard, so in its case, it truly is a scooped neck.) 

Here are two scoops: the one on the left, by Mike Ramsey, is straight across (roughly above the spot where a 17th fret would be if this were not a fretless banjo) the other being an Ome Northstar having an  “S” scoop, being scooped above the 17th fret on the 1st-string side, and above the 15th fret on the 5th-string side.  (BTW, please note how Mike Ramsey tapered the inlay right into the “ramp” of the scoop.  How cool is that?)

ramsey_scoop_front     northstar_scoop_front


One can see from these side views of these same two banjos how the fingerboard has been removed (“scooped”) below the point the bottom of the fret tangs (or where they would be) .

ramsey_scoop_side   northstar_scoop_side

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Naturally, one might wonder: “OK, very nice, but why on earth would someone want to remove part of the fingerboard and a bunch of frets (or, FTM, to buy a new, scooped banjo made without those frets)?”

As so often happens, there is more than one answer:

  • It allows the player’s right hand easy access to the strings without his fingers or thumb  striking the fingerboard when playing “over the neck.”  

(Oops, we just raised another question:  “Why on earth would someone want to play with his right hand over the neck?”  That, at least, is a very simple question to answer: for tonal variation.  As it turns out, the closer the right hand is to the bridge when striking the strings, the brighter the tone of the instrument.  In fact, if you get too close, the tone becomes quite thin and tinny.

Conversely, as the right hand moves away from the bridge towards the halfway point at the 12th fret, the tone becomes softer and warmer.  Many clawhammer players like to use their instruments’ full spectra of tone, rather than just keeping their right hands in one place as they play. Having a scoop makes it easy to find the warmer tones when desired.

Too, as one strikes the strings roughly above the 19th fret’s nominal position, one often hears a hollow, popping sound that is commonly called the “cluck.”  Again, having the right hand up over the neck makes this far easier to accomplish.)

  • Oh, yeah, another reason to have a scoop…it looks ever-so cool.

This scooping of necks had been done occasionally over the years, but it was the playing of Kyle Creed and his subsequent building of banjos for sale that brought them to people’s attention.  Subsequently, when Mike Ramsey began to build banjos specifically for the then up-and-coming old-time music market, he added a couple of Kyle’s touches to his banjos: scooping them and promoting the 12-inch pot.

Are there reasons not to scoop a fingerboard?  Sure!  I would never scoop a vintage instrument.  Likewise, if you can only have one banjo and you frequently play above the 17th fret, having a scoop would be quite limiting.

Many clawhammer players rarely play above the 7th fret and never above the 17th, but still don’t want to scoop their banjos (because they have vintage instruments, or because they don’t like the look).  Many of these people simply install a tall bridge, raising the action significantly up the neck, but not down in the lower positions where they play.  In this way, they can get the same tonal advantages of a scoop, but without having to alter their instruments or buy special ones.

Others of us like relatively low action everywhere, in which case a scoop is wonderful, because we have full tonal range but are not limited to playing down at the first few frets.

When the question of scooping was recently raised in a Facebook group, I threw together this dichotomous key to assist in the decision of whether or not to have a scooped banjo:

1a) I don’t like the plunky sound people get when playing over a scoop…NO, DON’T GET A SCOOP
1b) I like–or could like–that sound…go to 2

2a) I really don’t like the way a scoop looks….NO, DON’T GET A SCOOP
2b) I either like the way a scoop looks or I really don’t care one way or the other…go to 3

3a) I sometimes play above the 17th fret…go to 4
3b) I never play above the 17th fret…go to 5

4a) I am limited to having only one banjo…NO, DON’T GET A SCOOP
4b) I play several banjos, and can always play above the 17th fret on another instrument if needs be…go to 5

5a) I am not comfortable trying to move my right hand to different positions to vary tone…NO, DON’T GET A SCOOP
5b) I’m willing to try something different and want to access the widest tonal range from my instrument…SURE, GO FOR IT!

All that said, I really like having scoops on my modern banjos. I like the warm tone available there but frequently play back closer to the bridge.  This photo of my everyday banjo’s head shows pretty well how much I move my right hand about.  The photo of the scoop shows (if you look closely) the wear (well, really they’re just clean spots) between the strings and on the fingerboard’s edge where my fingers and thumb make contact.

head_wear  scoop_wear

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Bottom line–if you like the idea, why not try a scooped banjo?


(Steel) Banjo Strings is Banjo Strings

There are many, many different packages of steel strings for banjo (and other instruments) that one can purchase, but the question is: What are the differences among them, and which is the brand/gauge set for you?

(BTW, isn’t it curious that we always speak of string “gauges” but reference their diameters, instead. You’ll recall that gauge numbers go down with increasing diameters, so when we speak of a “ten” we’re really speaking of a string 0.010 inches in diameter. In the American Wire Gauge [AWG] system, that’s a 30 gauge wire. Similarly, a “32,” i.e. 0.032 inch diameter wire is a 20 gauge, AWG. Of no significance, but interesting…)

Basic fact: most, if not all the string manufacturers buy their wire from the Mapes Piano String Company in Elizabethton, TN. Mapes used to have this page on their site:

mapes_brandsThey recently completely revamped their site, and this page apparently no longer exists, but it’s sort of interesting to see who was (and most likely still is) buying their wire for strings. This implies, of course, that if you buy a 0.010 first string from GHS or D’Addario, or DR, or Ernie Ball, or Gibson, etc. you’re getting exactly the same wire!

So what is the difference? Different string manufacturers use their own machines to twist loops, wrap the strings or to attach balls to their non-loop end strings. In fact, one can tell some of the different manufacturers’ strings apart by the tightness and number of wraps they use to make their loops.  In this photo, the top string was made by D’Addario, the bottom one by GHS:

Likewise, different manufacturers may use different corrosion inhibiting materials, and some cut the strings a bit longer (which can be handy if you have a long neck banjo).

But, in essence, the plain (non-wound) strings are essentially the same wire but in different packages.

The wound strings are a bit different as there are different windings used. GHS primarily wraps with a stainless wire, while D’Addario and most of the others use a nickel steel wire; each also wraps some of its offerings with bronze wire.

Furthermore, when wrapping wire, the tension of a string will be a function of its core, not its windings, which add only mass. Thus, a 0.020W comprising a 0.010 core wound with a 0.005 will have–all other things being equal–lower tension than a 0.020W made of a .012 core wrapped with a 0.004. Some specialty strings take advantage of this difference for marketing purposes.

You’ll note that among Mapes’s customers, there are quite a few other, smaller string brands not listed. Most of these strings are actually manufactured under contract by one those companies that does buy wire from Mapes. GHS- and D’Addario-made strings are labeled and sold bearing many such brands. For marketing purposes, these smaller brands tend to have slightly different gauge sets than those offered for sale by their actual manufacturers.

Other marketing differences involve long-life coatings, e.g. Elixer branded banjo strings have the 4th string coated with Goretex to extend its sonic life. Similarly, Black Diamond offers strings all having a black chemical coating that greatly extends their life. The Ome banjo company still offers chenilled strings (strings with fuzzy wrappings over the loops’ windings).

So my advice to folks trying to decide what strings to buy is this: Banjo strings is banjo strings. So start with the packaging that looks best to you. Then try everything (strings are pretty inexpensive, after all). When you put a set of strings on, save the empty packaging so you can remember what strings they are. If you don’t like their feel or sound or price, try something else. When you find something you like, stay with it.

The Curious Thing Others Call an “ASPO”

The term “Alternate String Pull-Off” (ASPO) was, as far I can tell, coined by Ken Perlman and received wide audience* with his publication of Clawhammer Style Banjo (an excellent book, BTW, one which I highly recommend).

I, though, do not use the term “ASPO” in my teaching, and I shall now take a moment to explain just why that is!

First of all, let’s define our basic terminology:  a “pull-off” is a common, colloquial term for what the classical world calls “left-hand pizzicato,” i.e. plucking an instrument’s string with the noting hand.  Thus, for right-handed players, we’re speaking of picking a string with the left hand.

Typically, one does a pull-off by fretting a string, plucking it with the right hand, and then plucking it again by pulling the left hand’s fretting finger to the side, sounding the open string (or a lower fretted note on that string).

This video shows a pull-off done on the banjo’s first string: first I fret the string at the 2nd fret and strike it with the right hand.  Then, I snap my finger off that string, sounding the 1st string open (the tablature is below the video):


This is where that “alternate string” term comes from, i.e., instead of pulling-off the string plucked by the right hand, one pulls-off a string that was not struck by the right hand.  In this video, I am sounding the 3rd string open, and then pulling-off the 1st string from the 2nd fret.  Here, too, tab follows:


As the 1st string is pulled to sound the open string, it follows that it does not matter from which fret the string is pulled–you’re going to hear the open string! In each of those above videos, though, you’ll notice that my left hand is making the same motions, as I am pulling-off from the same fret.

In fact, I made this following video specifically to make this point in a post to the Banjo Hangout some years back:

And so this is why, in my teaching, I do not differentiate between “ASPOs” and “pull-offs,” as they are exactly the same thing–the only difference is which string the right hand hits, and that has nothing to do with pulling-off!

* Or at least as wide an audience as any banjo book is likely to reach…

“Practice?” What’s That?

So what does “practice” mean to you?

I’ve been asked thousands of times how much I practice. And I’ve always given the stock answer: “I don’t practice, I just play for the love of it.” In my halcyon days of learning guitar and banjo I played 5-8 hours per day. I did it for fun, I did it for work, and I did it to socialize.

Somewhere, I’ve read or heard that it is estimated that it requires ca. 10,000 repetitions of any task for it to become automatic and easy. Now, simple math tells us that if one plays 5 hours a day, he will accomplish those 10,000 repetitions ten times faster than if he plays one half hour per day. Thus, the key to getting better is simply playing a lot. And, if possible, a whole lot.

Now, when I teach a piece, it’s usually to teach some particular technique or introduce a tuning, or for some other directed reason. Once the student can play it through “correctly,” i.e. rhythmically and showing a grasp of the reason I presented it, I usually say something to the effect of: ”Great! Now all you need to do is to play it a million times, so that it becomes automatic.”

But I also tell him “Look, if you don’t like the piece, don’t worry about it. Play what you enjoy. The skill sets are transferable, and the fact that you like it means you’ll really play it. In fact, you’ll probably have someone within earshot say: `You keep playing that same [expletive] thing over and over. Don’t you know anything else?’. This is how you know you’re making progress!”.

This is also the reason why playing with others is so useful. You’ll find that you tend to play the same things over and over for the sheer joy of it, so it never becomes “work.”

And progress comes rapidly. And when it’s fun, you won’t have any need for that nasty old “practice”!

Three Cheers, Ireland!


I did threaten to post non-music stuff regarding my personal thinking, so I’ll share the following thoughts on Ireland’s decision to recognize same-sex marriage.

“Why any government is in the marrying business is beyond me…..”

This comment  (on a banjo forum, of all places) puzzled me. And so I post herewith my response, edited but slightly from what I posted there.

It seems to me that the explanation to the poster of this statement is quite apparent: States recognize marriage because it is the state that must deal with the legal issues that accompany marriage:  Property ownership, divorce, taxes, inheritance, parental rights, cohabitation, etc. are some of those issues.

When a church takes on the role of enforcing such laws, one has a theocracy, and for most of us in the US, that is anathema, as we comprise so many different religious beliefs.  Any single religion’s laws would be totally irrelevant and thus unjust to many people.

There are, of course, religious institutions that recognize various states of “holy matrimony,” but couples can be, and often are (my wife and me, for example) married without involving religion whatsoever.  Thus, if a club or a church decides to pronounce a couple as “married,” it falls to the state to decide what this means vis-à-vis its laws.  The institution that “married” the couple (or group) has absolutely no say in those legal aspects, and can figuratively wash its hands of the matter if it so wishes.  By definition, it is only the state’s recognition that determines if a couple is “legally married.”

Right now, in my State of residence, North Carolina, any “ordained minister” can perform a legal marriage ceremony. Some years ago, my wife joined the Church of the Latter Day Dude and is ordained as a “Priestess.”  She has performed marriages in NC, marriages which remain fully accepted as legal.  Later, I joined an organization called GodSwill Ministries and am ordained in that “church.”  I, too, can legally perform marriages in NC (though I have not yet done so, I am available, of course!).

Throughout civilization, a couple’s pledge to each other–frequently in the presence of friends and family–has been “marriage” enough for all romantic and moral purposes.  Only with the advent of organized churches was this somehow assimilated into their purview.

What the majority in Ireland has decided is legally to recognize marriages of same-sex couples and grant them the same legal consideration as any other married people.  Who else should we wish to have such legal say?