Monday, December 28, 2009

Epiphone neck repairs...

Well Christmas has come and gone and we are finally getting to work on the Epiphone.

We have cleaned the shop, reorganized the basses, added Lonnie some creature comforts (for Lonnie and the basses) and we are ready to get working! Lonnie is working on getting the broken part of the neck out of the neck block. It is giving him a challenge as the old repair was not made with hide glue but rather some form of an epoxy. This means the glue is not softening with warm water like hide glue does making removing the neck more time consuming.

He will repair the broken neck from the bottom up once he gets both pieces removed. Typically when he resets the neck is requires some very thin shims be made to take up any wobble that has formed over the years. When the neck repair has been completed he will move on the scroll repair…which will be a challenge. Stay tuned and I’ll keep the updates coming.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

at the Bass Monkey Workshop

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The tailpieces and end pins were lined up by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
upright basses were nestled all snug in their stands,
While visions of new strings danced in their heads;
And Wendy in her 'kerchief, and Lonnie in his fedora,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher!
now, Dancer!
Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on,
Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch!
to the top of the wall!
Now dash away!
dash away!
dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of new strings, bridges and endpins, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of bass goodies he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a musical good-night."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Epiphone B-4 # 1454

And we are onto the next project…Epiphone B-4 # 1454. This one will be a challenge for sure!

This bass came to us from the west coast for a neck repair but there is a bit more to the story. The scroll took a hard “whack” at one time and the previous repair is now failing. We will need to repair the scroll and peg box to make it solid. The neck break is the lesser of the two repairs.

We have just started on this bass so come back and see how we make progress. Lonnie is still in the thinking and problem solving mode.

More to come…

The final chapter on the 1942 Kay S-9

Well it is time to write the closing chapter on Martha’s restoration.

Lonnie got into a groove and this bass came together pretty fast. On Thanksgiving morning (a non-work day) Lonnie was up at 6:00 am working on the final set up. He had in his head he wanted the bass ready for our Friday night jam and nothing was standing in his way…not evening Thanksgiving dinner. We ran right to the wire, by mid day Friday Martha was a thumping gal. And true to form, the Velvet Garbo’s did not work well on this bass. I don’t like the “boing-boing” sound from the Garbo’s. They did not make the 1950 AS bass sound good and the same sound came from Martha…so it must be the strings and not the bass. We chose a string combination I had in reserve for a special bass, a Gamut gut G & D and a Thomastik steel Dominant A & E. I like this combo on this bass.

I played it Friday night and also had another bass player play it for an hour while we listen…sounded really loud in a large jam. When the bass player handed Martha back he said “you did it again…this is ANOTHER good one!” We love to hear that, it made Lonnie smile. The extra effort was worth it. He spent a good deal of time on repairing the edges, which was one of the first things the other player commented about. The bass really looks good for it age, it had a caring owner for a long time before it came into our hands. So Martha is now completed and living along side by side with all the other basses.

The Kay S-9 is a nice sister bass to my Kay M-4…basically the same bass but renamed M-4 to S-9 in 1940. A nice pair to have and compare.

On to the next project...don't has already started!!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

1942 Kay S-9...

The Kay S-9 bass is coming along better then expected! Lonnie has cleaned up the edges really nice; he made all the edge chipping disappeared. When the bass is completed it will be difficult to see the edge repairs…very cool. The fingerboard is original and the ebony is of good quality. He scraped it clean, put scoop in it and filled in the bolt holes at the end of the fingerboard. It looks really fresh and ready for a light oil rub down.

The new end pin installation is putting up a bit of a struggle. Lonnie cut off the huge fixed wooden dowel that was used for an end pin while the back of the bass was removed. The hole is too large for the new USLA ebony end pin, so he is using the extra wood to make the diameter of the opening smaller. A light turn with his tapered end pin reamer and it should fit better then new. Lonnie just purchased some vintage German tapered reamers; he now has three sizes and can accommodate most any size end pin.

If he keeps this pace on this bass over the holiday, I expect to be thumping it by early December. My choice for strings on this bass will be a full set of Velvet Garbo’s, if the bass does not respond with that string we will move onto gut or Spiro’s. The bass sounded pretty darn good with a dead set of steel strings. I expect with a fresh set up, new strings and tight fitting back this baby should sing.

Stay tuned…

Sunday, November 22, 2009

1942 Kay S-9...

The bass is glued up and feels good and solid. Lonnie made good progress today repairing all the edges. A Kay S-9 has real factory inlaid purfling, which looks really nice but it causes the edges to chip more quickly then a non-purfed edge. This bass had some chipping around the edges mostly on the bottom back and the at the violin corners. Lonnie has come up with a real nice technique that works well to fill in the missing pieces with out removing any original wood. In most cases once he has made the repairs and completes the color touch up you can not see the repaired edges. This is the best way we have found to make a vintage bass look original as it can be.

The original ebony fingerboard is in good shape and only needs a light dressing. The end of the board needs a repair as there was a 1950’s style pick up mounted through the fingerboard with nuts and bolts. Lonnie will fill the hole with an ebony paste and sand it down. It will look as good as new when it is all finished.

He is making good progress and hopes to be working on the set up by the weekend. I’ll be playing this one sooner then I thought.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2009

On to the dry fit...

The repairs to the inside are completed and Lonnie has begun to dry fit and then later glue the back…zipping it all up so to speak. The dry fit is a tug of war between the body and the back of the bass. Because the bass sides become flexible when the back it is off the dry fit is a necessary process before he begins to use any hide glue. As soon as the bass is all glued up we can flip it over and start on the next steps.

Once again…how many clamps does one bass need?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lonnie is making slow and steady progress by working on the bass a little bit each evening. I stood and watched him for a while last evening; it is still amazing to me after 25 years of knowing him how meticulous he is. He cleaned the old hide glue from the edges of the front and back of the bass with warm water and a stiff brush moving along the edges inch by inch. The kerfling (the slotted rib lining on the inside of a Kay bass) was cleaned tooth by tooth to get the old glue out from between the slots...a slow process to watch.

During the process of removing the back some small pieces of wood broke loose with the old hide glue. Lonnie is taking each little sliver of wood and re-attaching to the font or back of the bass where it belongs. He is also gluing together any loose plies around the edges of the back. We have found in working on these vintage basses they produce the best tone and volume when the wood is making full contact and can vibrate freely while playing. This is why Lonnie takes such great pains to glue any open seams, plies or makes paper thin shims during the neck re-setting process…the more solid the bass is, the better it sounds.

The patch work on the upper bout is going well; the huge wooden C clamp is from his grand-dad’s workshop. Lonnie’s grand-dad passed away when Lonnie was young and he barely remembers him…but he remembers his tools and his work ethic very well. It is cool to see an old tool being used on and old bass, they go together like milk and cookies.

Monday, November 9, 2009

1942 Kay S-9 named Martha...

Meet Martha, a 1942 Kay S-9 serial number 9892. She has been selected to be the next bass for a full Bass Monkey make over. She is in good over all condition and sounded pretty sweet with some really old dead steel strings. This bass came to us from the mid-west and if I had to guess it has not been a gigging bass for many years. The 1950’s style pick up, the original canvas bass bag with the initials “M.S.” on the outside, the coatings of dust on the inside are all indicators to me that she has been sitting for quite some time…but we are here to change that!

This bass is your classic pre-war Kay and being the “S” model or a Swingmaster she has the fully factory carved scroll, a factory installed ebony fingerboard, real inlaid purfling and the classic ebony horseshoe detail at the button, which are all original and intact. These are features you will find on the professional grade Kay Swingmasters. These basses have just a bit more “frills” then a regular student grade Kay M-1B and only a few of the S-9’s were manufactured so they are more rare…especially a pre-war model.

We want to make this Kay last another 68 years or more so we are going to repair some cosmetic concerns in addition to a new set up and end pin. The first thing we noticed is the back of the bass had open seams on the upper bouts and a quarter size hole on the E side upper bout. My guess is at some point in its life the bass fell and caused the classic Kay neck break…which has been well repaired a long time ago and remains solid…but what was not repaired was the hole in the upper bout. Since the back was already loose it made more sense to remove the back, repair the hole from the inside to give a nice clean appearance from the outside. This also gives an opportunity to inspect the bass bar and the interior of the bass for other flaws. One additional curious thing is the large, fixed wooden end pin, it is larger then a broom stick and glued in solid to the end pin block. With the back off we can cut off the fixed wooden end pin, bush the oversize hole and install a new adjustable ULSA ebony end pin. This will make the bass much more user friendly for the next lucky owner. Also with the back off we can clean out 68 years of dust and dirt…and boy this bass was dusty and dirty on the inside.

The back is now off and it did not put up too much of a struggle. I wish we had time lapsed photography of this process, which I don’t because I was holding the bass. The process requires a steady hand, nerves of steel and trying to not listen to the cracking sound which is the hide glue releasing from the wood. It made me jump a few times and I got “the look” from Lonnie to be quiet…as to say “I’m not hurting the bass!”

With the back off, the dirt cleaned out we are ready to start the repairs from the inside out. The great news is the bass is in really good condition with no delamination in the plywood, the interior wood is beautiful and the bass bar is in perfect condition. I even see signs of bird’s eye maple on the interior laminates. I wonder why sometime the inside of the bass has more fancy wood then the outside…but then again they were trying to match the wood on the outside…and Kay did a fine job on this bass. It has a beautiful honey, blonde patina that only years of use and wear will give to the finish.

I’ll keep the updates coming as we want to have this blonde beauty completed for the holidays.

More to come, stay tuned!!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Epiphone B-4 update...

Wow…where does time go? It has been almost two months and the workshop has been mostly silent. As festival season drawls to a close our time in the workshop will pick up. We have some pretty cool projects starting to line up for the winter. We can’t wait to get started.

To write the closing chapter on the Blonde, Epiphone B-4 bass, # 1854…it is completed and sounding sweet. This was a MUCH easier project then the 1950 AS bass. It only took Lonnie a few months in the workshop instead of a whole year…very nice. This Epi bass has gotten lots of compliments for its beautiful blonde finish…it is a looker for sure. It sounds pretty stout too. I am looking forward to putting some playing time on it with winter jamming. The bass has been silent for many years, so I think with some good playing time it will open up even more then it has just in the past month. It has a really sweet mid range and sounds a bit jazzier to my ear then bluegrass. The tone of the bass is more complex…not just thump…which is nice. It has Thomastik Spiro mittels which are a nice match for this bass. I feel it needs a new owner who is a better player then me to really bring out the potential on this big Blondie. I do not play arco but Lonnie has drug a bow over it…boy does it fill the room with volume. Because it needs played, we are offering this bass for sale and can be seen at our website in “The Showroom”. If we can match this bass up with a happy new owner would be fantastic. We have seven Epiphone basses…I think we can share one or two with another deserving bass player.

While we are on Epiphone’s…Lonnie is working on a little Epiphone arch top guitar that I thought I just had to have. I love my Martin guitar but wanted a pre-war Epiphone guitar for a few years…hopefully this one passed through Epi’s hands…maybe there is some mojo in it. Lonnie is giving it a good once over…surprise-surprise. It needs a neck reset, some touch up work, new bridge adjusters and strings. I want to have a custom soft case made for it as I plan to take it to jams and camping…it is a nice easy playing guitar…just what I needed.

I’ll keep the update coming as new bass projects get started in our workshop. Once the Epi guitar is in good playing condition we have to decide which bass gets the full Bass Monkey treatment…I think it might be the 1937 Kay O-100, # 785 that we have had for four years. We have never heard a note of music from this bass but it sure looks nice. A beautiful, dark red brown patina…both Lonnie and I have a sweet spot for dark, rich, brown basses. You can’t beat 73 years worth of patina and experience…a new bass can’t begin to scratch that vintage itch.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Epiphone B-4 #1854

We are currently working on a 1953-1954 Epiphone Blonde B-4 number 1854.

This bass has been on the bench for a short time but has been waiting in the wings for almost 2 years. It has interesting history and I feel it was one of the early Epiphone basses to come out of the Philadelphia factory. My history shows Epiphone moved their manufacturing from New York to Philadelphia after a long labor strike in 1953. The serial number being stamped on the end of the fingerboard, I think indicates this was beginning of a new era for the Epiphone bass manufacturing location. According to history, the craftsmen who refused to move from New York to Philadelphia formed the Guild Guitar Company in 1953. With this bass steeped heavily in the Epiphone legacy we are giving it the full Bass Monkey spa treatment WITH the super tuned Lonnie modifications. Over all the bass was in good condition. We found the old end pin was glued into place with a bunch of shims…a pretty poor job of trying to keep the end pin knob in place. After much wiggling Lonnie successfully removed it in preparation for a new ULSA rosewood endpin. The new endpin is a really nice match to the reddish rosewood fingerboard.

Lonnie has become quite impressed with the volume and tone of the 1953 Kay bass we just finished, so he has decided to do the modifications to the bridge and tail piece again. This time he has lightened the bridge even more and hollowed the tail piece. The rock maple tail piece on this bass proved to be more of a challenge then the Kay rosewood tailpiece. The rock maple wood was much harder…we had wood shavings and splinters galore in the workshop. Lonnie has even taken this one step further this time by adding color to the back of the tailpiece to give it the same patina as the front. The goal with his modifications is to keep the bass as original in appearance as possible but bring out the maximum volume and tone…plus he loves the challenge.

This bass is getting the following upgrades:

New rosewood ULSA endpin
Hi-Tec tail gut
Saddle re-shaped
Custom carved, fit and hollowed Despiau Bridge
Sound post refit with an adjustment
The rosewood fingerboard has been dressed and oiled
The nut has been re-shaped
New Thomastik Spirocore mittels (mediums)
The neck has been re-set and shimmed for a tight fit
The edges of the bass have been touched up and colored to match

Even though this bass visually was in great shape we have found ways to improve the playability and make it healthy for the next 50 years or more. This one will soon be completed and ready for a jam. We have been so enamored by the 1953 Kay bass “Vince” that we will need to set it aside and give this bass named “Jethro” some playing time. Yeah...the name Jethro came from a two bass purchase on one road trip…we acquired Homer & Jethro on the same weekend. For all you bluegrass fans…you will remember Homer & Jethro and their silly songs…these names just came from one long car trip where we got a little silly from lack of sleep.

Stay tuned for the final unveiling of Jethro…it is going to be a really nice Epiphone bass for the collection.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Miss Honey Epiphone #674...

Meet Miss Honey…Epiphone #674

Disclaimer: This is NOT our bass!!!

My love for Epiphone basses is no secret. I must have a kindred spirit to Epiphone’s. On a recent festival vacation we found possibly the only Epiphone at the campground and of course we were immediately drawn to it like a moth to a light. Just strolling along we saw the bass in a creative homemade bass stand and Lonnie said I think that is an Epiphone…well we just had to see!

This bass is owned by Dean from Altoona, PA and bless his heart is was a dumpster dive save…Miss Honey has her battle scars but let me tell you…I got to jam late into the morning hours on her and had no complaints…she held down the lowed just fine. Even though this bass was saved from a trash dumpster it has some interesting features…it is suffering from an identity crisis. The tail badge says B-3 but the back with the loop screams B-4 to me. The three piece neck is some what rare on Epiphone’s and the blonde flamed wood is pretty nice condition. Dean pieced her back together…by the way…Dean is one awesome banjo picker and we had a great time at their jam…his handy work has made this bass thump once again. Good Job!

I know this post has nothing to do with The Bass Monkey workshop but I thought is was pretty cool to see this recycled Epiphone bass make music once again…a passion we share with Dean and friends.

Have fun looking at the slide show of Miss Honey…you can recognize this bass any where!!!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

1953 Kay C-1 is now completed!

The 1953 Kay C-1 named “Vince” is finished and sounding great. We went jam camping and to two evening jam sessions and so far the bass is winner. This past Friday was a large open jam with two basses in the house. I and the other bass player were taking turns playing and at one point the guitar player in the corner said…thump on that bass, I can’t hear that other bass…music to our ears!

This bass did not take near as long as the American Standard bass to restore, only a few short months and it would have been even faster if Lonnie had skipped the experimental “super tuning” ideas…but it has all worked out real well. This bass is a real good Kay and I am not in any hurry to see this one go…it can stay in the family for a while.

If you want to see the full slide shows of this bass click on the link below and enjoy!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Another rescue...

Well…we did it again…rescued another bass…rescue, recycle, restore…we love it!

This is Epiphone bass #1304 a B-4. This bass has been dormant for over 40 years. It was previously owned by a vagabond and given to his trusted friend as keepsake. That trusted friend is now down sizing and found us through a relative. We are happy to add this bass to our Epiphone family.
This bass is suffering from years of dis-use and has the battle scars of a troubled life, but we feel we can breathe new life back into this piece of history. The bass is very dry and the wood has aged way beyond is its 60 plus years of existence. We will put it inline for a full restore with hopes that we can bring this vintage beauty back into playable condition. It maybe a few years before we can hear it sing but our efforts are always rewarded when our basses can make joyful music once again.

Here is a full slide show...enjoy

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Final touches...

We are working on the finishing touches…that includes a new custom volute. Many of the Kay basses lose one or both of the glued on volutes during a life time of playing. Replica volutes are available and we have used them but Lonnie wanted to try and make his own…more of an exact match.

He made a mold so he can make a positive and negative impression from the existing volute and closer match. This is an advantage we have by studying many American made plywood basses at one time. After you look at enough Kay’s you can see there are slight differences over the years of manufacturing. The current “two size fits all” replacement volutes were not satisfactory for Lonnie, so has decided to make his own… cool and very ambitious.

His first attempt is pretty darn impressive.

This bass is jam ready with only these few cosmetic details to finish.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Update on the 1953 Kay...

We are getting close to completion…Lonnie is pushing to make the bass playable for an upcoming jam/camping weekend. Yesterday he spent the day on set up and finishing the bridge. I test drove it last evening but found the action a bit high for the Thomastik Dominant strings so he is lowering the string height for me, just a little bit.

The bass is LOUD and has a nice growl. We tested the volume and it pushed 82 decibels at five feet…that is loud for a Kay…usually that volume comes from an American Standard or an Epiphone…this must be one of THOSE Kay’s…a good one.

Lonnie's brainstorm modifications either worked or this is just a good Kay bass…or both. The lightening of the tailpiece and the bridge definitely did not hurt the volume. We will take it on a real test drive out under the moon and stars to see what others think of the sound and tone. I know I am already happy…we have rescued, recycled and restore another fine American made plywood bass…nothing better then to save a few new trees and an old plywood bass...we both love this stuff!!!

More to come.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Carving the bridge...

The special modification work continues on the Kay bass. Lonnie is working on lightening the bridge. This is the same technique he used on the American Standard bass bridge. All of this work is accomplished by hand carving the bridge. Not an easy “freehand” task.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

1953 Kay...resume

The weather has been cool and rainy so it gives us a break from outside projects and a little time to resume work on the 1953 Kay bass. Having attended the 2009 ISB convention last week really got the creative juices flowing for Lonnie. So many beautiful bass designs, outstanding craftsmanship and the opportunity to touch and feel the woods. Lonnie has been inspired to try a few modifications to the Kay bass to get as much volume and tone as we can from this vintage beauty. I wondered how long it was going to take for him to experiment with a bass. Lonnie has a long history of restoring old things, modifying new things and in general being more creative then most people are willing to take the time to invest into a project.

As a kid (6 or 7 years old) Lonnie along with his Dad and younger brother spent many an evening in the family garage super tuning lawn mower engines for their racing go carts. That led to fast, custom motorcycles as teenagers and eventfully building and racing muscle cars in the late 1970’s…on a drag strip (no street racing). So most of Lonnie’s life he has worked with his hands and his brain creating things…working on vintage basses is not a huge leap for his talents. For a ten year span he worked for a small company that modified custom vans for the handicap community. His daily job consisted of taking brand new custom vans (expensive custom vans) cutting off the roofs and dropping the floors to make them handicap assessable. You have to have some really creative skills to work around custom interiors of completed vans when you are using cutting shears and a welder…this was probably the most creative and interesting career he had has so far in his lifetime.

So I told you all that to tell you this…the modifications he has planned for the Kay bass will not alter the original appearance of the bass but are only intended to bring out the best tone possible. He is currently “super tuning” the tail piece and has some design plans for a custom bridge and end pin. I never know what is in his head until is it completed on the bass. By the time he executes his modifications he has built it a hundred times in his head…the man can problem solve in his sleep…this is why I feel HE is the true artist in the house, even though I am the one with the degree in art.

I’ll continue to update with new post as he makes progress. We have not picked out a string yet but we are leaning towards Thomastik Dominants solo tuned to EADG.