Category Archives: Uncategorized
I like April, especially this year. I got my vaccine last Friday. Found a very good typewriter too, a 1963 Smith Corona Clipper which is in fact a Sterling for those of you who understand these things (Series 5A that is). This one has elite type, and best of all it scans to OCR almost perfectly. That can be a problem if you write a lot on typewriters and wish to scan and edit. I completed my 12th novel last week, 60,000 words typed and scanned and edited. Some of the scans were atrociously poor, others worked well. I try to use a variety of my collection of typewriters, so results vary when scanning. The benefit of smaller type is that you can write more on a line before having to return the carriage, which interrupts the flow. Less interruptions are desirable to keep the words flowing.
Now that I have finished this book and also the latest guitar, I think I’ll take a break and do something else for a while. Maybe write some more poems. Here’s one from last night. I typed it, then scanned it and edited the text, then printed it and scanned it to a JPEG!
Recently finished this guitar. Maple body, cypress top. Hand rubbed French polished sunburst finish, somewhat like the bass I made before this. The yellow stain is made from turmeric in alcohol and the red brown colour is Dark Brown leather dye, which works on wood. I used that on the entire maple body and neck. This guitar is a full depth body of 4″ with x braced top like my previous Corona models. Previous models of this design were 3″ deep, so this one has a bit more low end. As part of this experiment this top has less arch, and I used cedar for the braces to see how that might effect the tone. Conclusion – it worked out very well. It’s loud and bright but more mellow than my normally arched tops. This one is perhaps the best of the bunch of Coronas, due to the balance between attack and sustain. It certainly holds its own in a jam and is not at all nasal, although real loud!
Strung it with Martin 80/20 light strings, to my ear the closest thing to Argentines at far less cost. 80/20 bronze alloy (4:1 copper to tin) is thousands of years old and the same stuff they make church bells of etc, so the magic formula hasn’t changed over time. I made the head-stock joint lower down on the neck this time, which I think I now prefer the look of. With a 2 way truss rod I can dial the neck from flat to whatever relief I want. The neck is on the fat side, a bit larger than usual but I like the feel of that too, as it is substantial and will be very stable, especially being hard maple. The fingerboard is extra thick as well, which contributes to the overall stability. With zero tension on the truss rod, the neck has a bit of relief. I dropped that to a tiny bit for now, but it is very easy to tweak it either way.
The bridge is Japanese, and rosewood this time as opposed to ebony on my previous ones. Rosewood is better to work with than ebony, which is brittle as heck. I had to cut it down a bit since they come too tall for this design.
Tailpiece is gold plated steel. I made the wood insert for it as they come without one. Hard to argue with the low price of stuff from China, and it’s really not bad looking. The brass ones cost almost 10 times the price !
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?)