Music, Views and Nearly-News

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Towering Inferno (or, how I learned to start worrying and melt a bucket)

The recent and prolonged lack of oomph apparent in this blog, both in quantity and (sometimes) quality of posts is disappointing. You really can do better, stalwart blogger.

On the more positive, but no less self-deprecating side of things, I have something approximating news.

Over the past few months I've been running a low-key experiment in making violin varnish - something which anyone who's ever attempted to do so will tell you is much easier said than done. But this seems to be the trend in the world of violin making. The particular varnish I decided to make is called "Fulton varnish" and is almost always, upon mentioning to violin makers, met with knowing grins. Or are they grimaces? This particular recipe was created in the seventies by an air force serviceman-turned-violinmaker named Bill Fulton, and has a reputation for exploding and/or burning down your house and/or killing you in a towering fireball of good-intentioned but poorly-planned experimentation.

The recipe itself is fairly straightforward, and when I stumbled upon it, I couldn't help wanting to try it for myself. I bought three quarts of turpentine, an old-timey oil paint drying agent called siccatif de courtray, two gallon-jugs of carlo rossi (don't hate) and a fishtank bubbler to agitate the mix and speed the evaporative process. Then I had some very long and winding conversations with my roommate Jake while we tried to "use up" two gallons of wine. The mixture was mixed, and the bubbler bubbling, and I was left to wait for almost three months before the polymerized turpentine (I so rarely get a chance to use that word. It just flows off the tongue.) was ready to cook. Or so I thought.

The key to not blowing yourself up in the process of cooking the polymerized turpentine down to a brittle resin is to heat it as slowly as humanly possible. The reason this particular step is so dangerous, I was told, is that if the temperature increases too quickly, something called an exothermic reaction can occur (that's another word I'm growing fond of) and the temperature will spiral up and up to the ignition temperature of turpentine, even if the heat source is removed. Bad news.
Guess what happened?

This sticky lump pictured to the left is, or was once, a thermometer.

Lessons learned:
1) Turpentine, after bubbling in a jug for weeks, is almost napalm.
2) Our hose doesn't work.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Utahan Nesting Rituals

In Non-ukulele related news, (as if there is such a thing) I've packed almost all of my valued possessions into my car known affectionately as both "the Death Star" and "the Shitfire," and MOVED TO UTAH. So, if you've been looking for me in Michigan, that's why I'm not there.
I'm about to attend the Violin Making School of America, and I gotta tell you, I'm pretty psyched.
So, without further adieu, a new chapter...

Friday, November 6, 2009 - Denny's
I left Detroit a week ago today, and after spending three great debauched and bittersweet days in Ohio, I set out for Salt Lake City. It only took three days of driving (I think it ended up being a 28 hour drive, almost entirely along I-80) to get here, and as I write this, I'm waiting to hear from two girls, potential roommates named Samantha (I think - she mumbles) and Valerie.
*Incoming text message*
"we are actually still looking because you were the first person we met with. we will let you know."
I've been staying in the Metropolitan Inn for the past two nights, a funky little motel with art deco furniture and creepy paintings of scenes from "the Wizard of Oz" on the walls. Last night was spent with the Inn's front desk clerk celebrating a successful day of apartment-hunting.

The first apartment I visited was depressingly small. The two gay guys who came along on the tour were heart-breakingly positive about it, even though I'm pretty sure if I touched one wall with my toes, I'd be able to smudge the wall opposite with my fingertips. The best way I have of describing the building is "lipstick on a pig." Apparently some developer got a grant from the city to turn an ugly decrepit old building into a freshly painted decrepit old building. I was initially intrigued by the building's exterior - it is a genuinely beautiful building, built in 1909 - and then started to have some doubts after googling the building to find out that it's been set aside for recovering addicts, recently homeless, and generally afflicted. Trying to keep an open mind, my smile faded further after seeing a notice on several of the doors about bed bug fumigation. Growing up, bed bugs were always mythical creatures; ones who posed no more realistic a threat than the Boogey Man or smallpox. Apparently the little buggers are alive and well among the ranks of those who really didn't need anything more to worry about. The straw that broke the (weak and dying) camel's back was seeing the kitchen/living room/bedroom. I would have laughed except that I knew people were actually paying $366 every month to call this place home.

The second set of rooms I visited had two big advantages over the first. Firstly, they seemed to be free of anything that needed to be fumigated. (I know, I know - the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. For all I know, the many-legged residents of the apartments were just more discreet.) And secondly, the girl living in the next unit was very beautiful. Other than those, though, the rooms were both similarly bizarre. Enormous closets, ancient refrigerators, marble floors, double hinged swinging bathroom doors - these places seemed to be the architectural equivalent of Frankenstein's monster. Nothing about them made any sense, and in a way, that was a plus.

The last tour of the day was to the already-occupied apartment of three twenty-something women. It was almost exactly one block away from where I'll be attending school in December, and it even smelled nice. Photos of non-threatening 20th century divas covered the walls, and it seemed that every aspect of the apartment was very much intentional. the colors of the kitchen matched the table in the dining room, (two rooms!) which contrasted playfully with the scented candles and throw pillows of the living room. (three!) The room I hope someday to occupy was bigger than the entirety of the first studio, and was about $20 per month cheaper.

So for the rest of that night, drinking with Antonio, I kept combing my memory for flaws. There had to be a catch, right? Maybe my new housemates would turn out to be fans of musical theater? Or maybe the place was haunted? In the end, though, I'd be willing to put up with any number of show tunes and specters if it meant I could live in that amazing place.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ukestravaganza - Part Two

The weekend before last, while visiting my friend Isabel to practice the music for my sister's wedding (more on that later,) her gracious roommate's mother mentioned that she had for several years hung an heirloom ukulele on the wall. It was missing two pegs, strings, and had some pretty significant cracks, but I agreed to take it back to the shop and see what I could do.

I started by taking the top of the uke off to get a better idea of what all was going on in there.

This is a better photo of the inside of the "genuine conservatory quality ukulele." I don't know if there's someone out there making counterfeit ukuleles, or makers have some chips on their collective shoulders about making something so frivolous as a soprano uke, but but most ukuleles I've seen have all had the word "genuine" printed somewhere on the label. Go figure.

In this photo you can see the back brace (right of the label) only extends about halfway across the instrument. I ended up taking that broken brace off and replacing it with a new one.

These next two pictures mostly illustrate my nearly complete ineptitude at shop photography. You can't really see anything from this shot, but there are some pretty substantial cracks in the top running from the tailpiece through under the brace. As a result, the bracing had come almost completely free from being glued to the top.
I cleaned up the crack, pressed it back to shape, and glued everything that needed gluing on the top.

Again, sorry about the shoddy photography. This was my first time using a go-bar (even though it sounds like something you might buy from an infomercial, I haven't been able to find another name for this technique) to keep pressure on my newly shaped and glued back brace overnight.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ukestravaganza - Part One

The past few weeks have been a flurry of ukulele comings and goings and goings-on. I sent "A.G. Currin's Premiere Soprano Ukulele" off to be lacquered, and started roughing out three more necks for the next project. I'll be building three at once, most likely out of maple this time, as building one at a time is obnoxiously inefficient. My mouth is big, but my eyes have known to be bigger. I hope this isn't one of those instances.

Monday, August 17, 2009


I know, I know.

The last post was in March, so either I've been too lazy to write anything (likely) or I've been too busy (less.) Today's modest post is just a few photos taken by Jacqui the other day of the inside of my first ever ukulele.

The fan braces glued in place, drying. The bridge plate slipped when I clamped it, and maybe broadcasting my mistakes online isn't the best way to make a name for myself as an instrument maker, but what the hell. Anyway, you can see a little bit in this photo that the plate isn't exactly straight, but I have compelling sources informing me that it shouldn't affect the sound of the uke. Consider this a result of procrastinating, then rushing to meet a deadline. More on that later.

Here's the inside of my ukulele. This was, I think, the first ever photo of this project. It's taken a lot longer than I had initially anticipated, but much of the delay has been due to road trips and camping and general loafing. The three strips of wood down the center were inspired by retro surfboards, when ukuleles were all the rage. The cherry that makes up the back and sides and (eventually) the neck will grow darker and more red after a few years of oxidation, which should give it a very classy color scheme.

As of last Friday, these two pieces have been glued together, and now I'll be working on the neck/head/fingerboard assembly.

The deadline that I mentioned earlier is my sister's wedding - I hope to be able to play a ukulele I built myself during the service, and with only about five weeks left, it's conceivable that that might not happen.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Internet readers, both imagined (likely) and actual (less) - an epiphany:
The funky fresh gal pal Jacqui to which in this humble blog I have thrice referred, has apparently been posting all the succulent photographic morsels I've been promising you on a blog of her own! My ire is intensified by the tandem facts that A) she has been posting as long as I have, and has managed to produce more than myself, and B) her blog is, perhaps as a result of A), much more interesting than mine. Phooey.
As I stew in my bathtub, with only envy and resentment as company, I will tell you of two new projects.

Firstly, My Nightmare Kazoo.
I was wasting time in a professional environment when I stumbled across a video on youtube of a British man tinkering with Soviet gas masks, with semihilarious results. A few strokes of the chin and a memory of dusty things found in my basement inspired me to try to improve upon his design.
Rather than just install a buzzing element to an existing gas mask, I decided to add a trio of metal Kazoos from my local toy store. I was slightly appalled by the expense of these playtime funthings, but I managed to suck it up and remind myself of my important mission.
Here's the end result. In case you're wondering, it makes the wearer sound like a robot with laryngitis. I may tweak this device a little yet, so don't you fret, this is just to get your whistle wet.
Next up is a project in the works. I have a jaw harp that my pal the Cellophant brought back from her travels in Austria. What Austria was doing with a jaw harp I have no idea, but never mind, it's hanging on my wall now. Three nights ago, pondering my wall of instruments-on-hooks, I took it down and played it. The problem with this silly little instrument is that after about twenty seconds of playing, you want to stop. This is because you can experience everything it has to offer in a little under ten. Not very versatile.

So I'm taking it upon myself to make the neglected bit of metal more interesting. Thirty seconds of the attention is the goal. The plan is to find a budget skull somewhere - real would be awesome, anatomically correct would be great, Halloween decorations less so - and play the jaw harp on someone else's inanimate skull. A pickup on the inside consisting of a fuzzy overdriven microphone, and voila, the world's most macabre Idiophone.