Monday, December 1, 2014

Union Leader Banjo (IW# 81)

A fellow in the great state of Maine asked for a "bluesmaster" style banjo, so here is one made from a "Union Leader" tobacco tin and an aluminum pie tin.  The tobacco tin had a great eagle on it, which I nailed to the headstock as ornament.  Looks pretty good, I think.  The buzzers are bottle caps from some home-brewed cider I made last year, and the neck is from some maple that a coworker felled a couple of years ago that I had slabbed up and have been drying since.

Sounds pretty good too, it's real loud.  Here it is:

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Just quickly dropping this here so I can find it again easily.  The "reverb" project came to a great close, and the pieces look fantastic in the gallery.  SU Galleries did a nice little video piece about it.  Here it is:

Friday, September 26, 2014

reverb (IW#'s 73-80)

The latest project has grown out of the Three Sisters project.  The short story is that I used this project to build a bridge between me, a local printmaker whose work I love, and my favorite guitarist in Syracuse.

I decided to expand the project, and when another piano came my way I realised I could use it to bring together a community of artists, print makers, and designers.  Here's how it worked:  I made eight more guitars (all tenor scale and with identical dimensions) and gave them in pairs to people whose work I like.  They are as follows:

Damian   Damian is a local design activist, rock and roller, and community maker who also does graphic work.  He got the pair of guitars made from the last of the material that also make up the Three Sisters since I found that piano on the street in the Westcott neighborhood of Syracuse.  He also lives in this neighborhood, so it seemed to make sense that he get that wood.

Cayetano  Cayetano is a bad ass painter and guitar player, and he also helped me dismantle the piano that made three of the pairs of guitars.  #alwayshandpaint.

Janie and Jon  A highly skilled design and fabrication duo.  I have the pleasure of working with both in different capacities (you can see Janie in the video linked above) and wanted to work with them as a unit.  Against his better judgement Jon helped me schlep the second piano to my studio.

Jaime  A dear friend and skilled artist as well as being a social scientist, Jaime's work continues to leave me agog, and it was a no-brainer to ask her to be a part of this.

So these along with Jason make up the reverb community.  It is a group of skilled and passionate designers, artists, makers knit together by the remains of two pianos.  Each pair of guitars was embellished by one designer/artist/team, and they will keep one of the pair, while I keep the other.  I will be showing them in a show here in Syracuse this fall, after which they will live on a wall in my house.  I will see all of the instruments, and will enjoy the beauty of living in a place so rich with possibility, with art and design, with community.  

It is hard to talk about this project succinctly.  Both pianos were made out of chestnut, a wood I love working with.  Also I started to really deal with bracing the tops in a more thoughtful manner.  I used glued-on fingerboards instead of just setting the frets right into the neck.  This is my first production run of instruments, so I thought a lot about multiples (and about how I need more clamps).  Rich project in a lot of ways.  Here are the instruments:

Two of the original Three Sisters with a print by Jason Evans.

Two more guitars from the same piano.  These are embellished with a photo from the Westcott area by Damian Vallelonga
Beautiful Sign Painting from Cayetano Valenzuela

Wood burning taken from a photo of the innards of the piano by Janie and Jon

Incredibly intricate ink work by Jaime Snyder

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

El Gato Dos (IW#072)

A while back I made a bluesmaster style banjo for one of the best musicians I know.  It accidentally wandered away form him, so I made him another one.  We used to call him "the Lovercat," so his banjo was "El Gato."  This new one, of course, is "El Gato Dos."  I used the same art work on it, which is a black cat that was a symbol of the IWW that I really like, and the bottle caps have jugs on them because he and I used to play in the Brooklyn Jugs together.  That was a real hoot.

Anyway, the neck is almost the last of the church pew oak that I had and the pie tin on the back is embossed "New England Pie Company,"  which is pretty good-looking.  It has a slightly mellower sound than the other bluesmasters, in part because the big can that is the head is heavier than what I have used before.  Still sounds pretty good, though.

Muerto Uke (IWW#071)

A very cool person in Virginia Beach is married to another very cool person who contacted me to make her a uke for this past Christmas.  She had gone to a party with her face painted like a Dia de los Muertos skull not too long before that, and she is a pretty rockin' human anyway, so it made sense to incorporate that.  I had this black cigar box that was begging to be used, but had not been sure who should get it.  It was one of those moments of a lot of things coming together beautifully, yielding the Muerto Uke.  The neck is a leg off of an old piano, which had a sort of Gothic profile when I cut it into the peg-head.  Sounds pretty good, too:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Plugging in

Well, well.  I see I have not posted here since last year!  Being that it is now March, that is a pretty major oversight.  It is not that I have not been making, rather that a couple of other projects have been keeping me occupied.  I have also been writing songs a bit more of late, and as I have been thinking about what to do with that my mind turned to recording.

Electronics are not really my thing, of course.  Nothing wrong with electronics (says the guy who is blogging on a lap top), I have just not ever really explored them.  But if I am going to record, I kind of want to see what the possibilities are for micing my vocals and getting an interesting sound.  In poking around, I found a couple of things like this and I was hooked.  It turns out to be pretty damn easy to do this, the big trick is just to use the speaker (in the ear piece not in the mouth piece) as the microphone itself.  There is a little resistor there that you apparently need to make this work right.

As I say, electronics are not really in my field of purview.  So below is my little can microphone, and it sounds pretty dirty, which feels just right.  I have another phone coming my way in a few days, and I think I might try just using the handset casing instead of the can, just to see how that works.

New horizons.  Fun stuff.