Sound Waves & Spray Paint

Music. Writing. Art. And whatever the hell else I want to talk about, damn it.

Joyo Ukulele Pickup

Today’s DIY music project was to add a pickup to my Kmise Ukulele. I have an Ibanez I favor for most things, but the Kmise I’ve set up as my go-to Low G uke. I have a Rubin set up at Low G as well, but I just like the overall tone of the Kmise much more, so I have a strong preference. It’s the one I want to play, and if I want to play it at mics or shows, I need a consistent way to amplify it. The stick on mic proved functional in testing, but unreliable in practice, so I knew I needed to install a proper pickup.

Since my Kmise has a non-standard soundhole that would make it hard to place pickups inside the body, I decided to go with an undersaddle pickup on the grounds it would just be an overall less fiddly installation process.

I recently installed a cheap, unbranded pickup in my kala KA-15S as my test drive, and that proved efficient, but the tuner in the unbranded pickup was off, so I wanted to try a slightly better one in the hopes of a better built-in tuner. Still, I am on a budget and couldn’t bring myself to pay more for a pickup than I paid for the uke, so I eventually grabbed a Joyo pickup off ebay.

And, while I don’t think I’d hesitate to suggest it for standard ukes, I still don’t have a functional tuner. The strings it reads are accurate when compared to my snark tuner, but it can not read the low G string at all, so in the end I guess I have to call the tuner in the Joyo pickup ‘good for standard tuning. Completely useless for anything else.’

That means installing it in my low G uke still doesn’t give me a functional tuner. Still, just to know I can plug my Kmise in if I ever need to is a fair enough deal for $15, so I guess I’m satisfied. It does the job I need it to, just not necessarily 100% of the job it was meant to do.

Ultimately the verdict is that the Joyo Uke pickup is perfectly decent, but maybe steer clear if you use non-standard tunings.


DIY: Installing an Ukulele Pickup


After that show a few weeks back, I got it in my head that I really needed to find a better way to electrify my low G uke. The obvious answer was to get electronics installed in it, but given I’m in the midst of home repairs, I knew it was going to be a good while before I could afford to pay a pro to do it for me. I also knew that the cost of paying to have electronics installed was likely to be twice or more of what I paid for that uke. The latter I don’t conisder a huge issue. Money can’t by love, as they say, and even though my Kmise only cost me about 40 bucks, it plays well, feels good and I love it. I don’t necessarily mind throwing a bit too much cash at it in that case. But, it is a bit silly, at the same time, I admit, to pay more on upgrades for an instrument than you paid for the instrument.

From there, I was off to youtube, wondering how hard it was to just buy a pickup and install it myself. I watched a few videos, and it honestly looked pretty easy. I didn’t want to futz around with soldering, but there are plenty of pre-soldered pickups available, at a wide range of prices, and multiple different types.

I decided I’d try it, but, not on my favorite Low G uke. No, first I’d try it out on an uke I wasn’t using much, so if I messed it up and had to replace the uke, I could. That made my Kala the obvious choice for a test run. The KA-15S is reasonably priced and popular, so if I destroyed it in the process, I wouldn’t have a problem finding a replacement. Besides, mine has a teeny chip in the laminate, and I was planning to upgrade from it eventually anyway, so of all my ukes, it’s the one I could most afford to lose.

Next, I had to decide on what sort of pickup to put in the thing. On the Kala, I have choices, but with the uke I really want to add a pickup to, I’m a bit more limited due to a non-standard soundhole.  Uke pickups come basically in two orientations. One is disks that stick inside the body of the instrument, the other pickup slides in under the saddle. While either would work for the Kala, the lack of a standard soundhole in my low G uke means I’m not going to be able to get my fingers in the uke enough to stick things inside the body. Under saddle is going to be only realistic option in that case, and so under saddle is what I decided on for my test drive. Also because of the unusual soundhole, I wanted a pickup with a box shape and battery where the plug is rather than just a plug. It just seemed like it would be a lot less fiddly work if the hole for both parts of the pickup  was big enough to get my fingers in – after all, I’m working on the assumption that working through the soundhole isn’t going to be a viable option.

So, with decisions made, what did I need?

  1. A drill – already have one, so this doesn’t cost me anything.
  2. A pickup – I grabbed a cheap one off ebay for $9.30.
  3. Some sort of small saw tool, files, sandpaper. I decided on a cheap rotary tool with saw blade attachment. I should buy a better one eventually, but for my purposes I went pretty cheap, and that cost me about $25.


So, I had everything I needed to do the job at the cost of about $35. And, you could argue since the rotary tool will be handy for any number of household projects and is a one-time expense (until I upgrade to a better one), it maybe shouldn’t even be counted as part of my expenses for this project. Since I bought it with this project in mind, I’m including it in the cost anyway. But, I should include the cost of CR2032 batteries for the pickup, and I’m not doing that because I have several things in the house that use them, so I already had a few on hand.

First thing was to test the pickup and make sure it works, so I stuck batteries in it, and just slid the pickup into the saddle without actually attaching the pickup to the uke otherwise. Stick in batteries, plug it in, and, yep, sure enough, I can hear it coming through my amp. Good. It would have sucked to install a pickup and find out it was a dud, so testing the pickup first was important. Once I cut holes in the uke, they’re there for good, after all.

Next, grab some thick paper or cardboard and a ruler to measure out the size the hole is going to need to be, and test out a template. No problem. Everything looks good. My pickups fit through the templates I cut.

Cover up the outside of the uke in masking tape. No problem. I have about 40 lbs work of masking tape in this house because I keep misplacing it and buying more.

Now, to place the pickup, you’ve got to run it alongside the edge of the uke until you find the spot where it neatly fits. The instrument determines where the pickup goes, not your whims. You may have more than one choice regarding where it fits – one on the top of the body and one on the bottom, but you can’t just stick it anywhere.  Mark the masking tape with a pencil, and then use your template to draw the spot you need to cut.  Awesome. so far so good.

But, now it’s the point of no return. This is the point where I have to cut a hole in my ukulele. I was so worried about screwing up. I cut inside of the line on my template. This made the holes a bit too small for the pickup, but I figured that was fine. I stuck the sander bit on the rotary tool and sanded them a bit wider. This means the hole is not perfectly square, so if that’s a problem for you, maybe use sandpaper or a file and do it by hand. It’ll take longer, but your edges will come out cleaner than mine. Since you’re sticking a pickup in, as long as you’ve got a reasonably close fit and enough wood around the edge to fit screws into, it’s fine. It’s a relief that I found the work isn’t QUITE as exacting as I was worried it might be. I should have taken photos at this point, but I didn’t. Whatever, there are a million tutorials for this sort of thing on the internet.

From there it’s time to drill a hole through the saddle big enough for the undersaddle pickup’s plug to get through. Two things of note: the wood used for an uke bridge is thick and hard. It takes longer to get through it than I expected it to. I also learned that the actual spot I had to drill to get the wire through wasn’t actually under the saddle, but a bit to the side of where the saddle sits. There was just no way, in this case at least, to make a hole large enough to get the wire through under the saddle without damaging the bridge. The space was just too small to make a hole large enough to get the plug through, so I had to make the hole in the bridge slightly to the side. It’s visible, but since it’s black on dark wood, it’s not super obvious, so I think it’s fine. You can see if if you’re looking at the instrument closely, but you’d never notice it from any distance.



Next, the saddle needs to be sanded down to height. What I did is mark the saddle with a pencil where the pickup came up to. In this case, the pickup takes up almost the entire saddle slot, so I had to sand half of the saddle away to avoid altering the action. As a matter of expedience, I used the rotary tool to do it again, since it’s must faster, which I DO NOT recommend unless you are pretty darn good with a rotary tool. It’s far better to sand on a flat surface to make sure your saddle is sanded evenly, but it was the middle of the night and I was being lazy. I was careful, and it worked out fine, but it’s definitely a method that was more about speed than precision, and you probably want to be a bit more precise about this stage of the process.

From there, it’s just plugging everything in, sticking it in the proper holes, re-stringing the uke, and screwing it all together. I managed to lose two of my screws in unpacking, so I’m going to have to go to the hardware store to buy some tiny ass screws, but I’m satisfied overall.


So, overall, I’m calling this a success. I will buy a better pickup for the next uke, though. The pickup on this works perfectly fine, but the tuner is a little flat. It’ll tune to itself alright, but it’s definitely a bit off, so I don’t think I’d buy this specific pickup again, just because it seems silly to have a built in pickup and continue using the snark. Still, even at under $10, I was able to get a pickup & eq that work well enough that I would not hesitate to trust it for a show, and that’s what my goal was. Now I can rest assured that I won’t ruin my precious low G uke by attempting to install a pickup myself. It’s actually pretty easy, as long as you’re careful about your measurements and have a steady hand.

Concert: Refugees of Steampunk Extravaganza

‘You look tired’. I am an introvert with slightly downturned features who struggles with chronic anemia, so yes, I know. I really wish perfect strangers would stop mentioning it. You might be well-intentioned, but it always comes off as rude.  No, I was not up unusually late last night. No, it’s not really any of your business. This is just how I look. And right now, I can guarantee you, however bad it looks, it feels way worse. I have fallen against the front door or the kitchen counter more than a few times this weekend. But, life must go on, right? Right.

At least, within reason. To make a long story much shorter, the Steampunk World’s Fair imploded shortly before it was supposed to happen this year and, after various twists and turns, what replaced it was a community organized COGS Expo, and a Refugees of Steampunk concert up the road.  My original plan for the weekend was both.  I knew Friday night was impossible, but I’d planned to check out COGS Saturday and the concert on Sunday.

Honestly, it was a relief when the schedule for the COGS Expo went live and a I realized there wasn’t a lot on it that I wouldn’t be able to see the following day at the concert. Let me rephrase that: there wasn’t a lot on it that I was strongly interested in.  So, I decided to take Saturday as a recovery day. I’ve been suffering for a few days and I knew, at the very least, I was in no condition to wander around a festival all day. If the things I wanted to see were close together, it maybe would have made sense to go for an hour or two, but in the end, as much as I would have liked to check it out, there was just no way I had the energy.

Today was better, but not by a lot. I slept a perfectly average amount, and soundly, which basically means I feel like I’m running on about 3 or 4 hours of sleep. But, there was a very long concert, and I really wanted to go.  There were a few bands I’d seen before and/or follow, and others that I just kept missing over and over again. Every time I tried to check out Montague Jaques Fromage before today, something happened – the weather mucked up a stage, or he was scheduled opposite something else I absolutely didn’t want to miss. In spite of all efforts to the contrary, this is the first time I’d get to see both halves of the Eternal Frontier in the same place, at the same time.

So, I didn’t really care if I was tired. I was going. I hauled my butt out of bed, got all ready, made a bit of breakfast…and stained my only steampunkish t-shirt in the doing. I absolutely didn’t have energy for costuming, so I knew that crap wasn’t going to happen, but I was like ‘oh! I have a t-shirt with a raygun on it! Perfect!’  …it would have been, but I had to wash it before it stained, so couldn’t wear it and ended up just grabbing whatever was clean instead.

Mercifully, the drive was a little shorter than I expected, so the fact I ended up getting going a little later than planned due to my last minute wardrobe change didn’t really affect me much.  But, holy shit, Dunellen, what is wrong with your roads?! There are more potholes than pavement!

The concert was good, though, and it was a relief that I could sit for it, and that they had food that the venue had food that probably wouldn’t kill me. I went with their sort of untraditional nachos. They were tasty, and I was able to casually pick at them all day, but the brisket definitely sat a little heavy on my overly sensitive tummy. Still, probably worth the cost, in the long run – red meat may be a bit heavy, but the anemia’s bad enough that heme iron will do more good than harm as long as I can keep it down.

I’m going to gloss over a lot in this post for two reasons:

  1. I’m tired.
  2. I’ve seen a lot of these acts before, so I’ve already talked about them on this blog.


I came in to the tail end of a performer playing tv themes on keyboard. They said her name several times, so I feel bad that as I type I can’t seem to grasp it, but I do remember something about a radio station called ‘In Goth We Trust’, so maybe google that and you’ll get more info. I should be doing the legwork for you on this, but I just can’t right now. Sorry about that.

What a cool looking venue, though! Roxy & Dukes Roadhouse just has the perfect vibe for a steampunk show. The decor is sort of…gothic circus kitsch? I’m not sure if that gives you quite the right mental image, but it’s the best description I’ve got for the moment. Maybe I’ll come up with better adjectives later, when I’m a little less haggard.

After that we had Montague Jaques Fromage, doing a short set of “steampunk funk”. I genuinely had no idea what to expect from this, but it turns out it was sort of a combination of storytelling and what I’m going to loosely define as rap. It was fun – will look him up again later when I’m fully conscious.

Montague Jaques Fromage/Steampunk Funk Bizarre

Next was opera singer Nicole Oliva, who I won’t say much about on the grounds that I talked about her last year, and that I still know fuck all about opera. Her voice is pretty, but I really don’t have the knowledge necessary to tell you much beyond ‘soprano’.

nicole oliva
Nicole Oliva

Scott Helland was next, and it’s no secret how much I love his stuff, so there’s not really much to say here, either. He’s awesome and you should check him out if you haven’t yet. That is all.

Scott Helland

Interspersed throughout the performances, Coveilance Dance Project would come up and do their thing, or fill the time while the stage was changing. I can’t really give you any more info about dance than I can about opera, I’m afraid. I’m sure they’re great, but I don’t care about dance, so it really just looked like well-choreographed jiggly girl bits to me. I have no culture at all, I know.

Coveilance Dance Project

Next up was the Eternal Frontier. This was another one I seemed to have an ill-fated relationship with until now. Either there was a scheduling conflict, or something happened and one of them had to cancel. So, I’d seen Professor Adam Smasher once before, but I’d never actually seen them in the same place at the same time. They were adorable – which, for the record, coming from me, is the highest form of compliment.

The Eternal Frontier

Next was A Halo Called Fred, who I’ve talked about enough that I don’t think there’s a lot new to say. They’re silly and fun and make the world a brighter, happier place to be in, at least for the duration of their set, so you should look them up. Also, they seem entirely incapable of completing a set without calling sidekicks to the stage, which is part of their charm, really.

A Halo Called Fred

The day finished off with Victor and the Bully, from the UK. I’d seen them last year, so I already knew they put on a good, high energy show, and they didn’t disappoint. They have a new album out, and while I do usually buy albums at the venue, I’m on pretty tight purse strings until payday; so I decided I would just have to be patient and grab it off Amazon at the end of the week.

Victor and the Bully

By the way, the only reason I haven’t mentioned any of the acts having albums until the end is that I’m already up to date on all the ones I’ve been following except that last one. They all have things, though, and you should look them up.

So, that’s that. I don’t get a recharge weekend until the end of the month, and I want a nap, but it still a good day.


Musical Comedy of Errors? Yep. It was.

Hoooo boy, guys. What a mess. I had my first non-comedy show last night, and it was cool to be able to perform some of the non-silly songs in an environment other than an open mic, but man, the tech problems! In terms of things working as they ought to, it was a complete and utter fail.

When I was practicing earlier in the day, out of the clear blue, my low E string started buzzing. It wasn’t a gradual or subtle thing. It was a really bad buzz on just that one string, and it was worse with the capo. So, there was some troubleshooting, and after some fiddling around with the capo and without the capo, and on different frets, etc, I eventually determined it probably needed a bit of a truss rod adjustment, so, out came the screwdriver. I got it squared away – at least sans capo, which was good enough for the upcoming night, since I didn’t plan to do any songs with the capo, and I figured I’d troubleshoot later. I suspected my capo might be a bit worn down, which might be contributing to the issue, so I figured I could pick up a new capo en route and check the theory later.

I knew there was a music store en route, so I decided I’d pick one up on the way. After all, I already planned to leave super-early. It was a nice day, if a bit windy, and I wanted to take a walk and enjoy the weather before the show. A minor detour to Sam Ash wasn’t going to hurt my timeline any.

I thought I was all good to go. I had my guitar. I had my low G uke and my little Andoer stick on pickup for said uke. Everything had been tested within the past week and was working just fine.

When I got to the venue, my friends were already there, so I ended up stopping before going for a walk. I didn’t rule it out once I had my things all settled, though. I figured a preliminary tune up while the venue was quiet was a good idea. Plus, I could test my capo theory with the new capo.

Turns out I was right on that front – no buzz with a different capo, so I guess my pretty green capo’s reached it’s life expectancy at this point. Buuutt…I heard something rattling when I picked up my guitar. WTH was in there? Had a pick fallen inside or something. Had my cats unwittingly swatted one of their toys up into the soundhole? (You laugh, but Cleo has absolutely thrown her toys so far in the air when playing that we’ve found them on bookshelves there is no way she could possibly reach. I have found toy mice inside of half empty tissue boxes. So, this was a realistic guess.)  No such luck, though. My input jack was loose and rattling around inside of my guitar. Well, fuck. There was no way to remedy that on the spot. There were no hardware stores nearby. I couldn’t reliably go back to the music store to see if they could fix it for me on the spot and get back before the show started. So, I decided my best bet was just to tape the thing inside the soundhole for the time being so it at least wouldn’t be rattling around and use the stick on pickup for both instruments. It seemed like it was going to be the path of least resistance, since I did have an alternative way to amplify my instruments on hand, even if it meant they were both going to sound a little tinny. I considered hanging the wire right out of the soundhole to plug in that way, but I couldn’t find a method where it wouldn’t bump into the strings, so vetoed the idea.

But, okay, fine. I was going to have to see if the hex nut was sitting on the floor at home, or go to the hardware store for a replacement, but there was nothing I could do about it short term, so I was focused on just getting things amplified enough for the space I was playing, and I was confident that once I found the sweet spot on the guitar for the stick on pickup, it would be fine. I would just have to hope I didn’t get any significant feedback. So, with the sound system set up, we plugged in the removable pickup and I stethoscoped my way to finding the sweet spot on the guitar. Fine, it was under the saddle, similar to the uke, but a little closer to center. Alright, good. That would work.

Or, so I thought. I’d tested everything (briefly) and it worked. …until I had to actually get up there and do it. The same thing that worked in testing was unresponsive when I actually needed it. I could hear the mic when I tapped it. It was definitely on and connected, but the venue’s set up wasn’t pulling any volume out of it. Even though it was on, it was no louder than if I was acoustic. …fuck’s sake. I know that’s not my little pickup. Cheap as it is, the lost cost is in sound quality, not volume. But, she just wasn’t getting more than a whisper out of it.

So, I had to give up and play acoustic. It was a small face, I gave a shout out to the room and the people in the back claimed they could hear the instrument just fine.   Now, knowing I’m going to be playing acoustic, the mic should have been turned down a bit to balance it out, but…no, that was not done, so I dunno, I think I really might as well have been singing acapella for all the uke and guitar you could hear.

So, it was a pretty mixed bag of a performance. I performed fine, but the tech issues made me feel pretty lukewarm to the entire thing.

Still, it was a learning experience. I learned that:

  1. Check over your damn instruments before leaving the house with them. Nuts and bolts loosen over time. Plug things in at home occasionally, even if you don’t need to, just so you’re sure it works when you need it to.
  2.  Even if all of your equipment has been tested and is in good repair, you can’t by default assume the equipment at the venue is in the same state of good repair. You also can’t assume that a venue that knows it’s hosting a musical performance is going to have an instrument mic on hand, because no, they didn’t.
  3. It’s probably a good idea to keep small repair items in my guitar case – a small screwdriver, extra battery, some nuts and washers, maybe some electrical tape, because my audio jack issue could have been fixed in about 10 minutes if I just had a spare hex nut and a screwdriver on hand.


So, I dunno. I guess going forward for future shows it’s going to be in my best interest to have my own amplification on hand. A battery-operated mini-amp and audio cable, or a mic and stand tossed into the back of my car ‘just in case’ would have saved a lot of headaches and the end result would have sounded better for the audience.  Live and learn, I guess. When it comes to tech, sometimes, even your backup plan needs a backup plan.  And, maybe I have an excuse to buy another guitar, you know, as a spare. 😀 (Kidding. If I buy another guitar it’s obviously just because it’s pretty and I want it. Let’s be real.)

And, oh yeah. The guitar is fixed. How the hell the hex nut ended up on my bathroom sink, I have no idea. But, I’ve decided to blame the cat.

Latest Toy: Andoer Piezo Contact Microphone Pickup

I’ve added a stick-on pickup to my collection. I’ll be doing a show later this month and while I’m told has “everything”, I don’t know if I trust that coming from someone who isn’t a musician so doesn’t necessarily know what ‘everything’ is when it comes to a musician. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but I’m just neurotic enough that I don’t want to leave things entirely to chance, so I wasted eight bucks on this little Andoer just to calm that little neurotic voice in my head that can’t bear to leave things entirely up to the whims of fate, and I would definitely like to use my Kmise for at least one tune, if I feasibly can, because it sounds better and keeps better tune than my Rubin.

Honestly, in the long term, I should really consider looking into how to go about adding proper electronics to my Kmise. It IS one of my favorite ukes, so there are definitely going to be times I’m going to want to use it places that are marginally bigger than a shoebox. But, in the short term, there’s a low G tune or two I’d really like to do at the upcoming show, and while there is a 90% chance everything will be totally fine because the venue “has everything” (which theoretically would include a second mic for acoustic instruments), I consider $8 a fair investment for a backup plan.

So, let’s look at this thing, then.

Andoer Piezo Microphone Pickup

The blue you’re seeing around the edges in the first picture is fun-tak (mounting putty). That’s not part of the device. The device comes with a self-adhesive, but I didn’t want to use it. I wanted something specifically that I could stick on and off with ease, and while – later, I’ll stick that self adhesive to a little piece of plastic so you won’t have to see these blue globs sticking out the sides of the device, for the moment, the fun-tak doesn’t adhere to the sticker cover that I haven’t peeled off yet, so the only way to get adhesion is to wrap it around the sides so it contacts actual plastic.  It does seem to stick fine without leaving residue behind, though, which is all I was really hoping for. This uke is too pretty to have such an ugly little thing stuck on there all the time.

Finding the sweet spot on my uke for amplification felt a bit like pretending to use a stethoscope. It’s a little round disc and you have to slide it around the surface until you find the spot that give you a nice clean amplified sound on all strings. In my case, that was just at the outer edge of the saddle, right beneath the low G string. My understanding is that on each instrument the sweet spot is going to be a little different.

For less than ten bucks, I think the little device pays for itself just fine (provided it lives more than 5 seconds, which remains to be seen as it only arrived today). The sound is clear, if a bit high pitched? I’m not sure if high-pitched is the right word. I lack the proper music vocabulary to grab the word I’m looking for. Without the amp, the Kmise at low G has a nice full sound. Amplified, I won’t say it’s character is entirely different, because it’s not, but it seems to lack the same warmth and depth. Maybe it’s that I’m losing a bit on the low end? That’s probably what I’m babbling circles around. And, if that’s the case, that’s not unusual. I’ve noticed the same issue with all cheap microphones, really.

I do think the wire on the Andoer seems far too long, but that’s likely because I’m using it on an ukulele instead of a guitar. I’ve just put a twist tie around the excess to avoid it getting caught up on anything.

Overall, I’m satisfied with it. Is it a replacement for an acoustic-electric instrument? No, not at all. But, it will certainly do in a pinch.


Revisiting the Rubin Uke

I’ve had a fairly productive weekend so far. I fixed a laundry room door, dyed my hair, got some spackling done in the bedroom and bathroom. And, I sat down to work, once again, on my little Rubin soprano uke.

Note: Rubin has since changed it’s name to Caramel.

I don’t use this uke often for a number of reasons, but I’ve also really been hesitant to part with it. It’s never really been just so. There have always been some quirks and problems, and it honestly just plain isn’t the greatest sounding little uke you ever did hear.

But, on the other hand, it’s an acoustic-electric lefty, and I find it really hard to part with my lefties. Let’s face it, no matter how many ukes we collect, we’ve always got favorites, and for me, that means I mostly only ever play my Ibanez and my Kmise. The others collect dust as I try to will myself to either play them, or sell them. And the Rubin, well, the Rubin I keep pulling down and working on to either make it into something I love to play, or finally decide to sell.

So, sitting down with it this weekend, I’d already replaced the tuners, added a strap button, replaced the plastic saddle with a bone one. But, when I replaced the saddle I sanded it down to the height of the old saddle, which I’d long suspected was a bit too high. The uke’s always been playable but just…off.

So, after some thought, I knew this weekend I had two plans for the Rubin – I was going to reduce the saddle height and change out the strings.

Since I already have a favorite uke that I can plug in, I couldn’t think of any time I would ever use the Rubin, whether I could plug it in or not, until I remembered that my low G uke can’t be plugged in. Setting up a soprano at low G might be a wee bit unconventional, but it occurred to me that it might give the Rubin a purpose in my collection, and do something to tone down the uke, which I’ve always found to high-pitched and just sort of shrill for my taste. Note that that is my personal taste – there’s nothing technically wrong with the sound of the Rubin with regular strings; I just prefer a more mellow tone so don’t care for it.

The reduced saddle height did correct the worst of the tone problems the uke was having, and the low G tuning did mellow out the overall tone a bit. I’m using Aquila Reds here – as I do on my Kmise.  Some people don’t like the Reds, but I’m obliged to disagree. I use the standard aquilas on most of my ukes, but I do love the Reds; it just depends on what sound you’re going for.

I’m not going to pretend the Rubin magically sounds just as good as my other low G uke at this stage, but I wasn’t really expecting it to. It’s a completely different uke made of completely different woods, in a different size, so it’s going to have it’s own unique voice no matter what I do to it. But, I have made a significant improvement and turned it into something I may, possibly, have a use for, so I’m satisfied for now.

The strings are still stretching and settling in, so I’m going to have to noodle around with it. I may well find myself revisiting it again in another six months and trying to make the hard decision on whether or not to keep it, but I do that with several of my ukes and have yet to make a decision on any of them, so I’m pretty sure that’s got more to do with me than it has to do with the ukes, really.

Brief Update

Due to the existence of a low quality album and the fact I’m apparently getting involved in shows once in a while now, I’ve done some re-thinking and decided to start another blog to separate out the announcement-type stuff so SWSP can return to its roots of being mostly me rambling about music things and spamming photos of trees when the mood strikes.

So, on a going forward basis, you’re not going to see the original music here, or get hit with the release news of albums and books and all that nonsense, or told when I’m going to be somewhere doing something. SWSP is going to be all about breaking down new musical toys I’ve got, talking about lessons I’m working on, and just all the generic rambling. You’ll see the menu options change as I siphon off all that stuff, probably.

I just find myself in a position where I need a sort of hub/portfolio where I can just announce completed projects, and maybe occasionally post a new song, so when people ask I can point them to something that’s easy to access without them having to fish through pages upon pages of my rambling to find what they’re looking for. SO, if you care about that sort of stuff, then you should follow the new blog:

And, if you don’t care about those things, rest assured, I will still be here rambling about equipment and concerts and music lessons and whatever else I have on my mind well into the indefinite future. I’m taking the transition pretty slowly, but you will see formats and things changing as I work my way through it.

I did a thing. On bandcamp.

As a matter of fact, it’s a thing that I only decided to do yesterday and finished this afternoon. From that you can pretty much already deduce the quality.

The basic story is this: I have a friend, who I often joke is my 1 fan, and there is not a number in front of that 1. Well, the last few times he’s visited, he’s been trying to convince me to release a live album of open mic recordings. I don’t actually record myself at open mics because it honestly never occurs to me, and I also am lukewarm to the idea to begin with. But, the last time he was over, I had just finished the poetry project and mentioned that I had to decide what my next project was going to be. I didn’t MEAN a project of stuff to release. I just meant the next thing I wanted to work on. I was leaning towards opening one of my lesson books and upping my music game, or some repair project around the house. But, I guess I wasn’t clear and he pushed the live album idea again.

It’s sort of been banging around in my head since then. I don’t really feel ‘ready’ to release music, but I also know, at this stage, making music with the intent of release is a logical next step, and one I shouldn’t dismiss out of hand, whether I don’t feel like I’m there yet or not. I’ve always been a pretty harsh critic, and if the guy who’s secretly been recording my sets in a basement open mic is pushing an album, then I owe it to someone who seems to actually give a crap about my projects to consider releasing SOMETHING.

I’ve also been recruited for another little comedy set next month, and I guess it would be nice to say yes when asked if I have anything anywhere for a change.

So, all of that congealed in my brain until I thought ‘well, some of my rough recordings are passable’. I’m talking about the recordings of new tracks I sometimes post here, or that I just record for my own benefit to listen to them back and see if they’re working, or find out about how long they are.  By and large, these are not tracks I would share with anyone, ever. But, sometimes a draft of a track lands pretty close to the end result. Those tracks became the bandcamp thing.

Is it a great album? No, not at all. It’s literally a bunch of rough tracks recorded on a cell phone. How good can it be?  But, if you like weird singer-songwriter tracks played on instruments that are not always as in tune as they ought to be and songs that sound like they were recorded from the bottom of a tin can, maybe you’ll like it, and I think that makes you weird, but who am I to judge? And, anyway, since I know how bad it is, it’s pay what you want.

I think, ultimately, it’s a good release in a way. Releasing something that I think is kind of crappy out of the gate takes the pressure off of a first release, so when the time comes that I want to do the best homebrew tracks I can, well, I already have one crappy little album out there, so it won’t feel as intense. It won’t be the FIRST, and it can only be an improvement. I think, ultimately, it’s more important to do things than to do amazing things, because if you need everything you do to be amazing, you don’t end up actually doing anything. So, I didn’t do an amazing thing, but I did a thing, and that’s a start.

LxL cover
Available on bandcamp:


Now, back to practicing so the next thing will be better. 🙂

F Chord progress

Well guys, I’m writing this one while on hold with a certain vendor that I currently want to stab in the face so just how coherent this is going to be is up for some serious debate, but I need to do SOMETHING other than listen to their shitty hold music.

I am attempting to write you a coherent post about my progress on the F Chord, but I am also listening to static-ridden hold music after having been transferred to “someone who can help me” THREE TIMES. I have now been on the same phone call for over 20 minutes with no resolution even remotely in sight, after spending a good 50 minutes on hold elsewhere, so I WANT this post to be about guitar things, but I’m pretty riled up, so all bets are off.

Okay, here goes:

As you may know from my last post, I’m snail-pacing my way through Guitar for Dummies again, and currently smack in the middle of a lesson on C Family Chords, which, naturally, includes the F Chord.

Now, in Guitar for Dummies, what they teach you at this point is what I’m going to call “Baby F”, and looks like this.

baby F

They don’t mention at this stage that there are other, more common variations of the F chord, but these days, the F chord we mostly talk about looks like this:

f barre

(Images taken from Guitar Chords World, as that’s what came up first in google image search. I’m not affiliated with them, but I also don’t want to jack their images without giving them credit for them.)

There’s another version that’s sort of a hybrid of the  two, a baby F, but with the 3rd and 4th finger positioned like the more common version and the low E not played. I can’t quickly and easily find an image for that one, but it was in one of the youtube videos I watched, so can’t possibly be all that hard to find. I don’t remember what video, but they referred to it as an “old school F”, if you’re really that interested in tracking it down.

What I’m finding, strangely enough, is that the ‘baby’ version of the F Chord is actually the hardest for me to get a clear sound out of. It can be done, but I’m notably less consistent with it. Something about keeping my pinky out of the way and holding the barre makes it feel oddly cramped. It’s also a fairly thin sounding chord, comparatively. I’m sure there are certainly places you would use it, but by and large I think the ‘old school’ and the barre are fuller and just seem like they’d be more versatile, so I’m mostly making use of them. It’s not JUST because the baby is the hardest to play, I swear!

What I’m noticing in my practice is ultimately that what we’re calling the Old School F theoretically is easier to transition in and out of when you’re working with C family chords, but the F barre chord is easier to pull a clean sound out of.

People always talk about how barre chords require ‘strength’, and I always take exception with that because I think it does way more harm than good to tell beginners that they need to be stronger. It only makes someone who doesn’t really understand yet how guitars work press harder, which causes excess tension, which makes switching between chords harder, makes chords sound muddier, and encourages them to exert way more pressure than is needed to do ANYTHING.

Let’s be realistic here – it’s in a beginner’s nature, when you use the word strength, to assume you mean ‘press harder’. And, while it may be true that you do need a little bit more pressure for a barre chord than for an open chord, and that a barre chord uses some muscles you may not be using much to play your basic open chords, the person you’re teaching that barre chord to is very likely using too much pressure for their open chords already, so they don’t actually need more pressure than they’re currently using to play a barre. If anything, learning barre chords is helping me lighten up on my open chords. After all, if I only need X amount of pressure to form a barre, and that amount of pressure is not more pressure than I’m using to play open chords, then I am obviously using way more pressure than I need for open chords, which I honestly already know, but what my brain knows and what my hand does are not always on precisely on the same page. My hands tend to lag behind my thoughts.

So, ultimately, what I’m finding is that the F with the full barre, seems to pull a reasonably clear sound out even when I’m a bit off, but the old school F sounds like garbage when I miss my target. It’s the opposite of what you’d think to look at them. The F Barre chord looks really fricking intimidating. It’s a barre chord, and you’re using 4 fingers to form it, but since the margin of error seems to be larger than the margin of error on the old school F it’s actually an easier chord to play, in and of itself. And, it’s got a fuller sound because of the use of the low E, which I just plain think sounds nicer.

Now, having said that, a chord is never ‘in and of itself’. They’re really only as useful as moving in and out of them is, and that’s a stage in the process I haven’t mastered on either version yet. I’m at the stage where I don’t have to look at my fingers to form the chord, but still have to think about where I’m placing my fingers. It means I can’t quite switch in and out of either one naturally yet, but I’m using a C Family progression from the GfD book to practice. So, in the interest of practicing both, I’m alternating and my current practice regimen is something like C-Am-Old School F-Dm then C-Am-F Barre – Dm. And, I sort of go back and forth like that until my hand gets tired.

I’ve got it in my head to look for a song that uses and F chord to learn to mix up the practice regimen and keep working on the F, but honestly, the suggestions that I’ve glanced so far for F chord songs to learn are uninspiring. In an effort to choose accessible songs that people will know and want to learn, it seems the internet has basically chosen a bunch of songs that either I’m not interested in or outright dislike. I’m definitely not going to waste energy trying to learn songs I hate, lest I have another Kumbaya-in-my-head experience, so I dunno, I’ve got to dig a little deeper to find a song that uses F that actually interests me, I guess. Or, barring that, write a darn song using F and force myself to master it that way. Whichever.

Progress is being made though, in that I am able at this stage to get both versions of the F Chord sounding clearly – with results being slightly better on the version with the full barre. But, there’s still a ways to go, since I haven’t developed a muscle memory for either version just yet. So, I’ll be around page 50 of the lesson book for a while longer yet.


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