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.

 

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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.

IMAG3848
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: https://shelzeke.wordpress.com/.

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:  https://shelzeke.bandcamp.com/

 

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.

 

Argh. F Already?

I won’t lie, guys. I have been living with a fear of barre chords. I’ve attempted to get the feel for them a few times, but there’s that part of my brain that says ‘but this is the hard shit!’ that has made me kind of shy away. I know I need to learn it, just like I know I need to learn several other things, but my modus operandi when approaching an intimidating lesson is too often ‘uh, I’ll do that later. I’m not ready for the hard things yet.’

The problem with being ‘not ready’ for the hard things ‘yet’, is that if you don’t work on them, you’ll never be ready, as I well know. But, the part of my brain that manages logic is often at odds with the part of my brain that handles motivation, so there you have it.

Still, ‘Guitar For Dummies’ isn’t pulling any punches. Fifty pages into a 300+ page book (that is to say, on chapter 4 of 19), I  find myself facing down my old nemesis once again as it introduces C family chords. There’s a part of me that’s like ‘F is the estranged member of the family, dammit’, but I’m currently buckling down and trying to work my way through it.

What I’m saying here is that I’m gonna be stuck on page 50 for a while. 🙂

In all seriousness though, it isn’t as intimidating as the last time I looked at it, which I guess is saying something. That doesn’t make it easy. As things stand I seem to be able to form the chord properly, but not maintain it long enough for it to be of much use. And, I can see how incredibly easy it should be to go from C to F – they are literally next door neighbors, but being able to see your neighbor’s barbeque over the fence is not the same as going over and saying hello, so to speak.

So, I don’t know. I guess the odds are high that I’ll be going into radio silence again for a while while I work through it, unless getting this chord down goes way better than I expect it to.

Still, it’s been more than 24 hours since I’ve opened this darn book, and I’m still using it, which, by my standards, is definitely progress.

Onward!

Alright, let’s dust this thing off…

Both the blog, which has been used for nothing but announcements of poetry crap for a while, and my gosh darn guitar lesson books. Yeah, both need to be dusted off. As I write this, I remain absolutely terrible at maintaining the attention span necessary for book study. I used to be so good at it as a kid, but lesson books are such a snore I find myself far too easily distracted to get much out of them most of the time. That’s the fault of my brain, not the book, but facts are facts. I’m an interactive learning sort of gal, and sitting down to study always, ALWAYS feels like a chore. No matter how you dress it up, there’s a part of my brain that says ‘dammit, I’m too old for homework!’

But, I’m trying, once again, to buckle down and have cracked open ‘Guitar for Dummies’ again. I’m going to try (and probably fail gloriously) to spend a good 15-30 minutes a day with it. If I plan for 15 minutes, that just sounds so much more bearable than planning to do x # of pages, or a chapter, or whatever. 15 minutes is just 15 minutes, and if I spend more than that with it, then go me, I had an attention span for once in my life. And, if (cough-when-cough)I fail at 15 minutes a day strictly dedicated to book learning, if I at least manage to do it more days of the week than I don’t, I should still make some decent progress.

I didn’t start all the way at the beginning, but I am pretty close to it, so a lot of what I’m looking at is mostly recap. I already know the chords they’re teaching me, but there’s some value in going over it, I think, and trying to get my stubborn brain to absorb things like “chord families” and something vaguely resembling the minutest corner of basic theory.  Also, playing different patterns, because I’ve found lately my hand seems to be locked in the same rhythm and I need to do something out of the ordinary to escape the trap I’ve fallen into with that, or I’ll just be writing the same song over and over again into infinity.

And, as a result, I’ve just spent over 5 minutes playing Kumbaya, of all the dumb songs in the world. Seriously, though, I legitimately hate ‘Kumbaya’, and played it for over 5 minutes anyway. Okay, maybe I played it while singing ‘this song is so lame/yes it is’ instead of the real lyrics, but the point is in the exercise, dammit.

What I’ve found interesting, having the tiny amount of knowledge that I have, and going back to really just the barest of bare bones stuff like this, is that what little knowledge I have changes things and fills in some blanks. The book is not at upstrokes yet, but my ears and brain just somehow know that this part here should absolutely be an upstroke, because it just IS. My ears know it. My hands know it. It’s somehow obvious in a way that can’t be easily explained.

What’s also kind of neat is that, for someone who doesn’t read music at all, (I’m so fricking unfocused. I really want to learn, just…apparently not enough to actually buckle down and do it.) is that knowing how the song goes, and what my ears know, there’s a very small way in which some of the music symbols reveal themselves.  You can’t tell a lot about how the song is meant to go just by the slash marks counting out the beats, because those slash marks are not necessarily all individual strokes. But, if you know what your ears are hearing and telling your hands to play, you can tell the notes are sort of saying that.

Like, okay, I can’t tell what the notes are, in and of themselves, but my ears tell me what the count is. (In this case, it’s sort of… 1-2-3-and-4, 1-2-3.) So, from that I can look and see, ‘oh yeah, see, three notes, a pause, then two strums and the second rings out.  So, it seems like that means a big curved line between two notes means ‘let this ring out’ and a dot after a note is functionally like a period at the end of a sentence saying ‘pause here’.  I don’t know, maybe that’s wrong. If so, further reading will, theoretically, correct me, but what seems to be the case is that, while my ears can’t teach me which note goes on which line, it can sort of teach me the part of reading music that involves timing and duration, provided I use my ears and know how to count, which are two things, at least, that I can handle just fine. Playing along with additional songs will confirm or debunk what I seem to have learned tonight…provided this information sticks inside my brain long enough to do me any good.

Until next time, I have a lesson book in front of me, dammit! What’s the world coming to?