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.

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DIY: Installing an Ukulele Pickup

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Another DIY Repair Project & other thoughts

I guess you could say I’ve had a reasonably productive weekend for once. I didn’t get out hiking, but I got a decent amount done around the house. Saturday I got up and decided to finally tackled the 2nd half of my kitchen cupboard project. I have a lot of cupboards, and I’d done some major reorganizing last month, but there was still a lot to do. The shelf that was housing my pots and pans was starting to bow, so I knew I absolutely had to move them and put something lighter there before I had a major repair on my hands. I had several old cans of stain and paint that I had to figure out how to get rid of that were taking up space that could better be put to other use. There were three drawers I’ve barely looked into in years, which meant they were probably mostly full of junk I didn’t need. I was determined to find a permanent home for light bulbs and batteries.

In the process of my organizing, one of the wood valances over the blinds completely randomly flew off. I wasn’t even anywhere near it. A bit of inspection showed me the plastic valance clip was broken. There was no way it was going back up, which meant I might as well start another new project, take down the other three valances, and give them a good scrub down, too, if one of them was down already anyway.

This led to the discovery that another set of clips was also broken, and always had been. The person who lived in my house before me had this miraculous talent for believing tape could solve any home repair if you used enough of it, and this was no exception. That led to me having to disengage 40 lbs of tape. Good thing I had just found adhesive remover in my kitchen reorganizing project.

I tied  up boxes. I took a break to watch a movie and worked on the finger picking exercises while I watched it. I’m still not good at them, but slow progress is being made.

Sunday, I started off with the mundane and gave myself a haircut. After that was cooking, and a movie – more finger picking exercises there. I’m still stumbling, but a bit less.

The next project on the list was to fix my guitar purse. It was given to me as a gift for Christmas, but I was only able to use it once before the strap broke.  Ever since, it’s been sitting off to the side in my ‘I’ll eventually fix this,’ pile. Well, today was the day. I thought it through while watching my movie and doing my finger picking exercise. First, I had to take off the remnants of the broken leather strap. Then, I though, devising a loop would be best, and I could just attach a clip on strap, so I went digging to figure out what I could use to do it. I pirated the metal loops off of an old wallet that I was getting rid of. The fabric used to hold them on was a bit of thick elastic I had in my fabric box. Given the shape and size of the bag, I had no choice but to do this by hand, which took…well, a good long while.  From there I decided I could use some of the leather chording I had in the closet to make a braided chord, but I had to figure out how to “finish it” without it just being a mass of knots on the end. I found some waxy black chord, and decided to bind it with that and a dab of glue.

Funny thing – my cat goes nuts when I change guitar strings:

cleo guitar

…but apparently is a well-behaved little princess when I spend an hour braiding leather chord. Go figure.

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I had hoped I would get through the intro to guitar coursera lessons this weekend, but my projects inevitably took to long, so I’m somewhere in the middle of week 5 out of 7, at the moment, and just at the beginning of the scales lesson. I’ve been terrible about attempting to learn scales too, so far. Anything that requires a high level of memorization and repetition remains a problem. To date, I’ve been looking at scales as sort of drills that have no apparent point. But, the instructor of the course actually described them in a way I really like that I think makes them more accessible to someone who really needs to know ‘what is the practical application of this?’: He described scales as a sort of road map. He baby steps you into scales by playing a chromatic scale on just one string and explains that a chromatic scale is a scale that plays all the note sin order and starts and ends on the same note.

Then, he goes on to say, the reason we learn scales is the same reason we get to know a new city when we move. You can get where you want to go via that one main street down the center of town, but if you get to know individual neighborhoods, you find there are better ways to get where you’re going, shortcuts, if you will.

Ultimately, this doesn’t magically mean I won’t have to memorize things, which has proven problematic for me so far, but it does give the act of learning scales a practical, applicable purpose, which I’m hoping helps me get my head in the right space to buckle down and do it. I’m keeping my expectations low on that front, because I’ve got a track record of an incredibly short attention span for this sort of detail work, but only time will tell, and at least now someone’s given me a reason for learning scales that isn’t just some gobbledeygook about theory, and that’s got to count for something.

So, as I get started on a new week, the agenda I’m looking at is to try to behave myself and work on these exercises a bit, and to get through the rest of the lesson videos on Intro to Guitar, see if that leads me toward any new rabbit holes.

I don’t have any new music in the works at the moment, but I do have a new USB mic en route, so if all goes well, I’ll have that to post about soon.

The poetry album ended up not getting worked on this weekend due to the house projects being a bit more than I anticipated they’d be, but hopefully by next weekend I’ll be getting back to it. I don’t THINK I have any huge projects planned for next weekend. Then again, I tend to underestimate how epic my projects actually are, so there’s really no way to be sure. Things I think should take 20 minutes have a habit of taking 4 hours. So, only time will tell.

DIY Guitar Picks & thoughts on picking in general

Well guys, are you ready for another totally random episode of DIY with Shelby? I had this grand plan to write up a post about my picking progress and the things I’ve learned and all the stuff that got me frustrated… I even wrote most of it on the sly at work. But, fuck it. We’ll do this the more seemingly random Shelby sort of way.

As those of you who’ve been following along know by now, I’ve been really struggling with picking.  For a while. I’ve gone on and on about how much no progress I’ve been making. What you may also know by now is that I’m kinesthetic (tactile) learner, which makes off-the-cuff DIY projects kind of par for the course.

I was going to write this uncommonly well-planned post detailing my experience with video lessons, and why none of them were helping. Sufficed to say, google and youtube managed to help me make an incredibly long list of things that were NOT the root of my picking problems. But, with an incredible amount of variables, that really didn’t help narrow down what was the problem. Still, if you fling enough shit at the wall…well, eventually you’ll want to stop throwing shit, clean up the mess, and analyze why the hell you’ve been throwing shit around in the first place, really.

I spent a lot of time trying to practice other people’s advice. I spent a lot of time trying to rigorously stick to someone else’s system and practice and practice and force it to work. I spent a lot of time forcing myself not to analyze why the standard way is the standard way. What makes it better? Why is it better? Where are the flaws in it? What are the advantages?  Which is stupid, because analyzing is what I do. I’m a born troubleshooter, so the fact I’ve spent months forcing myself to NOT do that, and instead just drown myself in endless articles and videos that really only proved to me that no one has any fucking idea what they’re talking about because no two people seem to agree on ANYTHING where picking is involved…is a supreme blindspot of idiocy on my part. Taking things at face value is just not how I roll, so why I decided to do that for months is a complete enigma.

So, I stopped. I stopped with the endless stream of articles and message boards and videos…and I sat down with my guitar, and my picks, and my anatomy and decided I was going to throw away all my presumptions and just work it the fuck out.

I knew I kept getting caught on the strings. I knew the pick felt like it stuck out to far, or alternatively that it jammed up my knuckle, that there was something about the length of my thumb vs the length of my fingers, versus my relaxed hand position, versus the universe as a whole that just made picking nightmares happen. I didn’t know why, but I knew it was time for some out-of-box thinking if I was ever going to get past it.

If the pick seemed to pointy and too long, then, I thought to myself, “Self, why not just turn the damn thing around and pick with one of the less pointy corners? Worth a shot, right?”  Yes, it was. And while the tone is different, the difference in strum quality and speed was immediate. Having the pointy end of the pick pointed toward the inside of my hand added instant stability. Check – the problem with picking has to do with the stability of the picking position. Turning the pick around resolved it, but the tone is different enough that it’s not something I’m planning on entirely at the exclusion of the normal way.  Still, the “normal” way was really problematic.

I started to wonder if maybe the shape of the pick was my problem. That led me head first into the DIY project. Making picks couldn’t be that hard with the right materials. What if I just…made a pick in a different shape to resolve my weird issues with them. Would that fix it?

It was back to google then, to google how to make guitar picks. My goal here wasn’t so much a full tutorial as figuring out what people were using as their base. I don’t have the tools necessary to work with wood, but there had to be some kind of plastic…THING I could use, surely. Something from around the house, or that I could get at the dollar store.

Sure enough, people are making guitar picks out of old credit cards. Coincidentally, two of mine just expired and, because I’m lazy, I hadn’t disposed of them yet. They were sitting on my desk waiting to be cut up and thrown away.  So, I drew a few templates, a few ideas, I tested them out in cardboard since I had a limited amount of credit card plastic to work with.  There was only one that seemed to have potential, but in the end, I did decide the teardrop shape was better.

But, there’s the catch – the experiment showed me why the teardrop shape is so popular. Having tried a few other shapes in hand, it was like ‘ah, I see.’  Now, does that mean I’m going to think the teardrop shape is perfect until the end of time? Of course not. If it was perfect I wouldn’t have spent the past several months doing battle with it just to create a sound that doesn’t make my cats look offended and my ears bleed. But, I can at least see that it’s no easy task to design something in a shape and size combination to improve upon the design.

The funny thing about this, after making a handful of picks…suddenly I’m able to play with the damn things.  Granted, I’m glossing over a few key points in the learning process involving differences between wrist position and hand proximity to the strings between holding a pick and not holding one, but I’m sort of doing that intentionally, because understanding those things didn’t make me able to play with a pick; making half a dozen picks with scissors, a sharpie, and a nail file, did.

The super simple DIY Pick How-To that you can find in a bazillion places on the internet: 

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  1. Get some variety of thick plastic.
  2. Grab a sharpie, and a pick (that you don’t care about much. you’re going to get marker on the edges unless your hands are made of magic), or a template that you’ve made in a generally pick-ish shape.
  3. Trace said pick or template onto the plastic thing.
  4. Cut out with scissors.
  5. Use some manner of file or sandpaper to smooth the edges.

See, simple. Funny thing, I actually like the feel of them better than my other picks, which is neat, because I believe in not paying for anything I can make just as well at home for free.  Tonight was a good night for it, too, since I’m sitting here listening to this live webcast of Amanda Palmer + string quartet and…stuff.  So I spent most of the show cutting and filing picks.  They may not be the prettiest things in the world (well, the one with the lightning bolt is kind of neat.), but they’re a bit thicker than my tortex, and seem to have better grip than my wood pick. And the tone. Wow. I would never have guessed a bunch of garbage plastic would have made such a nice sound. It’s like they fill a sound hole my other favored picks just don’t quite hit. They’re punchier, louder, and brighter than the tortex pick, which pulls a tone out of my acoustic guitar I didn’t know it had in it.

I should do a sound comparison for you, I know. Maybe I’ll do a mini-post on the subject later. But, as I mentioned above, I’m currently listening to a live webcast, so recording isn’t going to happen at the moment.

Until Next Time, I made stuff! …and now I can actually fricking play with a pick without it sounding like someone’s being murdered. Wohoo! Progress!

A Scattered, but Forwardly Direction

I’m going to be all over the map with this post. I was planning some really well-organized posts, but time constraints have me floundering to make that happen. And, by time constraints, I mostly mean ‘damn it, I can practice, or I can blog, and there are three different instruments in this equation!!’ Sorry guys, but practice tends to win. I need lots of it.

I’m still fumbling my way through yousician lessons, and it really doesn’t help when the program freezes on me when I’m JUST about to unlock the next block of lessons, but shit happens. I finally did unlock the next block of lessons on the lead path, and I’m convinced it was luck instead of skill.  The skill test changes every time. So each time you fail, the next skill test is something you’ve never seen before. It’s not as if you can memorize the progression to get through it; on the skill tests your always flying blind. I guess that’s as it should be, because it’s a test, but it sure was frustrating. A lot of the tests were too fast for me, but by sheer chance, one came up that had switches I could mostly handle.

I am still having trouble switching strings. It’s funny, because bass is pretty much all about switching strings, but throw two more in the mix and put them closer together, and you might as well ask me to pat my head and rub my belly at the same time (for the record, no, I can not do this).  So, for the past two days I’ve been fiddling around in Learn a Song in Rocksmith, but on the Lead Path. Oh boy…it’s rough. I’m going to admit it, it’s rough.  Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and if I’d known where I would find myself today, I would have started alternating between these two paths much earlier on.  I need the practice on switching strings (on both hands – my fretting and strumming hands are equally confused on the matter. My strumming hand might be nominally worse off) before I’m going to make any real forward momentum from this point.

I’m also still drilling the few songs I know bits and pieces of – mostly just the chord switches, practicing strumming. Still no “final products” to show for my efforts, but I think things are going reasonably well, all said.

Ukulele I’m more or less in the same place. Working through strumming patterns. I’m not going to make any forward progress until I get a few of them down pat to the point I don’t have to think about them, so strumming and chord switches for the next while. Also, working a little bit on the ukulele handbook. I’m still on the first bits of introducing melody. Also trying to get G7, Dm and Em stuck in my head.  To be fair, I do remember Em. But on uke, it’s a bit of a complicated one to switch in and out of.  It may be a while before I can do this fluidly. It’s pretty spread out compared to the other chords, so it’s a bit cumbersome to switch to and from.  It resembles a C chord on guitar a bit, come to think of it.

Bass, I’ve mostly been running through Green Day’s X-Kid over and over again. A) that song is ridiculously fun to play on bass. B) I have been trapped at 99% completion forever. I keep missing one random note, and I really want to see that 100% on that song. It’s sheer chance that will lead me there. Every time I miss a note, I cringe, because I just BARELY miss, and it’s always just a split second of the clumsies. It’s never an issue of there being a particular note that’s hard to play.

Reading things, too. I read a guitar article where this guy basically went on a complete tirade about strumming patterns and beginner’s obsessing over them.  I won’t link to it because I didn’t save it, but also because I don’t really have anything nice to say about it, so it would be rude. I wasn’t sure what I thought about this for a while. He basically argued ‘don’t count downs and ups, count rhythm’.  Having had some time to think about it, I know why it irked me: for a beginner, those are one in the same.  I would argue there is an extent of time in which a beginner NEEDS to work at strumming patterns, at least briefly, because if you don’t count downs and ups ever, at all, you’re not training your ear to tell the difference between them. You’re not training your brain to understand the basics of how rhythm is created on the guitar. I don’t care if you call them down and up, one and two, or avocado and turnip, at some point, for some indeterminate period of time, a beginner needs strumming patterns because they help teach your ears what you’re hearing when you’re listening to the songs you love.  There IS a trap in becoming obsessed with them, sure. But the article essentially said that any guitarist worth their salt doesn’t want to create an exact duplicate of a song they hear anyway, they want to make it their own. Sure, someone who knows what they’re doing would want that. But, I would argue most beginners just want to replicate what they’re hearing, that being able to replicate what you’re hearing is an important part of the learning process. I would further argue that he’s a moron if he thinks skipping this very relevant step is going to make you a better guitarist faster, because it’s skipping a part of the learning process that’s training your ears.

But, I digress on that rant. I could write a whole blog post detailing my thoughts on that in detail, but if I go further into it in the brief space I’m allowing for it here, it’s just going to sound ranty, and that’s really not my goal at all.  I just mean that there is a time, a place, and a reason, for counting. That a beginner is going to be counting something, and whether that’s ‘down and up’ or ‘1-2-3-4’, to a beginner’s mind, there’s really not a heck of a lot of difference for all practical purposes. To an intermediate player’s mind, there’s a very significant difference, but the article was written for beginners, and in that vein I thought it was pretty well useless.

Now, onward! I finally finished my last attempt at getting that POS backpacker in playable shape. It was a glorious failure, as anticipated.

When last we left off on the Shelby rebuilds $20 guitars adventures, the bottom of the backpacker tore open, the wood creaked, the strings wouldn’t tune, and the metal piece that attaches to the bottom bent beyond recognition. Step one was to get some wood filler in the hole and repaint the bottom of the guitar. Step 2 was to find a similar tailpiece, but with more screw holes for added security.  The only thing I was able to find that might work was a dobro tailpiece.

So, I drilled three new holes in the bottom of the guitar to attach that. The end result:

IMAG1988[1]
It’s a bit of a unique looking creature now, but I’m calling it visual art.
It can get into tune now, and the body no longer creaks. Unfortunately, it won’t stay in tune for more than a split second. By the time I’m tuning high E, low E has become D#. Go back to tune low E, and the other 5 strings are out of tune again.  I don’t think this is really the fault of the work I’ve done on it. The guitar has always been very difficult to get in tune and keep that way. The action is still quite high. The wood is still crap. It still doesn’t sound good. So basically, it’s prettier, more solidly put together, but still a piece of crap. I learned things, in any case, and that was worth the money spent. You can’t turn dung into gold, and it would probably make some nice wall art.  That’s really all it’s good for.

Next up! Guitar picks.

Guitar picks are weird. I’ve tried tons, not for any reason other than they’re cheap and I can. And, I thought I’d found my favorite. I really favor the orange tortex picks. I like the green ones, too, sometimes.  But I’ve found I do not like them with the Hellcat all that much. Or rather, by some random whim I pulled out a pick I didn’t like at all on the electric guitar, and fell in love with the combination.  My hellcat sounds awesome with a wood pick. Awesome enough that this pick that I thought I would never use again after I tried it once has become the pick I have pulled out every day this week. I still don’t like it on the other guitars (I picked them up to test it. It’s…ick…), but it seems wood picks are a match made in heaven on this particular instrument.  It makes me wonder what I’m going to end up favoring when I finally save up for an electric guitar I actually like. Will I still favor those .60mm tortex picks? I have no idea, but probably.

I’ve also been window shopping for a new electric guitar to replace the behemoth.  I think I’ve found the one I want (pretty sure, since I ogle it on the internet like every day), but there are really half a dozen in the running, three or four serious contenders.  I’ve learned about a lot of brands I never heard of while searching. Lots of helpful people have made suggestions. At the end of the day, I’ll make an official decision once I can afford to make an official purchase, but I think I will probably end up choosing my eye candy guitar. That’s how I picked the hellcat, really, and it worked out for me.  I wonder if that’s how it works for a lot of people – browse browse browse omg that one! That ONE! THAT ONE! It’s AWESOME!’ lol.

Anyway, that’s all of my scattered thoughts for the moment, or as many of them as I can remember, in summation, when I need to be up in 7 hours.

Until next time, playing and practicing, practicing and playing. Running drills. Reading things. It’s all pretty scattered, but moving in a forwardly direction. 🙂

Cigar Box Guitar Gig Bag, take two.

Gig Bag, take Two.
Gig Bag, take Two.
Lined, and padded.
Lined, and padded.
Sleeve style, buttons used instead of zippers.
Sleeve style, buttons used instead of zippers.

The sleeve I made yesterday/this morning I just was not happy with. It was badly cut, and just a poor fit. This sort of bag is just too tough until I get a little better at this sewing thing. 🙂

So, for take two I decided to simplify. I still had enough of the goodwill curtain to try again, if I went with a straight up rectangle design and didn’t try to make a box with the sides. Actually, my favorite gig bag (the one for my bass) uses this design style, which creates a slimmer profile. I have no zippers, so I designed a sleeve  where the guitar would slide in through the top. I knew I needed to come up with something I could use buttons for based on what I had in the house to work with, which meant the most sensible thing to do would be to make a flap on the top.

I also needed some way of keeping the guitar from clanking around in the straight up rectangle design, and the easy answer to that is padding. Foam of some sort would have been better for structure, but I don’t have any, so I used more padding from the dismembered pillow I used to make my ukulele case. (I still have half a pillow worth of stuffing left.)

If it was going to be padded, then it had to be lined to hold the padding in. For that, I used an old shower curtain…which I believe was originally an old pair of sheets. (Talk about recycling. lol. I have more curtain left, so it will get re-purposed again before it gets to retire.)

All in all, this one came out fairly well, though there was a fair amount of hand-sewing toward the end – the carry strap on the side was too thick for the machine and I broke another needle. :/ And one of the lower corners was the same.

This one is functionally sound, though, and my new toy is safe, sound, and ready to roll (as soon as I get some strings…)

Overall Expense:

Curtain from Thrift Store: $2.99

Padding, liner, and buttons: FREE, pillaged from around the house.

Sewing Needles (since I broke two), and a spool of black thread. ??? Probably around $4. I have to go to the store. If you’re smart enough NOT to break your needles, you won’t have that expense. lol, so let’s say $2 for thread.

OVERALL EXPENSE for repurposed DIY case: $5, and I still have enough brown fabric for a ukulele case, handbag, or something of roughly that size, and I’d have enough for another guitar case if I hadn’t screwed up the first time around.  Worked out to be really budget-friendly, but would be considerably more expensive if you bought fabric and proper foam padding from a craft shop, or a zipper. I imagine if I had to buy everything, even if I chose clearance fabrics and found foam at a discount (the powers of ebay), it would likely have cost around $40-50 to make, so, I will no longer be complaining about how much gig bags cost. They’re pretty much just as expensive t make yourself.  With the cigar box guitar though, there really aren’t ready made options. (I know of one, and it costs more than the guitar, so no thank you.)

Building these gig bags myself has been really educational.

Until next time, my goal is to not even look at a sewing machine again for at least the next several weeks. I’m going to be finding scraps of thread in strange places until 2017 after this project. 🙂