Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sign Painting

Tomorrow is going to be a big day. I will be painting our name on our new 23' banjo sign. (Yes, 23 feet!) It is at Terry's house right now in his garage because that is the only place big enough to store it inside out of the weather. This will be the coolest sign! I can't wait until we can put it up at the store. I'll post some pictures soon, but you'll have to come take a look at it when it's finally up.

Today was another workshop day. I spent the morning and early afternoon working on a French fiddle made by LeClerc, and a customer's fiddle. The French fiddle is done now and is hanging on the wall waiting for its new owner. This is a really great sounding fiddle. When I started playing it, Earl turned around and said, "Wow! What fiddle is that"? The other fiddle I'm working on is for Wayne. It needed a soundpost patch on the back of the fiddle, but that's done now. I started working on it yesterday and finished it up this morning. This afternoon, I put a new fingerboard on it and glued the top back on. I won't be able to do anything else with it until another day. (I have to wait for the glue to dry.)

The owners of the local Ace Hardware Store paid us a visit today. We have purchased virtually all our construction-type supplies from Ace. They have the fluorescent lights we need for our fixtures, mops, cleaning supplies, paint, sandpaper -- just about anything you could possibly need. They even have a lumber yard! Anway, Jim and his wife came by today to visit our shop. This was their first time here and it was such a pleasure to have them come! They are going to try to make it to our Tuesday night jam on May 1.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

New Channel 8 Air Time

We have been told that the news clip will run on Monday, April 30, 2007, on the 5:00 news. I don't know if it will be at the beginning of the newscast or not. This is Channel 8 if you don't have cable, and Channel 21 on some cable stations. It is station WSIU.

Mel Bay Sale!

I have decided to have some kind of special every week or two. Right now, we are running an in-store special on Mel Bay publications. All Mel Bay books and DVDs are 10% off.

We bought a used Stelling Sunflower yesterday morning, and we sold it yesterday evening. What a nice surprise! Stellings just don't last long around here. I can't wait for our Golden Cross model to come in. I don't know when it will be ready. We'll get a call when they are shipping it, and that's all the notice we'll get. I know Chris will love his "new" banjo!

I will get to spend some time in the repair shop today. I plan on working on a soundpost patch for a customer. Wayne brought the fiddle in for me to look at. It is a nice, vintage Stainer copy from the late 1800's. Someone has done some touchup work on it since then, and some nice little inlays were added on the side of the heel and button. There is also some decorative work that was added to the back. The soundpost crack is in the back of the fiddle. I have already removed the top of the fiddle so I can get to the crack. I also removed the fingerboard because it is too thin, and someone had put a rather large shim under it that won't be needed once the fingerboard is replaced. I probably won't get it all done today, but maybe I'll be able to get the patch fitted and glued.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I'm not sure what brought this to mind, but I was reading over some past blogs and realized that I left a person out of our Channel 8 taping. I mentioned the names of everyone I could remember at the time, but I inadvertently left out James from Sparta. I don't know if James even reads these blogs, but if you're reading -- sorry about that!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Scroll Repair Pictures

Today I thought I'd post a few pictures of the most recent repair that I finished. This is a pegbox repair that I did for Ron from Caseyville. If you click on the thumbnails, you'll get a larger picture.

This is how it all started...

This is the first patch. It is half the thickness of the pegbox.

This shows the second patch. It is put on top of the first patch after the pegbox is carved to the thickness of the first patch. The top part of the patch is feathered into the main part of the pegbox so that it looks cosmetically better.

This picture shows the the pegbox patch with the starter holes drilled for the pegs.

Here is the completed job after it has been stained, revarnished, and had the pegs fitted.

One more view of the completed pegbox. It is the left side that was repaired.

Tonight we had our beginner's jam session. This is an instructional jam session for people who want to learn to play with others. We have this session every other Monday night for about 1-1/2 hours. In addition to the tunes that everyone has been practicing, we did new ones that we have not done before. This requires everyone to pay attention to the guitar player for the chord changes. Everyone played fake breaks together for the new songs. It is really neat to see how everyone is getting better and feeling more comfortable.

We will be adding a new piano instructor in May. Sharla lives in Dupo, IL and has a Master's Degree in Piano Performance from Notre Dame. She will be teaching here every other Saturday afternoon. I have known Sharla personally for more than 20 years, and we are certainly honored to have her teaching here.

It's 10:30 p.m. now. Our store officially closed at 9:00 p.m., and the beginner's jam was officially over at 8:30 p.m., but a few folks are still in there going at it. It's another late, bluegrass night. What could be better?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Stelling Banjo Sold!

I had planned on writing the next blog about our new Stelling banjo, but it sold so fast I didn't even get a chance to say anything about it! A very nice gentleman who lives near Carbondale, IL drove down today and bought our Stelling Red Fox banjo. We'll be getting a new Stelling Golden Cross banjo in sometime this year.

Stelling banjos are wonderful! They are handmade in the United States (in Virginia), and only three banjos a week are made. Geoff Stelling personally sets up and plays every one before it leaves the factory. I have a 1982 White Star that I love. If you haven't ever been to their website, take a look:

It was an early day today. I was at the shop by 9:30 a.m. The first part of the morning was spent planing a bass fingerboard. I have a long ways to go with that still, but I can only do that for so long before my arm and back starts hurting. I rubbed out the finish on a fiddle, installed some spikes on a customer's banjo, and then located and fixed a truss rod buzz.

I am currently working on a fiddle repair for a customer. Part of the pegbox is missing. I started the fitting and glueing process this morning. The glue is drying right now, and I have to wait for the glue to dry before I start the next procedure. I will be doing a cheek patch on it next. This will strengthen the pegbox patch, and it will also correct a peghole crack.

We had our jam session on Tuesday this week. It was another great one! Nine-year old Nicole came and played her banjo. She had just finished ball practice and was still wearing her uniform. She is doing great on the banjo. It was good to see Gary again. I love his singing and guitar picking. We had two dobro players this time: Ben from Sparta, and first timer Dale from Belleville. Warren and his wife stayed around for a little while and we talked a bit. Warren can play guitar and harmonica at the same time. I think we had about 20 pickers in all. Four or five of us actually picked until almost midnight. Pretty amazing for a weeknight. I'm just glad I don't have to get up early!

The Flinthill mandolins have been selling like hotcakes. This is a brand I had not heard of until about 6 months ago. The first one I received sounded so good I thought it must be a fluke. I ordered another one right away to compare the two. The second one sounded just as good as the first. This is a $150 A Style mandolin that is simply unbeatable! We have sold 5-6 since then, and the one I got in today has already sold.

Ron and Madonna came in this afternoon and we had a nice talk. They bought a vintage student size guitar from us for one of their grandsons. This was a really neat old guitar, probably from the 1960's. It's not that often that you find one that has a straight neck. This particular one was a "Lindell" brand. Nothing special, but it had a straight neck and very low action. It had a steel rod in the neck, so that's probably why it stayed straight all these years.

Tonight I will be attending the dinner auction for Special Children Inc. and the Mamie Stookey School for the developmentally delayed. This is an event I have gone to since its inception five years ago. Every year, we donate an instrument for the oral auction, and I come and play the instrument so the bidders can hear what it sounds like. This is a really nice event that benefits some truly needy children and families.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Air Time for Channel 8

I am editing this post because the Virgina Tech shooting changed the broadcasting schedule and the news clip did not run as expected. At this time, I do not know the new date and time. I'll post it as soon as I know.

This will be a quick post, but I wanted to let everyone know that the news
clip will run on Thursday, April 18, 2007, at 5:00 p.m. It is on regular channel
8 (local public station out of Carbondale, IL) or Cable WSIU.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Busy, Rainy Saturday

Have you ever noticed how people come out of the woodwork when the weather is bad? I know it doesn't always happen like that, but many times it does. This Saturday was just such a day. It was cold, windy and rainy, but WARM inside the Shack. Between lessons and various other small item sales, we had Greg from St. Charles, MO trading up a mandolin, Suzanne and Janice from Belleville picking out a vintage fiddle and bow, and two repair drop-offs for the workshop. It's a good thing Mike was here to help, because I could not have done it by myself!

Even though I usually don't teach on Saturdays, I actually had three lessons this Saturday. Rachel is working on Sally Goodin, Billy in the Lowground and Golden Anniversary Waltz. She's a fast learner and one of my best students.

Next was 2-year old Audrey. Audrey is my youngest student. She takes a 5-minute lesson every other week. She is able to play one string at a time now, can put down one finger at a time on the E string now, and can count bow strokes. We are working up to Hot Cross Buns. Lastly, I had a new student that will not be a regular that I agreed to take on for the next couple of weeks.

Martin is 11 years old and is from Red Bud. He wanted to learn Orange Blossom Special. We worked on the hokum bow, train whistles, general "fluff" for the first part of OBS, and then we worked on how to get into the hokum bow and what comes after that. He, too, is a very fast learner and we were able to get through all of that in one hour. I sent him home with a CD to practice with, and four different versions of OBS to listen to for ideas. Martin came in again today during a cancellation and we put the guitar to all that he has been working on. He's doing marvellously!

Late Saturday afternoon, I worked on putting songbooks on our internet website. I managed to get 11 of them scanned in and posted with my sloooooower than molasses, 10-year old scanner. It's actually amazing that the scanner even works still. It is so old that it doesn't even have a USB connection. It literally takes 5 minutes from scan to preview, so it took me two hours to get those songbooks up on the website. Saturday evening, I took a trip to our local Office Depot and picked out a new scanner. I'm so excited! It is 3 seconds from scan to preview! Woo hoo! High speed scanning, here I come! Unfortunately, it's been high speed working today, so I haven't had a chance to plug the scanner in and get it up and running. I can hardly wait, though.

Today is Monday and things have been no less busy here. We had customers spot us when we were stopping by Gary's Restaurant for lunch around 11:30 a.m. They pulled into Gary's and had lunch with us, then we all drove the 1/2 mile to the Shack. It was about 12:30 by then, and there was another customer waiting in the parking lot, even though we don't actually open until 1:00 p.m.! When I get here early, I open the store anyway. There's no sense being here and locking everyone else out.

I placed new orders with Mel Bay and Hal Leonard today. We should be receiving new and replacement books and DVDs by the end of the week. I love looking at the new books that come in. I like to see who I think would benefit from them, whether or not I think they are any good, what difficultly level they are, etc. Both companies have some really great inventory for bluegrass and folk genres.

Al, my oldest student, had his banjo lesson today. Al is working on quite a few different songs right. He has a CD full of bluegrass gospel tunes that he is playing backup with. I am amazed at how well he is doing with the chord changes. His picking isn't real fast still, but his backup is great. I played guitar for Banjo in the Hollow, Cripple Creek, and Blackberry Blossom.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Channel 8 Here We Come!

Yesterday was the big day. Tiffany, from Channel 8 in Carbondale, came with her television camera and equipment around 4:00 p.m. I was in a fiddle lesson with 9-year old Nathan. Nathan is a born entertainer even when he is just being himself. He didn't know anything about the news feature, and when the camera came around to the front of the shop, he saw it outside the window and starting waving. He was so excited! He started dancing around the front of the shop saying, "I'm going to be on tv! I'm going to be on the news"! I only got him to start playing again when I suggested he "practice" while he had the opportunity to before the camera came inside. Finally, I just went out the front door and told Tiffany she'd better come in and film right away because Nathan couldn't stand it anymore! He was making me laugh!

Next, Tiffany went to the other teaching room where Chelsea and Paige were working together. I told Chelsea what to expect, but her student Paige didn't know anything about it. All I can say is there's nothing like trying to teach or learn when there's a news camera pointed at you!

The kids' band "Austin and the Bluegrass Belles" came in at 6:00 p.m. for their group lesson. This particular group lesson is so that the kids can learn to play with other people, can learn how to sing lead and harmony, structure, how to jam, chord progressions, order, etc. There are four of them (Austin, Makayla, Haley and Jaclyn), and they range in age from 8 years old to 12 years old. They definately played the best I've ever heard them play. They were incredibly composed, even when the camera was taking close-ups of their hands and faces. They played five or six songs in all, then each one of them was interviewed.

The Chris Talley Trio played a few songs, then we started a jam session. Since this was not the usual Tuesday night jam, I had to make some phone calls to get some jammers here. Basically, I didn't tell too many people what was going on because I wanted to make sure we weren't too crowded. We had Carla, Bill, Zane, Terry, John, Chelsea, Ben, James (edited to add), Dave, Denise and me. I hope I didn't leave anyone out. We went around the circle once so that everyone had a chance to pick out a song, then I just announced an "open" call to make sure there wasn't anything else someone really wanted to have recorded. Tiffany interviewed several more people, including me, and then we were done.

The entire session will be reduced to 2-4 minutes, so I have no idea what will actually show up on television. I don't know the air date or time yet, but Tiffany said it would be about two weeks. It will air on our local PBS channel 8 out of Cardondale, IL, and it will show in St. Louis and Illinois. What an exciting day!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Repair Day

Today is repair day at the shack. I spent the morning cleaning, organizing and filing, and the rest of the afternoon fixing instruments. The first repair was a guitar that had a scarf crack. A scarf crack is when the peghead cracks away from the neck at an angle. It is a fairly common sight with shipping damage, or if an instrument has been been dropped or fallen forward off an instrument stand. I completely detached the peghead from the neck, then used epoxy to reattach it. I have some touch-up work to do, but it should be ready in another day.

The next job was a soundpost crack in a fiddle. I had to remove the top, then mark off the position where the soundpost patch would go. The crack had already been glued by a previous owner; but without a patch, this type of crack will not stay repaired tightly. I made the patch, used a gouge to thin out the top where the patch would go, then sanded everything down. I use carbon paper to make sure everything is fitting tightly. After the patch has been fitted to the top, I apply a small amount of hide glue to both surfaces and wipe it back off again. This seals the wood and keeps the glue from just soaking into the wood and not really adhering the two surfaces together. (This is also a very useful technique when bushing the pegholes.) After the initial glue dried, then I applied the regular coating of hide glue and clamped the patch to the inside top of fiddle. I have some sanding pads that are kind of like giant erasers that I use to help clamp curved surfaces like this. I put the pad on top of the patch, then a small piece of wood on top of the pad, then I clamp the whole thing down. The wood presses the pad evenly across the curved surface of the fiddle top and this makes for a very good clamping aid.

My next job will be installing Perfection Pegs on a customer's fiddle. Perfection Pegs are distributed by St. Louis Music and made by the Knilling Company. (You can view information on them at These are a pretty neat innovation because they make tuning much easier and the pegs don't slip. What's really cool about them is that they don't require much alteration, if any, to the peghead of the fiddle, and the regular friction pegs can be reinstalled to the instrument at any time. No screw holes!! No bushings!!

Friday, April 6, 2007

Miscellaneous News

Today was an in-shop day. I spent some time cleaning and organizing the tools and parts, and then I decided to work on a guitar. We have a guitar that we picked up from a music store that was going out of business. It is a pretty Washburn guitar made out of ash with a transparent, aqua blue, polyurethane finish. The bad news is that the bridge had pulled up and had been unsuccessfully reattached. I pried the bridge off, then I used a gouge to remove all the old glue and smooth out the surface. The top was a little bit warped, so I decided to use two bolts to help clamp down and hold on the new bridge. (I wouldn't normally do this, but it's cheap guitar and it already belongs to us!) I drilled two holes for the bolts, then I covered the bridge area with glue and clamped everything down. It's no Martin, but it will be a nice, inexpensive guitar for someone.

Normally, I don't teach on Fridays, but today I made an exception. David, a banjo student of mine, needed some help with the banjo part for a musical at school. The school is doing a performance of "Oklahoma," and there is a 4-string banjo playing in some parts. David's mom gave me a copy of the piano score and a CD of the two songs that he would be playing. I spent an hour or two last night figuring out the banjo parts and transcribing them for David. He'll be playing 5-string banjo instead of 4-string, but it will sound the same. I listened to the CD so many times I think I have most of the words memorized now!

This will be an interesting week coming up. Someone from the public television station will be coming to our shop on Tuesday for a documentary. I'll be working with a young girl named Tiffany. She'll be doing some interviews and filming students, the building, the workshop, jam sessions, etc. It will air locally in St. Louis and Illinois out of Carbondale, IL. How exciting!

We're always on the lookout for used and vintage instruments. Do you have any you want to sell or trade? Let us know! In the meantime, Happy Easter!!!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A Week of "Vacation"

I decided to take this week off from giving lessons. That's a hard thing for me to do since I enjoy teaching so much, but I needed the time to relax a little bit more. This is not to say that I have stayed at home ... I haven't. I have been to the shop every day this week. I guess I love it too much to get away from it all completely.

We had our jam session last night. The weather here was rather stormy and I think it hindered the crowd somewhat. Still, we had 20 people here to jam, and we didn't get out of here until almost midnight. What would we do without music and friends? I think my favorite song of the evening was "Tall Pines."

We had a newcomer in the shop today. Wouldn't you know, I've already forgotten her name! She is from Freeburg and she brought in a four string banjo. It had no strings, bridge or nut, and the old skin head was broken, but still it was a cool banjo. We decided it would be best as a wall hanger, so I took some old strings off another banjo that I had in the shop to put on her 4-string banjo. I found a used, warped 5-string bridge that I sanded down and converted to a 4-string bridge. Then I took a small piece of scrap wood and made a nut. It took about 15 minutes to fix up the old 4-string, but it was a fun project!

We sold two banjos over the internet in two days. One went to the East Coast, and the other to the West Coast. Kind of funny...

I decided to put up an informational sign last week about how often to change strings. I didn't realize so many people didn't know how often to change strings. I have talked to people all week who haven't changed strings in more than a year! As a general rule, fretted instruments like guitars, mandolins, and banjos should have the strings changed every 2-3 months. If you play a lot or if you sweat a lot, you may need to change strings more often. If you have high acid content in your hands, you'll probably need Elixer or some other long-lasting string. You'll know because you will be rusting your strings out in a week or less. If you don't change your strings regularly, it won't hurt your instrument, but you won't get optimum sound. You may also start to notice that your instrument doesn't stay in tune, or doesn't sound in tune even when it is. Old strings just sound dead! Classical violin players change strings more often than "fiddle" players, but I generally recommend changing fiddle strings every 6-8 months. They cost more, so you probably don't want to be changing them too frequently unless you notice they aren't sounding good. Since violin strings are flat round (as opposed to round wound like most guitar and banjo strings), they don't pick up as much dead skin and sweat. This is what makes them last longer.

The rest of the week so far has been spent doing internet work, scheduling gigs for The Chris Talley Trio, paying bills (what fun!), ordering instruments and supplies, and doing various repairs in the fiddle shop.