Monday, December 31, 2007

American Fiddle Repair

Here is an American fiddle that I am currently working on. I have been working on it for a while actually. It has substantial damage, parts missing, pieces of ribs missing, a VERY unusual neck block, and a neck that has been grafted not once -- but twice! Here are a few pictures for you to take a look at.

This first picture shows the lining being glued back into the fiddle. This fiddle has the darkest color of hide glue that I have ever seen...and lots of it. I guess someone was afraid that it would come unglued (and indeed it did even after all of that glue!). I actually removed quite a bit of extra dried up glue.

These pictures show the neck block with the neck in place. This is before I disassembled everything to fix it.

These last three pictures show the process of adding in a piece of missing rib. The varnishing has not been completed, but you can see that it is getting close to the right color now.

Unique Lowendall Bass Bar

Okay. Now here's something you don't see everyday. This is a very unique bass bar that is in an early 1900's Lowendall fiddle. Normally, bass bars do not have any holes in them, much less holes with wooden straws inserted. I guess this was thought to enhance the sound of the fiddle. I am VERY curious what this fiddle will sound like once I get it back together again.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

E-mail About Student CD

I received another nice e-mail regarding The Bluegrass Shack Student CD. This one is from Al.

Just wanted to say Happy New Year and thanks for all your energy, patience and creativity. The Cd's were the centerpiece of music at our Christmas Eve dinner. They all could not believe how good your expertise is and how good the students
sounded. Simply magnificent.

Thanks, Al!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Yes, We Teach Piano!!!!

Okay - so we're The Bluegrass Shack. We do cater to acoustic musicians of bluegrass, folk and country; HOWEVER, we also offer some great classical piano lessons! Sharla Stasiak is our piano teacher here, and she has her Master's Degree in Piano Performance from Notre Dame. She also attended Eastman School of Music during the summer while she was still in high school. I thought I'd better share some of our "other" offerings, since these students work just as hard as everyone else around here. Be sure to listen to 14-year old Alaina playing "Summer Wind" in this video clip.

Pit Stop

A nice guy by the name of Michael stopped in our shop today. He had been searching on the internet for a fiddle, and we talked with each other last week over the phone. (In fact, I was playing fiddles for him over the phone!) Michael is from Pittsburgh, but is actually in the process of moving to Colorado. He dropped by the Shack in a rental van on his way to Colorado and purchased a fiddle. I wish now that I had asked to take his picture, but it just now occurred to me. He has never played fiddle before, but would like to learn Irish and Cape Breton (Canada) fiddle playing. I think we spent about an hour talking and playing fiddles, but finally Michael was able to pick one out that suited him just perfect! Hopefully, we'll hear from Michael and maybe he'll send me a picture of him with his new fiddle (hint, if you're reading this Michael).

First Banjo

Maxine came into our shop just before Christmas to purchase a banjo for her grandson. Richie is just 5 years old, so the Plucky (made by Gold Tone) is the perfect size for him! Maxine was kind enough to send us these pictures of Richie with his new banjo on Christmas Day. She said that Richie has been wanting to play banjo for a long time, so I think they're going to be hearing some banjo for a while!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Rehairing Bows

I will be rehairing bows this weekend. I try to do several at one time so that I can have all the tools I need out at the same time.

Here are several things to consider when having a bow rehaired:

1. Real vs. Synthetic Hair - The only time I use synthetic hair is if someone wants to store (and not use) a rehaired bow (e.g., they don't play but they want the bow rehaired for sentimental reasons). The synthetic hair doesn't attrack the carpet weevils that eat the hair out of bows. I use real horsehair in bows that will actually get used because the real hair plays much better than synthetic hair. The synthetic hair is more slippery than real hair, and it doesn't accept the rosin as easily.

2. How often should I rehair my bow? - Professional classical players generally rehair bows every 6-8 months I've been told. This information came from Liesl Schoenberger who has played Carnegie Hall & European tours classically, and also performed on the Grand Ol' Opry.

The hair tends to get brittle after a certain amount of time and loses its elasticity. I only rehair my bow when there's not enough hair left to play! If the hair gets too old, or if the bows gets exposed to hot weather, the rosin dust can actually harden on the hair. You will see this with old bows that have been stored away in cases in attics and such. If this happens, you should probably rehair. If your bow gets something spilled on it, then you should also probably rehair.

3. Can I clean the bow hair? - I have heard of this, and I have even seen kits that you can purchase to clean the hair. Unless you've spilled something on the hair that's sticky or slippery, you probably don't need to clean the hair. Some say to use alcohol, though I would think this would make the hair brittle and more apt to break. It can also remove lacquer. I have also heard to use a soap and water mixture. I haven't actually used either.

4. Should I get my bow rehaired or should I purchase a new bow? - This all depends upon how much you like the bow you are considering rehairing. If it is a very inexpensive bow ($40 or less), then I would only rehair it if I really LOVED the bow. It costs $40 to rehair a bow, so it wouldn't be cost effective otherwise. Make sure the bow you want to rehair is straight when sighting down the bow from the frog to the tip, and also make sure the bow has ample camber. Camber is the natural curve of the bow. Bows that lack camber tend to be bouncy and are very hard to rehair properly because the hair tension depends upon proper camber. Take a look at the photos below to see the difference between warping (something you don't want) and camber (something you do want):

This bow is warped. You can see that when viewed frog to tip, it veers off to the right.

This bow has proper camber. With the hair loosened, the hair touches the middle of the bow. You may have to click on the picture to enlarge it enough for a good view.

This bow has no camber. With the hair all the way loosened, the hair doesn't even come close to touching the middle of the bow. You may have to click on the picture to enlarge it enough for a good view.

After Christmas Jam

I'm not teaching any lessons this week, so it seems everyone wants to jam! We had another impromptu jam session the day after Christmas. I think my dad (on fiddle) jammed for 3-4 hours!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Letter to Share

I received a very nice letter today in my e-mail that I thought I'd share with you. It is regarding the student CDs. It seems they are doing exactly what we had hoped for: inspire and entertain!

Terry and Becky sent us (Bob and Trudy) the two student CD’s. We absolutely love them! The tunes are so clean and simple – some are real toe-tappers. We talked to Terry yesterday and he said you would be doing more – can’t wait to hear them! Bob (husband) took guitar lessons a few years ago and has not practiced in a long time. He is now getting back into it – he said Terry has inspired him. Keep up the good work with your students. Hope your Christmas was good and have a safe and prosperous 2008! tko

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve Jam

We were open at The Shack today helping the last minute shoppers, when all of a sudden, a jam started up! Here is Terry (banjo), Andy (my dad -- 81 years young and playing fiddle), Denny (still hacking away at the bass), and Mike (singing and playing guitar). I am so blessed to have my Dad here for the holidays and still playing the fiddle!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Repair Projects

I did not do much repair work in the last month due to the Student CD project. Now I have several projects that I will be working to complete. One is a very neat American fiddle project, and two others are also fiddle restorations. I completed four short banjo projects last week in time for Christmas. I also have three bows to rehair. It will be a busy "holiday" for me while I'm not teaching lessons next week. I also have inventory (oh yippee!) and tax accounting projects to complete.

Last Night's Live Music

With very short notice (30 minutes), Mike, Chelsea and I threw together a short program and played at the Yellowmoon Cafe last night (it used to be Perk's Coffeehouse). We really had a great time. We played a bunch of Christmas carols, then did a sing-along of Christmas carols, and then continued with some bluegrass and country entertainment. Liz played some fiddle with us, Verlan and Sara got up and each sang a song, and Carie also joined us with her banjo for a few tunes. I wish we would have had more notice so we could have let everyone know we were going to be there. It is my understanding that the bands will start playing at the Yellowmoon after the 1st of the year.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Christmas!

I just wanted to make sure during the rush of the season that I didn't forget to wish everyone a blessed and Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

TBS Student CDs Ready!

It's the moment you've been waiting for! The Bluegrass Shack Student CDs are done and ready for you and your friends & relatives! This is a fundraiser for the 2008 Fiddle & Banjo contests that we will be putting on this coming summer and again in the fall. There are a total of 54 songs on two CDs. All the songs are played by students of The Bluegrass Shack, with additional backup instrumentation (bass, guitar, fiddle, banjo & other miscellaneous instrumentation) done by Chris Talley Armstrong. Below is the song list and what each student played. I have linked soundclips to the first 10 songs on each CD so you can listen to a few seconds...

CD#1 Songlist -
1. Soldier's Joy (fiddle & hammer dulcimer) - Rachel (16)
2. Shuckin' the Corn (banjo)
3. Forked Deer (fiddle)
4. Amazing Grace (fiddle & vocals) - Paige (10) & Makayla (13)
5. Bill Cheatham (banjo)
6. Canadian Waltz (fiddle) - Jenny (16)
7. I'll Fly Away (guitar & vocals) - Alaina (14)
8. Liberty (fiddle)
9. Banjo in the Hollow (banjo) - Al (My oldest student - over 70!)
10. Drunken Sailor (fiddle & vocal) - Nathan (10)
11. Celito Lindo (banjo)
12. Keep on the Sunny Side (family band & vocal)
13. Arkansas Traveller (fiddle)
14. Jingle Bells (banjo)
15. Bile Them Cabbage Down (vocal)
16. Are You Washed in the Blood (fiddle)
17. O Come O Come Immanuel (fiddle & vocal)
18. I Saw the Light (guitar & vocal)
19. Christmas Medley (fiddle)
20. Mountain Dew (guitar & vocal)
21. Old Joe Clark (banjo)
22. Liza Jane (fiddle)
23. Up Jumped the Devil (fiddle)
24. What a Friend We Have in Jesus (fiddles & vocals)
25. Will the Circle be Unbroken (banjo & vocal)
26. Roxanna Waltz (fiddle)
27. Uncle Dell (banjo)

CD#2 Songlist -
1. Cripple Creek (banjo)
2. Worried Man Blues (banjo)
3. Wildwood Flower (fiddle) - Bayle (13)
4. Rabbit in a Log (student band & vocals)
5. The Old Rugged Cross (fiddle)
6. Foggy Mountain Top (banjo & vocals)
7. Duelin' Banjos (banjo) - Austin (11)
8. Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms (banjo)
9. Danny Boy (fiddle)
10. Scotland the Brave (fiddle) - Ashley (13)
11. Sittin' on Top of the World (family band & vocals)
12. Whiskey Before Breakfast (fiddle)
13. Turkey in the Straw (banjo)
14. Star of the County Down (fiddle)
15. Amazing Grace (banjo)
16. Charlie Hunter Waltz (fiddle)
17. House of Gold (fiddle & vocal)
18. French Folk Song (fiddle)
19. Banjo in the Hollow (guitar & banjo)
20. Peekaboo Waltz (fiddle)
21. Blackberry Blossom (banjos)
22. Oh Come All Ye Faithful (vocal)
23. Flop Eared Mule (fiddle)
24. Draggin' the Bow (fiddle)
25. Ragtime Annie (fiddle)
26. Tombigbee Waltz (fiddle)
27. Salt Creek (banjo)

If you would like the two CD set, then the cost is $15.00. If you want copies of just one CD or the other, then they are $10.00 each. Once again, this is a fund raiser, so all the money will go into promoting bluegrass music in this area with our 2008 fiddle and banjo contests.

These CDs ARE NOT professional. They are songs performed by students and recorded through a computer here at The Bluegrass Shack. We think they are very good, and that they represent the everyday musician like the majority of us out there. About half of the recordings were made by children (ages are listed on the CD for children), and the other half are adults and seniors. There are also pictures of every student on the CD insert. Contact us at The Bluegrass Shack if you would like copies of the CDs.

Student Christmas Party

We sure had a good time Friday night! The weather was quite unpredictable, but it seemed to hold off until after the party.

We had all kinds of drawings for prizes for both kids and adults. Our boy's giant stocking winner was David, and our girl's giant stocking winner was Paige.

We had lots of Christmas caroling, and later on, we all sat around and jammed. Plenty of food, too! Keep looking, and I'll post a video clip up sometime this week.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Vocal Tip

I decided that this next tip should be one on singing. Please remember that we don't teach vocal lessons here at the Shack, but we do offer tips to all our students.

This is probably the most common vocal mistake I hear from people just starting to sing. It involves holding out a note that changes pitch. For instance, think of the last phrase of Will the Circle Be Unbroken. The words are "in the sky Lord in the sky." I italicized the two words that are held with pitch changes: Lord and the. Many times, beginning vocalists will insert an "H" sound when they change pitches. Click here for an example of this incorrect vocal technique. The correct way to sing this phrase would be to hold out the vowel sound without adding an "H" sound. Click here for an example of the correct way to sing this phrase.

I hope this helps all the budding singers out there!

Tuesday's Jam

Another fantastic jam session! We had three new visitors that drove all the way from Indiana to join us! We were also very pleased to have James come join us. James plays the banjo and always works on the nights of our jam. Well, he has this week off so he decided to come on by. Take a look at our jam:

Cousin Cletis...Is that you????

Apparently our mystery visitor has some relatives...

Monday, December 10, 2007

The CDs are Coming! The CDs are Coming!

Alright, Folks! They are almost here! I finished up the 2007 Student CD over the weekend. Right now, I am designing the covers and having the masters duplicated. I am hoping that they will be ready on Friday in time for the party. There were a total of 54 songs, and I had to divide them between two CDs. I am so impressed with how well everyone performed, and I am very excited for everyone to hear it. Watch for more news!

Guess Who?

We had a visitor to the Shack over the weekend. Just wondering if anyone around here recognizes him. I understand he plays banjo...

The Edible Bluegrass Shack

Students!!!!! This is your chance to win an edible facsimile of The Bluegrass Shack! At Friday's Student Christmas Party, we will be having a gingerbread house give-away. All adults who would like to win the edible Shack can cast their names into the "pot" for their chance to win. We will be drawing one name for the winner. We will also have several drawings for L A R G E chocolate bars (if you can pry them out of my fingers). The kids get to try for two large stockings -- one for the boys and one for the girls. Here is a picture of the edible form of The Bluegrass Shack!!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Lights On!

Chelsea and Mike spent part of yesterday afternoon putting up the Christmas tree. It sure does look good. I snapped this photo when they were just getting started. They were putting on the lights and trying to hide behind the tree when they saw me with my camera (no one is safe around here!).