Hiatus is almost over…probably…?

Time to fess up here, guys. A few of my more recent posts are kind of embarrassing in retrospect. They’re staying as is because to be flawed is to be alive and I’m not going to try to hide that, but they do make me cringe a little, no kidding.

Have you ever had a moment where you thought one thing was going on in your head, and later you realized it was a totally different thing that was probably a really subtle form of self-sabotage? Yeah, guilty as charged.

I found myself trapped in this loop of re-evaluating and trying to decide not to do a thing and just move the fuck on, but I couldn’t quite let it go. Why? Because I really like my blog’s NAME? Un-fucking-likely, but I genuinely thought the only reason I was still blogging is because I like my blog name and want to keep it even if, for a while there, I thought having a blog at all had reached a point of redundancy, where it just wasn’t important, and I didn’t care about it, and I didn’t want to do it.

I am not going to lie to you and pretend I will never go through one of these phases again. I probably will. Possibly often. In fact, this blog has already lasted WAY longer than I expected. I tend to do blogs like I do dating: everything is sunshine and roses for about two weeks and then I get bored and want out.  Confession time: I have commitment issues. That messes up a lot of things for me – not just the stereotypical love life. It also really screws with a lot of practical affairs. It can look like ADD at times; I get SO unfocused because I just can’t will myself into anything that I think will take too long. Once I start on a big project, I inevitably divert to something else (like guitar to ukulele to bass to ukulele to…etc). I can’t finish projects unless I barrel through them. I can’t commit to plans until a day or two before they happen. I say ‘maybe’ and ‘probably’ a LOT. Just the other day I found myself utterly unable to commit on an answer to whether or not we’d be ordering takeout for a party that I’m hosting only two and a half weeks from now.  A WHOLE TWO AND A HALF WEEKS! WHO WOULD ASK ME TO GIVE THEM INFORMATION THAT FAR IN ADVANCE?! BARBARIANS, IS WHO! AND, I still haven’t learned a damn barre chord because every time I start to make progress, I completely flake.

I think at this point, that’s probably really important to admit because it puts a lot of the crap that goes on on this blog into it’s proper context.  It’s why my lesson progress is all over the map. It’s why I disappear for weeks or months on end. It’s apparently a core component of my entire personality, and if you don’t know that, then the roundabout way I learn and play musical instruments just doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense. It looks like I’m doing things the hard way because I lack a sense of stick-to-it-ness. What can I say? It’s a flaw that I’ve just sort of learned to work around. And, yeah, it means I tend to advance really slowly, because I’m constantly trying to work around this handicap that accosts me with insane levels of boredom and makes me go stir-crazy every time I sense I might be making real progress. So, I end up spiraling off on some unrelated tangent because the alternative would be to fight through the boredom and I just CAN’T. Maybe someday I’ll be able to. Today is not that day.

But, here’s the thing. IN SPITE OF ALL THAT, I still have this blog. I’ve had it WELL over two weeks. And, okay, maybe I’m never going to be good at diligently checking the blogs I’ve followed, or interacting with posts. Maybe the idea of all that social energy is just too daunting and too exhausting and I just CAN’T. But, I’ve managed to keep myself going on this blog for this long, and the only reason that can possibly be is that I still find it useful to have somewhere I can go to go on long diatribes that doesn’t involve me annoying my facebook friends with weird shit they don’t care about. So, I’m still here. On my soapbox. Just like everyone else.

What that means, essentially, is that I’m back to square one, though. If I’m going to keep this blog going, I have to re-evaluate, re-decide, and facelift. I’m not happy with it as it is. It needs a new coat of paint. Rest assured, I am still going to be on here talking about music things, because I like music things. Music things make me happy gosh darn it. But, maybe I’ll just spend more time talking about ALL the things.  I don’t know yet.

So, I guess I’m back, but I’m not precisely back all the way. I’m not going to pretend I’m going to jump right back into reading blogs – it takes a lot of time and its just too daunting a task. I need to dip my toes in and take it slow. But, it means I am waiting on a banjolele atm, and you can expect a post about that when it gets here. And it means I’ve got other ideas of how to maybe freshen things up and make it interesting for myself again. It means I need a new damn tagline because I’m sick of the one I’ve got. And new art. And a new layout. And new…stuff. My blog needs new clothes, okay?  All of my external links may temporarily disappear during remodeling. They’ll be back once I’ve trimmed down and tidied up.

So, that’s where I’m at right now. I’m around, but I’m about to start renovations, and hoping that moving the virtual furniture around helps me re-calibrate and gain some momentum, because I have seriously been slacking and need to get my groove back.

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New Toy: Cordoba 22S

I’ve been keeping relatively busy in ukulele land. Mostly this means I’ve been parting with ukes I no longer play and deciding whether each of the items I’ve parted with is something to just let go, or replace.  I sold on my Snail uke because it was just sonically too similar to my Ibanez, so I wasn’t playing it. I’ve decided to sell my Rubin now that I’ve installed a pickup in my Kmise. And, I’m going to part with my Kala KA 15S, too. The Kala is the one that leaves a hole in my collection. Parting with it means I’ll no longer have a soprano uke.  I do generally favor concert ukuleles, but I also do like having one of each size, so I started browsing. I wasn’t actually planning to buy anything new right away. I just wanted to get some ideas of what I might want as an upgrade from the Kala.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think the Kala KA 15S is one of the best first ukes you can buy. It sounds good, stays in tune well, and won’t break the bank, and when I bought it, I loved it. I still think it’s a nice little uke. But, I wondered early on if I was always going to love that uke as much as I did when I bought it, and the answer, it turns out, is no. I still LIKE it, but I don’t love it, and that’s a good indication for me that it’s time to let it go and replace it with something else. I’ve learned that with musical instruments, you are really only going to play them if you love them. Liking isn’t enough. I have a tenor uke I hardly ever play. Every time I take it off the uke wall, it’s a reminder that it’s a nice instrument, and that I really should play it more often. But, I don’t. Why? Because I don’t love it, in spite of the fact there’s nothing about it that means I shouldn’t love it. My Kala has become like that. The love is just gone, and so it’s better to sell it on to someone who will love it, and move onto something new.

So it was that when I was browsing, I came across the Cordoba 22S. I took one look at it and my ‘ooh, that one’ sense kicked in. This sense is generally how my best instrument purchases have been made, so I’ve learned to trust it, within reason. I’m still going to do my research. I’m still going to look into the specs.  This uke has a solid spruce top, which is a strong selling point for me. I love the sound of a spruce top. I’m no ukulele purist, so I don’t have any strong pull towards traditional uke woods in my ukes, and I don’t have a strong need for something that sounds “classic”. I never decided to be an ukulele player. I just decided to buy a cheap ukuele once and from there being an ukulele player just sort of…happened. So, the fact that the cordoba 22 series is made of guitar tone woods wasn’t really either a plus or a minus in my book.

What I did notice though, thanks to the guitar tone woods, was that when I was searching for videos to see what this little guy sounded like, there weren’t many for the 22S. Most of the vids were of the 22T(Tenor). I guess, by and large, people felt that the guitar tone woods suited the uke closest to guitar best. It didn’t help much in getting a feel for what I was getting into. There were one or two videos of the S, though, and it was enough to satisfy me that I wasn’t making a bad choice.

Since this uke was recently discontinued, it was listed on ebay at clearance pricing, so I snagged it for $129. The clearance price, and the fact it was discontinued, meant it was a now or never deal for me. If I waited, I not only wouldn’t be able to guarantee the discounted price, but I might have to live with the regret of not getting my hands on it at all. Looking online, I could see these ukes were selling used for more than that, meaning I was looking at a pretty good deal that I’d be stupid to walk away from.

It arrived snug and sound a few days later. I restrung it lefty, and I’m good to go. Of course, I will still put it through a few tweaks – the usual for me: it needs a strap button and a pickup. Probably some left-handed fret dots.

But, overall, I’m happy, and I do think it’s a nice upgrade from the kala. It’s very high gloss, which isn’t usually my go to (so I say, but my beloved Ibanez uke is also super high gloss), but the action is low, and the setup seems pretty much spot on right out of the box.  The edges are nicely smoothed, so don’t feel like they dig into my arm at all. It’s very comfortable to play. Tonally, my impression compared to the Kala is that the Cordoba seems warmer and fuller, as it should, since it has a solid top compared to the KA 15S which is all mahogany laminate.

So, I guess from there the only thing to do is give you a quick sound test. Here’s a clip of my noodling about with the cordoba to give you an idea of what it sounds like. I recorded in audacity with a usb mic and have three fans on, so don’t expect any sound quality miracles here. Try not to hold my improvised noodling or any poor playing in general on my part against the uke:

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

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.

IMAG4054

 

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.

montaguejaques
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.

helland
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.

dance
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.

eternal
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.

halo
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.

victorandthebully
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.