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 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.   ;-)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gracie…the other 1944 Kay M-1

So earlier this year Penelope (now nick named Penny) the 1944 Kay M-1 packed her bags and relocated to the land down under, Australia.  Now her twin sister Gracie is ready to leave the collection as well.  Gracie is a fine, well preserved war time, 1944 Kay M-1, serial number 11456.  The new owner auditioned her on Saturday; she is destine to make some fine bluegrass music in her future. 

Some bass players like perfection and want all the cosmetics of a bass to be perfect.  Other players are “looking for a tool” to make music, looks are secondary to the sound of the bass.   And then sometimes you get bass players who is looking for very specific things in a bass…it needs to be a Kay, pre-war, no neck breaks, very clean original finish and yeah, it needs to make the windows rattle.  Ohhhh…that specific circle of surviving Kay basses is dwindling every year.

This Kay bass is getting a mini make over to suit the new owner.  Her left volute went missing long before we owned her and we had not replaced it not knowing what the next player would want.  Lonnie did a few minor touch ups to Gracie by adjusting the string height, detailing the bridge to make sure all the strings were at an even height and giving her a replacement volute (volute-ectomy).  Lonnie glued the new stock replacement volute into place.  He detailed and reshaped the profile to better match the original volute on the right side.  A little bit of color, a little bit of distressing and poof!…she looks balanced once again. 

Gracie front

Gracie back

Before the new volute

New stock replacement volute glued in place

The bridge with a slight crown adjustment

First coats of color, distressing yet to come

Pretty good match after some reshaping and sanding

Gracie will soon be packing her bags to relocate in eastern PA where she will make some great bluegrass music…I am guessing there will be lots of fabulous Don Reno style banjo accompaniment in her near future.

She is in very good hands and has a great future a head of her…Go swing it girl!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Next project: 1940 Epiphone B-3, #218 named Frixo

Well it has been raining, and raining, and is still raining this morning.  I think we are over 9” of rain in 3-4 days.  With no outside work because of the excessive rain its time to get busy in the workshop. 

While I thought the next bass restoration was going to be the 1941 Epiphone B-2 with the busted top, there has been a slight detour in our plans.  There is a possible bass repair project coming from Kentucky in the next month or so…so we did not want to get deep into a complex restoration only to put it aside for another bass.  We find if we get too many things going at once we lose the fun factor…so we keep it simple…one bass at a time.

Yesterday Lonnie and I were looking over “the herd” to see if there is a bass that needed a little TLC and not too time consuming.  Well…there has been a special Epiphone that has been pushed to the back of the stack several times.  We got it out, looked it over and said…WOW…I had forgotten how nice this bass was!  This would be a 1940 Epiphone B-3, #218.  A beautiful blonde Epi that has remained in remarkable condition.  We bought this bass about four years ago from a rather eccentric gentleman in Florida.  Seems the bass lived most of it’s live in North Carolina, un-played at his parent’s house and had recently moved to Florida.  Once the bass was in Florida it remained “un-played and in the way”.  We were happy to relieve him of the bass but it was a challenge to pin him down for a courier pick up and payment.  All was fine…after about 20 phone calls and an angry courier…but none the less…it was all worth it in the end.

The day we added Frixo to the collection 3/10/2010

Oooohhh...that beautiful flamed wood

Lonnie said it took real effort to get rid of that masking tape, wonder why it was there?

This is the minor detail that makes it a B-3 Epiphone.  The purfling circles up and into the button on the back

Brass tuners with lots of not polish that patina!!!  It takes years to make brass age to this lovely shade of tarnish

We knew he was a looker the day he arrived

This bass is a VERY early Epiphone and one of the few original surviving conditions B-3’s.  It is a classic example of an early Epiphone with a HUGE hand carved scroll, beautiful flamed wood, and delicate pre-war F holes.  The bass has no neck break, no repairs, no broken edges; no nothing…it remains in remarkable condition.  The top is thick and in excellent condition, the original rosewood fingerboard and tail piece are in tact as well as the original enamel Epiphone tail badge.  It is clearly stamped #218 which makes it the 118 bass made before WW2.  We named him Frixo as this bass most closely resembles the style of bass Frixo Stathopoulo (Epaminondas “Epi” Anastasios Stathopoulo younger brother) made for his own company “Frixo Bass” in 1949. 

This makes the bass the 118th bass Epiphone made before WW2

The first thing Lonnie did was cut off the old nasty strings.  I do not know what brand they were but definitely of no use.  They were steel wound with a horrible tooth to them.  They looked like instant blister makers to me.  The bass had an old style adjustable end pin that was most likely not the original.  The original end pin would have been a wooden dowel often offered in two lengths.  The old end pin did not fit well and was shimmed with a nice piece of copper that would only be good for making pennies.  Lonnie lightly scraped the rosewood fingerboard; some of the shavings came off lighter then the others.  It was very interesting to see the shavings flow off the board; I have no idea what grain in the rosewood would cause such extremes of light and dark shavings. 

Great condition and all three original badge pins are still in tact...very rare

Non-original end pin with that nice copper sleeve as a shim

New ULSA end pin installed, easy job when you own three size tapered reamers

Working on the original rosewood fingerboard

The rosewood board is producing light and dark shavings...that is a new one?

This bass will get the normal set up features; a new ULSA ebony end pin, a Hi-Tech tail gut, new Thomastik medium Spirocore strings, fingerboard scraped and oiled, and if needed a new bridge, sound post and nut.  There will be very little cosmetic work required…if any. After that the bass should be ready to sing.  I know this one has been sitting for years, maybe decades un-played.  Even though it was playable, I can see why it was not played…a cheap strings and high string height…the enemies of a bass player.

Lovely thick top, nice spruce grain.  This bass has some heft to it!

That big ole scroll...SWEET!

They don't factory hand carve them like this anymore.

Getting ready for the  bridge and strings

 I’ll look forward to the quick completion of this bass and being able to put him into my playing rotation.  The 1941 Epiphone #623 named Ruben has been my “go to” bass since March.  His voice has definitely opened up and the bass now roars with the Golden Spirals strings.  It has been a real joy to play and listen to it come back from years of silence.  

I would say that is one of the most fun things I get to do…play a newly restored bass and listen to it re-mature into a sweet playable bass once again.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

IBMA…I Been Mostly Awake! 2013

When I was a kid my Nana, who lived to be 88 years old, would say: “The older you get the faster time goes.”  I think I must be getting older because time is not slowing down.

We have been traveling a good bit lately so the work shop has been pretty quiet.  The Stelling banjo project is completed and Lonnie is very pleased.  So much so he purchased a new blue chip thumb pick to keep permanently in the case.  The banjo is 100% set up and ready to go.  Now he has a choice to play his very bright, treble Stanleytone or the bassier, warm, woody sound of the Stelling.  Choices are good.

We recently returned home from the International Bluegrass Music Association week long convention in Raleigh, NC.  We have wanted to attend this event for many years but could not get enough time off work to make the 13 hour drive to Nashville.  This year the event relocated to Raleigh, NC and provided an easy 6 hour drive that was manageable after a full days work. 

Our travels were exceptional as we had no traffic around Washington, DC which has NEVER happen before.  Driving straight through after work put us at the host Marriott Hotel just after midnight.  We checked into our room with out any problems.  By 2:00 am we were sitting outside enjoying a cold beer and watching folks stroll in from the Bluegrass Ramble.  The Ramble was a new attraction this year.  It was $150 for a five night pass to “ramble around” to six different venues (dive bars) to watch your favorite bluegrass performers in a small setting.  We chose not to buy the pass as we are not much for a bar scene for bluegrass and we are not city savvy.  Rambling around at 2:00 am in a large downtown city was something we did not feel comfortable doing.  After making the “ramble walk” in the day light we were happy with our decision…a city is still a city, not something we necessarily enjoy.

As we were sitting outside enjoying a cold beer in strolls (ramble) our old friend Dave Gooding from the California Bluegrass Association.  Dave is a wonderful person and the owner of our number one child (bass) named Mollykay.  Dave purchased the 1943 Kay M-1 bass from us over 6 years ago and is still sings her praises.  He loves that bass and I am so pleased that she remains in his care today.  Dave plays his Kay bass frequently with his band The Central Valley Boys of California.  After talking with Dave other bluegrass notables began to ramble into the hotel…Bela Fleck, Nomi Pikelny and others.  It was good bluegrass star gazing at this early hour.

Lonnie standing with the iconic IBMA statue of Sir Walter Raleigh...with a banjo.  Note the matching beards. 

The next two days were slow for us as we expected more jamming around the hotel.  By Thursday afternoon the hotel exploded with activity.  The big IBMA awards show was Thursday evening the crowd was beginning to swell in lobby of the hotel.  A jam formed outside the hotel by the Starbucks.  It was a small group with three outstanding younger players.  The young (tween) fiddle player in orange pants was just as cute as a button and I complimented him on his fashion sense.  After a few songs I gave Lonnie the wink to go fetch my bass…I think I can hang with this group.  We played a few unfamiliar songs and pretty much I was NOT able to hang very well but they politely tolerated my bass playing anyway.  As the crowd began to build and the IBMA award show attendees paraded down the sidewalk in their finest attire, who do I see…none other then your 2013 Bass Player of the year Barry Bales…and there I am playing bass.  Kind of a cool moment.  We saw Jason Carter and Ronnie McCoury from the Del McCoury band and many, many others bluegrass performers. 

As the jam ended after a few songs everyone says good bye and we parted ways.  I never found my groove in this jam, lots of good music, but stuff I was not familiar with.   After the jam was over I heard the three young players talking and much to my surprise I had just been playing bass with the Sleepy Man Banjo brothers…who knew!

Sleepy Man banjo player, Jonny 

The Moore Brothers with the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys and others

As the evening progressed we tried to watch the IBMA award show streaming live on our smart phone but kept losing the connection.  We decided listen to the award show on Sirius radio setting in the van, inside the parking garage.  It felt like Saturday night on the Grand Ole Opry as we stared at the radio listening to the award show.  One of the highlights (in addition to Tony Rice speaking) for us was hearing Mike Munford named as the 2013 Banjo player of the years.  We squealed and hollered like two little kids.  One of our home town boys has been recognized after 40 years of banjo playing.  Another moment was Tom Adams won for Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year: “Foggy Mountain Rock;” by Tom Adams, DanTyminski, Ron Stewart, Dennis Crouch, Clay Hess and Randy Kohrs.  Marshall Wilborn accepted the award on Tom’s behalf and gave his acceptance speech.  Just a week prior we had talked with Tom and knew that he could not be in attendance for the awards show.  In his words, IBMA was too cost prohibitive…agreed; it is an expensive event to attend.

Thursday evening after the awards show the hotel filled with jams.  There was jamming everywhere…this is what we expected.  This is the IBMA.  One of our bluegrass friends from the northeast found us hanging in a hallway watching some young’ins jam.  (Boy!  How do they get this good, this young.)  When our friend Rick saw us he told me they needed a bass player for the young all star jammers around the corner.  I handed over my bass and watched him walk out of view.  Later we went around the corner and found the Bluegrass All Star kids jam group.  Rick’s son Korey was nominated to participate in this group which got to perform at the awards show.  Huge honor for Korey, Daddy Rick was beyond proud of his son.  Rick played bass and the kids gave him a good work out by hanging in the key of B for several songs.

Kids Bluegrass All Stars, Owen and Samantha Snyder bottom left.  Korey on guitar and Dad Rick on bass.

Hanging in the key of B song after song...nice!

Kids Bluegrass All Stars on Saturday for the BBQ festival cook off.  Dave Gooding's sons on bass and mandolin.  The blond bass belongs to Dave Morris.  It is his beautiful Kay S-9 that we repaired last year right before the IBMA's.  The bass was very popular with  the kids.  Note the two Engelhardt's in the background that did not get played.

By now night has turned into early morning.  We thought we were done jamming for the evening and heading back through the lobby. Who arrives but our three young friends from western North Carolina. I love these kids, three nice young men (all around 18 years old) who are outstanding musician but even nicer young men. Jacob Jones on banjo (Raymond Fairchild protégé), Will Howell on guitar and mandolin and Mike Morgan on guitar. Their band is called Lonesome Sound. 

The guys were just arriving from their 5 hour drive and were primed to jam. They ended up in a hot jam in the business conference center, the bass player told me to jump into the jam, he was done for the evening. By this time it was 1:00 am…Lonnie gave me that look like we need to get some sleep but I begged like a 2 year old that did not want to go to bed. Me and my bass jumped into the jam and OMG…what fun! They just tore it up and played me out. My eyes did not close until 4:00 am. We had players rotate in and out of the jam. At one point the mandolin player for “The Roy's” jumped in for a few songs.

Friday was pretty much a repeat of Thursday with jamming and great music.  We were able to track down the very busy Dave Morris, Bluegrass Today reporter by looking for his neon hi-top sneakers. We had a short visit with him and then on to the expo where “Big Mike” Ramsey picked us out from the crowd. What a delight to meet him in person after so many years. A gentleman in every way. We talked about basses and his multi talented son Aaron Ramsey of Mountain Heart. 

Candy store...Eldery Music had a grand display of fine vintage instruments

I'll take this one...1935 Martin D-18, $45,000.  A vintage bass is a bargain compared to a guitar!

The best set of music we heard was Friday night at the Red Hat Theater of the Del McCoury set followed by the all star jam of DEL, SAM, BELA, JERRY, TONY, Jason Carter and Mark Schatz. The outdoor venue was very nice, very large and VERY full of patrons.  Raleigh had great participation of music lovers other then the normal bluegrass crowd.

Del singing his heart out.  He sounded awesome!

By Saturday we were getting our fill of music, jamming and sleep deprivation  We skipped the last two sets of music at the Red Hat outdoor theater so we could listen to the jams at the hotel.  Saturday night was definitely the last BIG bang before it was all over.  We found our friends from NC and listen to them jam by the fourth floor elevator until 3:00 am.  It was AWESOME.  I love my bluegrass live, up close, acoustics and with drive.  This jam group was all that and more.  A really great end to a great week of music, friends and good weather.

It’s truly is a need to pace yourself. I now fully understand what IBMA means...I Been Mostly Awake. 

Sunset from the 16th floor over looking the IBMA convention was a good day!