Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

With today being a holiday from work (yes we both have full time jobs) we had a delightful visit with Alan Bartram of the Del McCoury and the Travelin’ McCoury’s.  Alan flew in from Nashville (Southwest, $50 up charge for the flight case) with his flight case to pick up his 1939 American Standard that he auditioned a month ago.  The bass was all tuned and ready to go.  The first few notes were met with an “ahhhhh” it sounds better then I remembered.  Then some serious scales and slapping.  Yep this bass is heading to Nashville, music city USA.   

Ahhhh, those first notes

Some serious scales and slapping

The bass is a keeper.  Smiles all the way around.

Getting packed into the SBS flight case

Ready for that long journey home to Nashville...yeah baby!

Alan said he is working on a banjo album with Robbie right now and borrowed a 1950’s American Standard for the recording session.  He can’t wait to get this bass home so the band can hear his new sound.  He plans to take the bass to the Opry and play on stage…that is so very cool.  I am sure if he runs into Kent “Superman” Blanton, the Opry house bass player they can geek out test driving the American Standard.  Kent is a huge fan of the American Standard basses and maintains the American Standard and King Mortone database and website. 

This was a delightful day and we hope to have a great jam tonight to make it just down right awesome.

Merry Christmas everyone.  This has been a fantastic year for collecting basses, restoring some tired vintage basses, meeting new friends and making some wonderful music.

We look forward to 2012 with great anticipation. 

Wendy & Lonnie

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Stanleytone Banjo #25 of the 50 first edition gold plated from 1984

Lonnie spent most of the day Saturday working on the Stanleytone banjo.  He disassembled the banjo so he could clean all the parts and polish the gold plating to a glistening shine.  The banjo was dirty and had a film of dust, dirt, and sweat; it needed a good over all cleaning.  The metal parts cleaned up really well.  The tuners were loose and the tail piece was not adjusted properly. 

As Lonnie reassembled the banjo he put on a new Five star smooth white banjo head.  He is making a custom fit Snuffy Smith bridge by taking the excess wood out of the bridge.  He has a gram scale and knows just about how thin to make them for the best tone.  He keeps checking the head tension to let the new head settle in before he makes too many tweaks.  The banjo has lots of potential; Lonnie will keep playing around until he finds that sweet spot that brings it to life with the classic Ralph Stanley sound.

The banjo before disassembled

Frank Neat (banjo maker) with Ralph's name

The serial number, this banjo was finished 11/19/1984 and is #25 of the first 50 gold plated banjos custom made for Ralph Stanley.
With the resonator back off you can see the 40 hole tone ring and fancy engraving

The outside edge of the resonator.  Fancy Birdseye maple with gold sparkle and ivory binding
Fine engraved tail piece

Top is original bridge that came on the banjo.  Middle is Snuffy Smith bridge before detailing.  Bottom is Lonnie's Bart Veerman red dot is a little piece of art.  Beautiful well crafted banjo bridge.

Lonnie at work.  He loves to take something old and make it look as good as new.

The back of the neck with out the tuners.  The banjo is a reddish pink brown.  It is very bright an showy with the gold sparkle resonator binding

After re-assembly.  The new Five star head needs to settle in before final tweaking begins.  The banjo looks so much better cleaned up. 

Popeye is going home…

Today was jubilation day; Popeye is finished and heading home.  The King Mortone restoration took about eight month of on again, off again efforts to get it back into to fine playing condition.  After a nice leisurely visit with Mike and Sharon today, a few thumps on Popeye and a good meal…all is well.  Popeye got the full Bass Monkey treatment and is looking good and sounding great once again. We know he will be appreciated and will make some fine bluegrass music.  It sounds like his first jam will be later this week.  We are anxious to hear how the bass is receipted by the band members.  This was a great bass project for two wonderfully nice people.  

We are moving along to the Stanleytone banjo next.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Its official…the King Mortone bass is completed

We took the bass out Thursday and Friday to our local jam and it was a big hit.  I am always amazed at what folks pay attention to.  We no sooner had the bass out of the gig bass then the questions started…

That’s a new one. 

Where did you get it?

It sure is pretty, I like that dark finish.

What year is it?

How does it sound?

What’s the U.S.N. stand for on the back?

Wow…that thing sounds great.  I can hear it all the way in the bathroom.

Is it for sale?

I like it, bring that one back any time!

And it goes on and on.  The bass looks and sounds great.  It was a joy to play and even more of joy to watch the grin on Lonnie’s face grow larger with every question I answered.  First time out with a new bass is always a challenge especially when it is a three hour jam.  You never know how it will sound in the mix of the other instruments and there is no opportunity to make adjustments.  You need to play it through, no matter what.  The bass seemed a bit tight early in the evening but once it warmed up, the strings settled in the bass really began to open up.  With some serious play time this bass will be a boomer…I liked it! 

At the end of the Friday night jam a gentleman I never saw before came up and began to ask questions about the bass.  Come to find out he was a retired Navy guy and was really enamored by the U.S.N. carved in the back of the bass.  We had a very nice conversation and he was delighted to know this bass had a past life in the Navy Band and was singing proud again. 

That is the stuff that makes you all warm and fuzzy inside.  Every bit of effort and Lonnie’s TLC was worth it. 

Here are some quick pictures from Lonnie during the jam.  He’s not much of a photographer, so I’ll take what I get.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas time's a coming...

The Thanksgiving holiday is behind us and Christmas times’ a coming.

Christmas time's a coming
Christmas time's a coming
Christmas time's a coming

And I know I'm going home

Can't you hear them bells
A ringing, ringing
Joy to all oh hear them singing
When it's snowing I'll be going
Back to my country home

The workshop is all a buzz right now with basses AND banjo’s. We can tell the economy is improving as folks are visiting the website, workshop and the pace of sales inquires is increasing. These are all good signs for our economy…finally. We had a nice break over the holiday with a quick trip to the sunny south. The sky was clear blue and the temperatures in the mid 70’s. What a nice way to extend the fall season and get a break from the rain.

Now, on to the business at hand. The King Mortone is coming down the homestretch. We left off with the G string breaking as Lonnie was bringing it up to tune for some final tweaking. The new replacement string arrived while we were on vacation and it has been installed. Lonnie was busy working last evening on final details with some color touch up and in general “fussing” over the small details. This bass is very close to being done…Mike & Sharon, I know you are tuned in and watching. Popeye will be home for Christmas…if not sooner!

The next small project is some set up adjustments on the 1939 American Standard bass that is heading to “Music City USA” for Christmas. I wish we were delivering this bass in person. We love Nashville and can’t wait to visit there again real soon. The 1939 AS bass is going to live with Alan Bartram of the Del McCoury and the Travelin’ McCourys. The bass is destine for a good bluegrass recording with that old school gut sound. Alan chose this bass as an opposite to his 1950’s Kay M-1-B bass strung with Spiro mediums. The AS should give him a totally different sound and feel for his future studio recordings. We are honored and delighted to have helped Alan find his new musical friend…Harvey.

And finally a new banjo project. Lonnie is not only skilled with basses, making custom finger picks, but he loves banjos too. Especially the Frank Neat Stanleytone banjos. We have a fabulous banjo playing friend who fell in love with Lonnie’s “super tuned” Stanleytone banjo over a year ago. So much so he never forgot how this banjo sounded or played and longed to have a banjo just like Lonnie’s. After a year of waiting and watching the banjo gods have shined down when a Stanleytone became available for sale on the secondary market. 

Lonnie’s friend got the banjo on a Friday afternoon and had it in Lonnie’s hands on Saturday and basically said, “I don’t want it back until it sounds and plays like your banjo”. WOW, there is a vote of confidence and a challenge from an excellent, hard driving, traditional banjo player…sweet! As soon as the two basses are finished he will jump on the Stanleytone banjo project. It needs a good overall cleaning, polishing, detailing, new head, new custom bridge, strings and Lonnie’s “super tuning” adjustments that will bring the banjo to life with that Ralph Stanley arch top RING. The Stanleytone banjos are a limited edition arch top banjo made exclusively by Frank Neat, they must be purchased directly from Ralph Stanley at a performance or find them on the secondary market.  

Lonnie loves a challenge and he has great confidence that he can pull that classic Ralph Stanley mountain music tone from this banjo. If you love banjos, stay tune. If you don’t, come back in a few weeks and we will be back to bass restorations. I think next bass in line will be the 1956 American Standard; this bass will be going to a young bluegrass student studying at ETSU…very cool.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A hydrant sorta day for the King Mortone...

Some days you are the dog and some days you are the hydrant…today Lonnie was the hydrant…SIGHS!
He has been pushing hard to get the final touches completed on this King Bass before the holiday.  The screws have proven to be a royal pain in the butt.  Thinning the tops down makes them fit nicely but also make them prone to weakness if you go too far.  Last night I heard more four letter, compound words come from the workshop then I have heard in a long time.  Lonnie was completely beside himself when one of the screws broke off in the tuner plate.  Needless to say I found some house cleaning and dusting that needed done just to stay occupied and out of the line of fire.  Tonight I came home from work and Lonnie was already busy in the workshop still chasing the high spots on that hard fingerboard.  I swear the smallest things will drive you mad.  All of this was capped off with the sound of bringing the G string up to tune…boing…boing…boing…snap…son of a #%+#%.  Yep the G string broke mid tune. 

Sigh…today was a hydrant sorta day…SIGH.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The King Mortone and a loose screw...

I am always saying…the devil is in the details. 

So if you follow the workshop blog you know Lonnie is annul about details and has the persistence of a dog with a bone.  He will play with a piece of metal or wood for hours on end for no other reason then…because he can. 

The screws we searched and found for the King Mortone tuners were the right length, shaft, head shape but the head of the screws were a bit larger then the old one.  Well true to form, Lonnie does not let it stop him…I’ll let the pictures do the talking but basically he filed down the circumference of the screw head so it would be a perfect match to the vintage screws…I think he has a screw loose.  He is a crazy, crazy boy!

Original screw top left, new screw top right

Yeah...this is the genious at work

All things are possible with imagination

This side is done and looking good

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Alan Bartram of the Del McCoury Band and The Travelin' McCoury's

You just never know what direction the day will take you when your eyes open at sunrise. 

Thursday 11/10/11, (full moon) I woke up earlier then normal and could not sleep so I leaped out of bed at 5:00 am and caught up on some laundry and dishes…wonderful way to start the day…NOT!  

Late afternoon I checked my e-mails and had “Hello from Alan Bartram”…unh?...Alan Bartram!  The Alan Bartram that plays bass for Del McCoury and the Travelin' McCoury’s?!?  Yep, it was THEE Alan Bartram.  We met Alan two years ago, back stage at Merlefest where we offered for him to come by and visit the workshop...when he is travelin' through.  

I return his call to have him answer the phone by saying…”yeah, we are in Del’s driveway (Del’s old home place in PA is a few miles from our house) trying to decide what we are doing this evening.  “Can I stop by the workshop and look around?”  Say no more, boy howdy, come on over.  

Lonnie rushed around the shop cleaning up the sawdust and putting away his tools and I whipped up a batch of homemade brownies from my special reserve imported dark chocolate.  Alan and fiddle player Jason Carter showed up at our door and we invited them in for warm brownies and milk.  What a delightful visit with two super nice guys.  We talked about all kinds of stuff from basses, to repair, to stories about Del and Jerry.  It was a great evening. 

Alan walked through the workshop and looked over the collection of basses.  He played all the basses that were set up and playable.  Feeling left out, Jason asked if we had a friend or neighbors with this many fiddles…nope.  The guys were in awe of the bass collection, when two full time musicians from Nashville tell us we have some thing special going on…well it makes you feel pretty darn good.  Upon gazing at the collection of American Standard basses, Jason relayed a story about the one time he played with Roy Huskey, Jr.  He said he did not amplify the bass, Jason was disappointed.  The one time he would get to play with Roy and he would not be able to hear the bass…wrong…unamplified Jason said the bass just filled the room.  It was awesome.  I love hearing stories like that and the story of “play it like Boat”.  Apparently Boat was a bass player for Del in the early days “that did not know much about notes” but could slap the shit out of a bass and keep a good rhythm. 

We had a wonderful evening and only one thing could have made it better…Alan picked out a bass he liked and it will follow him home to Nashville.  It doesn’t get any better then that.  Brownies, milk and a vintage bass.  What a great evening.  We are looking forward to Alan’s return visit to pick up the bass and have it make its journey back to Nashville.  I can say with out a doubt Alan and Jason are true music professionals, you will not find two nicer gentlemen to share an evening of bass talk, music talk and batting the breeze.

You just never know what the day will bring.

Lonnie with Alan Bartram bass player for the Travelin' McCoury's

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Billy Lee Cox and Scott Brandon 11/6/11 benefit...

Here is a picture and article from my first on stage gig Sunday 11/6/11.  Though you can't see the bass it was Polly pretty Polly my 1937 Kay M-4.

This was a great show for a good cause.  It was a good day for all!

Wendy, Tracy, Scott, Billy Lee

Monday, October 31, 2011

King Mortone and the October snow...

Happy Halloween…Boo!

So the calendar says it’s October but the snow on the ground feels like January.  Incredibly we had 9” of wet heavy snow on Saturday.  So much snow that Lonnie used the snow blower to clear the driveway.  Did someone piss Mother Nature off, because she sure acts like she is not happy?  This year we have had record breaking rain, heat, earthquake and now a record breaking snow on October 29th.  Is there no end?

The King Mortone has a new bridge, strings and final tweaking has begun.  This is the fun part for me as I get to test drive and make suggestions for adjustments.  I can’t wait to hear and play Popeye; I’ll need to eat some spinach to build up my muscles for playing him.

Final adjustments

Looking sweet from this angle

Custom fit and detailed Bass Monkey bridge


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The King Mortone and excellence...

To quote the late Steve Jobs:

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected”

Nothing is ever easy…the King Mortone is coming along nicely. Lonnie finally got the fingerboard flat and smooth to his satisfaction. The other challenge is finding the correct screws for the tuner plates. There were a few screws missing and not all matched so we have been on a search for the correct size, color and shape of oval head screws. You would think no problem, go to the hardware store and buy new screws. It’s not that easy to find vintage replacement # 3 X 3/8” screw from the mid 1950’s. Things have changed in 60 years. Lonnie has made trips to four different specialty stores looking for a match and countless hours online looking. We think we found a good match at a vintage guitar restoration dealer. We will soon find out when the post office delivers $8.00 worth of screws for $9.00 of shipping. That is the price you pay for excellence. The devil is in the details…it is all the small details that make the big difference when the bass is finished.

The second bump in the road which was an “ah-ha” moment is when Lonnie began to fit the bridge. He always starts by using the A string to hold the bridge in place with tension to get his measurements and alignment starting place. He called me to the workshop to look at the strings, Thomastik Dominant solo tuning. He said something is wrong with the strings…the silks are barely clearing the nut. It’s like the strings are too short for the string length, which is 43” on a King. Now I know these are the right strings and I know we have used this very same string on our 1935 King bass with a 43” strings length…so I KNOW they will work.

We are standing there looking at each other puzzled and then the dim light begins to glow. How long in the tail piece? Aren’t they all the same? Oh no…we begin to measure and found out among the collection of H.N. White basses that we have (3 Kings and 5 American Standards) the tail pieces vary from 12 ¼” up to 13 1/2”. AHHHH…that was it! This tailpiece was shorter then the other basses, therefore the strings were not getting into the peg box far enough. Once we understood the “math problem” we knew how to fix it. The original fixed tail wire was still in place on the tail piece. Lonnie removed the wire (which has a possibility to fracture as it ages) and replaced it with the Clef Hi-tech tail gut. This allows him to elongate the tail piece the strings will now fit on the tuner and into the peg box properly. He will be sure to tune the after length to the new length of the tail gut. With the bridge cut and detailed we should make good strides on this bass.

It is fascinating to discover these little differences within the same brand named manufacturer. This is why I loudly disagree when a person claims one manufactured bass is better or worse then another. You can not, should not, make general sweeping statements about one brand of manufactured plywood bass that possibly spans 40 plus years of manufacturing and dozens of small changes during those years. We often wonder why some vintage basses have the “IT” factor when it comes to tone, volume, playability and mojo. It is all these little things and attention to the details that make the difference.

With 40 vintage basses in our collection we can study all these small details across all four brands: Kay, King, American Standard and Epiphone. We can make comparisons from bass to bass and really study what makes the great basses tick. All of that hard work is the excellence we expect of ourselves and our bass collection. We don’t settle for “close enough” and we don’t apologize for our high standards and excellence we try to achieve. We want our restored basses to make wonderful, joyful music AND be a blast to play.

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Lonnie uses a straight edge to view the profile or relief in the fingerboard

Scraping the fingerboard a little at a time.  The amount of wood shavings this fingerboard produced filled a plastic zip lock bag.  Lonnie's keeps the wood shavings for possible future use...I have no idea what for...but he saves all the scrapes.

With the nut glued in place Lonnie continues to work on dressing the fingerboard.  The board is a very hard, high quality piece of wood.  I believe it is original to the bass but is much harder then other King or American Standard fingerboard s we have encountered.  He worked three evenings this week scraping and smoothing out the board to get it as flat as possible.  The board had a fairly high hump in the center and it has taken a good bit of work to get it flat.   Or in Lonnie’s word’s…”that fingerboard is *$!#ing hard stuff”.  His fingers get tired scraping hour after hour.  The fingerboard needs to be fairly flat for this set up of medium high string height and Dominant steel strings.  If all goes well Lonnie hopes to get a new bridge cut later this week or next week.

All good things take time…

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Benefit gig...

Come out and join the fun.

I’ll be playing upright bass for my first real gig on Sunday, November 6th from 3:00 pm -3:45 pm with Billy Lee Cox and Scott Brannon doing a Reno and Smiley tribute (this will be good stuff, promise).

This is a fund raiser so yawls come and support a good cause at the Beck & Benedict Hardware store is Waynesboro, PA

-- Come out and support this great cause! --
*** SUNDAY *** NOVEMBER 6, 2011
for the family of - MIKE McDONALD -
at Beck & Benedict Hardware Music Theatre
( 1 pm till 6 pm ) Cost is $10.00 at the door
* Ernie Bradley & Grassy Ridge 1 to 1:45 pm
*Twin Hill Express 2 to 2:45 pm
*Billy Lee Cox and Scott Brannon 3 to 3:45 pm
* ( doing a Don Reno and Red Smiley Tribute ) *
* Back Creek Valley Boys 4 to 4:45 pm
* Circa' Blue 5 to 6:00 pm
For more information call Brian at 717-372-6531 or Dick at 717-762-4711

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Steady progress on the King Mortone...

It’s been a busy weekend with lots of good stuff. 

While I worked away cleaning house on a beautiful Saturday afternoon Lonnie worked away in the workshop.  He got the paper thin shims made in the morning and did the final dry fit for the neck in the afternoon.   He had difficulty getting the neck set on center so after much back and forth he trimmed the neck block.  This worked well and he was able to get the neck to fit nicely on center.  He glued the shims to the neck joint (while I was cleaning windows so I have no pictures).  Then later in the day he was able to glue up the neck and let it set overnight. 

On Sunday he worked on the nut and fingerboard.  The fingerboard is a good one, after some scraping Lonnie’s tool got hot and his fingers got tired.  He said the fingerboard is one hard *%$! #!* and that’s a good thing.  That means it is either ebony or really hard rosewood.  Either way the fingerboard has lots of life in it and can take many more dressings.  Now that the neck is set, the nut glued in place the fingerboard dressing started it won’t be too long until he moves onto the set up.  It feels like every project takes longer then it should…but then again it takes as long as it needs to suit Lonnie’s high standards.

Working to get the neck on center at the dry fit stage

The smallest details, a small shim at the bottom of the dove tail

The neck glued and drying for 24 hours

Popeye at rest...

Here is a little video I played around with today!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Even more rain and the Mortone...

Here we are…and it is still raining.  This will be the most rain we have had in one year since they began to keep records in the 1800’s.  The air is humid and the ground is saturated.  Getting the layers of oil tinting to dry has been a bear.  For the most part the edges are finished and look as good as they should for a bass of this age.  We go for a nice clean look with out being too perfect.  The bass needs to look its age.  Not like Joan Rivers where it does not look natural.

Lonnie is starting the “dry fit” for the neck.  This is where he makes small paper thin shims to apply to the neck joint to get a good tight fit.  While I was making supper I could hear the belt sander running and running.  He gets the shims so thin he almost sands the tips of his fingers.  Getting the neck adjusted and centered on the bass is a critical step.  If the neck is out of alignment the nut to bridge to saddle will be out of center.  He takes great care to measure from FF hole and side to side to get the neck on center.  All of these little things add up to the ease and playability of the bass.  We try to achieve a nice buttery playing bass that sounds good and looks even better.

Lonnie is satisfied that the edges look good but not too perfect.  This seems like a good stopping point to move on to the neck reset

He cleaned the wood a second time just to be sure all the lumps and bumps of glue were gone.
The beginning of the dry fit for the neck.  He is working on a good tight joint which requires small paper thin shims be made and attached with hide glue.  The super thin shims will make for a good tight neck joint.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The King Mortone...

The rain has stopped…Finally!

The edge work continues.  Layer by layer the new wood melts into the old wood.

The bottom of the bass looking the way it did before our work began.  
The edge work before the color was applied
The way the edges look now.  Not completely done but getting closer
All the edges are beginning to blend nicely

The view from here looks pretty nice!
 Popeye will be looking fit and healthy before you know it. 

Keep checking back.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

More rain and the Mortone Bass

It is raining once again with lots of thunder and lighting…will it ever stop?

We have had so much rain it feels good to get back to the basses for a distraction.  Our area had 12” of rain in one day with flooding all around us.  Fortunately we are fine, the house is fine and all the basses are safe.  We were lucky, some folks around us were not as lucky.

The King Mortone is coming along and looking good.  Lonnie has been careful to slowly build the layers of color around the edges.  If you try to go too dark to fast you end up with dark, muddy opaque edges.  The idea is to build the color slowly with transparent layers of color.  This gives a better vintage appearance with out a painted look.  You need to let the oil colors dry slowly, a coat a day is about as fast as you want to go.  The weather is to change to dry and cool.  This will help speed up the drying process.  Once Lonnie gets all the cosmetic touch up work done he will reset the neck.  Then things come together pretty quickly because he gets excited.

Stay tune for updates.