Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Alen Whitman on the road with Joe Satriani, As posted on BoingBoing


Guest blogger Allen Whitman, is the founding bassist of the instrumental trio The Mermen. He also writes about Internet audio with Jon Luini (Chime Interactive) as The Fezguys. When not on the road he manages Gary Brawer's Stringed Instrument Repair.
Encore (St. Petersburg - BKZ Oktyaborsky) 
As bassist for electric guitar icon (and extremely nice person) Joe Satriani on a European tour I thought to regale you, dear Boing Boing reader, with the exploits of an American rock band touring in Russia.
(Dateline: St. Petersburg. Local time: 11pm. Weather: raining and cold.) Despite (or possibly because of) a soundcheck rife with technical challenges, the show in St. Petersburg comes off swimmingly. Though stiffly seated for the first several songs of the set the crowd maniacally rushes the stage as soon as the block-shouldered and packing security agents (complete with tiny coiled earbuds) usher the photographers out of the way.
The rest of the set (a total of two hours and twenty five minutes) is a joy, with audience members singing along to well memorized guitar melodies, head-banging furiously or doing the dark Russian poet thing: standing motionless with a maniacal intensity, a sort of "Feel 10 - Show 1" approach to existentialism. After the show the promoter, resplendent in groovy bling, treats us to dinner at his Italian restaurant nearby, and I marvel as our waitress (there is no other word that can most accurately be used to describe her) and our cook bicker animatedly but quietly into the face of each other about opening wine bottles and the timing of serving our meals. The food is very good but I can't finish the mountain of spaghetti carbonara on the plate. It's 1am.
During the day prior to soundcheck a group of us walk to The Hermitage, a world destination museum with over 1000 rooms and 3,000,000 paintings (not all of which are open or on display at any given time) but, as it's a holiday of some kind here (the name of which we're unable to divine) the lines across the wind-swept central square are pushing the length of three football fields. Russians apparently are very good at queuing and not always for a good purpose. Naturally we walk right up and offer tickets to those in front* to let us take their place, to no avail. We return to the hotel only slightly disappointed. Like traveling to Paris, having one day for the Louvre and, it being a Tuesday, the museum is closed, I name the experience of not getting in to The Hermitage as proof that I will return. For a transcendent cinematic experience of this place see the movie, Russian Ark with the subtitles on.

The cook (L) and the waitress (social archetypes of a Higher Order) are obviously interpreting a request with different levels of understanding which they will argue about momentarily. (Sardinia Restaurant - St. Petersburg) 
Lindsay Long (chief logistician and tour humanist) displays her fabulous Russian tchoches 
Our voluable St. Petersburg promoter (L) w/ his friend and his cook. "Slade? Uriah Heep? Elton John? Those are all my shows!" (Sardinia Restaurant - St. Petersburg) 
Catering is uniformed! Arthur Rosato (R) - (former ass't. to Bob Dylan for ten years and now our overqualified drum tech) chooses wisely. 

Tech room graffiti, St. Petersburg style (St. Petersburg - BKZ Oktyaborsky) 
Thank the Maker for these signs posted by our crew. We'd still be wandering the halls, Spinal Tap style, otherwise (St. Petersburg - BKZ Oktyaborsky) 

Mike Keneally (L) keyboardist extraordinaire and Mike Manning, Joe's longtime stage right guitar tech suss out yet more audio anomalies during soundcheck. (St. Petersburg - BKZ Oktyaborsky

Galen Henson (L), rhythm guitar & tour manager and Jason Cook, stage left tech, attempt to root out sonic gremlins from the Kremlin during soundcheck. (St. Petersburg - BKZ Oktyaborsky) 

The red phone, backstage (St. Petersburg - BKZ Oktyaborsky) 
One last shot from St. Petersburg -- walking down the street we notice this advert which we immediately examine for anatomical accuracy.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    We do Dulcimers, well Trevor did.

    Not only did the end of the peghead break off but it also used old style friction, or violin tuning heads. The client asked us to repair the peghead and if we could improve on the tuners while we were at it.
    We happened to have some tuners that Schaller made for Ovation slot peghead guitars.
    The difference being that the hole for the string it not at the end of the tuning post but in the middle.
    To repair the wood we squared up the rough, splintered break so we could have a clean glue joint with a new piece. The new piece is also not open at the end, the space to string up the last string was made by chiseling out a hollow. This makes the piece we are adding stronger.
    Also notice the ferrule that the end of the tuner post fits into.  This piece you would normally see on the top of a guitar peghead. It supports the tuner and keeps it from tilting forward.  In the same respect here it supports the end of the tuning post and keeps it from leaning forward.  This is a very important addition in that it keeps the tuner post square to the housing and gear for smooth operation.

    This could be the easiest dulcimer to tune anywhere.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    What I believe is a 1965 Supro Martinique, with a pickup problem

    Back together ready for strings
    This is a very unique pickups system built right into the bridge and bridge base of the guitar.  Looking at the bottom of the bridge base you can see 2 small squares with a small hole in the center.  These are 2 coils wound with the same thin pickup wire you would see on a strat or humbucking pickup, just a little smaller.
    The 2 coils are connected in series with each other, wax holds it all in place and a single conductor shielded wire comes out to be connected to the controls.  Coming out from the bottom of the bridge top are 2 magnetic rods that when assembled to the bridge base slip freely through the 2 holes in the coils.  When the bridge vibrates, the magnets vibrate and breaks the field that the coils make and out comes the sound.
            One of the coils were broken, we had to melt the wax that held it all in place, rebuild and rewind the coil and get it all back in there.
    There was also an intermittent short on the bridge side magnetic pickup.  I took off the cover and saw a loose coil wrap hanging our over the coil.  When you press down on the cover it shorted out.  Lucky enough it did not break.  I carefully tapped and waxed it to protect the wire and solidered the cover back on.  Worked great!
    The 3 pairs of controls are unique, the neck pickups has a standard volume and tone control, the pickup near the bridge has a volume control and a bass cut for a tone control.  As you turn down that tone control the sound gets thinner.  This is what you see on many G & L guitars with passive tone circuitry, one treble cut and one bass cut.  The pickup that is built into the bridge has a standard volume and tone.  This pickup sounds best and is very usable with some of the tone rolled off.  The down side is there is no pickup blending.  At this point we just wanted to get the guitar to works as it would of stock.  Next time in I would recommend adding a way to blend combinations of the pickups, converting the magnetic pickup near the bridge to a standard vol and tone control and changing the values of the bridge pickup controls to give a little less attenuation.  There is a series wiring trick that I bet would work very well with this guitar.  That will be for next time.  Very glad to get it up and running in its stock configuration.

    Empty Bobbin with the old coil wire removed

    Funny movie on making a circle
    Lining up the back of the coil form
    Winding, slow and careful not to pull apart the coil
    Ready to go back in
    Those are the bottom of the 2 coils held in with wax
    The 2 holes in the bridge line up with the center of the coils
    The 2 pins coming out of the bottom of the bridge top are actually magnets