Monday, May 14, 2012

'Canned Heat'

The latest creation in my stable of silver serving dish guitars is a four-string electro/acoustic built around an oval-shaped silver-plated little jewel I pickup at a secondhand store.

The neck is walnut with a fingerboard created from three pieces of wood -- maple, cherry and walnut -- hand formed into the pattern you see here.  This is my first attempt at a custom designed fingerboard, but it will not be my last.  

The scarf joint headstock is oval shaped to follow the body design.  

The body of the guitar is the dish with an oval shaped top to conform to the design.  An oak surround with maple top serves to enclose the sound chamber.  

Sound holes are the result of noodling around with a pencil, while watching my Celtics kick hell out of the Hawks, and the design works well with the oval shape of the dish.  The nut and saddle are once again my favorite material - Corian - hand formed in my handy-dandy StewMac vice . . . a great investment. 

The tailpiece is walnut laminated to the oak surround, and it serves as a trough-body string retainer. 

Located just under the string retainer is the output jack for an amp and a strap button to keep the thing from falling on the ground.

The patina on the dish is so cool that I decided that it should not be polished.  I love the way these old silver babies tarnish.

It's A Gusle

Several weeks ago I traded a guitar for a 'crazy one-string thing' (see previous post).

I didn't know at the time I traded what it was.  I just thought it was cool.  My friend Carlton sent photos, but the only thing he told me was that it need some help.  But, there was really nothing that was too far out of the ordinary.  The skin covering the bowl need to be stretched back to its original position, and the temporary wood pegs holding the skin in place had to be replaced with button-head tacks.  The tuning peg was something from a cello (I think), but I know it wasn't the original.  And the string was a piece of fishing line . . . it worked, but not what I thought should be the real deal.  And, there was no bow with which to play the 'thing'.  It needed a good overhaul and cleaning, so off I went to get my 'thing' in order.

I still think it's cool, and now I know what it is.  A Google search led me around the Internet, and I finally landed on a Wikipedia explanation.  It's a Gusle.

It's a southeastern European, most likely Serbia, primitive single-stringed musical instrument traditionally used in the Dinarides region of the Balkans.

The Gusle consists of a wooden sound box, maple being considered as the best material, covered with an animal skin, and a neck with an intricately carved head.  A wood bow (made of horsetail -- thirty horse hairs) is pulled over the string, creating a dramatic and sharp sound, expressive and difficult to master.  Often, the instruments were constructed by the singers and players themselves, shepherds, or even by specialized Gusle builders from urban areas.

The instrument is always accompanied by singing musical folklore, specifically epic poetry.  The player (Guslar) holds the instrument (Gusle) vertically between his knees, resting the long neck on one thigh, with the left hand fingers on the strings.  The strings are never pressed to the neck, giving a harmonic and unique sound.  Most lyrics center around historical figures who played an important role in history (often folk heroes who died tragic deaths), or significant historical events (mostly battles against invaders or occupying powers).

The finished Gusle   

                                                           I created the bow from a maple board and old violin horsehair.  To add a little distinction, 
I carved a head similar to that on the headstock. 

As you can see in this photo, the button head nails have all been replaced to replicate the original design, and the bridge is a specially created piece following a design I saw in Wikipedia illustrations.  The single string is a 'gut' string from a standup bass . . . a fella cannot just bolt for the corner music store to acquire parts for a Gusle.

Again, following a design from an illustration, I managed to create a tuning peg from a piece of maple and a wood dowel, which replicates the real thing.

This is another view of the nail work that replaced the temporary small wood pegs. 

And the hand carved bowl is really cool.

I doubt like hell that I will ever learn to play this thing, but I couldn't resist the offer to trade.  If for no other reason than to have it for a conversation piece.

And, I made a great new friend in Carlton Gill-Blyth.   Thanks Carl!

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I'd never heard of, or laid eyes on, a banjolele until my friend Carlton Gill-Blyth and I traded a couple weeks ago (you probably read about the trade in an earlier post).

Isn't this a beauty?!

After I received it, I Googled it on the web, and got the surprise of my life, and a history lesson to boot.

The banjolele (sometimes called banjo ukulele or banjo uke) is a four-stringed musical instrument with a small banjo-type body and fretted ukulele neck.  "Banjolele", sometimes also called 'banjelele' or 'banjulele', is a generic nickname given to the instrument, which was derived from the 'banjulele-banjo', introduced by Alvin Keech in 1917.  Keech was an American living in Hawaii and later relocated to England.

This is the real deal -- An Alvin Keech Banjolele signature instrument, that's damn near a hundred years old.

The instrument achieved its greatest popularity in the 1920s and '30s, and combines the small scale, tuning, and playing style of a ukulele with the construction and distinctive tone of a banjo, hence the name.

The banjolele parallels banjo construction, on a smaller scale, in terms of overall construction.  They are always fretted.  Most are built of wood with metal accoutrement.  The neck typically has 17 frets and is the same scale length as a soprano ukulele.  They may be open-backed, or may incorporate a resonator.  The heads were traditionally made of calf skin, which some players preferred for the tone.  They were originally outfitted with gut strings, but nylon strings are now typically used.  It is commonly tuned G-C-E-A (C Tuning), or A-D-F#-B (D Tuning).

 Another really cool instrument to add to my collection.   Thanks again Carl.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

More Music In The 'Stan'

I once again had the opportunity to ship a guitar to a Marine in Afghanistan.

Ist Sgt. John Thompson wrote today to let me know that he received it and is excited about having it.  As you may imagine, his time is consumed with the job he is doing to keep us safe here at home, but he says as soon as some of his troops return from assignments, he is going to share a photo of several of them with their guitars.  I cannot wait to see the group . . . another "Band In The Sand".

Here's a photo of John with his guitar.   Thanks John for all you do!

Check This Out!

The Irish connection is working!

Today, I received the parcel from Carlton Gill-Blyth my Irish buddy, which is the stuff he traded me for the 'Revelator' and other things referenced in the previous post.

All I can say is WOW!

I love the little Banjolele.  It is so cool.  I'll polish that sucka a little, lay on some new strings, fix the two little dings I knew about, and off I go to 'Hawaii In My Mind'.

The long-necked goose (wasn't that lyrics from a Big Bopper song? -- 'You know what I like'!) is awesome!  I don't have a clue what in hell it is, but I can tell you one thing, it is going to become the coolest long-scale bass lowbow on the planet.  The hand carving is so unique, and the overall design is outa sight.

The ale sign has to hang in my bar with a photo of Carl.  I thought for about a second about making a resonator guitar with it, but can't do it . . . it was a surprise in the care package from Carl, and deserves special treatment.

And, Carl has to be a damn mind reader!  I've been looking long and hard for a Triumph motorcycle tank emblem to use on a custom guitar body, and lo, I open the box and this little number falls out.  I couldn't believe it, but, I cannot wait to get started on that rascal.  My first bike was an 500cc basket case I got from an old guy fifty years ago.  It didn't have brakes or throttle.  No mufflers, just four-inch megaphone pipes that would blow doors down.  The front forks were shot and when I would goose it real hard the front end would lift to the max and not re-settle, which made for a thrilling ride.

But, the funniest thing was the day when my future father-in-law and I first cranked that sucker over.  My brother-in-law-to-be was only six years old at the time, and he was a real pain in the ass . . . always hanging around the garage and giving me a hard time.  It was early spring and cold out, so the garage doors were closed . . . little guy was trapped inside with us.  I stomped on the kick starter a lot to no avail, and all the time, the little guy was crowing, "It'll never run!"  He was walking around continuing his rant, when it finally started, and all hell broke loose.  The throttle stuck, smoke was pouring out of the exhaust pipes, the noise was over the top, and the little guy was running around in circles shouting, "Shut the son-of-a-bitch off!", over and over, until we could stop laughing long enough to hit the kill switch.  The kid ran from the garage to the house howling like a rabid wolf.  Then came his mother to put the hex on us, because he was cursing.  There's no escaping the influence of a mother-in-law.

Check out my new toys.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Things Are Cool In Ireland

Last Thursday, I shipped a parcel to my new buddy Carlton Gill-Blyth in Ireland via US Postal Service Priority Mail.  He received it today -- that's less than six days.  Hell, if I ship a guitar to California, it takes longer.  What's wrong with this picture?

Carl traded me a couple unusual instruments for the 'Revelator' resonator guitar and the 'Louie' amp.  I fooled him by enclosing the 'Gitfiddle' as well.

The attached photo expresses his happiness quite well.

Carl is funny as hell, and he plays a mean harmonica.  And, he also creates some very nice six-string guitars.

He tells me the hat is a Taliban surplus (I didn't ask how he got it, 'cause I'm not sure I want to know), especially since he said it needed to be washed before he could wear it (too much blood for his taste).

Carl calls me a 'nutter' (loose term for a certifiable madman), but I'll let you decide who the madman is.

One day I hope to travel once again to the Emerald Isle.  It's a beautiful land, and the people are wonderful -- as you can tell.

Have fun Carl, and play hell out of those gits.