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


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.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Union Leader Banjo (IW# 81)

A fellow in the great state of Maine asked for a "bluesmaster" style banjo, so here is one made from a "Union Leader" tobacco tin and an aluminum pie tin.  The tobacco tin had a great eagle on it, which I nailed to the headstock as ornament.  Looks pretty good, I think.  The buzzers are bottle caps from some home-brewed cider I made last year, and the neck is from some maple that a coworker felled a couple of years ago that I had slabbed up and have been drying since.

Sounds pretty good too, it's real loud.  Here it is:

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Just quickly dropping this here so I can find it again easily.  The "reverb" project came to a great close, and the pieces look fantastic in the gallery.  SU Galleries did a nice little video piece about it.  Here it is:

Friday, September 26, 2014

reverb (IW#'s 73-80)

The latest project has grown out of the Three Sisters project.  The short story is that I used this project to build a bridge between me, a local printmaker whose work I love, and my favorite guitarist in Syracuse.

I decided to expand the project, and when another piano came my way I realised I could use it to bring together a community of artists, print makers, and designers.  Here's how it worked:  I made eight more guitars (all tenor scale and with identical dimensions) and gave them in pairs to people whose work I like.  They are as follows:

Damian   Damian is a local design activist, rock and roller, and community maker who also does graphic work.  He got the pair of guitars made from the last of the material that also make up the Three Sisters since I found that piano on the street in the Westcott neighborhood of Syracuse.  He also lives in this neighborhood, so it seemed to make sense that he get that wood.

Cayetano  Cayetano is a bad ass painter and guitar player, and he also helped me dismantle the piano that made three of the pairs of guitars.  #alwayshandpaint.

Janie and Jon  A highly skilled design and fabrication duo.  I have the pleasure of working with both in different capacities (you can see Janie in the video linked above) and wanted to work with them as a unit.  Against his better judgement Jon helped me schlep the second piano to my studio.

Jaime  A dear friend and skilled artist as well as being a social scientist, Jaime's work continues to leave me agog, and it was a no-brainer to ask her to be a part of this.

So these along with Jason make up the reverb community.  It is a group of skilled and passionate designers, artists, makers knit together by the remains of two pianos.  Each pair of guitars was embellished by one designer/artist/team, and they will keep one of the pair, while I keep the other.  I will be showing them in a show here in Syracuse this fall, after which they will live on a wall in my house.  I will see all of the instruments, and will enjoy the beauty of living in a place so rich with possibility, with art and design, with community.  

It is hard to talk about this project succinctly.  Both pianos were made out of chestnut, a wood I love working with.  Also I started to really deal with bracing the tops in a more thoughtful manner.  I used glued-on fingerboards instead of just setting the frets right into the neck.  This is my first production run of instruments, so I thought a lot about multiples (and about how I need more clamps).  Rich project in a lot of ways.  Here are the instruments:

Two of the original Three Sisters with a print by Jason Evans.

Two more guitars from the same piano.  These are embellished with a photo from the Westcott area by Damian Vallelonga
Beautiful Sign Painting from Cayetano Valenzuela

Wood burning taken from a photo of the innards of the piano by Janie and Jon

Incredibly intricate ink work by Jaime Snyder

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

El Gato Dos (IW#072)

A while back I made a bluesmaster style banjo for one of the best musicians I know.  It accidentally wandered away form him, so I made him another one.  We used to call him "the Lovercat," so his banjo was "El Gato."  This new one, of course, is "El Gato Dos."  I used the same art work on it, which is a black cat that was a symbol of the IWW that I really like, and the bottle caps have jugs on them because he and I used to play in the Brooklyn Jugs together.  That was a real hoot.

Anyway, the neck is almost the last of the church pew oak that I had and the pie tin on the back is embossed "New England Pie Company,"  which is pretty good-looking.  It has a slightly mellower sound than the other bluesmasters, in part because the big can that is the head is heavier than what I have used before.  Still sounds pretty good, though.