Designers / Fashion / Industry

How I Got Here: Wendy Nanney And That Fateful Broken Guitar String


For Wendy Nanney, jewelry is not only a way to express her creativity, but it also serves as a way to help her clients capture a memory—reminders of an amazing live concert, mementos of favorite musicians, tributes to the artists who take their poetry and turn it into lyrics that we all know and love.

Nanney is the designer behind String Thing Designs, a Mississippi-based jewelry business that she runs in between taking care of two kids and working as a full-time secretary at an insurance company. String Thing takes objects traditionally associated with music—picks, guitar strings, and guitar parts—and weaves them into knots, flowers, and organic shapes.

“Music is art, and I believe once the song is over and the song is played, there is still art left in those strings,” Nanney says.

String Thing bracelet
Infinity symbols are some of Wendy Nanney’s best-selling pieces in her String Thing jewelry collection.

Now, her jewelry is featured in retail stores, art galleries, and local markets around Tupelo, Miss. Nanney has started exploring other materials to incorporate with the guitar strings. This includes Swarovski crystals, colored stones, and freshwater pearls as well as adding leather cord and chains. Exploring the possibilities of what a guitar string can do is what makes this second job more fun than work, Nanney says.

String Thing Designs started about seven years from a practical problem she had at a concert. The Baldwyn, Miss., resident was in the audience watching one of her favorite country-music singers, Jerrod Niemann, at a show in Birmingham, Ala. Niemann was playing his guitar, and one of his strings broke. He removed it and handed it directly to Nanney.

Thrilled for the memento, Nanny was faced with a quandary: Guitar strings aren’t exactly something you want in your hand during a long concert. Because necessity is the mother of invention, she looked for a way to keep the string without having to hold it for hours and hours.

“I wanted to keep it, but I didn’t know what to do with it, so I wrapped it around my wrist,” Nanney says. “Once my friends saw I was wearing it like a bracelet, they wanted one as well.”

String Thing many bracelets
Going to artist markets and local shows is how Wendy Nanney gets feedback from clients and new ideas for pieces.

Nearly all of the strings she uses come from local musicians, who donate them to her business. If that’s the case, she includes the name of the artist on the handcrafted tag she makes for each piece. Other strings come directly from clients—someone may have a guitar that belonged to a cherished family member and wants it turned into a piece of jewelry.

“It’s all trial and error,” Nanney says. “I turn, twist, and shape the strings. Guitar string is lightweight—when you’re wearing the earrings, they’re so light sometimes you can’t even tell you have them on—but it is also hard to bend and get to stay in place.”

As a result, her work is durable. “You can wear (one of my pieces) for years, and it will stand up to anything,” Nanney says.

One of her favorite artists to honor through her work is Elvis Presley, a Mississippi legend, Nanney says. (Elvis Aaron Presley was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley in Tupelo on Jan. 8, 1935, and lived there until the family moved to Memphis when Elvis was about 13.) Not surprisingly, women tend to favor those creations, especially when his name is included on the honorary guitar pick, she says.

String Thing Elvis bracelets
Elvis Presley is a local hero around Mississippi, and Wendy Nanney says his tribute guitar picks are best sellers.

These days, she makes any custom work that clients request as well as her own ideas. She sells her products online, and that is where she gets feedback on new designs and suggestions for other ways to mold her strings in fresh ways, whether it’s earrings, bracelets, necklaces, or rings. Her best-selling pieces are on her business Facebook page and in her Etsy shop.

One of her favorite ways to connect with clients is at local markets and festivals, where she meets her fellow music lovers and gets new inspiration.

“It’s great because people can wear it as art and remember the music,” Nanney says. “Imagine all the songs that were played on those strings!”

Top: Wendy Nanney is a full-time secretary, but her love for live music inspired her to create her own jewelry brand focusing on guitar strings (all photos courtesy of Wendy Nanney and String Thing Designs).

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Karen Dybis

By: Karen Dybis

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