Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New Retro Instant Vintage Barker B1 Bass

Mr Holly enjoyed looking at my wall of Barker Bass Mistakes.  Bass bodies that didn't make the grade.  That failed just late enough that they look done but never were.  Some that got assembled, and played, and then up and failed, for any of several reasons:  finish, material, unequal expansion of woody cells (splitting and cracking, in layperson language) or something I cannot remember. 

He picked out one and asked if I could make a bass out of that.  "Sure!"   There was nothing of failure about this bass body.  It must have been excluded from the line on a whim.  He sensed the quality apparently.

We worked out a price and a schedule and a down payment and I gathered parts.

So much is the same.  Sonically, the instrument has not changed since the beginning.  Esthetically, however, it has changed more than a teenager gone from home for a year of college 4000 miles away. 

Assembling this instrument for Mr. Holly has been a nostalgic journey.  I have come to appreciate how many little things are different, slightly or emphatically, from serial #1 (which you see hanging in the background).  Here is a picture of the first sounds that came from this rare birdseye pine bass:

Royal Thumpety, Batman!  Sounds great!  EMG pickups, which I'd had in stock but never used, have a nice, crisp sound with plenty of underneath.  The strings are LaBella Super Steps, which look odd on the bridge but  respond nicely and predictably.

And finally the formal portrait, having received the tailpiece, the monogram, the truss rod cover and the final buff.

And some closeups of this amazing piece of wood.

It looks like it was built 7 years ago or so, but no.  It's a New Retro Instant Vintage Barker B1 Bass, ready for some serious playing on Mr. Holly's porch.  Hand me that cord!  Plug in that amplifier!  Somebody count it off!


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Juniper. It's ubiquitous, it's thirsty and it makes many folks sneeze. Quite a tree, actually, especially if you admire survivors. I wouldn't say that we Central Oregonians are polarized by them.

In April the allergy prone would like to send a massive taser jolt through the desert so not one more grain of pollen would present itself. The rest of the time, ho hum. Until you talk about water conservation. How thirsty are they? There are multiple examples these days of ranchers selectively thinning the trees and finding, within a year, that springs that had dried up have returned.

According to Bruce Hemenway, "on average then, a 10 foot tall juniper tree will consume between 40 and 70 gallons of water a day." Left on their own they'll spread to about 50 trees per acre, he says. If they average 25 feet tall, then the water consumption, trees alone, not other vegetation, would be 5000 to 8750 gallons of water per day, every day of the year.

But there can be great beauty in the wood. I found and squirreled away two pieces which were clearly from the same tree and one day they spoke: front of a bass. That was several months ago. Patrick, New York State, has purchased this Barker Brio. It is a stunning beauty and sounds very clean and punchy. I could own that bass, but Patrick does.

One strives, as a luthier (or, as I prefer, instrument maker) to incorporate some standardization in production so that "the sound" of your instrument is predictable in all of them. Sure, there are surprises, but every now and then all the measurements come out right and the result is a bass that sings. This one makes a visual statement as compelling as its voice. One of a kind.

Congratulations Patrick!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Let's Stirrup Some Memories

County fair, theme above. What you're seeing here is my entry in the open class, Crafts, Woodworking, Other not listed above, Theme.

I got a first place and a smiley sticker on my tag. Prior years I have done various kinds of things, including furniture, but I've never tackled the theme before. All the metal parts, leather and shoe last were purchased at the scrap yard, thrift stores and garage sales. The indexing pins are brass. I thought that showed a certain level of style.

The bicycle part was inspired by recently seeing a picture of Linda C. and her sister Joanie, who lived across the street when we were kids. Joanie is developmentally disabled. She's a delightful person. She learned to ride a bike along with the rest of us, and would ride by on the street and let go of the handlebars with one hand and say, "Look at this!" We would clap or yell. Good for Joanie. A nice memory.

County fairs should be like that. A way to step back in time, to engage in conversations, to get past the "howyadoingfine" empty ritual and really talk. It's amazing what we'll share in a context like that, people milling about, cotton candy in Present Arms routines, kids asking dad for another string of tickets for the rides, hormonally oozing adolescents running in loose packs, talking loudly and jumping.

Conversations. The lady who canned the pickles. The kid who made the transformer out of sugar cubes. The commercial exhibitor who encourages you to lie down on the memory foam. (It didn't help--I can't remember his name.)

And there, perhaps oddly, was the city water department. Their goal, I would guess, was to increase awareness of our storm water system and our water treatment facility. We listened, enthralled, for fifteen or twenty minutes, asking questions, responding in amazement. The city appears to be doing a great job at the task, and I'd attribute that to the manager, with whom we were speaking. He was absolutely and thoroughly enthusiastic about his subject. Whodathunkit.

Lots of memories, hard to unstir.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Family Paint-O-Rama

The real puzzle is how to say thank you. We knew this was going to happen. We were in on the planning and we made the final decision on the colors. What we didn't anticipate was the joy and the humbling nature of seeing our four kids, their three spouses (and all six grandchildren, to complete the tally) descend on our unsuspecting domicile and transform it in one day. LiAndra (Andi)and Patrick (Maya, Bjorn) worked all week on the prep, caulking, abrading, adding trim. Joe and Sarah (Lily, Juni) replaced funky fascia, deshrubbified the margins, scraped and scraped. Down came the gutters. Joel showed up from Portland, Pete and Kelley (Emily, Liam) from Sacramento. Saturday they started at 9 and by 6 or so it was done enough that, when Linda returned from work, She got the full force of the newness. It forces a neologism: chromablitz. The cousins played, the trimmers trimmed and the polemen were wholly rolling. If you really like the four color combination--the front door will be reddish and there will be some whimsy in the garage door panels--we will sell you the Sherwin Williams Product Numbers. But we're keeping the kids. And the granderkids.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Everything went well until the final test.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Lines About the Finish

Three B1 bodies in the finish room. I've softened the darkness of the color a little, bringing some reds to the mix. I like it, but I think I'll go a notch further next time.
These will get six or seven coats of waterborne polyurethane. Specifically, General Finishes Polyacrylic. I find it to be superior to any other WB poly I have tried. The real discovery, though, was the Gramercy waterborne finish brush, shown. It is a synthetic bristle that doesn't load up with moisture.
It's the best distribution I have ever experienced with a brush. The detail picture shows the bristles actually conforming to the curvature of the edge instead of scraping it, which is what stiffer bristled synthetic brushes do. Upon completion of the well-documented coats, these will sit for a week before final rubout. And then assembly. And then stringup. And then tuning and testing. But I get ahead of myself.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Three B1fours

These are stock configurations with just a little tweakage. All are bookmatched cherry fronts, alder core and backs. One will end up in Nate's hands, a fretless version.
Marking the layouts and drilling for connectivity. I don't really know what that is, but I thought it made me sound just a little luthierish. (I do not consider myself a luthier, by the way. I make tools for musicians.)
Yes, those drill presses are spinning. I line up the bodies and do all the drilling at the same time. Neck bolts, control pots and knob countersinks, thimble hole and hatch fastener prebores.
Ready for squirtage. All the details have been routed and the floor swept.These are very carefully sanded to 150 grit, dents repaired, ready to finish one would think. But first they need a shower:
I like these images. You can see the water droplets leaving the squirter! Next day, just prior to final, final sanding to remove the fuzz from the grainraising events of the previous, last coat of barrier paint in the electronics cavity.
Now: final sanding and colorants. Whoop! Whoop!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pottering about the raw material part of the shop yesterday I came across some juniper. All of it was about 6" wide; 4 count of 8' boards. Juniper has more irregularities than a sack of yams. I had to do some serious cutting. I ended up with pieces 2 - 3 inches wide and suspiciously long enough to be a Barker Bass back. Hmm. So here you have the initial glueup. This piece will be set aside until I get done with the current batch of B1s. And then, maybe...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pedestal, Rotating, On Demand, One Each

From a drawer labeled "Motors and Controls" emerges a C-frame motor with a gearbox and a comparatively large pulley. Hmm. The size of the motor drove the height of the octagonal base. The motor,mounted on a hinge with a spring to bring it to tension with the inside of the turning part of the lazy susan bearing, had everything but traction. The solution was some fuel line, purchased at the reliable CentWise Hardware Store. I joined the two ends with a bolt cutoff, bent slightly. It does not slip. A curious feature of the motor was a brake. Remove the 110 volts and it stops rather quickly. I was concerned that might not be good, but I chose first to leave it engaged. It's fine. Kinda cool, actually. The switch on the box inside the base lets you select off, continuous, or on demand. If Macy's calls and wants me to do their windows, I'll tell them you're about to order a bass and I have no business going to New York just to do window dressing when I can stay home and do what I do best--make tools for musicians. And pedestals to put them on. The tools, not the musicians, though some of them truly have earned pedestals.

Scarlett and Bart And Woodworking Art

The Central Oregon Woodworkers are displaying their art and craft through June 16 at the Redmond Library. Included are some fascinating and spectacular examples of the many things you can do with wood. I was fortunate to be included. Scarlett and Bart are on pedestals, on a table. After these images were taken, the staff put some decoration on the brick wall behind. This lends a little more clarity to the shape of the necks. Those crimson strings, DR Red Devils to be exact, pop visually much better than the image shows.
In the first image, there's a small black box peeking out from the sophisticated decor items added to the display. That box will be explained next.

Scarlett and Bart, First Part

Over a year ago, perhaps longer, I purchased a set of Schaller tuning machines on the web. They were red. Why not? The snowball started to roll, very slowly, and over the months there appeared a red tailpiece, some red knobs, little stuff. The tumbling and rumbling brought the parts together enough that we needed a name. Once chosen, it drove the project to a swift conclusion. Well, relatively swift. Ok, a loping conclusion. A shambling conclusion, that's spot on.
The challenge here was to create a set of two basses, black and red being the primary feature, but have them be more than display models. They should play, and well, and differently to boot. So Scarlett is a fretted B1 with all the bite and chomp in place. Her partner is a lined fretless. Mwah at your service, master. Both are premium material stock, Duncan single coil electronics, ready to be the center attraction of the back row.