Been Awhile

Man, has it really been two months since I last posted? Guess I’ve been busy, what with aging and running marathons with my wife.

OK, a marathon… and just a 5K… but that’s the most voluntary running I’ve done in 30 years, so not too shabby. It was one of those ones where they chuck handfuls of colored cornstarch at you, which was fun, plus the proceeds went to the local PBS affiliate to fund more children’s programming, which is awesome.

Anyway, wanted to get on here and at least mention the fact that yes, I am working on another CBG, and I’m still kicking around a few new amp ideas. I’m also considering picking up one of those cheap, USB software defined radios, as I’ve always had an interest in that sort of thing, but I’m concerned that I won’t be exactly what you would call “responsible” with such a thing. I suppose some things we never grow out of.

I’m also in the process of ripping a bunch of old reel-to-reel tapes to digital files, before the tapes get too old; I already lost a good 30 feet of killer stuff when one of the broke. Twice. Thus, I haven’t yet taken the time to actually go through the audio, aside from monitoring levels during the recording phase, but once I do I’ll try to get some of the better clips up on SoundCloud. Most of it is some seriously old-school firebrand preachin’ – I bought the TEAC and tapes from an old Southern Baptist minister’s estate some years back, and apparently he had his very own AM radio show – but there are a few terribly recorded bits of practice sessions with my old band, Devious Ego.

Well, there’s your April update, hopefully I’ll have more for you in the future.

Trying Something New

If you haven’t noticed, the post before this is not my original content; I’ve found this new service called Repost, which allows site operators to add syndicated content to their blogs, and I’ve decided to give it a shot.

Please use the contact page to let me know what you think about it – if it becomes a problem (i.e., fills my site with stupid and/or poorly placed ads), I won’t hesitate to drop the service like an eagle dropping a turtle onto a hot rock.

The Day We Fight Back

The NSA is watching us, and it’s time we take back our rights. Use the #stopthensa hashtag on Twitter to help spread the word!

Congress is considering two major bills:

The USA Freedom Act (S. 1599) is a bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

If passed, this bill would be a substantial improvement to America’s laws regarding mass surveillance.

– It brings new levels of transparency to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court)
– It introduces a special advocate to champion civil liberties in the FISA court
– It appears to create new statutory limits on mass surveillance by the NSA.

However, this bill is a floor, not a ceiling. Here’s how it could be improved:

– It could clarify in plain language that bulk surveillance is illegal and prevent the FBI from issuing National Security Letters without prior review by a judge.
– Include language to stop the NSA from undermining international encryption standards.
– Have stronger language to protect the privacy of people outside of the United States.

The USA FREEDOM Act is one step in the right direction, with many more steps that need to follow.

The FISA Improvements Act is a bill written by the intelligence community and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

If the FISA Improvements Act (S. 1631) were to pass:

– It would codify the controversial bulk telephone records surveillance program of the NSA.
– It would allow the NSA to continue to collect telephone records of hundreds of millions of Americans not suspected of any crime.
– It would permit the NSA to restart the bulk collection of Internet communication records—an extremely invasive, secret program the government attempted under dubious legal ground but abandoned because it wasn’t effective.

If you care about your privacy, Liberty, and security, I implore you to check out the banner at the bottom of the page to do your part in, at the very least, telling your Congresscritters that you are tired of being treated like a criminal, purely by virtue of the fact that you exist and communicate with other humans.

Huge thanks to thedaywefightback.org for the banner code and info on the legislation.

Finished Project: The Gift Horse

Final Product

Final Product

I haven’t forgotten you, handful of visitors whom I see pop up in my WordPress stats page! At least, the ones I’ve convinced myself are real people and not just spambots. Or my mom.

So… hello to both of you.

As I mentioned previously, I’ve been busy working on a CBG for my brother-in-law, who is getting ready to move to Italy for the next couple years. I did a few things differently on this one, compared to the Senator; for starters, the neck is a glue-on type, rather than a through-body design. I used dowel pins and a block inside the body to align and strengthen the bond; I also incorporated a section of 2″ maple into the end piece of the neck, thereby increasing the bonding surface area, as well as making it look like a “real” guitar neck.

For the fingerboard, I used a much lighter wood… spruce, I think. I chose it because I figured it would take the black stain I was planning on using well, not to mention just wanting to try out something different. Fretting the fingerboard was an adventure; the first mistake I made was cutting the fret notches before staining the wood. Having to go back through each fret slot with the saw, clearing out sticky stain is a huge waste of time.

If you don’t already know this, the “japanese flush cut saw” is by far the best tool there is for cutting fret slots, outside the sort of thing you would see in a professional luthier’s workshop. I picked mine up at Harbor Freight for less than $10, and my only regret is that I didn’t buy a spare.

Since the flush cut saw blade cuts a swath just a bit narrower than the width of the fret tang, I was able to hammer the frets in without resorting to glue, except on a few stubborn ones. The fret wire was far tougher than I expected it to be, so make sure you have a good, strong set of end nips – you’ll need them for cutting the wire to length, trimming the tang ends, and rounding the edges of the frets.

The drill press was again used for the tuning machines, and a rotary tool to fine-tune the edges, as well as cut the sound hole in the box (It’s a horse, if you can’t tell. Gift Horse. Get it?). The bridge is made from a piece of the stain test piece for the neck, and the tailpiece used to be a faux-bronze hinge that I cut, drilled, and filed into shape. Strings are Martin M1400 Marquis Folk Guitar Strings, (G, B, E), tuned to G, B, and D.


It sounds pretty darn good, and made for one happy customer.

one happy customer

Due to the added complexity of the neck, I probably put close to 20 hours into the Gift Horse over the course of 3 weeks. I’ll definitely use the design again, likely on my next electric, but will definitely try a through-body acoustic again in the near future. Right now, I’m debating whether to start a new amp project – up for consideration are a two-channel LM386 “street gig” amp, a bridged 1w LM386 powerhouse, or a bunch of single LM386 amps like the River Gem; I have a handful of chips burning a hole in my organizer.

The Electric Senator

I finished (well, pretty much finished) my Senator CBG a while ago, and meant to post about it, but hey – life, you know?

There was a slight miscalculation involving the notch for the pickup; namely that it created a weak point that allows the neck to flex when there’s tension on the strings. The downside is, keeping it in tune is impossible. The upside? You can get a really cool vibrato effect if you play it right.
Neat.

Electric Senator Full

ESbox

ESbox Corner

ESbox Longshot

ESbox Headstock

Not pictured is the clear acrylic pickup cover I made, and as you can see I haven’t quite decided what I’m going to use as a knob for the volume pot. I’ve considered fretting it, and may in the future, but right now all the fret wire I have on hand is allocated to a “rush order” for one of my brothers, who is moving to Italy in about a week.

I don’t even want to know what it would cost to ship if I don’t finish on time.

Been A While

Haven’t written a post in some time, so I suppose it’s time to check in.

The Senator is pretty much done – the only thing left to do is fret the neck. I learned quite a bit during the build, knowledge I should be able to use for my next project. Plans for another amp and a cigar box ukelele are also in the works, and I have a handful of music production equipment designs floating around the workshop, a new music website concept I’m building a team for (hit the contact page if you’re interested), and about a dozen short story ideas I’ve thus far failed to actually write. Busy busy busy.

The Senator – Work in Progress

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Been awhile since I’ve posted anything, so I figured it was about time for a sneak peek at my latest project: The Senator electric CBG.

As you can see, I still have a fair amount of assembly left to do, but all in all it’s coming together pretty well. I still have to order fret wire and figure out a potentiometer issue I’ve been having, as well as notching the fretboard and cutting both the nut and bridge down to 3-string compatible size.

To close I would like to offer a word of advice: emdo not/em use the stain+poly mixes for the fret area! It’s hard to work with for this sort of project, as well as having a finish that just doesn’t say ‘fretboard.’

- CHD

Counter Terms of Service

Came up with this idea when registering for a website; a “counter ToS,” the idea being that one would input the following paragraph when registering:

By accepting this application for membership, your organization absolves said member from any obligation, legal or otherwise, detailed in this sites Terms of Service. Submission of this application does not imply any express consent for any business or individual to contact the applicant by any means, electronic or otherwise, nor is any implication or consent made or given in regards to political positions. By accepting this submission, you agree that the applicant is not bound by any agreement with any party, regardless of the language of said agreements. The applicant may change these Terms of Service at any time, without notification, and by accepting your organization agrees to be legally bound to any and all changes made by the applicant, and absolves the applicant of any and all legal obligation to be bound by the Terms of Service of your organization and any affiliated group.

OK, so maybe not the best implementation, but I think the idea is solid. I would prefer something that can be stuck into the headers, (“by accepting this HTTP/S request you absolve the originator of any and all legal responsibilities and obligations”), but honestly I don’t know nearly enough about websites and browser software to pull it off.

The River Gem CBA – Cigar Box Amplifier

the cigar box amp

Having tried my hand at building a cigar box guitar, I decided that I wanted to try something a bit different. An electric CBG is cool, but wouldn’t it be awesome to play from an equally cool amp? Thus, the River Gem was born.

I started the project based on some cigar box sized crates my dad gave me – these were the kind little booze-filled chocolates came in. To fill in the open sections at the top and bottom, I cut pieces of balsa from an earlier project down, and fitted them into place before adding in the braces and glueing everything together. Next, I measured and drilled holes for the volume control, gain switch, power button, and 1/4″ input.

Using a bit of steel wool, I sanded down the brand logos so that they were pretty much illegible, before disassembling the crate and spray painting the wooden components white. Once the paint was dry but tacky, I used the steel wool to scrape off bits of the paint, in order to achieve that worn, weathered look. I discovered the best way to get this effect was to firmly run the pad down each surface in one direction, applying only enough pressure to put small scratches in the white paint.

Once the crate was dry and reassembled, I moved on to building the amp circuit itself. I decided on a modified version of the LM327 based Little Gem design from runoffgroove.com. I assembled the bits on one of those break-off circuit boards from Radioshack, then attached the board to the amp using some silicone coated screws as standoffs.

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I added a power LED (built in to the switch) and swapped the 5k gain pot for a SPST switch. The monitors I used were 8 ohm, 45w units salvaged from a former surround sound system after it was determined that the old plug-into-a-cd-player cones I tried first were, indeed, complete garbage. For a while I debated what to use as screen material, but ended up going with some bits of denim to keep up that rustic barn-find look. After cutting the denim to size, I taped off everywhere I didn’t want the denim to stick, then hosed the back side down with spray glue. Once the glue set up and became tacky, I laid the denim in place and smoothed it with my fingers, making sure to get it pressed into the edges and corners. Once the glue was dried, I used a punch to locate the holes for the speaker mounting screws, slapped the whole thing back together, and routed the cables for a cleaner interior.

The amp looked and sounded great, but there was something missing; I needed a good way to carry the device to and from.. wherever. I grabbed a couple strap hooks left over from a previous project, and screwed them in to either side; as the body of the amp is pretty thin, so I added a couple small blocks of wood on the inside to give the screws something to bite in to.

The end result: 1/2 a watt of portable, handcrafted cigar box fury!

I definitely enjoyed the build, and plan on doing more in the future; I still have one more of the crate type boxes, and a couple other ones that will make nice amps.

A mote on a stone, floating in an endless void. Or something like that.