Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas from the Bass Monkey Workshop.

It has been quiet for a few weeks as there have been lots of activity other then basses and music going on around us. The holiday season is a joyous time to reflect upon how truly fortunate we are to have our health, friends and family. My Papa used to say, “You are a millionaire and don’t know it, if you have your health”. I could not agree more.

We have had some wonderful musical moments this year and have made many new musical friends. Lonnie continues to amaze me with his persistence and craftsmanship. I am amazed by the people who contact us with great appreciation for our love of basses and their documentation of history and restoration. We both love what we do and glad there are folks out there that appreciate our efforts…no matter how small or insignificant we are in the big, wide world of the internet.

Our wishes for all that visit our blog or website; have a wonderful holiday filled with good friends and joyful music. We will do our best to keep you coming back with interesting stories and pictures from the Bass Monkey Workshop.

Merry Christmas to all!
Lonnie & Wendy

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Job well done...

The picks have been delivered with smiles all the way around.

Neal was surprised and delighted. He slipped them right on and began to play. I think he played all evening with out a pick flying off his fingers.

Perfect fit!

Now he has to find something new to bitch about because he can’t complain his fingerpicks fly off. I guess now it will be his thumb picks, capo or slide goes missing. The picks looked and played as good as anything professionally made. Lonnie was very satisfied and Neal was all smiles.

Job well done!!!

Now back to basses...

Monday, November 8, 2010

The super sized picks are DONE!

The custom made, super size, Bass Monkey Dobro picks are finished!!!

Once again I am amazed by Lonnie’s skill (and persistence) on this project. I think he surprised himself too. I watched him form these picks from a flat piece of stainless steel into the final product is pretty darn cool. Lonnie knows metal just as well as he knows wood…maybe even better.

Sammy Shelor picks on left, Lonnie picks on the right

My rough translation for the creation of the picks is they came from flat stainless steel sheet stock, to being hand cut, shaped over and around several objects. Then he hand filed and polished them. There are several steps from the porous stainless steel to the highly polished finish.

Though I am not sure of every step, there was wet sanding, then dry crocus cloth, then buffing compound and a buffing wheel. These picks gleam they are so highly polished, I really can not tell a difference from his Sammy Shelor banjo picks. I know he is very excited to present them to our Dobro playing friend Neil. I hope Neil can adapt to these new picks, as Lonnie has put a lot of effort into making them custom just for him.

Once again it was nothing more then a personal challenge to see if Lonnie could not only make the picks, but make them look and feel as good as the finest made Sammy Shelor banjo picks. I expect to see two grown men trade a handshake and a hug on Thursday night when Lonnie presents the picks to Neil. I know it seems like a silly little thing…a set of super size custom Dobro picks for an experienced and seasoned player. Some how I think it will mean the world to Neil (and to Lonnie). Someone actually cared enough to hear his lamenting (for years Neil has said nothing fits his fingers) and do something to change it…ask nothing in return but satisfaction and a smile.

Pretty darn cool.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Progress from last night until tonight...

The first pick is almost done. Lonnie needs to get some fine polishing cloth and finish detailing it.

The pick on the left is his Sammy Shelor banjo pick, the one on the right is his super size pick.

Hi never fails to amaze me. This was all done by hand, he does not have a machine shop or power tools…all by hand. He could not be more tickled with the results.

The one on the left is his super size pick.

We sure hope Neal has that million dollars he promised…or maybe just a million dollar smile of appreciation will be payment enough.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Slight Detour…

What's going on in the workshop isn’t always about basses? Lonnie has taken a slight detour with an idea to fabricate some SUPER SIZE finger picks for a jam friend.

We have a regular Thursday night jam with the locals at the community center; one of the regular pickers is a Dobro player with HUGE hands and fingers like stumps. He is a great Dobro player but you can always count on him to have a finger pick fly off or drop during a good break. His fingers are so large for years (he is 72 years old) he stuck the largest finger picks he could find on the very tips of his fingers and then glues them on…yes…glues them to his finger tips. The finger picks barely go around his finger and they cut into his cuticles.

Well, Lonnie being a welder and fabricator for many years once told Neal…I’m going to make you a set of picks that fit your finger. Of course Neal looks at him in disbelieve and say “I’ll give you a million dollars if you can do it”. As I said before…don’t challenge Lonnie and say it can’t be done…because he will prove ya wrong. Last Monday after work he stop and got the flat stainless steel…certain grade, right thickness, blah, blah. He got them cut out and roughed enough for a test fit Thursday night. I think Neal was in disbelief and still doesn’t think Lonnie can deliver the goods. Tonight Lonnie is shaping the metal and smoothing the edges. He is going to make some fancy design in the band and the polish them up like a new shiny penny. We even have a little box with velvet lining to put them in for presentation…we are crazy…I know.

The best part is Lonnie knows he can do it and Neal will be left speechless…well maybe not speechless but at least we won’t have to watch him pick up his finger picks two or three times a night. Lonnie will get back to the bass soon; right now he is on a mission. He knows he should be working on the bass but he loves a new challenge…Bass Monkey custom size finger picks.

Stay tune for pictures of the final out come…it should be fun.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Gorgeous rosewood...

Work on the bass has slowed a bit with so much outside work to be done this time of year. The new rosewood end pin had been fit and the original rosewood fingerboard has been dressed.

Once Lonnie finished the fingerboard and oiled it up the wood is gorgeous and really stands out against the blonde bass. The rosewood fingerboard and rosewood end pin really look great together. It was the right call to wait for the rosewood end pin to arrive. Well keep at it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The next bass is...

No updates on Big Daddy. I played him Friday night after a week of not playing gut strings. Amazingly he felt just fine with the Thomastik mittels. So I think it is me moving from one extreme (guts) to the other extreme (steel medium tension). The bass has such great volume we hate to mess around with it. It is me, not the bass that needs to adjust.

We are moving onto the next project. A 1945-46 Epiphone B-5 number 811. This is a VERY clean bass that needs a new end pin and set up. Lonnie will touch up any edge delamination, but over all this is another nice clean bass from the west coast. It was owned by a bluegrass player who adorned it with a rattle snake “rattler” on the inside of the bass. The folk lore I heard behind the rattler is the Irish immigrants used to put a rattle snake rattler in their fiddle case when they made their voyage across the ocean. It supposedly kept the rats on the ship from chewing the wooden instruments. I also heard Bill Monroe was to have put a rattler in his mandolin to make it sound better. I don’t know the real reason but we will let the rattler inside the bass…it gives it good Mo-Jo!!!

Lonnie was just getting started on this bass last week and he asked that I pick out the end pin for it. I chose the house standard a ULSA ebony end pin with the big removable tip…NOPE…that did not work for Lonnie’s taste. All the trim on this bass is reddish rosewood so he asked that I special order a rosewood end pin. I did and boy tell-ya…it was the right call. The rosewood end pin is a beautiful reddish gold color and will look great on this bass. We are off to a good start even if we needed to wait a week for just the right end pin to arrive.

Lonnie’s famous words…if you are going do it…do it right!

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Okay now that I have jammed with Big Daddy a few times I have some observations.

The bass is gorgeous and really is an eye catcher. Lonnie says when he watches me playing it from a distance the wood is so beautiful and flamed. The bass catches the light and glows. So we have established (several times) this bass is a looker!!! The volume of the bass is good and loud in a jam…but…the Thomastik medium strings are part of the volume and I have a difficult time adjusting from guts strings to steel strings and then back to guts (Gamut guts are my favorite).

My style of “flat out” playing really comes to life when I play a bass strung with guts…I love to dig in and thump. While the Thomastik medium gives this bass a lot of volume and sustain, I feel like I can’t dig in enough to get my groove going. I asked Lonnie to put a set of Thomastik Weich (lights) on the bass to see if I can dig in more and have softer tension to the string. I think it may compromise the volume a little, but I am wiling to give it a try. He may cut a new sound post at the same time. This one fits well, but it is skinny. Lonnie likes a more meaty sound post that has good contact with the top and back of the bass. I guess we will try one or both changes to see if I like the playability better with the Weich strings. We don’t want to compromise the tone the bass currently has…which is very loud and great for jamming.

It is difficult for me to adjust to different basses set up with different strings. It has taken a while for me to reach a place where I know what I like and what feels good when I am playing. For me my “go to” bass is my 1941 Epiphone B-1 with a full set of Gamut guts. This bass gets lots of comments for the opposite reason that Big Daddy gets comments. My Epi B-1 bass has had a hard life and it looks like it. The finish is a greenish-brown; the edges are worn down smooth. I got two comments Saturday night before I started to jam at a festival…”boy, that bass looks used”. “It looks like a rat was chewing on the edges” “Bet it was used hard and put a way wet”. I just smile and agree. Then they hear me play it and nobody cares how it looks…they love the sound. So I have the most beautiful, pristine Epiphone B-5 in Big Daddy and the complete opposite with a run down, well used Epiphone B-1 named Gunner…and I love them both. I have the best of both worlds and could not be happier. I’ll give an update on any changes we make to Big Daddy and how it affects to playability and volume.

Lonnie is preparing the next bass for a Bass Monkey makeover. A 1945 Epiphone B-5, # 811 named Luther. This bass came complete with a rattle snake “rattler” on the inside. More to come on that bass soon.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I know I keep going on and on about how beautiful this bass is…it really is!!!

Lonnie has finished the set up and it now touching up the edges. This bass has a slight milky white factory overspray around the edges. This bass by no means needed this detail but it is factory original.

We also tested the volume on this bass with Thomastik mittels…OMG…this bass is off the chart. It pushes almost 90 decibels. My loudest bass pushes 84-86 on its best day.

I won’t full appreciate this bass until we jam this weekend. Can’t wait.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Big Daddy gets some bling...

So…we were looking for an easy Epiphone bass to get up and running…well a sure way to peak Lonnie’s artistic creativity is to give him no deadline and no expectations. He has been down in the workshop for hours and he has been so very quiet. I even went down to check on him a time or two just to make sure he was okay. Yep, he was just fine but deep into a new bridge design. His passion for light, loud and bone original is taking over on this bridge design. He had laid out in his mind a way to lighten the bridge but keep the strength. He has hand carved a design on the BOTTOM side of the bridge that is quite nice looking. His thinking is when you are playing the bass and looking down at the bridge you should not see his modifications.

We discussed this the other night while driving to a jam. Lonnie has always had a “thing” for a vintage car that looked stock original but had the horses under the hood. He calls them “grocery getters”…the little old car Gramma’s drive to church on Sunday with the dog dish hub caps. But the car can lay rubber and out run the neighbor’s hot rod…you know that kind of car! It is the same way with basses. He likes to see vintage original with a little something special in the set up. The kind of bass that makes you stop, look and listen.

We shall see what this new bridge design does for Big Daddy. He is a beauty of a bass and a little bling-bling on his bridge will be just fine and dandy with me.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Big Daddy's return...

Well…after such a long and involved restoration with the previous Epiphone we were looking for an easy Epiphone to get up and running. After looking around at our fleet of choices Lonnie and I selected Big Daddy a 1941, B-5 #548 as the next bass to get a little Bass Monkey TLC.

Big Daddy as named by his previous owner, came to us from the west. The owner had this bass in his care for many years after his step-father passed away. This bass has to be one of THE most clean and pristine pre-war Epiphone’s I have laid my eyes upon. I think this bass represents the absolute height of Epiphone pre-war opulence. This bass has it all. The tuners are 24kt plated gold, the flamed wood is the finest there is and the milky white overspray was an extra detail for the finest of basses.

This bass is in excellent condition and requires only a new set up. We are leaving the original end pin and tail wire intact. It will be a crown jewel in my Epiphone bass collection.

I have selected a new bridge and a full set of Thomastik Spirocore mittels for the bass…the bass is solid and in good health. It should not take to much TLC to get this one thumping.

I hope my expectations are quickly met.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

And she's home...

The bass has arrived after her long journey home.

Here is what her owner had to say...

Thank you Wendy and thank you and Lonnie so much for this awesome instrument. I'm amazed to have found you and discovered you and Lonnie's passion for fixing up these old basses. I feel like I made a couple of new friends in life - I'll keep you updated on any gigs when I take her out!

I don't know if I ever told you that I was Counting Crows' bassist and co-founding member - I don't know if you know much about them, (we weren't U2 or anything) but we did pretty good in the mid 90's. I wish I had this bass during my Counting Crows years - we would have sounded better with her!

Anyways great to know you Wendy and also please give Lonnie my best - he's a true artist and I'm now a fan of his work.
All the best and let's please stay in touch - Matt

Doesn't get much better then that.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The long journey home!

Lost all my money but a two dollar bill, a two dollar bill...

I'm on my long journey home!

The bass is all packed and ready for its long journey home to California. It won’t be too much longer until this big beauty is back home and making sweet music again…WHEW…what a ride.

Safe travels and make us proud.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The final chapter...

California...Here I Come!

Right back where I started from where bowers of flowers bloom in the spring each morning at dawning birdies sing at everything a sunkissed miss said, "Don't be late!" that's why I can hardly wait open up that golden gate California, Here I Come...

Here is the final slide show. The pictures can do all the talking.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

California here I come...

The Epiphone is almost completed. The final detail, as small as it may be, Lonnie is trying to find the small brass “tack nails” that hold the Epi badge in place. He has the badge glued in place with a small dot of an adhesive as insurance so it won’t be lost. Since the tailpiece is not original for this bass the three pin holes for the badge are missing. He has been searching for the small tacks and an even smaller drill bit to make the pilot holes. As they say the devil is in the details.

Yesterday we had a visitor to the workshop. We asked if he would indulge us and play this bass. Jim is a local music teacher and a professional jazz musician for 30 years. He made the bass sound great and pulled tone out of it that we never could.

It was very rewarding to hear this bass make sweet music after many years of silence. She will soon be packed up for her long journey west…California here I come!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A good day indeed!

Well…today was a very good day! This bass was tuned up and played notes for the very first time in a long time. Things are going well.

Below is the bridge pre-final detailing. At this point the feet are fitted, the final detailing is not completed.

Now that the bridge has been cut, carved and detailed we can put the neck under some pressure by tuning the bass and playing it. The photo below is Lonnie detailing the bridge...his way.

The bass sounds great! Has a really great E string. True to form Lonnie went the extra mile and hollowed the bridge after we tested the volume. We did a test of before the bridge was hollowed and after the bridge was hollowed. I can say with a scientific measurement of a sound meter the hollow bridge makes the bass louder…two decibels louder.

Below you can see the bridge blank before it was detailed (on left) and after the final artistic carving and signature of a Bass Monkey bridge (on right)…awesome.

Lonnie will move on to mounting the Epiphone badge to the non-Epiphone tail piece. Detail the back of the neck with his secret Bass Monkey "speed neck" treatment. There are some final cosmetic details to the button at the neck and nut, but this bass will be jamming this Thursday and Friday for sure. I am excited to play this bass in an open jam to see how well it holds down the low end. It has a killer growl…but then again…it is an Epiphone!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The home stretch...

Tuesday evening Lonnie worked on re-fitting the sound post and nut. The original sound post is in good condition but poorly fit, barely making full contact with the top and back of the bass. Fitting a sound post through the FF holes either goes really smooth or really slows…some what like building a ship in a bottle.

This one wasn’t too bad; Lonnie needed to sand off the top and bottom of the sound post to make it more flat. The previous fit was too tight and the sound post was wedged in at an angle. Though he has the sound post fits well right now, the bass will get a final tweak once the strings and bridge are in place. We take great effort to move the sound post around to find the “sweet spot” where the bass comes alive and sounds the best (at least to our ears). The nut is in good condition and is the standard factory original two piece rosewood nut used by Epiphone during its 20 years of production. It had to be reshaped for the new steel strings which require smaller grooves then the red gut strings (possibly Red-O-Rays) that were previously on the bass.

Last evening I was in the kitchen making dinner when Lonnie came up from the workshop and said, “Come down and pick out a bridge for this bass”. Whoo-hoo! Sweet music to my ears only followed a few minutes later by another request, “pick out the strings you want too” (I get all the really important jobs!). Double whoo-hoo…we are coming down the home stretch. What a great feeling.

After dinner Lonnie went down to the workshop for another three hours (this was after a 10 hour workday at his real job in a 100 degree warehouse) to begin to fit the bridge. He get’s into a zone when he can see light at the end of the tunnel and doesn’t want to stop. He can’t wait to hear the bass make a sound for the first time…something you have worked on for so long finally speaks to you. It is a very exciting and rewarding feeling.

I think I’ll need to make a video just for posterity.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Epiphone final set up...

The neck is securely reset and the glue has rested (as if it was tired) for a few days. Lonnie’s moving on to the final set up. Right now he is working on scraping the factory original rosewood fingerboard. It has some dips and humps so he is working them out to a nice smooth surface with just the right amount of scoop (relief) in the fingerboard.

The process is all hand, eye and a feel for what is just the right amount of recess in the fingerboard. Once the bass is set up with a new bridge and strings he will check the fingerboard again for buzzing and the easy of playing.

Lonnie and I will work together on the final set up and approval.

That is the fun part…where I get to test drive the bass.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

As of yesterday the neck is now glued in place. This is a HUGE step forward in the completion of this bass.

The color touch up work is completed at the scroll and neck joint. The hide glue is set but we will let the bass rest for a few days. Once Lonnie is satisfied with all the repairs he will move on to the set up, another huge step forward. This bass will soon be swinging again.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Epiphone update...

We are making progress a little bit at a time. The repairs are beginning to disappear under the artist color tinted to match the bass.

Lonnie’s first attempt looked good but was a bit too yellow/orange. So he tried again…this time it was too solid looking. He wiped the color off and started again, looking for the right shade.

My years in art school and hours of color theory I mentioned to Lonnie to add a little pure blue to the orange to tone it down. Orange and blue are opposite colors on the primary color wheel. Blending the right amounts of pure color will result in a dark grey black. I only mention this is passing to Lonnie on my way down stairs to start another load of laundry.

When I went back down stairs he was grinning from ear to ear. I looked at the bass *dang* that is the right color…what did you do? He just smiled and said you were right…just a touch of blue did the trick. He said how do I know that shit? Many, many hours of working with paint to make a 288 step color wheel in art school that I got a 3.8 grade. Color theory is burned into my brain.

The bass is really starting to take shape. Once all the touch up work is completed next is gluing in the neck. We have a plan to gig this bass several times before it heads back to the west coast and its rightful owner.

Stay tuned....