Thursday, 15 February 2018

String manufacturer poll

Out of the 17 people that got back this is how the votes came in:
Augustine     1
D'Addario    13
Ernie Ball    0
Hannabach     1
La Bella      0
Martin        1
Savarez       4

So it would seem that D'Addario rules the street. Unfortunately I forgot to add "Other" as an option (smacks forehead), once a poll is underway you can't change it. The list was compiled from best sellers info on the internet.

I will throw a set of Savarez on sometime though, that still nearly a quarter of all respondents, see what they are like.

Interesting, informative, thanks all!

Friday, 2 February 2018

Cello Bridge Carving

I've got my youngest daughter on a secondhand cheap 3/4 cello. The bridge had warped, and it started falling over from time to time. Getting a new bridge fitted by a music shop was going to be maybe half the value of the cello, and besides, getting someone else to do the job isn't very JAW-like, so I took on the job myself.

Some internet search revealed that you could straighten a warped bridge by steaming over a stove for a long time, clamping back in a straight position, and letting it dry. I called that Plan B. Plan A was to buy a bridge blank and carve it to the right shape.

You can source cured/dried Maple machined bridge blanks from China (Ebay) for next to nothing, I had 4 delivered for $AUD13(2017). The slow boat from China to Australia is around 3 weeks, so you have to plan ahead. I figured 4 should be enough, gives me the chance to break 3 first :-)

Sally over at gets two thumbs up for her very thorough tutorial of how to do it. From her many pictures and discussion you can tell she's an experienced craftswoman, whereas I'm an engineer, so I simplified things a bit. There's no point in me recreating her tutorial, go check it out, I'm just going to talk about the different hacks I used, given that I have only basic tools, a modicum of handworking skills, and some basic understanding of what we are trying to achieve.

First up, to get the feet of the bridge to mate to the face of the cello, I used sandpaper. Place sandpaper on the face, hold the bridge on sandpaper, move slightly back and forward in the area the bridge will stand. This seems very sensible to me, rather than carving the feet to attempt to match the face and constantly checking how you are going.

A leg spreader may or may not be absoltely necessary. I made one out of some bolts and scrap metal with my arc welder and angle grinder. When fitted, the pressure of the strings will push the bridge legs outwards, so pre-spread the legs by around 2mm, sand the feet to mate to the face while spread, then when it's all back together the feet will be a perfect match to the face. I don't think this is really really necessary, I think it is better to do it, but I think you'd be fine without spreading. One of the main reasons I made it is so I could show it to my wife and say "Normally you'd just use a bottle of wine..."

The bridge comes as a blank, you need to remove wood until it is the right shape. Proper luthiers carve carve carve the bridge to shape using knives, planes, chisels. I had a crack. Dried Maple is harder wood than you'd think. My knives, planes and chisels are not top quality, it was hard going. However, angle grinder and die grinder loaded with sanding disks make it really easy going. You can find the dimensions for the right shape with internet searches, but some depend on the installation.

For instance I particularly liked Sally's approach of first getting the feet fitted to the face, installing the bridge straight away although waaay to high, putting the strings roughly in place, measuring the string height at the end of the fretboard, subtracting that from the desired string height, placing a template on the bridge in that position, and cutting off the excess with a jigsaw. Genius.

I fitted the bridge several times, sanded it down some more to get the string heights rights, it was tedious. The last time I took too much off on the high string, I was impatient. Moral there is don't be conservative to start with, because you will get annoyed and be less conservative to end with and stuff it up. Measure twice, cut once. I ended up having to glue a small piece of wood back on. Don't do that.

Another good tip I found on the internet was rather than gluing some parchment on the top where the strings go - or doing nothing at all - just put a dob of superglue there and let it soak in. It dries rock hard, strings slip past it nicely and won't cut into the wood.

I fancied up the look with a knife, took the excess wood out with my die grinder and wrote my initials on it, you can see the difference between the blank and my finished product in this photo. It took me the better part of a day from start to finish, but I learnt a lot. I would imagine if I ever had to make another it would take me around 2 hours.

Another skill added to the list. Don't be afraid to try it if you are in the same predicament as me - and violins, violas, cellos and double basses are all similar. Read Sally's tutorial, watch a few youtube videos, and use some of the hacks I mentioned here. Good luck out there!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

String choice update

There are so many strings to choose from. So many manufacturers, string types from those manufacturers, tensions, materials, it's enough to do your head in. And that's just nylon strings! And if you only change strings a handful of times a year, and don't take notes, you'll soon forget what you liked and what you didn't like.

I've talked about strings before, several years back I locked in D'Addario as my manufacturer of choice. Across the board they make a bright sound for a reasonable length of time and are well priced. I have tried medium (standard) and hard tension, and settled on standard tension. Sometimes standard tension is too floppy, but not as much as sometimes hard tension is too stiff.  Standard tension is the best compromise for me.

Finally now I have run through all the different material variants and arrived at a verdict. The EXP45 set.  Well, not quite, I prefer the trebles from the EJ45TT set and the basses from the EXP45 set.  But that is too hard to deal with, so I am sticking to the EXP45 set out of the box, the trebles are okay. But I've taken to only changing the trebles every second set change.  Trebles hold their tone for a lot longer than wound basses, but take so much longer to bed in.

So, why the EXP?  Bottom line is I want long life.  New strings on nylon take too long to stretch in, and the very act of changing strings takes time, so I want to change as infrequent as possible. Yeah, I'm lazy. But the tone has to be to a minimum level - once they sound too dull, they have to go (only beginners will only change strings when they break!)

The EXP is that best compromise; it has the brightness in the basses that lasts the longest. All the D'Addario strings have a nice brightness to them, varying levels, but the EXPs last longest (given that you wipe down the strings after any long sweaty workout, which I always do.)

Done. Finished. End of story.

...except now that I know I prefer coated/medium tension/brightish strings, I should look across all the manufacturers to see what their range is in that space. Argh! But that sounds like a good time to start a new poll! :-)

Below is my findings summary:

EJ45 Pro Arte Standards, $6USD(2018).
  Good comfortable string, they will sound a bit dead after 4 weeks of 
  my normal playing regime.

EJ49 Pro Arte black trebles, $7USD(2018).
  Same as standard with black trebles, no difference. Only for looks.

EJ45TT Pro Arte Dynacore, $11USD(2018).
  The dynacore basses sound good, an improvement over standard. The
  "titanium" nylon trebles are also an improvement over the standard brightness
  but same thickness as standard.

EXP45 Pro Arte Coated, $10USD(2018).
  Basses are the same as the EJ45TT but coated and they do actually hold
  their tone quite a bit longer. Trebles are standard.

EJ45FF Pro Arte Carbon, $13USD(2018).
  The basses are the same as the EJ45TTs, the trebles are super bright
  and quite thin.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

2018 New songs new recording style

During my two weeks off over Christmas I tackled two new songs from my "to-do" list, Cyndi Lauper "Time after time" and Daft Punk "Get lucky". Cyndi, because my wife likes that song. Daft, because years ago a mate challenged me to do it, which I did not take up, but moreso while adding Gareth Evans to the fingerstyle database as suggested by a reader I came across his arrangement and it inspired me.

But, I talk all about it in the video, no need for a transcription here.

I have only played both these songs for a few hours each, so they are rough-as, and not really ready to put out there but I had an alternate reason for recording them...

A month ago I recorded the end of year concert for my youngest daughter's orchestra, which was actually a tad stressful, that it needed to "be good". I recorded two hours (several orchestras performing), using a fixed camera and roving with a second camera to get different vantage points.  I own two of Canon mirrorless DSLRs, the EOS M, which I bought to do some 3D video work with years ago, they are old now but still okay. It's handy to have two for different angles when you aren't using them for stereoscopic vision.  Unfortunately they blew out the brightness levels - it was a big auditorium, mostly dark with well-lit performers, the cameras didn't know how to capture the levels very well and I didn't know how to tell it to do better.  So lots of washed out faces - but not totally terrible. . I used my stereo condenser microphone to capture audio which worked out pretty well.

It forced me dust off my video editing skills; normally I use virtualdub and simply trim/put on a logo/replace audio/re-encode. But for multi camera angles you need a multi-track video editor. When I first started out in video editing in 2001 I used Ulead Video Studio and got quite used to it.  But somewhere along the way they were bought out and the resulting software went in the wrong direction for my liking.  So the next time I had to do video editing I trialled the big three and settled on Cyberlink PowerDirector. It irks me constantly learning new software, that's part of my day job. So for the concert video I shelled out for the latest version and although it easily took me 10 hours to produce the resulting 80 minute video, I was quite happy with the software again.

So I decided that I could put the similar effort into my guitar videos, seeing as I was all up to speed again.

And so brings me to this video, where I set up my two DSLRs and an older handy cam that takes a tolerable video, for a three camera shoot!  It was easy to set up, although I don't like the low camera angle, I'll do that different next time. From start to finish ready for youtube slightly less than 2 hours. So, doable as a regular event. I experimented with some pans and zooms - swapping between fixed cameras is better than only a single camera, but some subtle movement during the shots brings the different camera angles to life. Most of the movements were random tests, I watched it back afterwards and worked out what I liked, but left it as is.

So here you go. I'm waffly and word stuck in places, I should plan these things. Oh and the playing was awful. But...'s practise for some proper videos I have in mind to record soon :-)

Monday, 11 December 2017

What's happening December 2017

I've been focussing on Dark Side of the Moon recently, I have a half finished a resolve for "Any Colour You Like" which was missing the last half of the ending guitar and keyboard solo. Like I've recently done with "Time" I decided that I should learn the solo outtro and cut the solo short, so that the song feels complete even though it is missing parts in the middle.

Hey, it's a "tribute" to DSotM. If/when I arrange every last morsel of it, then it will be a "full arrangement". Until then, it just should feel complete!

Since I'm in the DSotM zone, I got onto my mate Shaun and lined up another Open Mic, planning on a playthrough of DSotM and then maybe some "The Wall" and finish up with "Wish You Were Here". I need DSoTM to be a feature in my toolkit, that I can bring out anytime. I've also got 2 gigs this month at South Beach Tacos (summer is back) so I will do some test runs there. All good!

However what's not so good is that all this extra practise has caused me to overwork my left pinky finger, a long standing issue for me. I've had to stop playing a root 5 A shape barre chord with just my pinky, which bugs me, I prefer fretting that way, but a 2/3/4 left hand chord is much less harsh on pinky than a 4/4/4 chord. Additionally, I must have some sort of hole in my index finger, when I bar a root 5 the top string is not always clear. However, I've always done a full bar - 6th string included - for a root 5 chord shape bar, which of course you don't need to, and I have realised if I only bar a root 5 chord to the fifth string, there is no hole in my finger there and the top string is clear! So many years of playing to work these things out!

As for poor 'ole pinky finger, I have resumed stretching out the offending muscles in my arm. Legend has it that most of the pain in your hands/fingers are from over-tight muscles, from overuse, that pull on joints too much, which causes them to be inflamed, and thus painful. So by calming down those muscles that are too tight, you stop them pulling on joints, stops the inflammation, stops the pain.

I'm there, I agree with the legend. I watched a few more videos about it and saw another interesting tip, that it's your cerebellum that is responsible for the fine motor skills and thus the overtight muscles. So if you put pressure on the sore points and then move the muscle (say, wiggling fingers moving hands) then your cerrebellum kinda "resets" the amount of tightness it is applying to the muscles with the feedback it is getting.

Look it is interesting stuff, we know very little about how our brain works, so I give these things a try. Pressure point stuff definitely works, I have proven that to myself. And "tender tissue is tight tissue" which the dude was saying I have also proven to myself as correct.

Let's do it - put your arm out, palm down, now with your other hand, on top of your forearm getting close to the elbow, dig your thumb in, wiggle it around until you find a sore spot. If you spend you days typing and nights playing guitar, that's probably everywhere. Dig in so it hurts and hold it. Wiggle fingers and hand for a bit. Relocate, keep going, keep finding more sore spots. Stop, and see how you feel. Possibly bruised at first, but later, a bit free-er? A bit less pain? It works for me, but then I forget to do it (because it's no longer painful) and then the tightness comes back.

"Don't forget to do it on a regular basis future-JAW!" "Yes yes, past-JAW."