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