Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Mystery of Performing

Why is it that in your living room you can play great, but when you try to play out it just doesn't happen? Or maybe you can play by yourself, but not with others. There are several reasons that explain why this can happen, and hopefully I will be able to offer a solution to you!

Most of the time when people practice, they practice by themselves. Practice by yourself will help you get better at playing by yourself. If you want to play with others, then you HAVE to practice with others. How can you do this and still save your self esteem and respect? You need to find others who are also learning, or a jam session that is beginner friendly. Some music stores and organizations (like old time fiddler associations and music schools) offer beginner jam sessions. There are also workshops offered around the country that offer instruction in jamming. These are all good options.

Another option that you can utilize at home would be to practice with a CD or DVD. There are instructional jam CDs available, and there are also free programs that you can download that will slow down CDs so that you will be able to play with them. Some of these programs actually come preloaded on your computer. There are also specialized CD players that will slow down CDs. All of these programs will slow the music down without changing the pitch.

Another reason why you may not be able to play with others is nervousness or change of concentration. Nervousness or concentration issues can cause you to blank out, forget where you are, repeat or skip sections of songs, or even play several songs combined into one!

How do you get over this? The same way you learn songs. Practice, practice, practice with others! Don't give up. If you really want to do this, then you have to keep pounding it until you get it. You WILL!

How can you practice with others without driving everyone else crazy? Make sure that you follow good jamming etiquette. For instance: 1) Always tune; 2) Don't play too loudly; and 3) Don't play lead (melody) all the time, especially when someone else is singing or playing lead. This is only a short list, but will at least get you started. If you are unsure about something, ask! Don't bombard someone with questions, but ask a few of your most important questions. Most people are more than willing to help!

New Bumper Stickers Coming Soon!

Just wanted to let you know that we have new bumper stickers coming soon. Make sure you pick up one or even several of our new design! They should be here around July 2nd.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Scoop on Vandalia

The Chris Talley Trio played at the Courthouse Square on Saturday for the First Annual Bluegrass Festival in Vandalia, IL. It was a smaller affair, probably due to it being the first year, the EXCESSIVE heat, and powerful storms that swept through the area. Nevertheless, we had a great show and there were plenty of people in lawn chairs set up to listen to us!

Eleven-year old Nikki played banjo during the first set on a couple of tunes, and did such a great job that I had numerous requests for her to play again on the second set. She played Whoa Mule Whoa with Chris, then Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Jerusalem Ridge with the band. On the second set, she played Theme Time and Old Joe Clark with the band. Nikki will be playing with The Pickin' Chicks at Dubois, IL on October 3, 2009. You don't want to miss that performance!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Under the Double Eagle on Banjo!

I am so proud of Larry for this recording. We were on a fast approaching deadline, because Larry wanted to play this for his dad for Father's Day. It wasn't quite memorized and we had to do several takes, but Larry did a great job on this song!

Musical Talent Contest in Freeburg

This year, the Freeburg Homecoming will be having a musical talent contest! Prizes are $100, $75, and $50, plus medals for the first three places. The date is August 15, 2009, but the application deadline if you want to be considered for the contest is July 20th.

You MUST submit the application and either a CD or DVD of your act if you would like to be considered. I think everything you need to know is on the application. Click on the picture below to get a larger view to print.

Applications may either be hand delivered or mailed to The Bluegrass Shack, 904 Old Baldwin Road, New Athens, IL 62264.

Stelling Golden Cross Banjo in Stock!

Just wanted to let you know that we have a new Stelling Golden Cross banjo that just arrived today. This is just what that special guy needs for Father's Day!!!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sylvia's Fiddle: Scroll Repair

Sylvia's fiddle got accidentally stepped on several weeks ago and the scroll was broken off. This is actually a fairly common repair on fiddles, but usually due to the scroll being hit on something. The break was clean and it went straight through two of the pegholes. Just glueing the scroll back on is not an option in this type of repair because the tension on the scroll from the strings, and also the pressure from the pegs on the pegholes will not stand up over time. A cheek patch is required in this situation. Here are some photos of the repair. You can click on the pictures to make them larger.

This first picture is the scroll immediately following the accident.

The first step in the repair process is to glue the scroll back together again.

After the glue dries overnight, the cheeks of the pegbox are carved out to approximately half the thickness. The carved part should be concave in shape and should be large enough to go beyond the crack by about 1/2 to 3/4".

A patch is then prepared using a piece of maple. It is good to try to match the patch to the grain of the peghead. For example, if the peghead is made of highly flamed maple, try to cut a patch from highly flamed maple that closely matches. The edges of the patch will be feathered so that they are the least noticeable when the repair is completed. If an interior repair can be made, this will be the least noticeable. This was not possible in this case.

You can use carbon paper to match the patch to the scroll carving that you created. This will allow you to see high spots so these can be trimmed to make a perfectly matching patch.

Before you glue the patch in, put a very thin layer of glue on both the patch and the peghead carving and let this dry. This will keep the glue from soaking into the new wood, which will give you optimal adhesion. After the thin layer of glue dries, then you can glue the patches into place. Make sure that you use several small clamps so that the middle and both of the edges of the patch are glued firmly.

Use a file and sandpaper (150 grit to start with) to reshape the patch. Use fine sandpaper and steel wool to take all of file marks and scratches out of the peghead and the patch.

The holes can be redrilled into the peghead after the final fitting and sanding has been done. All that's left now is restaining/varnishing the peghead.

The Chris Talley Trio in Vandalia, IL

Just a reminder to you that The Chris Talley Trio is playing from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. in Vandalia, IL this Saturday, June 20th. We sure hope to see you there! We will have our two new CDs with us: Bound for the Promised Land and Raining in my Heart.

Visitors from Georgia!

We had two visitors from Georgia come by the shop on Tuesday evening. DJ and Shannon were taking a nice, slow trip and visiting all kinds of things along the way for their vacation. We had a inpromptu jam session which included three banjo players! (Kind of like a bit of heaven...) Earl took some pictures of DJ, Nikki and Terry. DJ is a two-finger style banjo player.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Pickin' Chicks Play Friday, June 19th!

Don't miss out on this special performance! The Pickin' Chicks will be performing in New Athens, Illinois on Friday, June 19, 2009, at the United Methodist Church. This is a benefit for CESNA (Community Emergency Services of New Athens), which provides aid for residents of New Athens. There will be a number of other performers and groups singing gospel songs. The entire show will run from 7:00-9:00 p.m. and a love offering will be taken. We hope to see you there!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

They Don't Make Clamps for This!

If you haven't read my post on hide glue yet, please do! Here is an example of an instrument that got both hot and wet.

This bass was brought into the shop for repair. This first picture shows how I know the instrument got overly hot. The varnish has melted and the black fuzz from the gigbag is stuck in the varnish. By the way, this was all over the instrument, not just in this one spot.

The instrument also got wet, which I believe is the main cause of this damage. Apparently, the owner got caught in a rain storm out in a field. I guess basses are hard to protect and not easy to run with. I would suggest a weather report, some large garbage bags or small tarp, and some towels.

The end block on this bass was detached from both the top and back of the bass. It was also partially detached from the end ribs themselves. The bass was tuned and played like this, which leaves me in amazement that the bass did not fall apart altogether. In fact, I'm not sure how it even stayed in tune, if it did!

I wanted to repair the bass without having to take it all apart, if possible. After determining that the remainder of the block was actually well attached, I decided that this would work. Unfortunately, they don't make clamps for this! The ribs near the end block were warped, and I had to clamp a clamp to get something long enough that would bring the ribs back to the shape of the top and back of the bass. There was also the issue of de-lamination at one of the c-bouts. Anyway, here are some pictures of my "enthusiastic" clamping. By the way, the plastic bags do serve a purpose. They keep the clamps and wood blocks from sticking the the instrument.

After days of glueing and waiting for the glue to set, here is the finished product all ready to go again!

Early Birthday Gift

I received an early birthday gift. Make sure you read the words on my new gift. (Click on the picture to make it bigger.) No explanation needed, though this is simply informational and not a warning...

Great Personal Songbook Idea

If you are one of those persons who can't remember the lyrics to your songs, or who likes to keep lyrics to many songs that you don't sing regularly with you, here is a great idea! My cousin, Warren, visited me several weeks ago and had this really great songbook he made. It is made from a large sketchpad. You can get something like this from Walmart or any craft store that carries painting and drawing supplies. The larger paper format allows you to write the words larger so that they are easy to read. Many of these pads also come with spiral binding so that you can easily flip through the songs. (Since something like this will probably not be written in alphabetical order, you'll eventually need a table of contents of some kind.) Take a look at the finished project:

Hide Glue

For those of you who don't know, instruments in the violin family (violins or fiddles, violas, basses, and cellos) are put together with hide glue. This is glue made from the hide of an animal, such as a rabbit, goat, horse or cow. This glue can be found in two different formats -- crystals (for melting) or ready-to-use in a bottle. The ready-to-use version has additional ingredients that keep it in a liquid form, but which also make it unsuitable for most instrument repair usages due to the weaker bond which is caused by these additional ingredients. (It can be used for the nut, but that's about it.) The crystal form is put into a special pot along with some water, and then is heated until it melts. Once the right consistancy between crystals and water is met and the glue is completely melted, it is ready for use. Generally, only the amount of glue needed for the repair is used, as the unused portion of glue can become moldy fairly quickly.

Hide glue is made to come apart. There's a very good reason why it is used instead of more permanent glues. It has excellent adhesive properties and a strong bond as long as it doesn't get wet or hot. When a fiddle (or other instrument in the violin family) develops a crack or has an accident, the instrument will most likely need to be taken apart to repair the crack properly. If it has been glued by Uncle Henry so that "it will never come apart again!", the wood of the instrument can be damaged in just getting the instrument apart. When hide glue is used, it can be heated and the instrument can be taken apart without damage to the instrument itself.

Cracks are not simply glued. They are also cleated from the inside to keep the crack from further separating or from growing. Many times, cracks that just appear with age are due to wood shrinkage. Most commonly, the top is made from spruce, and the sides (ribs) are made from maple. These woods shrink at different rates, even if they have been aged before the instrument is made. The ribs tend to pull outward from the top, so over time, cracks may develop in the top even if instrument has been well-cared for. When releasing or removing the top for crack repair, this tension is released so that the crack doesn't continue to have pressure on it. Just glueing the crack without cleating or releasing this tension may cause the crack to reappear or worsen.

Now, why is all of this important to know? There are several reasons. For one, that instrument that someone finds in their attic all in pieces should not be thrown away. It could be valuable even though it isn't playable! The hide glue got hot in the attic and the parts all separated. Not a big deal to a luthier (specialized instrument repair person), though it can be pricy to put something like this back together again! A luthier should be able to give you an estimate on the cost, and should also be able to tell you whether it's worth your money to do this, or whether you would be better off selling or giving the parts away. Be sure to take the instrument to someone who knows something before simply throwing it away. Even an instrument that is not valuable might have parts that could be reused on another instrument. Someone, somewhere, will be able to use these parts. Just about any luthier would gladly receive these parts from you!

One very important reason for knowing this information is so that you can take proper care of your instrument. While some instruments can take more heat and humidity than others, even though it's not good for ANY instrument to get too hot or wet, an instrument in the violin family cannot take much. With 300 pounds of pressure on a bridge or top of a tuned violin, a little heat goes a long ways! If your instrument gets too hot or wet, it will come apart!!!! A good rule of thumb is to keep your instrument only in places that a "normal" person would be comfortable. You would not want to be in a hot trunk...

One final reason for knowing this information is so that you don't try to make repairs to your instrument yourself. There are some very handy and detailed oriented persons out there who would probably be very good at instrument repair with a little bit of instruction. If you want to try, I certainly won't stop you. HOWEVER, please don't use regular glue...or gorilla glue...or super glue...or wood glue...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Live! from Arrowhead Campground

Scott was kind enough to load some videos from The Chris Talley Trio's performance in Grassy, MO at Arrowhead Campgrounds. Here is my favorite one, Star of the County Down.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dennis Plays Ragtime Annie on Fiddle

Here's a video of Dennis playing Ragtime Annie on the fiddle. Dennis has worked hard to overcome rhythm difficulties that he had when he first started. I am very proud of what he has accomplished! Great job, Dennis!

Thanks to Scott & Susie!

I knew I would forget someone when I started mentioning names at Grassy. How could I forget Scott and Susie!? Earl went with Scott to the campgrounds early on to make sure there was room for their RV, and then Scott & Susie both came to the festival and cheered us on. Scott took some wonderful pictures and videos. Many thanks to both of them!

These pictures are from our Saturday afternoon set. Charlie & the Girls were there, so I had them come up during our set to sing a song for everyone. They did a great job!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Join us in Vandalia, IL!

Just wanted to let everyone know that the City of Vandalia, IL is hosting their very first bluegrass festival this year. On top of that, The Chris Talley Trio will be playing there on June 20th. (This is a very special day, as it's my birthday!) I hope that you will come and enjoy the festivities that they have planned in honor of my birthday. (ha ha) The Chris Talley Trio is playing from 2-4 p.m. Here is a link to more information and the complete schedule of events: Click Here for the Schedule

Grassy Bluegrass Festival

The Chris Talley Trio played this weekend at the Arrowhead Campground's Annual Summer Bluegrass Festival held in Grassy, MO. It was another wonderful weekend! The weather COULD NOT have been nicer!!! I'm sure all who were there would agree. I can't remember when it wasn't about 1000 degrees. The Castor River runs through the campgroud, so you can imagine where all the kids spent their non-picking time!

Since we did not actually stay at the campground, I didn't get to do any jamming, but I did get to do lots of visiting. I also spent some time playing fiddle with Dana and Tabitha and their mom. They have a family band and are new pickers to the scene. I wish I knew the name of their band -- but I'm sure you'll be hearing about them soon as they start to pick around!

I was happy to see some folks from our area that joined us in Grassy: Nick, Christine, John, Kabbie, Rick, Emily, Natalie, Rosemary, Charlie, Bill, Cyndi, and I'm probably forgetting someone! There were many more folks that I saw that aren't from our area but are friends. Thanks to Bill & Joanne for letting us use their camper. Thanks to Nick for the good food! There's nothing like grilled hamburgers!

The sound at this festival was probably the best I've ever heard. I'll try to find out who was doing the sound and post it here. It is certainly worth mentioning, as everyone was talking about how good it was. The bands were all over the place, ranging from first-timers to well-experienced pickers. There was something there for everyone.

Grassy has always been my favorite outdoor festival. There are lots of trees, the beautiful river, great jamming, HOMEMADE ICE CREAM at the snack bar, sand volleyball court, and lots of really nice people. Julie did a great job, as usual, as the emcee. Make sure you look for the next festival here and mark it on your calendar!

Many thanks to LeRoy Brown for having us out there this weekend!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Important Instrument Care Reminders

This week has brought several things to my attention that I think we all need to be reminded of to keep our instruments safe. Please read through this list of reminders and hopefully it will help you!

1) Record the serial numbers of all your instruments in a safe place. Take photos of your instruments, then use a Sharpee pen to write the serial number directly on the photo. This is really important if your instrument is ever lost or stolen.

2) Never lay your instrument down...not on the floor...not on a chair...not on a bed...not anywhere where someone might step on it, sit on it, or bounce it off something.

3) Don't lean your instrument up against a chair or anything else. Put your instrument on an instrument stand, or give it to someone to hold temporarily.

4) If you put your instrument in its case, ALWAYS latch the case. Even if you are only going to put it there while you get a drink or use the restroom or whatever. YOU know the case isn't latched (if you remember), but someone else may come along who doesn't know and they might grab the handle of the case to move it and out comes your instrument!

5) If you play an instrument with a removeable bridge, like a fiddle, upright bass, or banjo, keep an eye on the angle of the bridge. As you tune the instrument over time, the brige will start to lean forward, especially if you just put on a new set of strings. You will need to pull the top of the bridge back to keep it from warping or falling over. If you play a banjo, a good rule of thumb is to mark the ends of the bridge with a pencil on the head of the banjo. That way you will always know where to put the bridge if it falls down.

Instruments that are in the violin family locate the bridge feet between the "hash" marks of the f-holes, so there is no need to actually mark them. Also remember, these types of bridges are not glued on, so if you remove all the strings at the same time, the bridge will not stay in place. Change your strings one at a time.

6) Don't use furniture polish on your instrument. EVER! Always use a polish that is intended for use on a musical instrument. Some types of furniture polish can be absorbed by the wood of your instrument and can change the sound of it forever. Other types of polishes leave residues that can be harmful to the finish.

7) Make sure that any rubber or vinyl that touches your instrument is not harming the finish of the instrument. The rubber on some instrument stands can react with certain types of finishes, and you will only know by looking for changes in the finish where the rubber touches the instrument. Make sure you check early and often when you get a new stand.

Also, watch out for vinyl backing on instrument straps. Many older straps have a vinyl backing, and if this comes into contact with the instrument finish, it can "melt" the finish. I am most likely to see this when an instrument has been stored for a long period of time and the strap is positioned underneath the instrument in the same spot for many years.

8) Don't wear metal belt buckles or shirts with metal snaps when you are playing an instrument like a guitar or banjo (or similar), unless you don't care if it gets scratched up. And if someone borrows your instrument, make sure they don't either!

I'm sure there are many more things to think of, but at least this should get you started!

Old Electronic Chuch Chimes

I didn't even know these existed until today. Bob appealed to my "I can't say no" side looking for some help with this old set of church chimes. I was curious enough that I had to at least take a look inside. We took the screws out of the back, hooked it up to a small PA system, and then watched it all in action. Bob thought they were out of tune. With the help of a guitar and an electronic tuner, we actually determined it had to be the church's organ that was out of tune. I marked two keys that don't work, and hopefully Steve, our eletronic wizard from Collinsville, can help us out with this one. Anyway, if you are as curious as I am, you'll enjoy these pictures and the video I am posting. Be sure to take a look at how the rods are suspended with thread and springs. It's pretty amazing!Have fun!

In case you are wondering how these things are tuned, take a look at this next photo. You will see a slight indentation on each rod. The back side of each rod is filed little by little until it is in perfect tune. Unlike a string, these will stay in tune forever unless the rods are disturbed and metal is removed or added to them. Since the rods are housed in a box that is screwed shut, this protects them pretty well.

Dailey & Vincent LIVE! at the Texas Troubadour's Theatre in Nashville

While in Nashville this weekend, we were staying at the Fiddler's Inn, which is right next door to the Texas Troubadour's Theatre (Ernest Tubb Record Shop in Nashville). It is a live music venue and is free of charge. The show is called the Midnight Jambouree and is broadcast live on WSM radio. It just so happened that Dailey & Vincent were going to be performing on the Saturday night we were in Nashville. That was an extra special treat for me, not just because they are great, but because I have known their banjo player since he was about 9 years old. Joe Dean, from Granite City, Illinois, started out on mandolin and played with Jerry Rosa. It wasn't long before he was picking banjo and guitar, and singing. I can't ever remember him NOT being great. The thing I couldn't get over is that Joe now sings the low bass part on the group's gospel quartet numbers! I'm having a hard time getting the "little" Joe out of my head. I can't believe his voice has dropped that much.

Of course Joe had no idea we were going to be there. I had no idea they were going to be there! I took a nap and then somehow got myself out of "zombie mode" before the show started at midnight. The first picture is when Joe first recognized it was me taking the picture. I talked to him briefly after the show, and we also bought the new CD. (We got a free poster, too.) I love the group. They sing great, they play great, and they are wonderful entertainers. They even entertain themselves on stage! One of the things that I really like about the music choice of this group is that they do a lot of original gospel songs. Some of them are just incredibly touching. Do yourself a favor and catch this group somewhere this year.