Rock and Recycling

Guitar strings turn into art

Volume 113, No. 4April, 2013

Carmel Dean

I’ve always loved recycling. Call me weird, call me a typical Virgo, but ever since I was a little kid I’ve actually taken quite a bit of pleasure in sorting plastics from paper, glass from cans and bottle caps from corks.

As an adult, this penchant of mine has taken on a much greater meaning: saving our precious resources and reducing landfill.

I am still an avid recycler (and food composter) and recently I was able to turn my passion into something that was not only good for the environment, but also helped raise over $20,000 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Since Earth Day is April 22, it’s a good time to tell this story.

It was late 2010, and I was the musical director of the Broadway musical “American Idiot.”

I had also become involved in a wonderful organization called the Broadway Green Alliance, and so I volunteered to be the “green captain” of “American Idiot.” This involved attending regular meetings and reporting back to my cast about events like electronic waste recycling and textile drives.

We also had many tasks behind the scenes. I made sure that recycling bins were accessible backstage. We set up a station for used bottle caps, corks and plastic bags (and then took those to the appropriate collection points throughout the city). We checked that the microphone packs were using recyclable batteries. We set up a “Green Board,” where I would post tips on keeping the theatre environmentally friendly. One Saturday, between shows, I ran into our wonderful guitarist Alec Berlin, who was in the middle of his weekly task of changing guitar strings – on 19 guitars!

For those of you who saw the show, you’ll remember that the encore consisted of the entire cast of 19 actors singing and playing acoustic guitars on the Green Day song “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).”

The used strings were creating a huge mountain of coiled wires that seemed to have a life of their own. My “green” brain went crazy – it seemed insane that we were simply throwing hundreds of these strings in the trash every week!

I went home that night and looked for ideas of what to do with these old, but mostly intact, guitar strings.

Lo and behold, I stumbled upon an organization called Wear Your Music. This is a company that takes well-known musicians’ old guitar strings and turns them into bracelets to be sold. Profits go to a charity of that musician’s choice.

There are hundreds of artists listed on the site, including Carlos Santana, John Mayer, Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt.

I reached out to Wear Your Music to inquire about partnering with us. Within a few days we were shipping them boxes of “old” guitar strings, and they were sending back fabulous “new” bracelets!

Fortunately this coincided with the fall Broadway Care/Equity Fights AIDS collection period, so we were able to have actors show these bracelets to the audience at the end of the show, while the cast was all still standing on stage with their guitars. Then we sold the bracelets at the back of the theatre, along with other memorabilia. It was a terrific way to advertise the positive effects of recycling, as well as to give the audience members the chance to take home a truly unique part of the show – all while raising money for a terrific cause.

We continued shipping our old strings to Wear Your Music in the next few months, and we were able to sell even more bracelets in the spring.

The second time around we were also lucky enough to have had some celebrities in the show, including Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. (His old strings went for a much higher price to some eager and lucky fans!)

“American Idiot” ended up raising close to $10,000 just from what could have been “trash”! The endeavor was not only a huge success for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the Broadway Green Alliance, and Wear Your Music, but it also awakened people to the magnitude of the power of going “green” – and to the fun of recycling!

Now we’re working on other shows that have lots of guitar (and guitar strings!), including “Once,” “Jersey Boys” and “Rock of Ages.” We already collected $10,000 in sales of guitar bracelets from “Once,” which all went to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

If you are a guitarist (regular or sub) for either of those shows, starting saving your old guitar strings now! When you have a small shoe-box full, e-mail me at and I will organize to pick them up.

If you are interested in purchasing any of these bracelets, you can do so at make great gifts, and you get to feel good about recycling and about donating to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Carmel Dean is a member of Local 802 and a musical director, composer and arranger. Her Broadway credits include “American Idiot” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” She is currently the musical director and vocal arranger for “Hands on a Hardbody,” now playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

This article was published in the April 2013 issue of Allegro, the magazine of the New York City musicians’ union (AFM Local 802). For more information, see