Monday, April 25, 2016

Left Hand Banjo (IW# 85)



A friend out in Colorado asked if I'd make him a banjo, and sent me these really nice bottle caps from the Left Hand Brewing Company.  I do love a good bottle cap, and these were those.  He is one of the best furniture makers htat I know, so I took out a piece of (slightly) flamed maple I had been hoarding for the neck, and used one of my best pie tins.  "Mrs. Robinson's" pies must have been quite thing in their day: you had to pay a deposit on the tin.

I do love these bluesmaster banjos.  They are fun to play, and nothing else sounds quite like them.  Here is this one:


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Exploration (IW#84, TG#01)


I suppose it was inevitable:  Eventually I would have to make a "real guitar."  Well, it happened.  Using the classic Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology by William Cumpliano and Jonathan Natelson (as well as leaning heavily on my friend Tom Fay and others for support) I built a guitar.  A real guitar with bent sides and X-braced top and dovetailed neck and the whole shebang.  I learned a lot, and am now smitten with the process.

All of the material in this instrument came form cast-off pianos, so it is chestnut and spruce, but except for a couple of screw holes on the back of the neck it does not read as being made form anything other than wood.  Which flies in the face of what the Instrument Works is meant to be about, but there it is.

So following are a lot of photos of this, the first of what is likely to be at least a few more of these.  It is a tenor guitar, of course, because I don't know how to play 6 strings anymore.  The body is tiny tiny, closer to a Bari uke than a guitar.  This was driven by the available material, though for upcoming instruments that will change.  True to form, I am going to build a second model exactly based on this one to work out the kinks, and then move to other bodies and necks.  Here are a couple of build photos, followed by a video of playing it at two days old. 
 


And here is how it sounds.  Pretty ok!


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sticking to the Union (IW #83)



In a couple of weeks I am going with my band the Malvinas to play at the Workers Arts and Heritage Center (actually, I suppose that is "Centre") in Hamilton, Ontario.  Part of what we will be doing there is playing a sing-along of workers songs, so I wanted to have an appropriate machine to do that on.


Apparently the Salvation Army used to beat a drum on the street to collect alms and people would throw pennies onto the drum head.  The only thing I know about this is from the good old Wobbly song "The Preacher and the Slave," which mentions it.  Anyway, it seemed to me it could be good to have a couple of instruments at your disposal if you were trying to drum up support for your fellow workers, so I used an old tambourine I got from somewhere and a pie tin to make this little banjo.

I put a bunch of IWW images and slogans on it, and then because it has to travel I made it a case, which I lined with the remnants of an antique quilt that I love.  The band lent a hand (literally) to decorate the case, covering the top with red hand prints, to remind us of all the blood shed in the ongoing fight of workers to change the conditions of their labor and the conditions of their lives.

Here is the video:




Tuesday, August 11, 2015

At the Museum

Photo courtesy of Erika Meiler


A good friend, who also happens to be a hell of a sailor and singer, was asked to sail on the Charles W. Morgan and took along a little uke I made for her.  At the end of the voyage the sailors were asked to donate objects for the collection of the Mystic Seaport Museum, and she donated her uke.  So the Instrument Works is now a part of the permanent collection of the Mystic Museum.  I could not be more proud to know her or to be a part of this museum that I love so much.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Historic Canjo Workshop


We have guests this weekend, and the boys wanted to make canjos.  Not only did we make canjos, we made history:  the first two-string canjos I have ever made!  Pretty successful, and always good to get kids in the shop making.  An eleven year old and a six year old, and they did great and came out with some pretty good instruments.  Two string canjos.  What'll they think of next?  The eleven year old, as we were working, said "One string canjos are the past!  Two string canjos are the now!"

Here they are using a dozuki saw.  I think we need to be introducing kids to this kind of work at much earlier ages.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ice Drum

video

Down in North Carolina during a cold snap.  Here is a seasonal found object instrument:  an ice drum.  The top of the bird bath had frozen, so we drained out the rest of the water and tried it out.  Pretty good sound, I think.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Victrobass (IW#82)







There is a fellow here in town that buys old Victrolas and dismantles them to turn them into wine cabinets.  Seems to do a pretty brisk business in them, which is cool with me.


i happened to be in his shop a couple of months ago, and saw the horns sitting out on in a pile.  He kindly gave a couple of them to me, and they really are beautiful objects.  cast iron and wood, with lovely sweeping curves.  Really nice.

So this one sat around the shop for a while, and I kept looking at it, and eventually it became clear that it needed a voice again.  After a couple of false starts it has turned into a one string bass.  I am playing a lot of one string bass these days, which is funny because I have no idea how to play bass.  I even have an actual bass, but no idea what the heck to do with it.

Anyway, it is just a hoot to play this thing.  Not the best sound, but the abject silliness of it makes up for that.  Here it is in action:  The VictroBass.