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Sound Waves & Spray Paint

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

Photos: Perrineville Lake Park (Baird Rd Trailhead)

This morning, it was off to the car dealer for some repairs under warranty. There were two up sides.

1. My center console lid no longer flies open to smack my elbow.

2. Getting to check out a new park.

I’m never in this area except for car things, so I relied on Google to tell me what was nearby. It produced two parks. I chose the one that was a bit farther, but had a lake.

There’s this fun thing Google Maps always does to me with new-to-me parks. It directs me to the weird, satellite part of the park first, rather than the main entrance, which is how I ended up on this little 3/4 mile out and back trail that was nowhere remotely near the lake I’d chosen the park to see. It was completely vacant aside from me. So, either the GPS on my phone is antisocial, or it knows I have really antisocial hiking habits.

Either way, it was a nice light walk, level and mostly abandoned over all dirt and grass. Next time I’m in the area, though, if the weather is nice, I want to find the other entrance and check out the park properly.

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Photos: Davidson Mill Pond Park

With daylight savings time fast approaching, this is very likely my last after work walk for a while. From November through January, it’s black as midnight out when I leave the office, which I am not looking forward to at all, though my body doesn’t seem any happier about trying to haul out of bed when it’s that black out, either, so maybe for the best.

Davidson Mill Pond Park again, since it’s one of the very few left that I can still get to after work with a reasonable amount of daylight when sunset is at 6 pm. 

The sky was super pretty tonight. There will be several sky pictures on the instagram once I get around to uploading this batch.

The Unicorn-lele! (aka: a left-handed baritone)

You know that saying, ‘do as I say, not as I do?’ Yeah, well, I know I said ‘no more ukuleles for a while’, but then I found a left-handed baritone. A LEFT-HANDED BARITONE, guys. You know, a unicorn. Anyway, I’ve wanted a baritone for a while, but haven’t shopped seriously because of the limitations and expense necessary to convert one.

Basic sum-up of conversion of a baritone would be something like this:

  1. Would have to find a fully acoustic one, with a body shape that lends well to being flipped over. Anything with right-handed electronics would be a fucking nightmare. This doesn’t limit me TOO much, but it does cut my options a bit.
  2. Due to the string width and the DGBE tuning, would have to replace the nut. This means either paying someone to make a left-handed nut, or buying a nut blank, files, and sandpaper, and doing it myself, which is not necessarily hard, but it can be time consuming.
  3. If I want electronics in it at some point, will have to bring it to a shop and pay to have them installed, which is an additional expense.

So, when I came across a left-handed acoustic-electric baritone ukulele, even though money is tight, I knew it was something I didn’t dare pass up, lest I never find it again. I kicked myself for over a year for not buying my lefty uke-bass and letting it go out of stock because it took forever for them to get more of them. I’m still kicking myself for not buying the left-handed guitalele when I saw it, because now that that limited run has gone out of stock, no one makes one. They literally don’t exist. If I want one, I’m going to have to budget for converting it, because I have no other option. So, I bought the lefty baritone, in spite of knowing that it was financially a bad idea. It wasn’t financially a bad ENOUGH idea to stop me, I guess.

Now, let’s take a look at it, shall we?

2017-11-01_19.15.27

This is a Caramel uke. Caramel used to be Rubin. I have a Rubin soprano that I pretty much never play, but am always working on because, while it is genuinely a piece of crap, I’m not convinced just yet is irredeemable, so I keep buying replacement parts since I’m really reticent to let go of a left handed acoustic-electric uke if I can save it, and I have one more thing I can try before giving up. As it stands, the intonation is absolutely godawful and it’s way too plinky for my taste, with enough laquer to make it remind me of that teacher I had in elementary school who’s head was so bald and so shiny that the ceiling lights reflected off of it. Caramel (formerly Rubin) really seems to love high-gloss. I’m not really a fan of putting enough gloss on an instrument that it doubles as a mirror, but that’s just a personal preference on my part, so you shouldn’t count that as a negative unless you also genuinely happen to dislike high gloss. Anyway, they’re not secretive about it, so I knew what I was buying.

Still, given my feelings about my Rubin, I knew going in I was taking a risk on Caramel. It was a risk worth taking because, as I said above, this is literally the ONLY lefty baritone that I’ve even come across. As I write this post, I’m fairly confident that no one else makes one.

So, at a first cursory look, everything looks solid. There are no obvious blemishes, everything seems well-assembled and as it should be. My first impression as I was tuning it for the first time was that the action might be a hair too high, but I wasn’t going to be sure until I tried to play it.

The strings it came with though…! Okay, guys, I’m not actually all that picky about strings. You always hear ‘ukes always come with crap strings’, which is true, I suppose, but they’re generally not such crap that you can’t play them or that they won’t stay in tune.My point is this: I have string preferences, but I don’t really have any particularly strong feelings against any uke strings in particular. That’s important for context, because I’m about to rant hard against the strings that came on the Caramel Baritone.

Seriously, guys, I’m not even convinced these were ukulele strings. They very well may have been half-rotted classical guitar strings. Half-rotted. Yes, I do mean that. The wound strings were absolutely filthy, discolored in several places. The tension when tuned was such that it screwed up the intonation. I actually thought I might have to adjust the saddle height, not realizing the strings were causing this (I didn’t know strings COULD cause intonation issues, but once I changed them, the intonation problem was gone, so clearly they can. Go figure.).

The strings actually made me think the uke needed several small adjustments. They were surprisingly hard to fret (reference: on guitars I tend to prefer strings that are medium-light to medium gauge, so this is not me being a total sissy. My preferred string falls into a comfortable middle ground. Depending on the guitar, I usually go for 11s or 12s. The strings on this baritone required significantly more pressure to fret than 13s.), the intonation seemed off, the action seemed a bit off. It really did sound like a baby guitar, but one that was very uncomfortable to play and harder to get a clean chord out of than it should be.

None of the things in the above paragraph were true once I replaced the strings. I mostly use Aquilas, but I use different aquilas for different ukes. I couldn’t find info on whether their nylgut strings were wound or unwound on the D and G strings (I will admit I didn’t search very hard to find out), and I definitely wanted the wound strings there, so I decided to try the Lava strings this time. I haven’t tried the Lavas before, but I’m in love with the Aquila Reds in Low G, so I’ve been looking for an excuse to try some of their other options, and desperately needing strings for the baritone gave me an excuse. Also, how is it that NONE of the music shops anywhere remotely my area carry ANY baritone uke strings in store, and almost none online? Not cool, guys.

Re-stringing provided me with what seemed like an entirely different instrument. First of all, that ‘baby guitar’ definitely sounds more like an uke now. The intonation – greatly improved. It might be spot on, but until the new strings stretch enough to stay in tune, I can’t say for sure. The action is just fine. The pressure required to fret has become normal, so no more sore fingers.

As far as the electronics? They work fine. The built in tuner seems to be accurate. What more do you need?

So, overall, I think I’m pretty satisfied. I’m still getting used to it. It’s harder than I thought to figure out the chords. Since it’s missing the lowest 2 strings of the guitar, I find myself in the position of trying to think through something I’ve been doing automatically for a while, trying to remember which strings form my usual guitar chords. G, for example, is a one finger chord on baritone uke. I had to think about E and A and Am and C. Sometimes, it’s easier to just pick up the guitar, form the chord, and then look to see what strings I’m on than it is to try to think about what strings I need to fret first. I’ll get the hang of it, but it feels more like learning new chord shapes than I thought it was going to, since I’m still mentally counting two strings that just aren’t there as part of the equation.

So, do I recommend it? For my fellow lefties, absolutely. It’s literally you’re only choice, it’s functional, and it’s not going to cost a fortune. Just do yourself a favor and buy new strings at the same time – the strings it came with are absolute garbage, so you can’t get a feel for the instrument until you re-string it. For the righties? I don’t know. You guys have a lot of options and I haven’t tried any of them, but it’s an entirely playable acoustic-electric baritone uke that only costs around $100, which is more than enough to make it a solid contender for the budget-conscious musician.

Now, can someone PLEASE make a goddamn left-handed guitalele/6 string baritone? I want a mini-guitar dammit! (not that I need one) In all seriousness, though, I have no immediate plans for future instrument purchases, but since lefty guitaleles don’t exist, the next possibility ranges from banjolele, to parlor guitar, to mandolin, to…I don’t know, whatever, something else that hasn’t even occurred to me yet. I don’t need anything though, I really don’t. I need to will myself to sell the instruments I rarely play…but they’re all so darn pretty that it’s hard to let go.

(so much longer than) 6 Mile Run: Photos

When my friend, who shall henceforth be referred to as “D”, suggested a hike at 6 mile run, he said we would not do the entire thing, ‘just the prettiest part’, and that that should be approximately 3-4 miles, so, as a group we all decided to go. 3-4 miles is a lot for most of us, but doable. Most of our friends would have said no to 6 miles. I’m currently grossly out of shape, and my comfort zone atm is around 2-3 miles but potentially up to 4 or so, depending on trail difficulty and how my one inexplicably messed up hip feels on a particular day. Some days, the hip can handle 4 miles. Other days, it has a hard time with two. Percentage of dirt vs gravel also makes a difference. For reasons I don’t understand and can’t explain, gravel is harder on me, so paved trails tend to be harder even though the opposite should be true because they’re usually more level. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t and don’t try to explain it other than to say things can get hit or miss.

What none of us knew is how little our hike leader actually knew about 6 mile run. For example: he knew one side of the loop he was planning to have us do was longer than the other, but he thought it was a “little” longer, but flatter. It was flatter, but it was also MUCH longer. What he also apparently didn’t know was that 6 mile run branches off to 9 mile run. NINE, guys, NINE. By the time we got back to the car, my handy dandy pedometer said I had gone 11 miles and well over 25000 steps. Now, my pedometer probably overestimated a bit, so we’ve rounded down – we’re assuming overall it was around 20k steps/10 miles. I had blisters the size of fingers on the sides of my heels. I couldn’t wear shoes for a days and I couldn’t wear shoes with backs for three days. I hobbled around in my slip-on skechers like I had a broken foot for that entire time. TG I own a pair of open-backed slip on sneakers. My calf muscles, sore as they were, were genuinely the least of my worries. I was severely dehydrated, having planned enough water for a 4 mile hike and having done more than twice that.

Things I’ve learned:

  1. My friend underestimates distances. This is good to know for future excursions.
  2. Socks probably would have been a good idea.
  3. Even enormous blisters will deflate in two or three days.
  4. I’m pretty fricking stubborn. (oh, wait. I knew this one already.)

It was a pretty hike, but I won’t be doing the entire thing again any time soon. It seems better suited to (or at least more frequented by) bikers, and yielding can get old fast. I would go back (to do a partial hike, not another ten fricking mile hike of doom), but I don’t think I’d suggest it myself due to the frequent necessity of yielding to traffic. My favorite hiking sites are always the ones where there’s a possibility I might not run into anyone at all, and 6/9 mile run, pretty as it is, is not quite that, at least not on the shorter side, And, the longer, more isolated side is not scenically different enough from my usual haunts to make a special trip for. If I want pretty meadows and rolling hills, I can find that a lot closer to home, is all.

Still, it was a very pretty hike if you’re in shape enough to manage it without murdering your feet, and as much as this hike is partially a memory of being in mild pain for days, I’m also glad I did follow our distance-ignorant leader to the prettiest part. I am still setting an absolute limit of 5 miles for a hike, though, at least for now.

Also, yes, am attaching more photos than usual. It was a much longer hike than usual, so there are more to choose from. You can see the whole crapload of them on instagram if you are so inclined.

Photos: Sunset

Just some of the sunset when I got home from work some time last week.

Photos: Davidson Mill Pond Park

That white flower was bigger than my hand.  This batch is from last month, I think.

Photos: Ramanessin Brook

I am so behind on posts, and photo posts are worst of all. So, here’s some from….er…summer? This batch is probably from summer.

New Tune: Anthem (or some other title that’s better which I haven’t thought of yet)

As you might expect, I’m doing things wildly out of order. I have several songs I should record for you before this one, but this is what I’m working on right now, so this is what you’re getting right now.

This is what I call a ‘low down and dirty’ recording. I’ve recorded it with a USB mic that I already know breaks up when the volume on my vocals goes up, so you’re going to hear that. I just plugged it into audacity and ran with it. Though, to my credit, this is an improvement on me being like ‘fuck it, I’ll just do it on my phone’, so there’s that.

Also, I am accepting suggestions for a better title. I have no idea wth to call this damn song.

Tech specs: (CAD U37 USB mic, audacity, kmise uke with Low G Aquila Red Series Strings)

 

Anthem (Working Title)

I can’t predict what tomorrow brings
Or in what direction my mood might swing
But I love you right now
That’s the important thing
And if that’s not enough
Then I don’t know what to say
’cause I took my pink, frilly baby shit
And I threw it all away

I’m not the kind of girl who’s good at romance
And I curse like a sailor when I’m mad
When something is broken my first impulse
Is to search the house for all the tools I have

But this is not an independent woman’s anthem
It’s not a field guide to going it on your own
If anything it’s just explanation
So you’ll stop asking why I’m still alone

I’m not saying that I’ve given up
Just that I’m tired of trying way too hard
To fit the mold that people chose for me
To be the person they want me to be
To give those people what they want
Is more than I have to give
I lose way too much along the way
I’ve got my own life to live
So I think that I deserve a little say

But I never really talk about my feelings
Except inside the lyrics of a song
I hate pink ruffles, high heels, and lipstick
Sneakers account for half the shoes I own

There are people who will say
you’re different, so you’re wrong
And you need someone to help you find your way
But those people are brainwashed to believe
I’m incomplete
The weight of those expectations
Is slowly crushing me
So I’m banging up against coffin lid
Screaming someone’s still alive down here
And I’m giving it all the breath I’ve got to give
Because I’ve got my own life to live

And I’m not giving up
But I’m tired of trying way too hard
To fit the mold that people chose for me
To be a version of me that I can’t even see
To give those people what they want
Is more than I have to give
And I lose way too much along the way
I’ve got my own life to live
so it’s long past time that I demand a little say

Kmise Concert Ukulele – Spruce/Mahogany, and also Aquila Red Strings

I’m fully going to admit guys, that this was an impulse buy. I was on ebay, and it advertised at me for $26.99 + shipping, ending  in twenty minutes, with no bids. And dammit, it was PRETTY. I wasn’t about to go in a bidding war over it, but I realized quickly that this pretty thing could land at my doorstep for just about $35. It was advertised as having a solid spruce top, and I decided that was a worthy gamble. If I won it with a minimum bid, then cool. If I didn’t, oh well.

kmise
If you look closely, you will note I’ve made a significant string change between photos. 

I mean, just look at this thing, guys! It’s seriously pretty, and that’s from someone who doesn’t normally go for flowers. Still, I saw it and fell in love, and while I’m not typically a person for making purchases based on my feelings, I also won’t deny that any time I’ve bought a musical instrument that I honed in on that way, it was the right choice. We tend to connect with our instruments in a way that isn’t entirely logical, so I went with my instincts, deciding it was cheap enough to take that chance.

Now, Kmise is a brand that retails cheaply. What you’re looking at here, at full cost, is still only about a $50 uke, and that’s important to know because an instrument’s budget tells you a lot about what you can reasonably expect.

At a $50 price point, you’re generally expecting a full laminate body, a nut that may or may not be plastic, and string action that might not be as exacting as you’d like. But, you’re still looking at an instrument that is playable and should stay more or less in tune. (Note: I did say ‘more or less’. I have ukes ranging in price from $30 to $250 – so I do know the difference between ‘stays in tune’, ‘stays in tune well enough’, and ‘is a tuning nightmare’.)

So, when I analyze this Kmise uke, I should be comparing it to other ukes in a similar price bracket, but the thing is, I can’t, because I haven’t honestly come across anything similar to the Kmise in that price bracket. This kmise has a solid spruce top, bone saddle, rosewood fingerboard, and the string action is pretty much spot on. It’s biggest weakness seems to be in the tuners, which, honestly, are still pretty on target, so it’s probably more accurate to compare it to ukes in the approximately $100 price bracket.

What I’m telling you here guys is not that ‘omg this is the most amazing ukulele you will ever see’, but I am telling you that it is a lot of bang for your buck, and probably the nicest piece of equipment I’ve seen at this price point. It produces a nice amount of volume, the sound is clean, it stays in tune reasonably well.

I would say, for comparative purposes, it stays in tune roughly as well as my Quilted Ash Snail. It’s far, far better than the Rubin RS-400L for this, and better than both my Kala KA-15S and my Lanikai SMP-T, but not as good as my Ibanez UEW20SLME, so the Snail is probably the closest comparison I have in my current collection. And, don’t get me wrong here, I do love my Snail, but my Snail cost me about $120, if memory serves, and the Kmise landed at my door for roughly $37, so it’s a bit crazy to be comparing the two at all. Still, my ears and fingers know what they’re telling me here, and it’s that I got a steal.

Now, to justify the cost of another uke I didn’t need, I decided to try something different with the Kmise, and bought a set of Low G strings for it. I haven’t tried Low G tuning before, but I already have two concert ukes with standard tuning, so I thought doing the new one up in something a little different would be worthwhile and decided on Aquila Reds.

The Red Series gets some pretty mixed reviews, but having been fiddling with them for a few days, I’ve managed to form my own opinions. You get quite a lot of reviews on the reds that say they break too easily. I have a strong suspicion that the people who say that have never handled guitar strings. Let’s face it, guys, traditional uke strings can take one hell of a beating. Guitar strings are more fragile, and I think the aquila reds feel closer to what you would expect out of a guitar string. On the one hand, they settle more quickly than you’re regular old run of the mill aquilas. On the other, that’s because they’re thinner and more vulnerable if you over-wind them. I can’t tell you how many times I broke a guitar string while stringing the guitar when I was first learning to do it. it happened pretty often on thinner strings. I haven’t had that issue with the aquila reds, but I suspect people who have had that issue with them likely are people who fell into that same trap.

So, when you look at the aquila reds, they’re named for the wound G string, which is bright red (though, color does seem to wear off as you play). The other strings are more or less a burgundy-brown color. Doesn’t bother me, but I’m not the type of person who cares half as much about how strings look as I do about how they sound.  So you’ve got three nylon-like strings and one wound string that looks rather a lot like a guitar string. The latter almost makes you want to try playing your uke with a pick, which actually does work out pretty nicely if you want to play around with a different sound. (I gave it a try with a .38mm pick. They’re still uke strings, after all. I don’t want to be too hard on them.)

Overall, I like them. Their similarity to guitar strings makes me wonder if they’ll wear out faster than more traditional uke strings, but only time will tell on that front, so we’ll see. At the moment, I dig the sound. It makes my new uke sound a bit like a hybrid between an ukulele and a very small guitar, really, which puts it in a sonic space that allows me to justify having yet ANOTHER one.

No more ukes for a while, gosh darn it! I have run out of places to store them.

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