Friday, April 24, 2009

Not Bluegrass - But Free Check Engine Diagnosis

I know this isn't a bluegrass related item, but I thought it was valuable enough that everyone should know. The check engine light has been on in my car for about the last four months. I didn't bother to get it looked at because my car seems to be running fine. I happened to be at Auto Zone the other day actually taking care of bluegrass business! Yes, indeed. I was buying pinstriping at Auto Zone to mark the finger positions on fiddles. There, sitting next to the register, was a brochure advertising free Check Engine diagnosis.

Naturally, I was quite skeptical. I asked the guy if it was really free. Did I have to buy anything? Did I have to get it serviced anywhere in particular? Etc. He said it was absolutely free, and he could do it right then. Well, yes!!! It took all of about five seconds and I didn't even have to start the car. Now I know my EGR valve is plugged up and I can take it to any car service place I want and have it cleaned. Diagnosis was completely free!

This was the Auto Zone in Belleville, IL. I don't know if this is a service offered by all Auto Zone stores in all states, but you should definitely check this out if you have the need. It will save you about $100. Now you can spend the saved money at your favorite music store -- The Bluegrass Shack!!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stelling Banjo Anthology

I just purchased four of these to sell here in the shop. This is your opportunity to hear some really fine banjo picking all on Stelling banjos. Some of the featured banjo pickers include Bill Emerson, Alan Munde (my favorite!), Ned Luberecki, Casey & Murphy Henry, and Geoff Stelling himself! The CD is put out by Rebel Records and is selling for $15.00.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Monday's Instructional Jam - Fox on the Run

Just wanted to let everyone know how well our Monday night instructional jam sessions are going! This group has been working on Fox on the Run, including learning all three harmony parts. Everyone is doing great, so I wanted to post a video of the song. Nick is the one doing the fantastic job of singing lead on this.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

NEW! The Bargain Barn!

Just wanted to let everyone know that we have expanded our on-line offerings to The Bluegrass Bargain Barn. There's not much up there yet, but just wait! To visit the Bargain Barn, you can go to our main website and click on the Bargain Barn link, or you can get there by clicking here: The Bargain Barn

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Three- and Four- Note Guitar Runs for "D" Chord

This is a video tutorial on how to play the 3-note and 4-note D Run on guitar. I've used the songs Worried Man Blues and Will the Circle Be Unbroken as demonstration songs. Good luck!

Tuesday's Jam

Wow! Another record-breaking crowd at last night's jam session! I want to welcome newcomer, Bob, to the jam session. Bob moved here from Ohio just two weeks ago and found out about our jam session from a regular here -- Verlan. Thanks for coming! Those in attendance last night included Mark, Elsie, Bob, Jim, Steve, Shirley, Lorraine, Ron, Terry L., Terry H., John B. from Collinsville, John B. from New Athens, Earl, Denny, Cindy, Warren, Jason, Stan, Abby, Verlan, Anthony, John R., Jerry, Gary, Chris and Dennis.

Here is a video clip from last night's jam:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bass Nut

The nut of the bass is carved from a rectangular block of ebony wood. I start with a piece that is tall enough so that it extends between 1/16" to 1/8" above the fingerboard. It also has to be long enough that it covers the entire width of the pegbox at the fingerboard. (Hopefully, this makes sense. It's hard to describe.) I started with a piece of ebony that was about 3/4" tall X 2-1/2" long X 1/2" thick. I made sure that the ebony fit tightly and squarely against the fingerboard. If it doesn't, then I have to keep sanding and filing until it does. Since the strings will be going across this, it has to be a perfect fit against the fingerboard.

With the nut blank in place, I use a pencil to draw the contour of the fingerboard end on the blank. I also mark the ends where I need to cut off the length. I cut the ends off the blank after they are marked, and then I file and sand the contour. I keep checking the fit as I go to make sure I haven't deviated from my original markings, and also in case I didn't mark something very accurately. You can always take more away, but you can't add back!!!!

Once the fit is very close, I use hide glue to adhere the nut to the bass. I let it dry for at least several hours so that it won't work loose when I start filing it. All of the final fitting is done after the nut is glued into place. That is when I set the string height and the contour of the back of the nut. The back of the nut has to be rounded and smooth so that they strings don't break too sharply as they go across the nut. Otherwise, you'll get broken and frayed strings here.

I mark the string positions with pencil, and then I use a small, round file to put the grooves in the nut. Interestingly enough, the space between the nut and peghead box was originally cut uneven on this bass, so the second picture of the nut looks like the nut is crooked. It's not the nut -- it's the peghead box! It won't hurt a thing, and it's hardly noticeable after the instrument is strung up.

I use sandpaper and eventually 0000 steel wood & olive oil on the nut to make it perfectly smooth and shiny. This is also the time to get rid of any excess glue.

Now I can do the final fitting of the bridge and the nut. The strings have to be in place for this. I start by making sure the soundpost hasn't fallen. That's pretty easy to tell because you can hear it rolling around inside if it has! Bass soundposts are pretty big, so they make lots of noise when they are loose. I check to see that the grooves are the correct width and height for each string, and then I check the overall height of the strings and adjust the bridge according to how high or low I would like the the strings to be. Although there is a "correct" height for all of this, I have found that most bluegrass players have their own preference.

When all is done, you are ready to tune up and play!

Bass Bridge

The bass bridge is yet another story in and of itself. I am using an adjustable bridge, which I greatly prefer. It is easier to set the height, and since the height is adjustable, you can get the "perfect" setup for anyone with the turn of a wheel.

I generally fit the feet of the bridge before I do anything else. With the entire bridge in one piece, it makes it easier to see what angle you are working with. It is also important that the distance on the feet are accurate because you are working with matching the contour of the feet to the contour of the bass body. I generally thin out the feet first, then start the fitting. I like to use sandpaper on top of the bass when I get close to the fit. Carbon paper (or regular paper that a pencil lead has been colored with) can also help you to find high spots in the feet. They can be scraped with a sharp knife.

After I get the feet fitted properly, I mark both sides of the bridge feet with corresponding dots so that I can tell which side of the bridge goes with which foot. This is very important because I'm going to saw off the feet in the next step!

After I saw the feet off, I smooth the ends out with sandpaper, and then I mark an "X" on all ends to find the exact middle where I will need to drill holes. It is important that the hole is dead center and also straight up and down. The holes that are in the main bridge have to be the correct size so that the threads from the wheels will screw in tightly. Choosing the correct drill bit is very important, so you might want to test it out on a piece of scrap wood first! The holes in the feet have to be larger so that the non-threaded end of the wheels fit snugly but not too tight. I use a drill press to drill the holes so that they are perfectly straight up and down.

After I get all the holes drilled and everything is put together, I put the bridge back on the bass to make sure that the fit is still good. The angle of the feet can change a little bit depending upon how straight up and down the holes were drilled. Sometimes a little extra fitting is needed in this step.

I use a straight edge layed directly down the profile of the bridge and a pencil to help mark my initial bridge height. With an adjustable bridge, this does not have to be quite so exact. Then I use a template to mark the curvature of the bridge. Lastly, I cut the bridge height (curvature), and I start to thin, shape and trim the bridge. Once the bridge is complete, I mark the string slots and file them into place with a small, round file.

I can't actually do the final fitting of the bridge until I finish the nut.

Bass Fingerboard Part 2

After I finally got the fingerboard shaped, scraped, planed and sanded (about 4,000 hours later...I'm sure), I added position markers to the side of the fingerboard. I chose to inlay the markers and used wood. Pearl or abalone dot inlays can also be used. The markers are easy to see and look nice, too!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

The day's not quite over yet, so I just wanted to say Happy Easter to everyone and may God bless you!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bass Gets New Fingerboard

I've been working on getting the new fingerboard on a bass for the past several weeks. It's a very BIG job, and also very messy. Every time I work on basses, I remember why I don't like working on basses! Everything takes longer and the messes are much bigger...and my arms get tired. Yes, I suppose I am whining.

When replacing a fingerboard on any instrument in the violin family, you also have to replace the nut and the bridge. I didn't take any pictures of the old fingerboard before I removed it, and unfortunately I also didn't take any pictures of me actually putting on or even clamping the new fingerboard. I CAN tell you that it was quite a job.

The first thing I did after removing the old fingerboard was to plane the neck surface down smoothly so that there wasn't any old glue on there and so that the surface was straight. Then I took the new fingerboard and ran the back side of it through a planer several times to get it the right thickness, and to get it smooth and straight. Then I held the fingerboard on the bass neck and lined it up where it would be glued. I took a pencil and marked the excess on the sides of the bass. There was about a 1/8" overhang on both sides, so I just left that. If it was any bigger of a gap than 1/8", I probably would have planed the sides down to save time later on.

When it came time to glue the new fingerboard on, I actually used the same clamps for the bass that I use for fiddles. I used a few more, and also supplemented with three additional heavy duty clamps. I put the bass fingerboard in my car in the sun for about 10 minutes before putting the glue on it. Since hide glue is used in the repair, and it starts to congeal pretty quickly, it is much better to heat up the parts that are going to be glued so that the glue doesn't start to gel before you get everything clamped. It also helps to have an extra hand to help with the clamping.

The glue has to set for at least 8 hours before any more work is done. I used a rough, flat file to take the edges of the fingerboard down even with the bass neck. I did one side on one night, and then I waited to do the other side on another night. This was solely for the purpose of preserving my back and arms. That's a lot of filing!

Once the sides were flush with the neck, I started the process of planing the top of the fingerboard. There are several different curvatures that bass players like. Some prefer a completely smooth, arched fingerboard; and others prefer a sort of "line" down the fingerboard on the bass end. This fingerboard was going to get the line. I marked with a pencil at the top and bottom of the fingerboard where the line was going to be, then I used a large straight edge to connect the two marks. when I started planing the fingerboard, this line was a guide for me to plane to. Basically, I was taking some of the curve out of the fingerboard and also thinning it somewhat.

When planing ebony, it is so hard that the wood tends to come off in chunks instead of in small, even strips. One direction is better than the other. You can make grooves in your plane blade to help this. I plane in the "chunky" direction to quickly get the contour I want. Then I plane in the opposite direction to smooth everything out.

After I am satisfied with the contour, I use a large wood block and some 150 grit sandpaper to smooth everything out even more. When the scratches and plane marks are gone, I use 0000 extra fine steel wool dipped in olive oil to make the fingerboard extra smooth and shiny. (It also lowers cholesterol and makes the fingerboard live longer...)

I will write about the nut and bridge in separate entries so this one won't be any longer!

Charlie & Emily on the Double Guitar

Everybody's got to get in on this. This is Charlie and Emily playing Dueling Banjos and Old Joe Clark. Sorry about the sideways video! I didn't know I couldn't fix this. I guess you'll have to turn your head! :o)

Amelia Plays Classical on the Double Guitar!

Since we have this thing in the shop for the next week for everyone to "enjoy," everyone has been testing out their skills and just having a good time with it. This is Amelia who is quite the classical player having fun with the guitar. I only wish we had tuned the short side of the guitar first...

The Strangest Fiddle Repair Completed!

A little while back, I posted a few pictures of a fiddle that came into the shop for repair. If you have been following the blog, you probably remember the fiddle with the mandolin peghead on the end of it. Well, I finally completed that repair and Ron came in to pick up the instrument. Terry and John played guitar for Ron, and here is a short video clip with some before and after pictures, and the three men playing together. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

July 19, 2009 Fiddle Contest for Everyone!

The Bluegrass Shack is sponsoring its 6th Annual July Fiddle Contest. The past several years we have made this a Juniors Only event and held it at The Shack. Due to its increasing size and popularity (we outgrew our building last year), we are opening the contest up to all ages and have moved it just down the road to L&B's Eastend. This is where we held our October Fiddle Contest for the past several years.

There will be five contest divisions with a total of $550 in prize money & trophies to be awarded. All juniors will receive a medal regardless of placement in the contest. The divisions are as follows: Junior III (Ages 12 & under); Junior II (13-15 Years Old); Junior I (16-18 Years Old); Open (19 & Over); Senior (60 & Over). Senior and Open Divisions will play together, and seniors that score high enough will be eligible for the Open prizes. Please see the contest flyer at the end of this blog entry. If you click on it, you can enlarge it so that you can read and print it. If you have further questions, please feel free to contact us here at The Bluegrass Shack.

This event is held in conjunction with the New Athens Homecoming Parade. The Bluegrass Shack will again have a float in the parade, which will take place right after the fiddle contest. The float lineup is at 4:00 p.m. at The Bluegrass Shack, and the parade starts at 5:00 p.m. Everyone is invited to join us on the float or watch the entire parade from our parking lot. We hope you'll come!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Matt & Chris Play Gardenia Waltz

Matt Wyatt came by the shop a few weeks ago and Earl recorded this video of me and Matt playing Gardenia Waltz. I love what Matt plays on the guitar for this song. It's a really tough fiddle tune and I have been working hard on it for at least six months. It's on The Chris Talley Trio's new CD that will be coming out in a month or so. Matt is a great all-around musician and plays fiddle just as good as he plays guitar. It was an honor playing with him.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Way Cool Back to Back Double Acoustic Guitar!

Just when I think I've seen it all, Scott comes in this afternoon with this masterpiece! This is a Papi Galansan double guitar. The label says it was made in 2005, but I can't find anything on the internet about it. Let me know if you find something or know something. I am posting some pictures and a couple of videos for you to see this unusual instrument!

Here are a couple of pictures of Scott playing the guitar, and the inside of the guitar. There is a microphone installed in the guitar, with a 1/4" plug in the endpin. We actually hooked this thing up to our PA and it works great plugged in. It is a little tough to actually play because there is always a neck in the way. I had a blast playing this thing. If you want to see it, Scott has left it here for a week or so (today is 4/4/09). The first picture shows how the strings used to be attached before I reamed out the holes in the bridge and installed endpins. When Scott brought this in, there were just small holes in both bridges and the strings had to be installed from the inside of the guitar. The strings were tied to small sticks on the inside to keep them from coming through the holes in the bridge. If a string got broken, you would have had to loosen all the strings to be able to stick your hand inside to install a new string. This is also assuming your hand was small enough to fit inside the sound hole...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Last Night's Giant Jam

We had one of the best jam sessions ever last night. Lots of our regular friends attended, and there were quite a few new folks, too. Jammers included John R., Anthony, Stu, Charlie, Dennis, John B. & wife Irene, Ron, Lorraine, another John B., Gary, Jason, Earl, Denny, Warren, Cindy, Verlan, Larry, Jerry, Steve, Shirley, Terry L., and me! I think that's everyone. We started early, and then we ended up playing until midnight. What a fun evening!