Friday, October 30, 2009

High Desert Swap Meet, Part 5: The Unusual Things Which Followed Me Home

Of course I spent some money. This is most definitely a Hunt and Gather expedition, and to return home to the cave without something of a trophy nature would be counter-masculine.

The small brass hinged Object of Great Mystery captivated me from the first view, but I put it down and walked on by. And I came back, and back again, like a persistent cell phone salesperson. I finally dredged up the lucre, and now I own the conundrum. What the heck is it? John Grey was proud enough of this design to have his name and--we thank you John--his profession cast into each and every one. But precisely what it did in that craft is beyond me. Your questions and theories are welcome, and there are a few more detail photos available if you desire them via email.

The second purchase had no mystery about it--a prop blade is a prop blade. Come to think of it, there was but one, so you might ponder where the sibling or siblings are. But no matter. Leaning up against a table, it presents a casual but not engaging presence.

Stand it on its hub, however, and it becomes instant art, 42 vertical inches of organic, graceful surfaces poised to slice the negative space, and that is what made this aluminum piece no kin to the brass: I was not leaving that booth without owning the blade.

It is on a table in the living room. The long term plan is for its own pedestal, either tabletop or floor, and therein would be some machinery which will cause it to rotate, slowly and randomly.

Years ago a musician friend here purchased a Paddi Moyer sculpture titled "Rain." It was essentially a bronze of a male Native American's head, but it was solidly in the category of art. He mounted it on a turning table in his living room, and as you rotated it, it would evoke different emotions. That experience taught me that three dimensional art benefits from various points of view.

The motor seems like a fun alternative to the slightly impractical pedestal-in-the-center-of-the-living room scenario.

The semi permanent home of the brass fur designer widget has not been determined at this writing. Perhaps John Grey will read this post and comment.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ed Goode's Six String Stellartone Barker Bass Project

We have no English word equivalent to the German "schadenfreude" (taking joy at others' troubles). Likewise we have no word for looking backwards and taking pleasure in what you did to get to where you are.

There are three parts to the joy of this project. First has been the association with Ed, the client, who is a bassist out of New Jersey. You can see some wonderful images of him playing on that site, as well as a detailed chronicle of the progress of this project.

The second look-forward-to-every-day part was the newness of the concept. What if, Linda and I had wondered, someone sent me a bass (guitar) that he or she liked, and I converted it to a Barker--same electronics, same neck, just the upright playing position and all the benefits that offers.

Obviously cosmic forces intersected: Ed's desire to move beyond his 5 string Barker to a 6, along with our interest in giving this process a try. The newness, the headscratching, the 3am insights, the doubling back to make sure that the next forward step was as unencumbered as possible--all these dispense oodles of endorphins from head to hands.

And the third part was getting a glimpse into the world of extended range basses. I know some players: Stew McKinsey and Gregory Bruce Campbell and Edo Castro, for example, and Fred Bolton of McMinnville, Oregon, who makes basses for the likes of these guys.

The thinking here led me into questions relative to, "when does a scooter become a motorcycle" and "when are heavy hors d'oeuvres actually a meal." It would seem that adding a 5th string to the long-accepted four of the bass was ok. Adding overdrive doesn't change the carness of a car.

But adding a sixth required not only a different player approach to the instrument but also new nomenclature. "Six String Bass" approaches the "Fourth Trimester" category. So now we have ERB: Extended Range Bass. Fair enough. And I'm honored to have been let through the gate and onto the range as an ex officio observer. I can't claim a place in the luthier's corral yet, but my boots prove I've been close.

Looking back, I embrace the three joys of the process. Nominations for a word to express that are welcomed!

Monday, October 12, 2009

High Desert Swap Meet Redmond Oregon part 4: Rat Rods and the Pendulum of Style

The beginning of hot rods, 1950: make it faster. The next step: make it original.

If you were in the first group, you spent your time under the hood. In those days, if you were dealing with an inline 6, you could actually stand on the garage floor, butt against the inside of a front fender, and be up close and personal with valves, carburetion and the conducting of high amperage spurts of electrical energy.

Second group? You know sandpaper, you know mallets and dollies, Bondo, primer, more sanding, masking, masked up, and the ultimate joy of wheeling her out into the sun for the first real look. You would see a part on an Oldsmobile and imagine how it could be blended into your Ford, and then go home and by golly do it.

I was a-fringe of all this my high school years, never having the resources for my own vehicle but enjoying riding shotgun with Jan, and Hank, and Ken.

The 90 weight lube and lacquer thinner didn't make it to my bloodstream but I did follow hotroddom through the years as a casual observer.

When they got to jacking up one side of a car at a car show and sliding a mirror under it to show the virginal perfection there, they lost me. It wasn't about go, it wasn't about how it looked to the girls as we cruised by and it ceased to be about clever adaptations of truck parts to car or converting three taillights on one side to sequential performance. Instead it was the manifestation of an obsessive compulsive disorder applied to the connections between shock absorbers and axles and the absolute perversity of chrome run amok.

Enter the Rat Rod. As I have drifted ever closer to the outward marge of the periphery I have not been able to chronicle the pendulum hitting Side Dead Center with a clang and subsequently breeding, on the antipode, the Rat Rod.

Functional, clearly done with a budget, joyously free, untouched by any kind of perfectionism and unequivocally devoted to the absolute independence of the creator, these machines are singing their siren song on a specific frequency. At last: hot rodding accessible to Everyman.

The images show several of them from the Swap Meet of September 2009, Redmond Oregon. I celebrate their existence, their presence, their uniqueness and sometimes, idly, wonder just how much money and how much welding it might take to get on board.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cayford's Barker Bass: Graphtech Ghost, Stellartone Tonestyler Upgrades, Part 1

Some owners of the Barker Bass have described the tone as "more of everything." One argument might be to keep it pure: "No fads or fancy stuff" as one advertiser used to say. The other argument is, why not make it better? To start with something that good and add enhancements might just be an exponential improvement. That was Cayford's line of thought as we pondered the possibility of adding the Graphtech Ghost which is a set of peizo pickups individually contacting each string via saddles in the Graphtech bridge, stock on the Barker B1 four. Why not, then, add the Graphtech Acousticphonic preamp? All it would take is a little room in the electronics bay and a battery case somewhere on board--and that is an easy assignment on a Barker.

This peizo process requires some excavation below the bridge, noted in the photos above. These tiny, individual wires are routed to the electronics cavity and joined on a summing board, thence to the preamp.

The battery requirement is nine volts, but having had a bad experience with a battery failing mid-gig, I always suggest a double case with only one battery wired in so there's a fresh spare on board. Cayford agreed to that. The case goes on the back, out of sight.

Then came that almost-predictable moment: Hand on chin, thoughtful, he said, "Hmmm, as long as we're at it, why not add the Stellartone Tonestyler too?" Great idea. I'm a vocal exponent of this elegant and practical addendum to any passive bass.

This required a fourth knob now--the only external suggestion to an audience viewer that he's not playing a stock Barker B1.

Shop mission is accomplished, and the bass is back to Cayford at this writing for his installation of the electronics. We'll do a followup interview and post it down the line. Whether it's a nuanced improvement or trumpet-fanfared Innovation of the Century remains to be seen. And heard. The delight is in the team effort and the possibility of yet another way the Barker claims its place among unique electric bass instruments.