Monday, December 29, 2008

Ginner Gets an Upgrade

The new purple abalone knobs came from Qparts ( with the express intention of doing a quick and subtle upgrade to #99, Ginner, described in an earlier post.

The knobs are labeled "black" but I knew that it was not the coal black, but the silver black they were describing, and that matches exactly the tuning machines on Ginner.

But alas the knobs were too big, too much girth.

Tim, my business neighbor, guitar player and laser genius, took a look at my quandary and said, "Brass, sure, I can do that!" and in about 20 minutes he had all three turned down on his little mill (see illustration). That shoulder allows the knobs to fit into the counterbore that is one of the hallmarks of our design.

I took a picture precisely 1/3 through the installation so you can see the difference between the two knob designs.

It is reasonable to explore the possibility that the new ones do not protrude enough for rapid deployment. I'll know in a week or two. Because of the Stellartone retrofit, the pot shafts middle and lower are shorter, so the knobs sit down in the counterbores a bit more than the stock knobs, which are taller to boot. As a result, the top pot has to be lowered in the cavity a little bit--requiring an extra nut and washer. If your B1 is stock, it will need three extra nuts and washers (which I can furnish for you).

Meantime I am feeling like a 50's kid (and I am one) that just got a new set of hubcaps for his '51 Shoebox Ford DeLuxe Coupe with torched springs in front and Fingerhut seat covers. (I don't have one.)

One note if you choose to go this way: the knobs are packaged individually. Of my three, one was in perfect condition but the other two were abraded on the abalone surface. They had a dull, not shiny look. I noticed this too late, and rather than return them I had to fix them. About a half hour with Micro-Mesh abrasives and a little water, and all three shine like the sun off a just-thawed pond on a late winter morning.

In retrospect, it's just a little gift I gave myself. Excuse me, I've got to go write a thank you note now...

Friday, December 19, 2008


It started with a regular citizen who knew our town had a fairly new city commission charged with placing art in public places and all that surrounds that.

At the outset, that commission spent nearly a year creating its own policies and procedures and then set itself to its mission: enhancing the lives of Redmond citizens via the addition of art that all can share.

The first two works can be seen at . Click on "installations" and then eagle and the cowboy. They're called "Air Traffic Control" and "Western Swing." Greg is a longtime friend--his family and mine were in the same babysitting coop nearly 30 years ago--and his art is powerful on a number of levels. Enjoy a tour of Greg's work.

A few weeks ago, in a lovely ceremony on a warm early winter day, a crowd gathered to unveil the art commission's latest triumph: a bronze called "Dignity." Pictures attached.

Rodd Ambroson grew up in our town. His journey to art is beautifully written on his web site: where you can see the range of his work.

Back to the citizen mentioned at the beginning of this: Bob Vancil was aware of Rodd's work and suggested it to a member of the commission. From that beginning came the reality of this expressive artistic statement gracing the entrance to the Redmond Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development offices. It could be your first impression of Redmond.

In his remarks at the unveiling, Rodd said she reminds us to "dress up, show up, and do the next right thing." Let it be an inspiration to us to find our own road to dignity. Wonderful things will happen and all will benefit.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stellartone Tonestyler Revisited, and Hello to Ginner

Back in October, 28th to be precise, I said "in a week" I'd post pictures of this bass. It's been a long week, but here they are. #99. Called "Ginner."

Since completing this assembly and setup, I have played this bass twice weekly at church.

Something's new there: Little post-its on my music that say things like B-4 or M-0 or N-1.
They're reminders to roll to the bridge or neck pickup or the center detent which is both. This is the middle knob.

The lower knob is the Tonestyler. The numbers in my top secret alphanumeric code refer to clicks from the most bass position, which would correspond to "off" on a volume knob. (The top knob is a master volume.)

The amp stays set the same, no preamp fiddling, no foot pedals, just click and go. Sounds sort of like some kind of kitchen floor cleaning gizmo, but it's not. It's an astounding upgrade to a Barker Bass.

A word about Ginner. I had targeted that bass to be my own from the beginning. There was a flaw in the body--not easy to find, but I knew where it was. It couldn't go out the door as a typical representative of the marque, so it stayed around, its future marked boldly: "For Lee."

One year at NAMM we met some delightful men from China who were vending instrument hardware. They were our neighbors across the aisle. We became friends, and they were intrigued with the Barker Bass. On our last day there, they insisted I take a set of their tuning machines. I graciously accepted, out of a sense of diplomacy as well as professional curiosity about less expensive instrument hardware. The machines went into the same figurative drawer as the marked body.

And there was that endpin that Rod, my welder (really, that's his name) missed--the plate a little askew from the shaft.

And Stew at Nordstrand had been gently reminding me that he thought a set of split coils would sound really good in a Barker. I bit on that one. More in the drawer.

And there was this orphan neck. It was not quite "right" but I knew that I could make it work for me.

It looked like an ideal platform for testing the Stellartone.

In fact, I could test the Tonestyler on any Barker B1--it leaves no marks or scars--but I was convinced, from Will Witt's experience with his B1-5 and my playing the Brio here, that this was going to be right down my teacup.

I like it a lot. Ginner will be around a long time.

She's named after my mother, who died in mid October. Mom survived the Depression by getting by. She was a saver: "You never know when you might need one of these..." She was genius at making do. She would appreciate that I built in her honor not a perfect, top-o'-the-line bass, but one characterized by the triumph of using what's at hand. #99. Unique. Of humble origins. Stands tall.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Unretouched Photos

December 9, 2008: I stepped out the shop door last night, headed home, stepped back in and grabbed my camera. Enough said.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Words And Their Intrinsic Artisticossity

That's a Wordle. I did it here: It's Linda's fault, she's the one who put me on to pasting a block of text and then tweaking it to make it art. I selected stuff from the Jaguar Amplifiers web site. How does it strike you? Does it stand on its own art feet? Does it additionally pull you into to some ideas, some concepts, that speak not to the other, but to the original object of the text?

I love words. I got that from my dad, who was born the son of a printer, became one himself, working for years both full time and part time as a Linotype operator in the days of pots of hot lead. That alone would not necessarily facilitate the leap to wordsmithing, so perhaps his dad, who did considerable writing, fostered the passion.

(I must inject this: In the latest Wireless catalog, the vendor of cuteness to the Public Broadcasting Fans of the World, there's a shirt that reads, "I'm a Wordsmith, which is like Blacksmith, only without the tools and fire and stuff.")

I have always enjoyed the attempt to find the right words, and the music in them, but I never spent much time ogling letters in combination. Linda, however, the Mrs. Barker of Barker Musical Instruments, is a self taught graphic artist who gets excited about typefaces.

She created the B logo for the Barker Bass, and is responsible for much of our print stuff.

Now I can't write something without wondering what typeface ought to be used. And I admire the results when someone else nails it.

Henry Clift is the powerhouse behind Jaguar Amplifiers. He's the persistent type, with the 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration ratio hardwired into his genes. He starts with an idea and proceeds doggedly until it is realized.

You can read the story on the Jaguar Amplification web site,

I like the way his bass amp sounds. My oh my. And I like the way those typefaces look.
And on top of that, his story is Wordle-Worthy.

(To see that Wordle in a bigly way, just click on it!)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gregg Juke and the Mighty Web Site

It's got rhythm: Gregg Juke and the Mighty No-Stars. Start tapping your foot in a strong 4, and say those words. Bah Bop a da BoP ah BaDah. It's practically the whole song.

Last week on American Routes on public radio, Nick Spitzer did a long piece on the Meters, a funk band from New Orleans. One of the good stories was of their trip in their Mercury station wagon (just right, huh?) when the motor sucked two pistons but kept running and produced, for these four opportunistic, creative players, a beat that they converted to a song. My visual image is their lurching down the highway, a 2-laner, of course, smoke chuffing from the back of this faded yellow land barge, and hands on both sides out the window, thumping on the roof (Mercuries resonate particularly well in my imagination)in complex time.

Since then I've been sensitive to rhythmic opportunities, but in the end I come back to words.

Words like "full disclosure." Joel Thomas is a bass player who endorses the Barker Bass. He is the bassist in Gregg Juke and the Mighty No-Stars. And that's how I got to their newly-minted web site.

It's a dandy. In fact, as I was reading through it, I kept noting how well it was written. This was puzzling in its uniqueness, given what we often encounter in the way of words at band sites. The No-Stars paragraphs have panache. They fit the photos.

Though they don't put it up in a banner, I think there's a mission statement in the text, thoughtfully woven. Again I am wondering about the quality of the writing when I come across the part about Gregg Juke being a published writer. And we know he likes to read, and it's not just comic books, though he has the platinum self esteem to include them in his list.

And back to the photos. Ok, I give them a 7 for the ultra quaintness of the brick building with the creaky wooden staircase, but I'm up to a 10 for the messages on the faces. These are guys you'd invite to your table between their sets at your family reunion. (Provided Melvin wasn't there; he always tells the same trucker and accountant jokes. I get the feeling these guys have heard them all, too.)

There's something else on this site I have never seen before. They honor the subs. My observation is that most bands kinda mumble names when there's somebody new sitting in because Leon had the epizootic and couldn't get off the sofa. Not these guys. They put their pictures right up there, practically giving them equal billing, honoring them for what they are: heroes of the first water, willing to head to the front lines and see action when they're needed.

See what I mean? This is a site of sites.

Spend a little time.

Ponder that painting on the bricks. How'd they do that?

Now I think they owe me a T-shirt. Size L. I'll pay the postage. I didn't say all that much nice, and besides it's all true, nearly.

I'm headed back there to listen to some blooz:

A Mercury Station Wagon is about all they need. Faded yellow if you can.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What's At The Center Of Good?

"Passion," Cyndi said. I hadn't seen her for maybe months, and we go way back. I hadn't really asked a question directly. We just crossed trails in the produce section at the grocery store Saturday and so we stopped to chat. She was talking about managing her office and inspiring her staff, and she kept coming back to the word.

I wouldn't have thought of the word when I was looking about for a company to do the Barker Bass website, 5 or 6 years back. I just knew I wanted it to look good.

Just like every neighborhood seems to have a guy with a Sears tablesaw in the middle of his garage which he refers to as his "cabinet shop", so does every extended family have someone who "has done a whole lot of web sites and he/she could do yours, and fast too!" Right. And they do it in their spare time, no doubt. If you pursue this line of thought, I'll guarantee you'll find a bunch of not so good sites and many broken hearts before you're done looking.

If you have not been to the Barker site, you can get a flavor of it by looking at the header here. More?

Turn down your subwoofer, ignore the flash, and look around like you had just been ushered into a garden. It's beauty everywhere, at least that's how I see it. And I don't say that because it's mine, I say that because the man behind it, Ian Blackie, envisioned the colors first, passionately, and has done the work since. We talked about palette before we had prepared a word of text or talked about taglines or discussed what I wanted the site to do.

Ian comes from printing. Sounds odd, doesn't it. You'd think a good web designer would come from techie stuff, from flash and html and the eerie Land of Codes. If I had it to do again--not likely--I'd look for someone with an eye for color. It all seems to start from there, and if there's passion at the center of good, there can be only one outcome.

Even now, after years, if I am imagining an addition to a page, we'll talk about the colors and how we want it to tie together and where we want the first impressions to land.

That might seem odd for a site that's about an instrument that makes music, but it's not. Our concern is about first impressions.

I get a lot of compliments on the site. They're usually in the superlative, and have never been followed with a conditional or exception. I'm remiss in not passing these sweeping words of praise on to Ian, who is at

His passion shows in his work and we shouldn't let that slip by. We need passion at the center of good more than ever.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My Shadow is Bigger

"I see how your instruments sound so good--it's because of what you put into them, with your hands. Can a factory, where everything is controlled and precise, get the same quality, along with consistency?"

That's not the kind of question I can answer (though I stumbled at it, hands in front of face), nor is it the kind of question I expected from a high school kid who spent the afternoon with me in the shop and the office.

His name is Brandon, and boy howdy can he ask questions. Good ones.

It wasn't a random matchup. When he was asked by his job shadow advisor where he'd like to spend a few real-world hours, he said, in humor, "at a guitar maker's shop." He didn't know there was such a place, but the advisor did, and the connection was made. An afternoon seemed to me like an easy enough contribution. Meantime Brandon had prepared his resume (and, yes, there were jobs other than ones with the word "pizza" in them) and a portfolio of his interests and abilities.

He is a musician, and though it wasn't written there, I'll tell you he is gifted. He writes, he plays guitar, drums and bass, and he hears stuff. And, it seems, he hears it in layers he can unpack so others can recreate his ideas in ensemble.

It's clear that he loves music and instruments and all that surrounds that. He also likes innovation and problem-solving. We had lots to talk about. I had plenty of listening to do. I think my plateful of learning that day was bigger than his.

If we, at any age, think back to how we learned about the workplace, how we act in it, and how it eventually became demystified for us, we might even go out and look for opportunities like the one that stumbled through my phone--a chance to host a high school student for half a day and answer some questions and ask some, too. It's a very good thing to do.

You might be the one hitting the bouncing base hit that allows the 18 year old runner to advance to third, poised to score her or his first real job on an intentional career path.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rolling From Interest to Passion

Cooper is 5 years old and lives next door to us. "Is that an easel?" he asked as I was unloading one of Linda's one day. "Yep," I responded, pausing to gauge his interest. It was there. "Artists use them to hold their work while they're painting or drawing," was my See Spot Run description.

He turned nonchalant, bouncing his basketball. "I have an easel too. I use it every day. I'm going to be a professional illustrator when I grow up." I realized I was the one who was about to get the learning.

Cooper has a passion. Early. But some of us start with interest which might not go anywhere.

That would be my case with astronomy. Interest. If I see an interesting volume at a used book sale, I might buy it, might not. Might read it, might not. But I would read it with interest.

Linda and I met Will Witt some years ago at a BassQuake in the Bay Area. He was with his cousin, who is a demonstrative, enthusiastic musician who took to the Barker Bass right away. He ooohed and aaaahd and played it and backed away from it to view it from all angles. Will hung back.

As I write this today Will leaves California, with his Barker Bass, to play in Papua, New Guinea and eventually to Singapore. And doubtless some other places. The band is called Kokua, which means "to help or assist" in Hawaiian.

Will's interest in the Barker Bass, seemingly slow blooming at first, has turned to a passion.

He took bass lessons from Doug Mancini, another Barker player, in Santa Cruz.

In recent years he has grabbed every opportunity to play all sorts of music with lots of different musicians at a wide variety of venues.

He has become an anchorman in our NAMM booth, ready with the invitation to play, helpful with the explanation of the notions behind the design of the bass, and eager to demonstrate how easy it is to play.

And he hands out postcards. One year, after Gene Simmons had stopped by the booth with his son and a film crew, we were all standing around stunned while Will trekked off down the aisle and handed some Barker postcards to Mr. Simmons. That's passion.

It was Will who took the time a year ago to drive to the Barker Headquarters in Central Oregon to help us conceive and, humbly, to star in, some YouTube videos. And it was all his original music.

This is the young man who was hanging back while his effusive cousin took the spotlight.

When you meet Will you get a sense that his passions are deep and that, in his life, they will lead his decisionmaking.

We are grateful that part of his passion is expressed through his playing a Barker.

It's likely that Cooper will indeed become an illustrator, and that he will be as good in his calling as Will is in his. It is a privilege to be present to watch them both.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Followup on the Stellartone Tonestyler Newness

Last night at home I spent over an hour on the B1 with the new setup: Nordstrand split coil pickups, with the electronic configuration shown in the image on the previous post. Top pot is volume, the center pot is a blend. Roll it clear one way, get the neck pickup, clear the other way, get the bridge pickup, and stop at the center detent and you get both 100%.

Here's the cool thing: volume remains constant through that movement. My oh my. And no hum.

Bottom pot is the Tonestyler, part #506, especially for bass.

The first thing I noticed was the fullness of tone. If you own a Barker Bass, particularly a B1, you know fullness of tone. I heard more yet. Sort of like discovering fourth gear when you're doing 90 in third (not that I've ever done that, of course, ahemmmm).

Now about the Tonestyler itself, the bottommost pot. It has detents, a most wonderful addition to this sort of thing. Rather than look down to see where the set screw is on the knob, or trust your muscle memory to move the pot just like you did last time, only in reverse direction, you just need to count the clicks!

The sounds I personally prefer are those on the bass side of things, and in running through a bunch of show tunes with a CD I was moving from full bass or one click past that in the ballads to up about 4 clicks for eighth and sixteenth note parts where I wanted more definition and a little more cut-through.

You'll find your sweet spot, or rather sweet spots somewhere along that delicious 16 click spectrum, and the gem of all this is that you can go back and get that exact sound whenever you need to.

And what a sound. Oh shut up, I heard someone over my shoulder say. Ok, ok, I'll not go back to that.

I'll just Thank Don Campbell and his company, Stellartone, for offering something with real substance to the electric players of the world. The Barker Beanie is off to you, Don!

In the next week I'll get some pictures of this bass, #99. Actually, she doesn't look any different from her siblings. Disguised. Stealth Barker. Beware.

Perhaps she'll go trick-or-treating with me. I'll dress up like an old guy who likes to make tall basses.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Relentless Innovation vs. Let It Be

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

If that bromide had been extant when Leo Fender's Precision Bass had been accepted by the world, how little we'd have now. For sure, we wouldn't have the Jazz Bass. The idea of not one, but two pickups! Wow!

The initial decision at Barker Musical Instruments to use the traditional, single coil Jazz Bass electronic array was a conscious one: It represents a known, it is versatile enough to respond to an array of tonal demands from players of many different schools, and it just looks, well, right.

The later decision to add the Precision Bass configuration in the lower cost (well, we like to say, "more accessible" but this time I'm not going to) Brio model was partly to honor Leo's groundbreaking instrument and partly to offer a choice. Both layouts have their passionate adherents.

Will you see more of this movement toward complexity from Barker Musical Instruments? Well, on my watch, you probably won't see anything approaching the image above on the right. (The gentle pejorative is "knob farm" but in fact there are wonderful bassists, especially the extended range players like Stew McKinsey ( and Gregory Bruce Campbell (, whose breadth of musical ability and imagination respond to options way beyond what we mere mortals can grasp.)

Still I attempt to remain open to subtle improvements that can combine with the inherent and unique sonic virtues of the Barker Bass--tone and sustain, mainly--to lead the player's hands to discover something new, exciting and useful.

The image on the left is the underbelly of an exciting option to the Barker Bass. I have mentioned with some anticipation the Stellartone Tonestyler. Now, thanks to Don Campbell from that company, I have combined it with a slightly different wiring scheme that changes the Jazz configuration from volume, volume, tone to volume, pickup blend (with center detent), Stellartone. The first one off the bench, tuned and plugged in, gave me goose bumples from note 1.

It is an outstanding improvement. In time, the parts and schematic will be available on the Barker site ( for retrofit and it will also be possible to order this configuration on an otherwise stock B1 four or five string.

The Stellartone Tonestyler also brings new shades and sweep of tone to the Brio, in a simple replacement of the tone pot.

Like your Barker as it is? Let it be.

Want a little more? We can do that.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


"Virginia, you must not sing. Do not ever sing." That was her stepmother, the piano teacher. The little girl looked down at her ragged shoes, looked up, and when it was clear there was no more to be heard, turned and walked quietly away.

She didn't sing. But when her daughter was old enough for band, somehow the family came up with a clarinet. There wasn't a lot to do in that little Montana town, so the daughter got good enough on that clarinet to get some college scholarship money.

She could sing, too. That, went the story, came from her dad, but that conclusion was reached in the absence of what she might have gained, both genetically and experientially, from her mother.

Her son, two years junior, sought the trumpet. Those were the guys who got to stand up and play solos, after all. What's not to like about trumpet? But through a couple of strange twists, he ended up lugging an old, silver, dented Eb upright tuba home.

Practice sounds in that small house couldn't have been anything close to enjoyable.

He, too, excelled on his instrument. No solos, but plenty of encouragement at home. And eventually at one college, after auditioning, heard, "I'll match any scholarship you get offered anywhere else." He landed at a different school for other reasons, where the tuba contributed four years of scholarship money.

The third child, somewhat later, is a singer like her sister, and took to the guitar, mostly as self accompaniment. She, too, would talk of the encouragement.

Virginia was proud of her kids, but never prouder than they were of her when, as a widow who had scarcely ever had a job, she went to business school, graduated at the head of her class, and took a position as a medical secretary. She eventually retired from that office.

Things looked good. She had purchased a house on her own and her three children were grown and gone and making their way in the world.

"You have two choices, Virginia," the doctor said. "Either stay here in Montana and die or go to Seattle and take a course of experimental treatment. Aplastic anemia is fatal."

She opted for the experiment. That was 1981. In the course of the treatment she was getting one or two blood transfusions a week. When that series was completed, she moved near her son. No one knew how long she'd live...a few days? a month? six weeks? six months? It's the stuff you don't talk about. When the subject comes up, you look down at your shoes, look back up, and walk away.

She lived to get to know and love her five grandchildren and four greatgranchildren. Plus two stepgrandchildren and three greatgrandchildren from them.

All these kids are growing up knowing the power of encouragement that she modeled. All will know her story, of conquering a fatal disease and living not days, not weeks, but 27 more years.

Virginia Barker died October 14, 2008 at age 90. She was preceded in death by her husband, Brentwood Barker, in 1968. She is survived by her daughters, Bernie and Cathy, and her son, Lee.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Anatomy of a Part

This might be boh-ring. I'll try for scalpel-like editing and terse sentences.

It was clear in the early aesthetic evolution of the Barker Bass that something needed to happen in the center of the lower bout. The tailpiece was the logical reference to the vaguely ancestral orchestral bass.

At the same time I had imagined a bass with extra long strings that went through a custom bridge and then were gathered near the top of the tailpiece, just as orchestral bass strings attach there.

That concept was a failure for a number of reasons, the most compelling of which was the bother of the longer strings. I wanted owners to be able to access the delightfully wide range of available standard length electric bass strings in order to plumb the depths of the sonic possibilities of the Barker body. (terse sentence score: -14)

Another downside of this string-gathering idea was the necessity to remove the tailpiece to change strings. Not attractive, as were the screws to allow that.

So along with the upside of the sleek tailpiece came the challenge of attaching it in such a way that, while the fasteners were invisible, the tailpiece itself could still be removed in the prelude to a refinish job sometime downstream.

It took a while. I keep a gallery of failures on my wall, silent sentinels reminding me of ways not to make a Barker Bass. They are indeed my friends, and the idea of relegating them to the dumpster was repugnant.

Poring over unlikely catalogs of fasteners finally yielded the answer: A "semi-permanent" (their words) two piece attachment device which, though inexpensive on a per each basis, required considerable development in the preparation of the mating surfaces and the eventual development of a purpose-built machine dedicated just to inserting the part into the tailpiece. (terse sentence score: -21)

The machine is named after Jim Erickson, longtime co-member of the Dry Canyon Philharmonick, who was helping me in the shop at the time. I will subsequently take a picture of the machine and back-post it on the blog (translation: the camera is at home).

Violin family instruments typically and traditionally have ebony tailpieces which match the ebony fingerboard and provide a nice visual completion of that strong central line. I preferred not to use ebony for the tailpiece and save that highly valued wood for fingerboards, its highest and best use.

The next deep challenge of the tailpiece was to make it look so much like ebony there would never be a question whether it actually was. Again, over time, the solution was developed to a measurable degree beyond my highest expectations. (TSS: -9)

Most think it's ebony. You are now on the inside! Maybe it was worth the unterse sentences!

Thus ends this brief exposition on the history and development of the tailpiece, a visual component of the Barker Bass unique to the B1 series. How it got there is still cloaked in a little mystery, but somewhat less than when you started this boh-ring post.

Not bad, eh?

I know, I can do better.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Escape to Beauty

The point is to get away from it, right? Take a vacation, go to someplace different, get your mind reoccupied. And, for the most part, my journey to Washington DC with Joel Barker accomplished that.

Except, that is, for today's two illustrations, both from the National Museum of Art. Consider first the image with the columns. The person there is actual. That make's those marble beauties tall. Awe inspired, I looked up a long time before I looked down. It was then that I saw the beauty: In the base. I suspect few focus there, but the curves, the taper, the proportions all I thought were inspirational.

Second, a sculpture in a corner. There's something delightful in looking at the representation of a scene with kids and there's no adult there saying "don't!".
But more than that, here's a budding bass player! Note the date--about 1776.

Too many strings for a player of my ilk, but an Adam Nitti or a Stew Mckenzie or a Gregory Bruce Campbell would be playing that thang raht now.

So, base, bass, it's a channel I can't turn off in my head, and being surrounded those few hours by that art may indeed have some subtle effect on some small part of the Barker Bass one day. Design is never done. And that's good.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Four Days in the Capital of the United States

It was a gift from Joel Barker: Let's go to DC!

We spent four days there under perfect skies, among skimpy crowds, spreading our time from the sublime (The Lincoln Memorial) to the delightful (A Smithsonian exhibit chronicling Jim Henson's work and the life of the Muppets). All recommended. Only the most calcified heart would not be moved by the power and simplicity of the Viet Nam War Memorial. Only the most disinterested citizen would not recommit to more involvement in the life and health of the the country after seeing the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution in the National Archives.

The atmospheric space devoted to the Wright Brothers and their accomplishments (Smithsonian Air and Space Museum) shows not only the separate and distinct personalities of the siblings but also their exquisite work as bicycle makers and their intentional, scientific approach to unlocking the secrets of flight. Anyone interested in developing something better from something less can benefit from a study of the Wrights.

Inscribed on one wall of the Lincoln Memorial is, of course, the Gettysburg Address, long held as a stunning example of writing. On the opposite wall is the text of his second inaugural address. Less known, just as compelling. The man could write, and he could write from his personal pain through his love of his country.

Seeing these sorts of things is a remarkably inexpensive project, once you're there. We walked. Everywhere. If you'd rather not do that but don't care for the bus route, you can take a Segway tour. All the Smithsonian is free admission; likewise the National Gallery of Art, the Archives, and the Museum of Natural History. (The latter received heavy lobbying from the dinosaur interests, evidently. They're everywhere!)

More specifics about the bass allusions in the next post, next week.

For now, start looking for bargain fares.

(note: I just discovered you can click on the images to get a closer view. The Segways are worth it.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Silver Lining

"It's the economy" is to contemporary conversation as the Stanley Do-All is to the homeowner's toolbox.

What's to learn every day is how we're all affected, worldwide, and in that way connected more than we were aware even just yesterday.

Yet there are those who thrive. My neighbor to the Barker Musical Instruments brick and mortar sells supplies to auto body shops. That industry seems plenty busy, what with folks hanging onto the older car, maybe fixing it up a bit, rather than signing off on some 30k rolling stock with payments that ramble into the future like a restless cosmic cowboy.

It is not a truism that entertainment is doomed in a down economy. Extreme example: during the depression, the movie business thrived. It was the escape value, of course, but isn't that what entertainment is?

I have stumbled across an entertainment, mostly local to France, which offers us musicians hope.

It's called Les Joutes. Roughly translated, "The Jousts." But not ahorseback, no, this is on boats. Sometimes rowed, sometimes outboardmotored, these graceful craft have a platform high astern where the jouster--in status and limited skillset, think Sumo Wrestler--stands adored. And, as you can easily imagine, the boats approach each other and the jousters, armed with blunted lance and a shield patterned after a cafeteria tray with dividers to keep the green beans out of the meatloaf, attempt to encourage the opponent's imminent interface with the water below. Great fun.

And pageantry. And color. And music! Live music!

And, according to the article I read (Sebastian Rotella, LA Times), "...It is a point of pride that no one, except the musicians, makes money off jousting."

Hey! There it is!

Having provided this cheerful piece of news, I'm signing off for a week. Look for the next post downstream...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hand Made, Hand Played

The arrival of the UPS driver is not an unpleasant thing, it's just a routine thing. And while it interrupts the task flow of a one-person day, it often produces some latent peace because now you have the 500k pots, or the peculiar fasteners, or some expected shipment of something important.

Often those boxes come from AllParts, a Texas business which furnishes many of the small hardware parts on Barker Basses. Their warehouse is Houston, so my mind of late has been focused on my favorite rep there, Sean, and how he and his colleagues are faring through the aftermath of Ike. I will report when I hear from them.

Today's visit by the driver was completely unexpected--a small box, book shaped. Just a catalog, I thought, but I didn't recognize the return address: Sterling Publishing.

You may know that marque better as Lark Books. Inside was the latest, Hand Made, Hand Played: The Art and Craft of Contemporary Guitars by Robert Shaw.

Mr. Shaw had contacted me over two years ago and I had furnished him some stuff--image files the size of the Grand Tetons, and text to go with--and had heard nothing else. I checked a couple times and emails got returned, so I presumed the project had been shelved.

But no!

There's a Barker Bass, page 375. The first bass entries are Fender, two pages, followed by Barker and some Bs but then the alphabetization theory falls apart.

I have had the honor of meeting some of the folks behind some of these best o' breed beauties--like David Minnieweather of Portland, Oregon and Skip Fantry of Knuckle Guitar Works in Seattle.

When you compare the number of basses in the book to the guitars, it ups the honor of being included. I am humbled.

The book would be a delight for anyone interested in instruments, pushing the limits of craftsmanship, or just beauty in form, wood and texture. And then there's art.

In the latter category, just in the bass section, my vote goes to the Goldbass by Claudio Pagelli of Scharans, Switzerland. In miniature, it would make a stunning pendant worn by that woman in the little black dress.

I could find no mention of this fresh-off-the-press book on the Lark website, so perhaps this is pre-publication. But it's not too early to be thinking about seasonal gifts, and asking after it at Barnes and Noble or your local independent bookseller.

And keep an eye out for the UPS driver. You never know...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Standing in the Shadows of....Los Angeles? Todd?

"Standing in the Shadows of Motown" should be required viewing for all aspiring musicians. It's a documentary of a unique time in the recording business, but much of what you see will resonate as UME (Universal Musician Experience). It's about earning a living. And it's a movie that mentors.

Tuesday September 9 on NPR's Day to Day program I heard a four minute story about a documentary film that we may likely not be able to see. Too bad: It's about top west coast jazz players who--no surprise--earned a living.

Here's the link to the story:

We hear Carol Kaye, the pioneering California-based Fender bassist of that era, talking about the bass line she played on "Good Vibrations" of Beach Boys fame.

In his book "Bass Heroes", Brian Mulhern begins her chapter this way: "In the beginning, there was Carol Kaye."

I was fortunate to meet her several years ago. She is the paragon of the gracious musician, listening well and freely sharing of her experience. At the time she was keeping up active online conversations with bassists who had questions.

As musicians, we are fortunate to be able to connect with brothers and sisters who not only earn their living as musicians, but also are kind and generous enough to allow us access to their stories and their knowledge.

Todd Johnson reigns as the best example of this type of young player. Much of his time and energy go into producing educational materials for bassists--and it is very good stuff--and yet he is also right there in the trenches, "earning a living." When he is not on the road, he is one busy local player. And clinician. And then--in his spare time, heh heh--he is expanding the role of the bass with his revolutionary 6-string chordal approach. He must take vitamins regularly.

Mentors--film, radio, dvd, clinic--we thank you for your gifts.

Monday, September 8, 2008

For now, giving up the Ghost

Friday witnessed a moment of clarity regarding my ongoing year long dance with the Graph Tech Ghost setup with the peizo pickups in the bridge.

I decided not to work on that for now. This is in spite of a finished body with all the necessary routing and prep work, including a special on-the-back dual battery case area.

The New Plan: Finish Leo's setup (this week) and then, as time allows, finish the ghostly B1 fretted four with Nordstrand J-bass pickups and the new Stellartone rig with a pan pot. I need to know how this is going to work, and the sooner the better. There is not a lot of time for tinkering at the present, so I want the projects to be focused and current.

There was considerable relief at this decision. That says enough.

Meantime, we are left with the question, "what happens with a peizo installed in a Barker?" If you can help, I think you'd have a lot of instant friends hanging on your every word of assessment once your project was completed.

I take comfort in the truth that an awful lot of "uprightness" can be achieved on the Barker with string choice and right hand finger finesse.

The Brio I've been playing regularly, with flatwounds, had a very woody quality to it. I did not go the next step--black tapewounds--but I think that would have brought more. I was happy with the combination of attack and mwah from that setup so I did not want to run to third base and then have to trot back to second. I just can't be that nonchalant.

I'm not even good at knocking the mud off my cleats.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pins on the Map

This last weekend I drove solo north to Seattle to help my sister and brother-in-law pack up stuff and pretty up their house as they prepare to move to Montana. Seattle can be a baffling place to drive, but I made it straight to their house--on Magnolia--with the help of a map courtesy Google.

Leo Goff's post on the forum mentions that there are now two Barker Basses in his town, Eads, Tennessee. And there will be three when I get his custom fretless four done. If I don't hear it by the end of the day, at least I'll have seen a needle bounce and know that there are excitable electrons on board.

Early in the life of Barker Musical Instruments I knew--by memory--where all the basses were, and I could even come close on what serial number was where. That moved into a time with too many to recall so I bought a map.

It's a US map, and a big 'un, 32 x 48 inches. I didn't really need it that big, I just like maps.

(If you share that quirk, check out and take a look at your state. Or your country. These people have taken maps to a level that enables you to convince your significant other that you have a piece of art that deserves to go right here, hanging on this wall!)

My US map in the office is more pedestrian than a Raven (I have those at home) and it's mounted on bulletin board material (burlap covered Homasote to be specific) so I can push pins into it with impunity.

Then came Germany. And Japan. And England. And Venezuela. So, shucks, I needed yet another map!

These are humbling things for me to look at.

The heartless business analyst would take a quick glance at the US map and say, "You're obviously not selling many in the Midwest! You've got to figure out a way to make the Barker attractive to those Norwegian Bachelor Farmers, and to the catfish noodlers of Oklahoma! A squiggly line from North Dakota to Arkansas wouldn't bump into a single pin!"

I, on the other hand, look at all the other pins and I think of the interesting bass players I have spoken to and, in many cases, met, and I feel just plain grateful.

Maps can help you get where you're going. Don't leave for Seattle without one.

And they can remind you where you've been.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sale Bass Details and Mike Huckabee explainer

The details on the basses on sale:

Brio #12, fretted four, in lovely blue. List $2595; Street $1995. Sale: $1595

Brio #13, lined fretless four, java. LIst $2595; Street $2195. Sale: $1755

B1 #89, fretted four, dark walnut. List $3795; Street $2895. Sale: $2355

Price includes stand, stand bag and gig bag.

And--get this--shipping is FREE in the USA!

(International buyers will receive a $75 credit)

Now is a very good time to step up to one of these Barkers--it's fair to say you'll not see prices this low again.

Pay by credit card (MC or Visa) or Paypal. toll free: 888.899.8302

Now on to Mike Huckabee. The Governor of Arkansas will be in Central Oregon for the High Desert Men's Summit on September 13. He is the keynote speaker, and is also scheduled to play bass on a few tunes.

Bassist for the specially selected all-star local band is Craig Brown, who will be playing a Barker B1 5 string fretted for the two days of the event. Mike will be sitting in for Craig. So likely Mike will play a bass guitar (he usually plays a four string) but he will see and hear the Barker there.

The Barker shop (factory and office) is about a mile from the event.

Now it is my job, as creator, luthier, promoter and general Idea Guy to figure out how to get to the point where stopping at Barker Bass is a Must Do for the Governor of Arkansas.

Your ideas and input are graciously invited!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Stealth info about Barkers On Sale

On our morning walk today Linda and I decided to put three Barker Basses on sale. What do you think, "end of summer" or "back to school" or "fall cleanup"?

We haven't worked out all the details yet, but here are the three that will be marked down:

A blue four string fretted Brio, a java four string lined fretless Brio, and a B1 fretted four.

And in addition to the markdown price, your choice will be shipped FREE in the US. That's about a $100 savings.

As always, this includes stand, stand bag and gig bag.

If you're out of the US, we'll help on the shipping.

This is the first public mention of the sale. It's just our way of saying thanks for reading the Blog.

I'm off to work on the finer points of the sale, and do some direct email marketing to folks who have expressed an interest in owning a Barker recently.

In the meantime, here's a wretched teaser: The next post, later this week, will include a substantive mention of Mike Huckabee on Bass.

It would appear that I've seen too many melodramas where, as the act ends, the lovely Prudence is lashed to the railroad tracks and the evil Mr. DeMummery has vowed to get the deed to her land and Milton Sanguine, who could solve all this in just a few minutes, is busy studying for his accounting exam. Delmar Bravelung, living alone in his mountain cabin where he restores riparian areas along the virgin rivers, has just realized that he must make his way to town to buy more Krusteaz Pancake Mix. Will he ride his Schwinn on the railroad right of way? Or will he walk the short way, leading his loyal llama on the dangerous trails crudely cut through the loose shale of Mount Crabapple?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Allow me to introduce...

That's folly, of course. If you're here, you know what Barker Bass is all about. So now we have a blog, a window into our company and, at times, into the scattershot thought processes of the owner.

I welcome your comments, your insights and your questions.

I will post twice a week, usually Monday then Wednesday or Thursday.

Today's shop project is to get three B1 basses in sequence for final assembly and stringup. One is Leo Goff's custom four string fretless (, notable for some aesthetic things as well as a little different electronic setup (more about that as we go along), and one will be, at least for a while, one of my players. It has the Graphtech Ghost bridge with peizo pickups, and I want to be with that option for a while so I can build an informed opinion about it. I may also tinker with some other things on that bass, provided they don't muddle one another up.

In creating testbeds there is an efficiency temptation to try several things at once. The result might be a flashy prototype but fuzzy information from the new ideas.

The music in my head today came from the Stolen Sweets ( who played the penultimate Music On the Green concert in Redmond last night. It's that tight harmony, lots of rhythm guitar, slightly swooping yet ratatat music of the 30's. It was so very well done, and the bass player was a Gibraltar back there, and the arrangements were so varied, intricate and clever, that the time went by way too fast. It was in that somewhat rare category where the art of music becomes an illusion in time (like a painting may become an illusion in space) and we were there but not there. It was good to experience that with Linda (Barker) and Rex (Gatton) our guitar player friend and colleague of many years.

And rain threatened. The crowd, however, was bumbershot in preparation. Bumbershooted. Umbrellized. And on went the show.