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 www.ravenmaps.com 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.