My latest novel is now available on Kindle. I set out to write a story about a poet who lives in his Mom’s basement and is enthralled by a book by a professor Schlitzenberger called The Wisdom of Gandalf. No sooner did I begin than somehow my brain hijacked the plot and turned the story into a sequel of my book The Magic Typer! I don’t know how that happened but one rule I follow when writing is to go with whatever crazy ideas come through my fingers onto the paper. So this guy, Warren, lives with his mother, but upstairs there is a girl that he is in love with, named Olympia. She of the Magic Typer, but this is 20 years later. I won’t say more, maybe you’ll read the book! I had a great time writing this one, and it’s filled with excerpts from a fictional book about Gandalf (you know who he is), as well as lots of poems and bits of another novel, plus letters that should amuse.
I just completed my 34th guitar, this one being a bass. I used the same body shape as my recent Corona style, which was convenient in several ways: I had the mold for it, and it reminded me of the Hofner Club Bass. I own a Jazz Bass solid body which is heavy and has a 34″ scale. I wanted a short scale instrument that would be easier to play and also lighter, so I decided to use the Hofner look for inspiration. I ordered a Chinese made copy of the tailpiece and bridge, and set to work designing the instrument. If you set out to build a guitar, or any instrument, you better have an accurate plan, unless you have built whatever you plan to make many times. I can build a guitar almost from memory now, but the bass has significant differences. So I designed it with my old CAD program (Vectorworks 10) which although now an antique of software, still does what I need it to do. I have designed all sorts of buildings and other things with this, and I am very comfortable with how it works.
Since the bass has long strings, which are also very thick, the forces involved are much greater than on a typical six string. I did some research and figured out what the best strings weights would be (50-105) for a short scale bass. The shorter scale also requires heavier strings for the same frequencies, or else the strings will flop around more than they should. Think of down tuning a guitar and how sloppy the strings feel. To use regular strings made for 34″ necks on a 30″ neck would be like detuning a regular bass. I tried this, and it was bad! Using information published by D’Addario I was able to build a table of string weights, unit mass, frequency, scale length and break angle. This gave me the string tensions and the pressure on the bridge. From this I basically guessed how heavy to make the braces, hoping that my intuitive feel for the strength of wood would suffice. To be safe I erred on the side of overbuilding, so the whole thing would not collapse. Since it was to be an acoustic bass however, I didn’t go too far in that direction, or it would have been acoustically dead.
In any case I built it as per plan and of course when it was done I discovered that my instrument was not exactly what I had planned for. Tiny angular rotations, like the neck angle, make large differences at the bridge. I had planned for a bridge of a certain height, which would mean a certain break angle of the strings. That determines the down force on the top, and the higher the bridge is, the greater the angle and down force.
My bridge height was higher than expected, meaning my bridge was now too short! I had to add a spacer underneath it to bring it to the correct height. This was not a problem except that I realized that this was going to increase the force on the top by about 10 lbs. I thought about using regular strings to reduce this, but decided that was not going to work, so I went ahead and strung it with the proper strings and hoped that my extra heavy braces would hold up. After 24 hours they seem to be fine. My sense is that the bracing was the right size after all, and like most well engineered things, had a decent margin of safety. Time will tell however, but so far it sounds great and is performing as well as hoped for.
In keeping with my desire to make my instruments as unique as I can, I made my own pickup using my home made pickup winding machine – an old sewing machine. I built the pickup from a maple core and walnut plates, with 4 neodymium magnets and many thousands of winds of 42 gauge magnet wire. The DC resistance is 10K, for those who know about this. That’s a lot of wire, but it makes for a strong signal and in this case it does not hum at all, unless I get close to a fluorescent light that is, like the one on my workbench. That induces a loud 60 cycle hum, but otherwise the single coil is fine.
I used Gotoh bass tuning heads rather than the silly little bass tuners Hofners have. For a Hofner you must buy special short scale strings with reduced end wraps in order to fit into the tiny tuners. This looks good and is lighter weight, but it restricts the sort of strings you can usually find in the music stores. These tuners allow me to use all off the shelf strings. I put Ernie Ball Slinkys on it, which are very good and as cheap a string as you will find. Maybe one day I’ll try flat wounds, but they don’t offer much except for lower noise from the friction of your fingers. I have tried them on my guitars and I always go back to round wounds, because I like that friction under my fingers. It all depends on preferences of course.
So far I resisted getting a bass amp, because in the house all I need is a low power amp and my Roland Cube Monitor can handle bass very well at low volume. For some reason bass amps are much cheaper than comparable guitar amps, but I have no idea why that is. A bass amp will work just fine with a guitar, but most guitar amps are not suitable for bass. So why do they cost more? Something about this tells me we are getting hosed!
Wednesday Jan 27, 2021
I’ve just collected my 199th typewriter yesterday – a 1974 Adler J2. I am typing on it here, to give it a test and see how I like it. Despite how good many of my typewriters are, I generally go back to the same old ones after a while, because they seem to suit me best. This has a delightful typeface however, which is a bonus. This machine has a plastic shroud, which makes it somewhat less desirable. Metal seems to be preferable for some reason, probably because I associate it with my childhood, an era for which nostalgia rules my heart. The idea of collecting typewriters is wrapped in nostalgia, because of the fact that they are now a thing of the past, and were mostly all made of metal. Only the later models had plastic shells, and though many of those are great, I and others, seem to have this preference for metal. It is illogical, but so is collecting things, unless done for profit, and even then there is not much profit in this when you consider all the time and effort spent to find a typewriter, clean it up, and fix whatever may be wrong with it. Often there are plenty of problems, and the hours spent do not pay well for the cost or price received when selling. But we persist, for the joy of finding typewriters, like birdwatchers scouring the bushes for rare birds, we scour the thrift shops in search of the new and unusual models, yet still glad to find some old favourite thing, even as we decline to buy it, unless it is such a bargain…
I wonder if typewriters were all $5 each, and there were half a dozen in every thrift shop, would anyone bother to collect them? I think not. We tend to value things that are rare and or expensive. If every typewriter was $5, which one would I buy to use? Not some rare old thing, unless it worked so well that I preferred using it over a better made model. When one removes price and rarity from the equation, then we find an entirely different set of values. I think of this as something like a blind test. I find this to be true for guitars, especially.
People will pay thousands of dollars for a guitar that has some label on it that they imagine confers a great value to it, even if in a blind test there is no difference between that and a similar guitar that is practically free by comparison. If I were to offer someone any typewriter in the world, and they had no idea what any of them were worth on the market, I bet they would chose simply by how the machine felt, how good the typed page looked, and last, what the machine looked like. But if I had informed them that the Hermes 3000 was worth ten times the cost of the one they selected, I also wager they might well change their mind fast! This happens to me, I should admit, despite my trying to judge things solely on logical grounds.
I think this is a factor of knowledge versus ignorance. When I was young I had less knowledge, and hence more ignorance. The things that I liked then were selected on my youthful judgment, unclouded by the opinions of others and or what the thing cost. I liked things for what I perceived them to be, not for what others perceived. When judging the worth or something now, I always try to keep that thought in mind, and think like a child, rather than as a fan of this or that because everyone else is.
If only Mad Magazine was still around….
Today, January 23rd, 2021 is Django Reinhardt’s 111th birthday. On Bilbo Baggins’s 111th birthday he threw a big party and vanished. Having just finished editing my latest novel, which involves a fair amount of analysis, letters and discussion of The Lord of the Rings, I couldn’t help but wonder about the coincidence of these two Eleventy-first birthdays. LOTR is a book about magic in some sense, as is the book I just wrote, A Year in the Life of a Poet, a sequel to its predecessor The Magic Typer.
Django Reinhardt was magic too, if you appreciate anything about the guitar. Where this magic came from is impossible to explain, but to accept that there are things we cannot understand.
I leave you with a paragraph excerpted from my latest novel – a few words from the renowned philosopher AF Schlitzenberger, author of The Wisdom of Gandalf:
It happened to me, so I’m telling you – there are things we do not know and powers we cannot understand at work here, right now, on this planet. If they are good or bad I cannot say, but I am sure they exist. And as sure as I am of that, I am also sure that The Lord of the Rings must have been influenced at the very least by some power that is trying to communicate with us.
there once was a man from New York
who always had steak on his fork
he said with a scowl
while shaking his jowl
the wages of sin are for dorks!
they called him a two time loser
seditious constitutional abuser
he said you’re all fired
I should be rehired
comprendo? to be more abstruser
I’ll boycott inauguration
there’s been miscommunication
I cannot conceive
of a reason to leave
while President of this nation
New York shut his business down
they said get out of our town
the voters have spoken
and no we’re not jokin’
we really don’t want you around!
so where’s the poor boy going to go?
unemployed without any dough
the people got tired
the Donald was fired
back to his old TV show! (did I hear you say Mexico?)
When I was at my aunt’s funeral, about 50 years ago, my Dad whispered to me that there was a guy in the hall who was a bookmaker. It turned out he was my Dad’s step brother, and he had been a millionaire and broke again more than once. I am a book maker too, but of a different sort…
Nanowrimo is over and I have printed my book. I started typing on October 30th with several pages, then began in earnest on November 1st and wrote all the way until December 4th, with but one day off. I wrote over 80,000 words and got a serious back spasm along the way. All the writing was done on manual typewriters, mostly a small group that I prefer; the Hermes 3000 & Smith Corona 5 for desktop portables, and the Hermes Baby, Olympia SF/Traveller, Olivetti Tropical (Hermes Baby clone) & Olivetti Lettera 22 for smaller ones that I use on my lap.
Instead of sending my book off to a POD house for printing, I decided to make my own book for the first copy anyhow. I checked out some videos on book binding and researched how to set up a printer to print signatures. I wish I’d known this earlier! It’s not difficult and very enjoyable. I printed the book at half letter size, 5.5 x 8.5 inches precisely, so the signatures are printed 4 pages to a letter size sheet. The PDF print driver allows this to be done and all you have to do is set the number of pages in each signature. I set mine to 5 pages, and then printed 20 pages at a time to fill the five sheets on two sides. You could go ahead and print the whole thing at once however, but then you’d have to sort the signatures afterwards. You need a laser printer that will duplex, I should add.
Rather than hand stitch, which was taking too long, I decided to sew the signatures on a sewing machine, which went through 5 sheets of paper with ease. My book has 230 pages, which means I should have made 12 signatures of 20 pages each to end up with an even number of sheets. The last signature had fewer sheets, so I added another signature at the end to make up a few blank pages for the cover, and for any correction notes, etc. These next pictures are an example using scraps to show the process.
With the signatures together in order I clamped them and glued the spine with a sheet of paper wrapped down the front and back an inch, using white PVA glue. Then I glued on a heavy card cover to the front and back sheets, but not the spine, and clamped it to dry between two boards. So far it is holding up and looks like a real book!
A better job can be done if you wish to make a fine book, complete with cloth cover. The proper way is to sew the signatures together, but I didn’t bother since I just wanted a copy to read and edit, and didn’t wish to make a work of art for my purpose. If you research bookbinding you will discover there are many more steps that can be done to make a fine book, but for just a sketch or note book this method here will do well enough.
When I first began this annual torture test, it would have been inconceivable to imagine that I would go on to do it 10 times, and now, if I succeed, which I will – damn it, do it for the eleventh time. I have already started, after having come up with the sole viable concept my poor old brain could conceive of under the circumstances. I could not wait for November first, as I feared that to do so might have left me bereft of all thought, in a sort of paralysis of the mind, sitting on the couch with my typewriter in a bewildered daze. The typewriter of the day is a Hermes 3000, which has the distinct advantage of being light enough to use on the lap, and being the best typewriter ever made in history, blah blah blah etc etc, as if anyone gives a rat’s ass about that. Suffice to say it works splendidly, an UZI for words, rapid firing, accurate, largely infallible, small, light, comfortable – a word spewing tool as effective as the Papal Swiss Guard, who only rarely failed in their duty… (historians may fact check this assertion). So it begins, 30 days of living the novelist’s dream; the goal – 50,000 words, every last one of them painstakingly constructed by pressing on plastic buttons connected to a series of wires and levers that slam inked impressions onto pre-punched Hilroy notepaper from Walmart. I exaggerate – it’s not so bad really – in fact I enjoy it. It gives me a chance to put at least one of my typewriters to good use (or bad use), and what good do they do just sitting there collecting dust for 11 months, if I never use them? Why do I have all of these obsolete devices anyhow? Nanowrimo provides the perfect answer – to write the next _____ novel, or perhaps the _____ book ever. Fill in the blanks and win a lollipop!