Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cabin Fever Picking Party 2014 in Virginia Beach

Ahhhhhh…temperatures finally in the 60’s today.  Spring must soon be on its way!!!

Needless to say it has been a long, cold, snowy winter and we all have a bad case of cabin fever.  Well the best way to cure that is to play some great bluegrass music with friends from near and far.  And that we did.

We have returned home from the 2014 Cabin Fever Picking Party in Virginia Beach, VA and I can say it was awesome.  We had some great jams, good food and visited with friends old and new.  I have looked forward all winter to seeing my young friends from the band Lonesome Sound from Sylva, NC.  Last we saw them we had jammed into to the wee hours of the morning at the IBMA.  We had a repeat performance at Cabin Fever.  I stayed out way past my bed time and had a blast. 


This video is snippets of the entire indoor event.  There is a few seconds at 8:51 of me jamming late Saturday night with Will, Mike and Robbie Benzing on banjo, Alby 'Bugsy' Lopez on mandolin from Marv Ashby and 
the High Octane band 


We met Jacob Jones and Will Howell four years ago at Cabin Fever when they were part of the Rye Holler Boys.  These are very talent musicians that are only out done by their politeness and charm.  They were barely 16 years old when we first met, now just into their 20’s they are road worthy musicians touring on the festival circuit.  We have run into these young pickers at Cabin Fever, Myrtle Beach and the IBMA’s.  We always have a great jam and lots of good times when we are together.  Jacob gets some drooling time over Lonnie’s Stanleytone banjo and I get to hear Will sing me “Free Born Man”.  This year we had the pleasure to meet their parents and visit with everyone.  Mike Morgan is the newest member of the group and every bit the gentleman and great lead guitar picker.

Their current band is Lonesome Sound that includes Wayne Crowe of “The Crowe Brothers” on upright bass.  We got to see them showcase on Saturday evening and they did not disappoint.  I had strict instructions from Will to be in the front row or he would not pick with me Saturday night…I listen real good…Lonnie and I were front and center for the show.  The crowd loves these young fellows and gives them lots of hoots and hollers during the show.  I got a real nice surprise when Will closed the show by saying he was asked to play a special song on Friday night when we were jamming…that would have been me…so he closed their Saturday show with Free Born Man but forgot to clue Jacob in before the song started.  Lonnie kept nudging me during the show saying Will was gonna sing that song for me…and he sure did.  He put it all out there, it was great!  After the show he jumped out from behind the stage and gave me a big ole hug.  He is going to be real lady killer some day…”sing me a song that will make me cry!” is what he always says.



After the Lonesome Sound show we caught the last show case band Kody Norris with our other favorite Stanley style banjo player Matthew Henderson.  Matt is another special young man with talent just pouring out of him.  There are two great Stanley style banjo players, Steve Sparkman and Matt Henderson.  They can play Ralph Stanley banjo just as good or better then Ralph.  Matt is just an awesome young man, very sweet and so very polite.  We got to jam a bit with him and his Daddy Herb on Friday afternoon.

Matt playing Lonnie's Stanleytone banjo...sounded as great as always and me on Polly Pretty Polly the 1937 Kay M-4

Hope Matt left some notes on it for Lonnie


Some of our other great friends and pickers that we visited with included Billy Lee Cox who is an absolute monster banjo picker and jammer.  He was in jam’s everyday for hours and I do mean hours…8-9 hour marathon sessions.  When I talked with him Saturday night he asked if I had herd the jazz jam on the 3rd floor.  Apparently he did an all jazz jam with Dennis Lee on bass and a top shelf guitar player.  I missed it, I bet it was awesome.  We caught a good bit of his jams on Thursday with Scott Brannon, Tracey Dent Rohrbaugh on mandolin and the lead singer from Big Country Bluegrass Eddie Gill and others. 



We also had time to visit with the ever charming and down to earth Al Batten and his sweet wife Gloria.  We always enjoy talking and picking with them.  You could not meet two nicer people that always make you feel welcome to sit down at the table and share a meal…which we have done!

All in all this was a great break from the winter weather and a much welcome high quality jamming and picking session that I was in need of.  Now that we got some good music in us we can brave the predicted 17 degree temperatures later this week.  We can’t wait until the IBMA’s where we will have an opportunity to see all our southern friends again.

Cabin Fever did not disappoint us.  It made the long winter melt away for a short time.


It was all good!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

New adventure

Ahhhh ole man winter...

…he needs to take a vacation with Mother Nature and leave us alone for a while!

Snow, snow and more snow
As we sit at home with another day off work because of 14” of snow and still snowing…last week it was ice and no power.

I did something new last evening; I laid down a bass track in a friend’s local recording studio.  I have never been in a recording studio and had no idea what to expect but I thought what the heck, I’ll give it a try.  Our friend Dave is a local musician that we met at a bluegrass jam over a year ago.  He is one of the best rhythm guitar players I get to jam with and a wonderful guy to boot!  He is in the process of recording the Stanley Brothers song White Dove for a friend’s Father that passed away.  Dave was gifted this man’s mandolin and found out his favorite song was White Dove.  So as gift to the family he is recording this song with the special mandolin as a way to express his appreciation.  He is doing all three harmony parts as well as the guitar and mandolin tracks but still needed a bass…that is where I come in.

We went last evening to Dave’s home recording studio with my 1937 Kay M-4 named Polly Pretty Polly under the threat of an impending snow storm.  Once inside in the isolation of the recording studio all thoughts of a cold snowy evening quickly melted.  While the studio is small there was no lack of recording wizardry.  Dave has equipment stacked high around him in the engineer room while the studio is completely covered in paper egg cartons.  The room is completely dead and perfect for recording.

The wizard behind the glass

This is a new look for me...headphones

Dropping out the bad note and inserting the new note...amazing

My 1937 Kay M-4 Polly Pretty Polly

It took me a bit to get used to the head phones and studio microphone…which I kept bumping into with my bass.  After some tests, adjustments and placing a condenser mic behind the tailpiece wrapped in a towel I began to find my groove.  We did four tracks with each one getting better and my playing more comfortable.  I added a bit more walking on the last take but missed a note.  Dave asked why I wrinkled my nose…I said because I made a mistake.  He played the track back and I pointed out the missed note.  No problem.  A quick few notes re-recorded and he was able to drop out the bad note and drop in the correct note.  Watching him break down the sound waves, stretch them out, edit and drop the new note in was fascinating.  I have done a bit of recording with my Edirol recorder and used Audacity software to edit and burn a CD, but nothing like this.



The evening flew by quickly.  We learned much and now have an opportunity to be invited back for more recordings.  Dave has a plan to include a full bluegrass band on his all gospel recording.  It is a real honor and compliment to be included in his project. 

And the weather man was right this time.  We stepped outside at 9:45 pm and there was already an inch or two of snow on the ground.  Spring has to soon be on its way.  I am not sure how much more folks can take.  In 32 years I have never missed two days of work in two weeks because of bad weather.  It’s been a crazy, miserable, cold, snowy, icy winter and its only February 13th…SIGH.

Keep checking back…spring flowers are on their way!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Frixo, the 1940 Epiphone B3 #218

Well, here we are the last Sunday of January…whew.  What a month of cold, cold weather.  We have not had a winter like this one for quite some time.  Keeping the snow and ice at bay, keeping the cars warm and running, keeping the heat on have all been a challenge…and Spring is weeks away.

The last update in the workshop was Frixo, the 1940 Epiphone B3.  I have been playing this bass regularly since Lonnie finished it a month or so ago.  What a great bass with a warm complex tone.  This bass is so well preserved; in such great condition, everyone is amazed that it is a 1940.  I can absolutely say the bass is waking up and the volume and tone is getting stronger with every jam. 

I had some one asked if the bass was carved, it has that big of a sound to it…nope…it is a plywood bass.  A very well built plywood bass.  The neck is solid and more meaty then some of my other Epi’s.  The original rosewood fingerboard feels thick like it had never been scraped or dressed.  I really do think this bass sat unplayed for decades for it to be in this great of surviving condition.

The set up on this bass is lower then my normal, aggressive, dig in bluegrass playing style but I have certainly adapted to it.  It takes very little efforts to play and a great bass to walk and throw in good passing notes. This bass is destine to end up in the hands of a jazz player, someone who can really appreciate great tone and great low set up.

As soon as the weather breaks and we can get a full slide show completed I’ll post the finished pictures.  I am on the fence about keeping this one in the Epiphone collection because of its rarity or passing it along to a great player that can make some awesome music with him.  He is the lowest Epiphone production B3 model on record and by far the best example I have seen for excellent surviving condition.  There is not a finer B3 in the Epiphone database then this bass.

Stay warm and let’s hope spring makes and early arrival!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Years Yawl, welcome to 2014!

Wow, five years of the Bass Monkey Workshop blog…time has passed so quickly.  Though we have accomplished much, there is so much more work to do.  When I look back at the first day the blog was created in January 1st, 2009 until now, we could have never dreamed of the wonderful people we have met, the basses that we have been so fortunate to own and restore, but most important is the music that has brought so much joy to our life.

If you have read through the blogs, I have posted about everything from bass restorations to Lonnie’s passion for his beloved first car, his Mustang.  I have also posted about his work on banjos and my multiple comments about the weather (a favorite hobby of mine).  My favorite posts are about the wonderful people we have met along our journey and the joyous opportunities to make music with some of the finest musicians. 

We are very fortunate to live in a region that is rich with bluegrass music.  Any given night with a 100 mile drive we can play bluegrass music.  We are now jamming up to three times a week.  These local jams give me an opportunity to test drive all our basses in a live setting.  We get to hear the volume and tone of our basses against the other instruments.  Some of our jams get quite large and pretty “snappy” as our one friend likes to say, and my bass always gets the job done.

While I love all our basses some I favor more then others, mostly because of sentimental reasons.  Of course my number one bass is my Gunner, the 1941 Epiphone B-1.  He is my first Epi and the Epiphone that started the research project and the journey to study the Epiphone upright bass history project.  This bass will never leave our collection; he will be with me until my last day on earth.  He looks like he was drug behind a truck and has never had one cosmetic touch up.  The patina and wear on this bass is just perfect, I would not change a thing if we could.  He is perfect just the way he is…repaired neck, chipped edges, ghastly green brown finish…just the way a 1941 bass with a deep history and thousands of gigs should look and sound. 



One of my other favorite basses is my 1937 Kay M-4 named Polly Pretty Polly.  She too has a special place in my heart as my second Kay bass I ever owned.  Her flowered engraved tuners have always been a soft spot for me.  She is a beautiful dark honey blonde and her finish has aged with a nice cracked patina.  She too is a bass that has an awesome tone and is a joy to play.  I have been playing her exclusively the last few weeks and am being reminded why Kay was the Father of the plywood basses…she has such great tone and playability.  She is a sweet ole gal.

Then there is my 1937 American Standard with the humped shoulders named Elliot, he too was my very first American Standard bass.  He unlike Gunner or Polly has gone through a complete Bass Monkey restoration with a new finish and wears a full set of Gamut gut strings. He is a gorgeous, big, bad, bass that has that classic American Standard low end boom.  I don’t play this bass nearly enough as it is so beautiful I don’t want to get it banged up in public jams.  He tends to stay home and gets good “woodshed” time.  It also takes a few songs for me to get acclimated to the 43” string length verses the 42” string length of the Kay or Epi.  He too has a special spot in my heart as my first American Standard.

From that core of three basses are several other favorites like my pristine 1941 Gibson B-135 bass named Mother Maybelle to the 1941 Epiphone B5 named Big Daddy.  Both of these basses are in a time warp.  They have barely aged from the day they were made.  Both basses are completely original with no damage and no repairs.  Just stunning examples of two great basses from that golden pre-war era.  I could go on and on why each of our basses has a special connection for both of us.  Either by how we acquired it or the history and stories behind each bass.  They are all special to us in some unique way.  We hope once the holidays pass that we can get back to bass restoration projects.  Lonnie has been working on the Mustang this winter so the Bass Monkey workshop has been pretty quiet.

We are fortunate to have many visitors (and many international visitors) to the website and the workshop blog everyday.  We hope you have enjoyed reading our stories and share in our joy of American-made plywood upright basses.  We can only wonder and imagine what the next five years will bring.  

Our New Years wish for you is a life filled with good health, great music and the joy that you can bring to others by sharing a song, a smile and a kind word.

Happy New Year!!!



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Final repairs for Frixo...

So...Frixo the 1940 Epiphone B-3 has been out to a few jams and has been well received by my musical jam mates.  This is another gorgeous Epiphone that just has that full bottom end, easy to play and holds down the low end beat in a loud jam.  

The Spiro lights (weich) feel good with a lower then normal string height for me.  Playing gut strings with a higher string height leaves me a lot of space to dig in, with all steel strings Lonnie kept the strings a bit closer to the original rosewood fingerboard.  Not a good or bad feeling, just different, especially when I switch basses frequently.  I never know what bass I am playing until Lonnie pulls it out of the gig bag at a jam.  He likes to keep me guessing and I like to be able to give all the playable basses in the collection a turn at our jams.  It keeps them all in good playable condition and the wood vibrating and happy.

After our last jam with Frixo, Lonnie wanted to try a set of Spiro mediums (mittels) just to see if the voice of the bass would be altered.  During this process of changing the string he noticed an old repair on the D tuner key that he was not happy with.  Sure enough while he was changing the strings the old repair failed and the tuner key came apart.  It did not break, the old repair just let go.  This did not pose much of a challenge for Lonnie as he has many years of skilled welding and metal fabrication.

Once the tuner was taken off the bass and he studied how it was put together, Lonnie could see why the old repair failed.  Next step, off to the garage to braze the tuner key back into place.  He has a large arsenal of tools for metal repairs.  Two evenings of welding, smoothing, filing and wet sanding and the repair is now completed, ready for another 70 years. 

I am confident he will get the tuner installed and the bass will be jamming once again this weekend. 

Below are the pictures of how the repair progressed.  And I dug out a spare pair of American Standard tuners that need this same repair.  He is on a roll; we might as well get the spare parts fixed now before we need them.

With the tuner removed reveals the patina in the old finish

Back side of the tuner is stamped with Kluson Manufacturing

The old repair failed because the center pin was not in place

After Lonnie brazed the tuner key back in place

This is his Oxygen and Acetylene torch welder

The work bench of a genius...or a mad scientist

The tuner back in place after welding and finishing

Lonnie did not know how smooth and perfect he wanted to go.  I said stop, it looks great!

Get the two strings back on the tuner and Frixo is ready to go jamming

This is the spare set of American Standard tuners that need a similar repair.  Having metal repair skills along with woodworking skills is a good thing!
Cool old tuners from a 1939 American Standard.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

1940 Epiphone named Frixo…

Tap, tap, tap…that would be the sound of Lonnie fitting a sound post in the workshop.  He has been steadily working on the 1940 Epiphone B-3 named Frixo. 

Lonnie and I had a discussion a few weeks ago about new bridges verse old seasoned wood bridges.  In past we have been quick to discard the vintage bridges that come with a playable bass thinking we can improve the tone with a new French Despiau bridge replacement.  And for the most part, we have.  But we began to wonder if we could repurpose some of the older bridges that remain arrow straight but lack height. 

From this conversation I made some phone calls about buying more expensive seasoned wood bridges only to find out that the supply of good hardwood bridges is dwindling.  It seems the really high quality woods are not being imported so the variety of seasoned wood bridge blanks is not that vast.  We all pretty much have access to the same vendors and the same bridges.  This inspired Lonnie to try and repurpose the bridge that came on Frixo. 

The bridge is of good quality but just a bit short for an optimum set up.  So once again…and Lonnie dreams this stuff in his sleep…he made the effort to repurpose the bridge by adding a bit of height to the feet, instead of the leg.  While it would be MUCH easier to cut a new bridge, Lonnie took on the laborious task to add wood to the bridge foot.  We have some nice, hard boca (Brazilian hardwood) wood from a cabinet making friend that he has experimented making banjo bridges in the past. 


The new "boot" feet made from dark hardwood

Left foot not quite finished

Right foot beautifully carved and married to the bridge

Fitting the feet

Fingerboard is scraped nice and smooth.  Good solid piece of Brazilian rosewood

Some how Lonnie glued chunks of new of the dark wood to the bottom of the bridge feet and then carved it down from there.  I watched him whittle away to get these beautiful new feet fitted perfectly to the bridge.  Once again his craftsmanship, patience and skill amaze me.  The new feet are almost done and the bridge will be a very unique one of a kind bass bridge (or a bridge with boots, which is perfect for a guy that has a passion for exotic western boots).  I’ll be interested in seeing how this all works out.  Recycling an old wood bridge is a good thing.  The hours of time spent getting it just right…well…you have to enjoy playing with a piece of wood, otherwise it would not be worth the effort.

We are going to try a set of Thomastik weich on the bass first.  If it does not have enough ass…we will move up to mittels.


I’ll keep you posted on the progress!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Howdy from Australia...

We receive a wonderful e-mail from our friend down under.  Greg and his adventures with Miss Penny the 1944 Kay M-1 continue.  

From Greg...

Attached are a few more photos of me & my gal Penny at a couple of venues, including a rare one where I`m actually smiling! (don't ya just love the flame shoes & matching tie?) 

I DO love the shoes and matching tie...so rock-n-roll

The band fills the floor with dancers

Looking sharp...

Enjoying every minute of playing the old girl. She`s getting a great workout and sounding excellent. I`ve not had one issue with sore hands, cramps etc even after 3 gigs in a row. At a recent rehearsal studio, another double bass player had a play of her and he was so impressed, you couldn`t take the smile of his face plus he wanted to know everything about how she came to Australia! I truly am blessed to have had the opportunity to not only meet you guys but to have been so lucky through the whole process of bringing Penny home.
Take care guys & I`ll catch up with y`all soon...Greg

It is always great to hear Greg's trip around the world to the Bass Monkey Workshop was worth it!  We look forward to Greg's return visit to the USA...I have no doubts we will see him again.   ;-)