Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Beans 'n' Bourbon

Old friends had a big do in their barn this past weekend.  They really did it up all good and proper, with a stage and lights, a full bar with home-brewed beer and moonshine, and pots and pots of home-made beans.  We fed and drank and sang and danced it just felt like home.  There was a circus performer that flew in from Brazil, there were shadow puppets, there was burlesque.  There were a lot of great musicians, and they were even kind enough to let me play a bit.   I wanted to show a cross-section of what the Instrument Works has been producing, so I did a few songs on a bunch of different stuff.  Another friend was kind enough to video it, and I wanted to store them here.  Fair warning, some of the language is not church ready.

Starting off with the original canjo.  I have decided that I like to play it with a slide.  Makes for more seamless changes between the notes:

Next was the 10 Mile Banjo.  I love this tune that I learned off of a Mississppi Fred McDowell record.

Then the Punch Tenor.  I love this little guitar.  Fun to play and sounds good too.  And I love this Malvina Reynolds tune, too.  I have been playing it a lot lately.

Next up was another old song, I think I learned it from the Memphis Jug Band, but it might have been Gus Cannon.  We used to play it with the Brooklyn Jugs.  "You May Leave."  Good tune.

The last instrument was the banjo uke.  As you can see, I have re-worked it pretty substantially, adding a pie-tin resonator and frets up half the neck.  This is another one that I love playing, it has a real punch to it, it's really loud.  And little.  The tune is "Bring it With You," another old jug band tune.

I finished up with a tune of mine, written when I worked in Red Hook Brooklyn.  I used to love playing this to Brooklynites.  Been a while since I have been in front of any.  This was always a good song to play to a room full of pretty drunk people, which luckily was what we had here.  It was a good way to go out.

All in all a great time.  A real hoot.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Fairbanks Syringe Uke (IW#41)

I wanted to try my hand at a fretted uke.  The only one I had made heretofore was when I retrofitted this uke with frets.  It plays pretty well, and that along with the tenor guitars I have made have demystified the fret-setting process.  So I set about making a uke with a box that I got at the flea market.  It had been a syringe box that someone had decoupaged a couple of magazine photos to.  I think they are covered with shellac, and a pretty heavy coat at that, so my sense is that the photos were applied quite a while ago.  The box held a "Fairbanks Syringe, and the label on the inside is so cool that I almost tried to remove it and put it on the outside.  In the end, though, I chose to just photodocument it.  Here is what it looks like:

The frets came out well (the neck is red oak salvaged from a pallet, juts like the slide guitar that is IW#40).  I made the choice to make a "0 fret," which makes the placement of the nut less critical.  It works pretty well, well enough that I am ready to move on to other ukes that I have boxes for. 

The lid of the box is plywood, so it is not a very bright sounding uke.  Here is what it sounds like:

Slide guitar (IW#40)

I just got back from playing a great show in Maine in my friends' barn, called Beans and Bourbon.  I'll post videos soon.  I knew there might be folks there that might want some found-object instruments, so I made a couple to take with me.  One of them is essentially the same as the very first instrument I built, which I have taken to calling the Ten Mile Banjo.  This is the one I played at the Kennedy Center with Dance Exchange.

I learned something with this one:  I tried using a bolt for the bridge, but it made for a very muted sound.  I have seen several cigar box guitars ("cbg's" in the lingo of those who write about them on the internet) with a bolt as the bridge, but those have been electric.  When they are acoustic it is a pretty bad choice.  So I made a wooden one (oak, though I like pitch pine or maple better for bridges) and the difference in the sound was impressive.  It sounds pretty good.  I strung it with heavier strings than I did the 10 mile banjo, thinking that might make it louder, but it is about the same.

Here is what it sounds like: