Tuesday, 13 September 2011

A quick uke build!

Have just built another cigar box uke in 2 weeks, even though it's plainer I think it's turned out a little nicer than the first one, I built it to sell it but am happy to play it until some one hands me the cash!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Table Guitars?

I won’t go into too much detail or or indeed rant on about how we feel about our American company closing our highly profitable UK factory down and taking it all over to Delaware you can work that out for your selves! But it does mean I have only two weeks of work left before I'm made redundant and have STILL no new job to go too:( I say work, we stopped production a few weeks back and have been taking apart every thing we have built up bolt by bolt. OK enough negativity. One of the surplus items I have my name on is an old table that our printer stands on, I never noticed till yesterday that it has solid mahogany legs! Enough seasoned timber for four guitar or uke necks! :) That coupled with cigar boxes I have left and the large pine dinning room table top I was given a little while back and despite not having any spare cash a few new instruments are being planned! Watch this space!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

My ideas get even weirder!

Ok I've gone mad! My new project is......The Dulcisizer! Well it maybe called something else bcz that sound like some kind of home keep fit equipment! The idea is an electric dulcimer controlling a simple monophonic synth so it's melody lines can be mixed in with the electric pickups...Wow the hilly billy's have finaly got electricity!
I'm using the string to fret contact idea and it will be far easier the splitting all the frets into 6 and feed the wires down a guitar neck as I only need to spit them in half and wire to each side (The low D string isn't going to be a controller) I already have the oscilator thanks to my reissue Stylophione stylus organ which is now sporting a 37 way D connector so I can remotly switch the notes. It has the advantage over the old ones of not using resistance to control the pitch and is spot on in tune though it does behave a little oddly when you try to play two notes together! My work mate has GIVEN me a five channel mixer module that he made for his giant modular synth and hasn't used. I now need to make a VCF , ADSR and VCA to make the Stylophones output sound more pleasing, I am currently picking his brains while I have the chance as I am looking for a new job before I am made redundant at the end of August.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

All At Sea

The reason why things have been a little quiet on the music front for the last six months.

I helped my church youth group scratch build these radio control yachts. We had great fun making them and are planning to launch them on Wednesday evening on a pool by the beach, it's supposed to be nice a breezy should be fun! See more photos and read more about them here: http://fleetoffootys.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Short mando guitar demo video.

I've just recorded a short video of my newly refurbished mando guitar played through my Vox ADC 30.I'm very happy with the sound so I think I'll stick with these pickups.I wonder what it would sound like though the rotary speaker?
BTW I'm using my new flip camera! Surprisingly good sound quality don't you think?

Monday, 28 March 2011

Ten down to Nine!

If you've read my review you'd know that even though both of my mando guitars were working after a fashion I certainy wasn't satisfied with them as they stood.
This evening I took the plunge and removed all the strings from both mando guitars, ( all 24 of them!) removed the home made bridge and screwed the nice fully adjustable Gotoh bridge back on to number one mando and once restrung with the original strings (amazingly no breakages!) with very little adjusting it returned back to it’s original chimey sparkly self. It now has a super low action and no buzz, a delight to play! I only had it for a year before I stripped it down so five years later it feels like I’ve got a new instrument! So why didn’t I do this a few years ago? I guess after all that work I didn’t want to admit defeat. I might yet swap the pickups as I seem to have lost that glassy Strat like sound in favour of more emphasis in the mid range but I ‘ll give it some time (but NOT 5 years!) and have yet to try it though my Vox amp. Belive it or not the single coil pickups in my good mando are an old Demarzio super distion humbucker which I split in half, I stuck tiny magnets to the bottom of each pole peice to replace the shared bar magnet! Sounds good so far but I need to try it out on other amps and DI it. It used to sound great through an over driven amp! So what to do with Bluey!? At the very least I have two spare pick ups and 12 mini tuners! I might sort out the neck and use it to make a cigar box mando. Maybe if I made a longer scale “through” neck and slotted it through a routed a channel in the body it would bypass the lack of resonance that body has. I’m thinking it might make a nice lap steel guitar or some kind of electric dulcimer anyway no hurry!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Successes and failures, a review.

Gary Holder accompanying me at Gary's Music Club

P=Playability S=Sound Q= Quality of finish
0=A huge disappointment 10=The best I could hope for.

Mosrite inspired copy 2001
On picking this guitar it feels a nice weight and indeed is well balanced both on my lap and hanging from the strap, the off set body is in fact very comfortable and the whole thing has a vintage feel about it. The only fly in the ointment is the block of walnut packing the neck up to the right height! The 1980's Eko neck feels smooth and the vintage Vox bridge is good for small Hank Marvin like wobbles but nothing more if you want tit to stay in tune! The sound form the P90 stly pick ups is Jazzy on the neck setting and twangy on the bridge to me it seems to sound a little one dimensional but then I am used to humbuckers. This is no out and out rocker but I can image it fitting in with a 60's cover band belting out the solo of Shaking all over by Johnny and Pirates!

"Lady V" 12 string 2004
I reached over to pick up this guitar and nearly fell of the chair! Wow what a weight! Every thing about is chunky, a big guitar with a big sound! If you were expecting any Rickenbacker chime you'd be disappointed but instead maybe bcz of the shorter Gibson length string scale the slightly slack feeling stings pack out a real punch with a far more acoustic sound than expected.. It's strung with octave strings at the bottom so when finger picked the bass strings are under your thumb.
The neck is wide but very stable and never has any problems with intonation. It has a super low action though some of the very top frets buzz, I shouldn't have listened to my teacher's advice about dishing the finger board out to create some "relief" it turned out to be total nonsense! The finish is generally fairly good until the light catches the top! A good workhorse and great stage guitar.

Mando Guitars 2005 & 6
I'll do these together as they have a shared history, or maybe that should be fiasco!
The first one was originally dyed blue and played very well with a low action sounding like a Stratocaster capoed on the 12 fret and on steroids! Believe it or not the bass was incredible! Unfortunately it didn't have a very good finish and blue dye prevented you seeing the pretty grain of the maple underneath.
On the back of this I got my first commission and built a duplicate, though this body had a top cap to keep construction simpler. I was out of work at the time so used the hardware from the first one hoping the replace it with the money from the sale, The finish on this instrument is the best I've ever achieved.
I didn't take a deposit and the sale fell through and thinking about it now was just as well, "Bluey" as the customer called it wasn't a patch on the first mando, the bass strings had no response at all! This was probably caused by two things ;A The scale was slightly shorter, I thought this was a good idea as the first one often broke E strings. B though the cap was extremely pretty quilted maple the wood was far too soft . Also despite it having a zero fret sounded out of tune at the nut.
After a while the first one was rebuilt and the dye (eventually) sanded out as I didn’t want two the same , I made two pickups from an old humbucker pickup I had around and I made it a home made bridge, it's OK and would sound good in a mix but not the same as it was, I can't bring myself to pull apart Bluey as it looks so pretty and have restrung it as kind extended range double stringed ukulele!
One day when funds permit will put the original one back as it was. back in 2005.
P9/5 -S10/6- Q4/5
Bluey P4-S4-Q10

The Les Pew 2007
This thing feels weird! Despite having a PRS scalier length because the neck is set so deep into the body (14th fret) it's like someone cut it down and it's as fat as a baseball bat! After you get used to it it becomes obvious how versatile this rather crude stubby looking guitar really is, it has a long sustain and and it’s semi hollow construction gives it a mellow sound which can play Jazz but put it on the bridge pick up and it becomes an out and out rock axe! The truth is comfort and top fret access has been sacrificed for clarity and articulation, which is also helped, by the through strung bridge, pinched harmonics work really well. I designed it to suit my own playing style it does this perfectly; this is the guitar I play the most.

Octave-Guitar-Banjo 2007
A bit of nonsense really, salvaged from the wreck of an English banjo with a broken neck. It works fine with some chords and is next to useless with others! Would probably work better as a ukulele. Suffers from the same problem as the mandos in that the corner of the headstock digs into your hand if you play an open B7 or similar chord.

Headless Bass 2008
I wish I was a better bass player! It's light, well balanced and the sound is ten times better than the Westone guitar that the bolt on neck came from. The active electronics work well as do the tuners .I have lent it to semi pro bassist Garry Holder to accompany me on stage and he really like it. It’s my bestengineered design, shame I don't play it much.

Cigar Box Ukulele 2009
At first glance you wouldn’t expect too much from this instrument. But I have tested it against ukes costing several hundred pounds and compared to some I actually prefer it’s more mellow sound! In comparison the cheap Chinese instruments are next to useless! A totally unexpected success!
P-8 –S10-Q5

Didley bow 2010
How much can you expect from a plank of wood with a single string stretched across it? The output from the improvised pick up is a little low but it sounds like the real deal and the colour coded screw heads help you stay in tune! Cost £2.50 for the tuner.

Mountain Dulcimer 2011
I’ve played prettier sounding dulcimers (in my local folk music shop) but it is my first fully acoustic instrument (barring cigar boxes!) and it’s perfectly good for a plywood instrument costing about £30 to make, it’s got me totally hooked!

Friday, 25 March 2011

2001-2010 A decade building my own musical instruments.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

As promised as soon as the weather was nice I lugged all my instruments in the garden to photograph them.
It kind of looks like an outdoor music shop but none are for sale, that's not why I built them- well ok one!
L to R Oldest to newest
Mosrite copy/Elelctric 12 string ("Lady V")/Mando Guitar/Mando Guitar ("Bluey")/ The "Les Pew" (made from a Slaugham church pew)/Octave banjo guitar thing!?/Headless Bass/ Cigar box Ukulele? Diddley Bow/ Mountain Dulcimer
Notice how they get more folksy and cheaper to build as time goes on! Also it always seems that at any time half of them need new strings!
Note there is no acoustic guitar! This has to be put right! I've been mulling over designs in my head for a few years now and can visualize the finished article! Conventional it isn't! The wood is already in my work shop!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Ten Ten

It's only just occurred to me that I've built 10 instruments in 10 years! That's not to mention the spinning speaker, tube amp etc!
When the weather is up to it I'll take a photo of them lined up against the garden fence all in chronological order!

Mosrite copy 2001
12 string ("Lady V")2004
Mando guitar 2005
Mando Guitar ("Bluey") 2006
"Les Pew" 2007
Octave-Banjo-Guitar 2007?
Headless Bass 2008
Cigar box ukulele 2009
Didley Bow 2010
Dulcimer 2011

Monday, 21 February 2011

Finished dulcimer photo!

The cold weather on Saturday stopped me rushing to get the strings on so I put a coat of varnish on a retaired back into the house. By Sunday it was dry enough for me to drill out the holes for the string retaining pins and...........................let's cut to the chase, it sounds amazing!!!! Ok not quite as pretty as the £250 I tested in the shop I bought my strings from but as good as any recording I've heard and pretty loud too! I've been picking out tunes all evening.
I've a few things to go back and finish ,I'll do the high fret lunch time and later varnish the back, fit a piece of wood at the base of the headstock etc but I think I'll put those things off while I learn something to play for the open floor at the folk club next Sunday.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

My dulcimer finally in one piece!

It's nice to finally have my dulcimer in one peice! There are a few jobs to be done, the main one is to chisel the peg head slot into more of a wedge shape to give the strings clearance also there are a few problems to over come like repair the corner where the top has been cut too small (Duh) and I've discoved that the sides are only stained and if you even some much as touch them with a tool they need to be touched up. But I think it will scrub up nicely when it is varnished (or laquered) Being plywoodI'm not expecting too much in the way of bright tone but I held a string on an electric guitar on the bridge and it sounded pretty loud. One thing that seperates a dulc from a guitar is that a ducimer's top is not a structual part so does not effect sustain, the body is simply a sound box, an acoustic amplifier if you like, the structusal part is called the staff, mine has a peice of mahogany running all the way from the nut to the bridge. Can't wait to get it strung up!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Spot the error!

Can you see it?
I only noticed I'd cut the end of my dulcimer finger board out of true once I'd actually fitted the frets and they were all on the....slant! It won't effect the way it plays but will probably annoy me every time I look at it! Aghhhh well!'ll have to live with it I'm sure the original Appellation dulcimers with bailing wire for frets weren't 100% perfect! By the way the top hasn't been fitted yet so sides have not been trimmed to shape and no I haven't forgotten the dot markers, it's not having any.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Wireless World

American readers please note: valve = tube.
Back in the 1970’s jumble sales where a regular charily fund raiser, unfortunately after a while the quality of the jumble went down and down as the majority of the pile of old clothes and broken toys appeared at each subsequent sale and jumble sale got the stigma of being junk sales. The answer was to re brand it as “good as new “ sales or table top sales which if you read between the lines means we don’t want heaving piles of junk, only some select stuff so we can still see the table top! Of course this was all before people thought about keeping the money for themselves and invented the car boot sale. But jumble sales were if nothing else cheap! I can remember at the age of about 12 going to almost every church jumble sale with 10p in my pocket , not too early mind you, I didn’t want to get caught up in the stampede of old biddies shoving their way to the front as soon as doors opened! I was there in the hope there would be an interesting radio for sale, perfectly serviceable valve radios or wirelesses where discarded in their thousands!, the 70's where all about looking forward to the future; tomorrows world; solid state transistorised electronics, the status symbols of the day were colour TV and a shiny new Fidelity music centre. By the way our family didn’t have a TV my parents decided that it was an unsociable time waster, I have to agree. (Though a do have one) but back then there was more to listen to on the radio, I’d listen to Radio 1 but mainly the pirate station Radio Caroline transmitted from a rusty old hulk of a ship out in the North Sea! (The MV Mi Amigo - sank in 1980) Of course I could have listened on a transistor portable but I loved these seemingly ancient valve sets (they where only 20-30 years old), I guess they shared a lot in common with my other passion- steam engines!.I loved tinkering and restoring things, there where seemingly infinite design variations, they weren’t the cold lifeless technology we are used to today, these things had a warm glow, warm sound and contained potentially lethal voltages! Before long my Dad put up more shelves in my room for my collection which totalled 14 I believe though I’ve forgotten some and can only recall 9. Strangely enough my favourite was a Frankenstein’s Monster of a set , a bare chassis from a radio gram so it had no cabinet or for that matter an amplifier or power supply, these must have been separate unit probably at the bottom, so to make it function it was permanently wired to a set my parents gave to me that I only remember acting as a record player amplifier since my Dad’s friend tried to tweak it’s alignment to make it more sensitive and broke a coil slug. It was an expensive set too!
There where several reasons why I got rid of them, they took up a lot of space, we were about to move house and most of all I wanted hifi equipment…valve hifi equipment! My school friend Colin had a similar collection but his came not from jumble sales but from the local amenity dump, I say local but he would think nothing of carrying a huge radio or tape recorder almost as heavy as he was the four miles back to his house! We used to put them at the end of the garden plugged into a long extension lead plugged it into a socket in the shed a safe distance away then we would flick the wall switch and wait... usually we'd hear static and had to dare to get close enough to tune the thing in, nearly every set worked perfectly.
Colin had two things I wanted: A 1961 Ferrograph series 4 reel to reel tape recorder and better still a pair of Quad 2 valve hifi power amplifiers!! :) So in 1977 (or was it 78?) a deal was struck.

Colin and I lost touch until last year when I found his facebook profile...with photos of some of my old radios on it! I was always a little sad that i didn't keep just one so I put a comment on a little 1946 set saying if he wanted to sell it I'd be interested, at first he declined because for the same reasons I chose it (it was small) then a few days a go he said it was mine! I picked it up at lunch time from his work place just round the corner from mine. We had a good old chat and about 33 years later the IR Aria 461 is back in my ownership... and it still works perfectly! Which is fine if you want to listen to talk sport which seems to be about the only Uk station left on medium wave.
I found out a little info about it from a guy who’s selling one on the net.
Aria ( Radio Industries) was a small radio manufacturer based in Croydon. The 461 was a cheap post war (1946) model manufactured for the most part with ex war materials. The set came in the one model shape but in many colours. Most were white however. I have not seen a natural wood finish before. Perhaps they did make one or perhaps the paint finish was removed at some time and stained and polished as in your version. They were not the best of sets in regard to selectivity and sensitivity and need an aerial a mile long to do justice. But the set you have looks to be in fine condition and I am sure that at 63 years old she continues to work well,

I remember now it wasn't a patch on my 1946 Cossor but in the 80’s I purchased an Eddystone 940 communication receiver for short wave listening , at the age of 65 it's more of an ornament now and prettier than the Cossor also I like the rarity aspect and local connection. This time round I understand nostalgia!

Thanks Col if you're reading this! I'll be round to visit the others soon!

Monday, 3 January 2011

A new year and supposedly a new decade!

Well it certainly been a busy year for me as far as project building goes even though I only completed one musical instrument and that took only a few days ! My first build was a valve, or if you prefer tube amplifier made from the remnants of a 1960’s hifi receiver that I used to use as a teenager. Then the rebuild of another 60’s circuit a treble booster that incorporated a Tone Bender distortion circuit both using original 60’s transistors. That only finished instrument was a one string diddley bow made famous by Sea Sick Steve. In mid summer I assembled my church pew and we had to throw out an old plywood display cabinet to make space in the kitchen/diner and this gave me the idea of making my first acoustic instrument with real bent sides, a mountain dulcimer, a nice and easy to play a tune instrument which will fit nicely into my local folk club scene…this was coming on well until it got side lined by a winter youth group project which is making radio control yachts, these have gotten as far as being bare wood shells which we can now start fitting the radio gear into before they get a coat of paint inside and have the decks are fitted , after that we will paint them with our own personal colour schemes and move on to making the masts and sails! We are planning a regatta race day event for the spring! So what for 2011? Well I must get back to music and apart from finishing that dulcimer I really would like to complete a cd of my songs, it’s something I’ve never done and even though it will probably only get circulated amongst family and friends-including internet friends! I feel I’ll be able to tick off one of those things I’ve always wanted to do.
One last thought; if 2011 is the start of a new decade didn't we celebrate the new millennium a year too early?