Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas! (& free festive music download)

A Merry Christmas to anybody who might be looking in and enjoy this FREE festive EP download from my favorite Ukulele(and mouth trumpet)player Victoria Vox!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Open Mic at Gary's Club including video

Open mic night at Gary's club.
I had a great open mic at Gary's club last night. I felt far more confident and go to grips (at last) with singing through a microphone!
Unlike a normal open mic where you only get to do one or two songs Gary pre-books you in for a 20 minute slot so you can really
start to develop a proper set. It was a great evening with 6 of these slots and a really varied selection of styles and I was asked back
to do another in about 4 or 5 months or so,in the mean time I'll definitely be back to watch!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

100 watt homemade guitar amplifier MK 3

My main homemade guitar amplifier is undergoing its third reincarnation!
It is based around Maplin 100watt Mosfet power amplifier kit which was popular for use as a disco amplifier in the 1980’s and is no longer made.
I remember I originally built it as a general purpose amp in the early 90’s then in 1997 (see photo) I built it into an old tape recorder cabinet cobbled together with a hodge podge of different projects which included several relays, one valve (tube), five power supplies and a loud speaker from the late1950’s to make a very useful amp indeed! I used it for many a Prison Fellowship visit into jail in the trio El Camino and despite its heath Robertson nature and being shaken up on a bone rattling trolley it never let me down even surviving being dropped and landing upside down! Its only problem was it had so many controls I would get to the end of a gig and wonder why my sound wasn’t quite right to find a knob on the wrong setting!
After we’d stopped doing the prison visits it languished in my shed for a few years and when I fired it up last year I discovered that part of it had ceased to function and rather than trace the fault in it rats nest wiring pulled it to pieces and put the components aside for later.
My modern digital VOX ACD30 is great but somehow I feel I should be playing through something homemade and also I’m missing the thunderous roar of my old 100 watt monster so I’m rebuilding it (neatly this time!) into an old (digital!) 30watt amplifier cabinet, I’m not sure if I can shoehorn the old speaker in there yet!
Co-worker Graham is kindly building it a new neater Craig Anderton “Super Tone Control” circuit, I have already got the powers supplies into the new chassis.
Photos etc to follow!
For the geeky here is a list of its circuits: (so far!)
Germanium transistor “range master” booster (New to this build)
Preamp from a tiny Fender mini twin battery amp
“Super Tone Control” from the Craig Anderton book Projects for Musicians
Maplin Spring line reverb driver
“ line driver & 100 watt mosfet amplifier

I’ve just remembered that I want to put in a microphone input too so I can use it as a joint guitar amp and PA system like Carvin make. This is going to be an epic project!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Last night I got my song Want and Need to work on the ukulele and it has given me the upbeat ukulele tune that I needed (or was that wanted?) so now I have a four song acoustic mini set finalised for the Gary’s club open mic in two weeks time.

I’ll play two on my Faith jumbo acoustic and two on the uke. No pew guitar or spinning speakers this time I’m concentrating on the songs! Just need to decide which order to play them in. and practice!

Set list:
Want and Need
The Last Days of Summer
Black River
The Grand Old Pier

Event details:
Admission £4 in advance or on the door.

Friday December 11th 2009
7.30pm for 8pm start, Coolham Village Hall, A272 nr Billingshurst, West Sussex RH13 8QN
Free tea & coffee available, bring your own mug.
(Performers slots now fully booked 11/09/09)

Event is open to general public, all welcome.
The stage will be full concert set up with lighting & PA. Seating with tables for audience members provided numbers fall within the fire regulations or it will be concert seating format.

Performers on Friday December 11th 2009
Stick In A Pot
Andrew Perry & Peter Clifton
Andy Stone
Dianan Plummer & Chris Wolferstan
Charlie Davies
Les Elvin

Headline performance 10pm - 10.30pm
'3 Of Us'

Please contact Gary on 01403 785674 for information.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Mando-guitar to Mandolele in an hour!

How to make a Ukulele in an hour!
Bluey my 2nd mando guitar is no longer! No don't worry she's undergone a little tuning change and is now a double 6 steel string ukulele! (approximately concert size) I've changed a few string gauges around and she now tuned ADGCEA All the pairs are in unison but the extra A&D also tuned like the G in what Ukulele players call re-entery or in plain English an octave up from what you'd expect. So I play my standard guitar chords but have no bass but can now play melody lines on what usually are the bottom strings! Weird! Strum across the strings once and it sounds like twice! (Is that like Nashville style tuning Ed?) I just need t o replace all the stings I stole from Mando guitar Woody! (Who is made to a standard mando scale length but tuned DGCFAD and capoed to save string breakage!) I made Bluey shorter so she could easily tune up the whole octave but I choose Bluey to adapt mainly because being shorter her bass strings sound a bit duller and has a zero fret and so it's nut is therefore less fussy about string gauges. So the result is a new instrument in about an hour!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Compareing the Ukulele! Simples!

Yesterday I went back to “Hobgoblin” my local folk music shop where I bought the tuners and strings for my uke because the staff there where curious to see how it turned out, I was slightly apprehensive bcz I knew I would want to try out some of the real ukuleles they had for sale and didn’t know if I was going to go away disappointed with my effort.
I needn’t have worried the cheap models weren’t much more than toys and only the pricy £206 ($312) one sounded immediately better than mine, it was louder as it projected the sound better but maybe the tone was a little too pure because to my ears mine still sounded warmer and I think sweeter. I was told mine has cheap strings on it too! They sat and played mine and seemed to love it! I don’t think they had a cigar box instrument in the store before and loved the novelty of being able to open the lid to alter the tone.. They even took my photo with to put on the shop wall! Maybe I can email them and get a copy.
So I came away feeling rather pleased with myself and my little rectangular uke!
(It still needs a name btw)

Anyway you can judge for yourself because here’s a little video I made with my new iPod nano, it’s so handy having a sleek multipurpose device that plays my mp3s (mainly artists I’ve found on myspace!) but also shoots video and records sound for recording song ideas! It’s worth every penny!
Btw I never use the headphones but plug it into my pc speakers at work.
Oh back to the video, I made it in my lunch break, what a div! That was my first attempt at “Don’t Worry-Be Happy”, I think I’ll practice it for the folk club but do I look irritatingly happy enough?(or at all) Maybe I should just do it with a dead pan face little like Jack Dee.(Don’t you dare make comments about Lead Balloons!) I could finish it off with a round of “I know a song that’ll get on yer nerves-get on yer nerves-get on yer nerves!” Know wot I mean Ellen?
And like in Nancy Kelly’s latest Dulcet Dreams blog I’ll have to just post a link because I can’t find the embed code either!
What have youtube done? Why can’t sites leave things alone!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Finished cigar box ukulele!

A quick update just to show it off now it's been varnished! Looking far more like a vintage musical instrument and less like something thats just been bought at Ikea!
Hopefully I will be able to upload a video of it in action soon!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Strung up.

It plays! Not only that it sounds good too! It has a rich full sound maybe it hasn’t got quite the brightness of a koa topped professional uke like Victoria Vox’s but doesn’t sound a mile off and not the least bit plinky and toy like like I had feared it might. I just have to finish filing the nut slots down the correct height and replace that nail which is acting as a temporary bridge with a piece of fret wire…and sort out a buzzy fret! (There had to be one!)
I think I’ll play it for a bit then strip it down and varnish it, it’s the wrong time of year to be varnishing, it’ll take ages to dry.
I like the way the original writing on the cigar box all lines up with the spaces between the strings!
I can tell it is going to influence my guitar playing, and will probably improve my rhythm playing.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Uke progress.

My cigar box ukulele is coming together fast!

should be getting the tuners I ordered sometime this week and then I will plane the sides of the headstock down a little slimmer to suit them.

Tomorrow I will drill the holes for the fretboard markers which will be dots made from the wooden handle of an old paint brush, then I'll flatten the board and fit the frets.

The ancient adjustable hole cutter which i think might have belonged to my Grandfather did a nice job on the sound hole.

I've seen lots of cigar ukes with the bridge right at the end of the body which can't be good for the sound so mine is far closer to the middle. The box has been re-enforced with a block of hard wood which the neck will be glued into using a wooden dowel. to make a positive fit.

Being a tenor ukulele it doesn't look as toy like as you might think and the neck don't feel in any way cramped.

I'll keep you updated as always!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Photos from my recent gig at Gary's Music Club

Gary playing my home made bass
Explaining how to make a rotary speaker out of chocolate tins and an old school chair!

All Photo by Claire Downes

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Cigar Box Ukulele build.

Last Saturday while out in town shopping with my wife I popped into an old fashioned tobacconists, (old fashioned in the truest sense because the shop is in a building that looks like came straight out of a Dickens novel) this was just a bit out of character for a life long non smoker so what was I up to? Well you could have guessed it was something to do with my latest instrument build. I was after empty cigar boxes as I want to build a cigar box ukulele! These instrument sem to have become a bit of a craze and there are lots of sites related to them not in the least the social network site Cigar Box Nation

I asked if she sold them off as I had read on a blog that £1 was about the going rate but she said no we give them away but only have one at the moment and presented me with a nice ply box with nicely finger jointed corners. A plain bu other wise pretty box except it had a sticker on the back with a distressing photo of a central American guy with a huge ugly red seeping growth on his throat with the caption SMOKING CAN LEAD TO SLOW AND PAINFIL DEATH. Not the most attractive thing to have adorning your musical instrument! So I removed that though I might keep the standard Smoking Kills sticker. So with the body of the uke taken care of all I need is a neck, I have a piece of teak that I found in a rock pool on the beach, my banjo guitar has some of it as the fingerboard already and I am hoping it will make a good one piece neck, teak would be far too heavy on a guitar but as this is such a small instrument I’m hoping it will just make it feel a bit more substantial and not make it too neck heavy. I can always glue a bock into the back of the box to balance it if it is. I’m going to make it into a tenor size uke (17” scale length)as Victoria Vox’s always sounds nice and it should be a little less cramped to play than either a soprano (13”) or concert (15”) size

Cigar box Uke blog part 2

The Ukulele neck is coming on well and as you can see I've attached some extension blocks to the headstock area to make it wide enough and am gluing together a couple of maple off cuts and strip of rosewood to make a nice laminate which will be glued on top for the headstock facing.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Gary's music Club Gig

The gig at Gary’s went pretty well and the Mike Piggott trio where brilliant as always as for me the rotary speaker preformed perfectly and I even got a few laughs but I was annoyed as I made a bit of a mistake in my Beatles rendition but recovered from it ok. The worst thing was I let down by not having a sound check and worse still nobody on the sound system as my mic wasn’t loud enough! Thankfully two of my three songs were instruments but it spoilt it somewhat for me. Gary was cool about it all though and has asked me to play another 20 minute spot at the open mic in December. A bit of a consolation was that I won tickets in the raffle to see Angie Palmer at the next show which I was keen to go to anyway.
Here is a shaky clip of me with Gary on my homemade bass playing my instrumental adaption of Nancy Kelly's song Manzanita Wind.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

It don't impress me much.

My co-worker has been going on about his “new” car so in a way of reply here is the beginning of a song I’ve been writing:

(To the traditional tune)

Oh Lord DON’T you buy me a Mercedes Benz
I couldn’t afford to service it or pay the insurance premiums
I’d rather buy an old Nissan Primera for a song
Five hundred thousand Asian taxi drivers can’t be wrong.

To Be Continued….

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

A second guest appearance at Gary's Club.

I'm getting excited because on Saturday 19th September I'm playing another 20 minute guest spot at Gary's Club, I'll be playing a couple of instrumentals using my homemade gear namely my "Les Pew" guitar and my rotary speaker, even the Ale-o-phone might make an appearance!

The main attraction is The Mike Piggott Trio. Advance booking is recommended, reservations are coming in already & a sell out is anticipated.

Other performers during the evening include,
The Maypole Band

My friend Claire Downes is the club's resident photographer so I should have some professional pictures to post here soon afterwards!

7.30pm for 8pm start,
Coolham Village Hall, A272 nr Billingshurst, West Sussex RH13 8QN

Friday, 21 August 2009

Crazy pianola idea!

I am thinking about building a machine to play simple repeated riffs or maybe a solo (at the push of a foot control) on my little melodica. a piano player or a barrel organ! The melodia wouldn’t need any modification; it would be blown into by an electric pump and played by mechanical fingers. I can generate piano roll paper from midi using garageband on the computer, all I need to do is print it out, punch out the holes and roll it into a tube, it will be then read using light and a stack photo resistors! To keep it mechanically simple sharp/flat (black) notes are played by punching out the holes for the two natural notes (white) either side of it and using a little CMOS (electronic) logic to decode it the black key is depressed and white keys aren’t, I have already worked out this circuit! Even the way the way the keys are depressed is going to be unusual as I feel conventional solenoids (electro-magnets) are inefficient and expensive (old pianolas and barrel organs used vacuum) and propose to use electro-magnetic clutches in other words smaller electro-magnets maybe from relay coils that grip a stack of revolving discs so each magnet can be just a fraction away from it’s disc (so it doesn't need to be so powerful) and simply gripping it will drag and it’s finger on to the key. Maybe if this is successful some day I could scale it up to play a full size piano??!!! But anyway I think this would be good on stage playing my keyboard parts, I could build it so that all the moving parts are visible from the front.
It’s sad to me that we live in a world where every thing is solid state and sealed up, there is no longer that sense of fascination and wonder of watching things turn and mechanisms whirl like there was when I was younger, this thing would be a like apiece of kinetic art! It would be a big project but something I can work away at piece by piece, don’t expect to see anything working too soon!
Oh I suppose I should make a drum machine version too!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

A rotary speaker tune

As you can hear it has a strange whrily- floaty sound, almost like an electric piano. What you are missing out on is the amazing stereo effect bcz it is recorded in mono. I am playing the "Les Pew" (See my first blog) it's just out of camera shot bcz I couldn't get the camera any further back even though it is out side of the shed door! I can just about get my two amps and pedal board into my tiny workshop and have enough room to play but I wouldn't get to practice much with it if I had to set it up in the front room! I wish we had a garage!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Every monkey stick needs a monkey!

From wikipedia
The name "monkey stick" comes from a modern practice: in homage to the trained monkeys formerly used by buskers to solicit money from passers-by, a number of musicians have taken to fixing a small stuffed toy monkey to the tops of their instruments.
I found this guy in a greetings card shop reduced to 99p I'll attach him to the pole somewhere.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Finished! - In one week!

My finished Ale-o-phone or Foot operated Mendoza / Monkey stick makes all the right noises, now it's just a case of getting them to happen at the right times!

Aren't the bottle caps pretty! Some have pictures of British wildlife including a badger a bee, and a mouse. (Click on the photo to enlarge.) I need a lot more yet before they'll jingle loud enough so I'd better get to work! Burp! Once i get a bit better I'll post a video!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Ale-o-phone Successes!

Not kind of well but really well! Easy to control and sounds something like a real drum kit (to my ears anyway!) If there are any furry creatures living under my shed floor they must have a headache now!
The broom handle has been painted dark brown and the the bottle caps will be attached tomorrow.
There are one or two finishing touches to add but basically it's done!
Photos and video soon! Maybe even a song!
For now here is a lttle history of the original hand operated version:
So I guess it could be called a mechanical mendoza too!
To keep with tradition with the monkey stick name I could have a toy monkey attached to the top of the hi hat rod so he bobs up and down. Maybe he could have his fingers stuck in his ears!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

First Ale-O-Phone photo!

It's coming together far faster than I thought it would and all the design side is worked out, I just have to finnish it and fine tune it. My real concern is is it playable! I'm a little worried that the pedal won't have a natural bounce to it like a bass drum pedal has and will make it hard to keep in time. The only way to find out is to put it together and find out! I think it will look less like a stick leaning against a hi hat once the bottle caps are fitted...and no it won't make much noise standing on grass!

Monday, 27 July 2009

Real Drummers look away now!

The "Ale-o-phone" has got more complicated already as I now what to keep the hi hat working as well so starting from the mid point on the pedal pushing down it goes boom as the broom handle hits the stage (with a chink from the bottle tops) and by releasing it all the way up the hi hat opens and the top of the broom stick hits the top symbol which is now at the bottom and returning it back to the mid point you get a ca-chunk ! So for example operating the pedal in a down-down-down-release pattern rewards you with Boom-boom-boom-ca-chunk- all with one foot! This involves adjustable collars and springs I think I'd better draw this idea out and measure it all this time!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

New project- The foot operated ale-o-phone.

New project

I thought i would like to add a little simple percussion to my music and the traditional folk instrument and indeed by product of the genre the beer cap encrusted broom handle shaker thingy seems to fit the bill but how to play it when playing the guitar?

When my daughter was about 12 she decided that she wanted to take up the drums and really did show a lot of early promise but thankfully for our sanity it went no further other than a friend(?) donating what was supposed to become the first installment of her first drum kit; a high hat with a rather rusty stand. This stand has languished in our shed for about 8 years and has surprisingly not got anymore rusty Anyhow I guess by now you might have put two and two together, yes it's the Foot operated Largerphone! Well it is called a lagerphone in Australia but as I'm from England and my beer bottle caps are from bottles of bitter maybe it should be a bitterphone or even a real ale-o-phone-ok not very catchy. But this Largerphone will hit the stage to make it stomp in true Seasick Steve style. So it will be half drum kit high hat stand half beer bottle cap shaky foot stompy thing, how folk rock is that?! Also (as if I've ever needed it) I have an excuse to buy beer! Photos to follow!

This chap seem to have the right idea:

Friday, 26 June 2009

Rotary Speaker Project.

As this is a new blog page I'd better explain my rotary speaker project so here I am on youtube before I'd

built it that blue cabinet that you can see in the photo above with my effects pedals all neatly cased up and ready for it's first gig!

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Thursday, 25 June 2009

Fast Food or Home Cooking?

Someone on twitter has just posed the question: If somebody asks you what music do you like what do you say? I replied. Independent singer/songwriter folky stuff.- Real people telling me their story.
I’m not impressed by celebrities or their life style. It leaves me cold.

Hear are two good examples of people like:

Victoria Vox drives all around America playing gigs with her pineapple shaped ukuleles writing and promoting her own music. She also plays the mouth trumpet! You can’t help but like her. Click here and you can listen to her latest album.

My other example is Nancy Kelly who simply documents her life in song; her family, faith and the places and houses she has lived in.
She plays her keyboard and mountain dulcimer in coffee shops, farmers markets and festivals around Boise, Idaho.
She like to see her music as “Brightening the world one song at a time.” I totaly agree!

I don’t listen to the radio anymore, I get all of my music from independent musicians on the internet, it’s like the difference between fast food and home cooking, which would you prefer?

Links to other artists I like:
Aimee Mann
Devon Sproule
Carolyn Mark
I’ve only just discovered Barnaby Bright, here there new album here!

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Welcome! / The Les Pew

Welcome to my blog!
This is more of a guitar creations blog than a creating bcz I have already built a collection of rather individual electric instruments and have virtually - no actually run out of room for any more! Though there might be a headless travel ukulele in the pipe line, I'm not joking!
As I'm not really interested in building more to sell the next step is to get out gigging more with both the guitars, equipment and my own songs. Despite building and playing electric guitars I am not a rock player but am into folk, Americana and a little jazz.
Anyhow I'll mix together some of my previous guitar build blogs from myspace (including the progress of my homemade rotatory speaker) and anything music related that I feel I want to share with you.
First let me introduce you to my main guitar- The Les Pew!

My guitar is...The "Les Pew"My guitar is-- "The Les Pew"Written for Guitarist Magazine (UK) in 2007 for their unusual readers guitars column

When my church decided reorder their building to make it more lighter, warmer and adaptable for the 21st century they decided to remove the Victorian pews from their building I bought one for my kitchen but they only came in seven foot lengths, so I decided to shorten it to fit into my cottage but what would I do with the remaining wood? Being an amateur guitar maker after making a 12 string semi at a adult education course I had toyed with idea of building the body of a guitar from one but didn't think that pine was a suitable tone wood but with reassurance from a luthier on the internet I went ahead.I was keen to leave the original finish on the back and front, the top is the back rest of the pew and the back the seat.I'm not exactly a conventional player as I love electics but play with my fingers (No I'm not Jeff Beck) I just that I don't get on with electro-acoustics and prefer the longer sustain you get from an electric guitar. So I decided to build a semi but a 14th fret neck-body join to aid tone/stabilty. The headstock is a visual clue to it's more traditional past existence.The tone is incredible! I guess somewhere between an acoustic and an arch top, very full and warm yet defined and crisp. Pine is a wonderful tone wood, I often play it at my local folk club.