Thursday, October 24, 2013

Canjo Chorus (IW#'s 62-65)

I have lately fallen in with a group of very talented musicians who are open to some pretty weird stuff.  The leader of this bunch emailed me with a request:  "I was thinking of a cello solo with three or four canjos if you have them."

The answer was obvious:  I built four canjos.  Last night we tried them out and it is fantastic.  Shown in the video are Leo Crandall on cello and Rich Curry, me and Curtis Waterman on canjo.  You can hear but not see Tom Fay and Ted Curtis.

What a weird night.  Good stuff.  Probably the strangest thing ever done on a canjo.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Uke Bass (IW# 061)

A couple of years ago several of us started hanging out in an informal jam session called SyraUke.  If you live in the Syracuse area check it out, it is a heck of a lot of fun. 

Here is the thing about a room full of ukes, though:  It gets a little plinky.  So I have started to occasionally play a wash tub bass just to put some bottom end into the mix.  It works out pretty well.

Then at our last meeting, a friend gifted me the body of what was a pretty nice little parlor guitar in its day.  Spruce top and redwood sides, I bet it sounded pretty good when it had a neck and strings.  Neither of which it has any more, so it clearly needed a little love.

I don't remember how I ended up with the old shovel handle, but it was just about right for the neck, and I have long been a fan of using weed whacker cord for bass strings.  So here it is, the Uke Bass:

Monday, October 14, 2013


I have really been snowed under here, and so have not had a chance to write about all of the cool things that have been happening.  I am going to try to catch up a bit here, starting with a couple of weeks ago. 

Imagining America is a confederation of socially-engaged artist, community groups, and scholars that do really good work all over the country.  This year the annual conference was in Syracuse, and I was able to do a workshop in the shop here at school.  Four of us (two professors, a post-doc PhD, and the director of a not-for-profit in Chicago) spent some time in the shop, and everyone came out of it with a playable instrument!  We made versions of what I am calling the "Ten Mile Banjo," the one that was the very first instrument that I made and that I played at the Kennedy Center with Dance Exchange.  They are three-string instruments and are pretty easy to make.  A little funky to play unti you get used to it, but a lot of fun once you do.

There are several ideas behind this for me:  One is that we all need to spend more time making things.  Another is that it is even better if we are making things out of stuff we find around us every day.  A third is that when we do this kind of work together, it strengthens our own sense of being a part of a creative community.

I have done a couple of other workshops, which I will post here as time permits.  Precious little time in the shop lately, a lot of time on the road.  But it is all good stuff, in my book.