Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mission: Accomplished

I have finished the gourd banjo. Well, not completely finished--I am going to replace the nut and make a new bridge, and possibly make other adjustments as I play it--but I strung it up last night and went down to the fabulous Green Frog here in Palouse to try it out at our local open mike, photographed above by my friend Jens Hegg. It is everything I needed--louder, more responsive, richer in tone. Among the experiments that worked really well was gluing on the head. I got a very thin goatskin head and working from instructions I found for reheading dumbeks (a Mediterranean drum with a glued head), I made a frame (a piece of plywood with a hole cut out in the middle for the gourd body to sit in, the edge padded with duct-taped foam) with screwed-in hooks so I could stretch the skin (which had been soaked in water) over the glued surface and anchor it down using cotton string going through the holes I punched along the edge of the skin. I did not crank it super-tight, but took the suggestion of my friend Paul Hill (who has put skin heads on two of my regular banjos) to just work it down tight enough to get the wrinkles out and assume that the skin would pull itself tight as it dried. Next time I do this I'll put "S" hooks in the holes in the skin, and attach them to the hooks using rubber bands. Anyway, by the time the skin started to dry and pull tight, the glue (Titebond II) had set, so nothing slipped. I did have to go around quite a bit and work wrinkles out of the side as the glue was drying, and I had the red surgical tubing you can see below that I sort-of wrapped around to pull things together. It came out perfect.

The instrument is so responsive now, it will take me a little while to figure out how to handle it. But before too long I will be going back to work, recording the new CD and plotting a course for this project.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bracing a gourd banjo head

The image above was taken earlier this week, showing a nearly-finished banjo spine. One idea I have had about this sort of banjo is that the head needs a brace, here seen just right of center, the ridge that connects to the rim section (and from there to the tailpiece/tuners). It extends under the head a portion of the way towards the neck, supporting the head, and stopping a bit before the bridge. Another view (the brace is on the left this time), showing how the spine fits into the gourd.

My first gourd banjo originally had no such brace, with the stick from the neck running underneath the head without touching it. This has been the standard system in banjos since the mid-19th century and I didn't consider other options when designing that instrument. But without adjustable head tension, humidity could lower the action until the instrument wouldn't play, and I noticed a more significant problem that has bothered me in banjos for decades, the "ring" of the head. In bluegrass music, this has become integrated into the sound of the music and the sound of a plastic head in a 20-pound Mastertone snaps more than it rings. Many clawhammer banjo players like to mute the back with a cloth, effectively cancelling the ringing of the diaphragm bell of a banjo head. On my gourd banjo with an actual skin head, the effect muddied the sound, which was sounding even muddier because I was tuning down to low G (now I'm up to A).

At this point, my brother-in-law Tom sent me a video of an akonting player. Since I didn't keep my finger on the academic musicology pulse, I had not been aware of Ulf Jagfors' introduction of Daniel Jatta and the music of the akonting to the West; this occurred after my article on Gottschalk had been published and I never had traveled in musicological circles anyway. I agree with what seems to be the consensus in the field that this music tradition is the closest thing to an African banjo ancestor, and obviously anyone interested in the gourd banjo had to sit up and take notice. Also, the music was wonderful. And there in plain sight was the original instrument design, found throughout the plucked lutes of West Africa, with the spine neck running right under the head, supporting it. Besides mitigating to some degree the movement of the bridge of the instrument in changing humidity, it also would serve to cancel the dreaded ring.

I resolved at that point to remove the first head from my gourd banjo, widen the opening while I was at it (trying to increase volume), and install a brace, running in this case from the rim on the neck side to the bridge, which on this banjo is in the center of the head. It was a piece of maple that I glued to the stick running underneath. I suppose I could have run it the entire length, but I wondered whether I would get the effect I wanted with the partial brace, and then I would have greater volume by leaving the rest of the head free to vibrate. Between this and tuning up to a low A, I ended up with a richer sound, with more clarity. The experiment was a success, but this instrument was still pretty quiet, unable to play with other instruments comfortably. I had to admit that the akonting obviously has plenty of volume and a lovely rich tone acoustically, and that I would need to redesign my banjo to take advantage of what I had learned--the primary agenda being to increase the size of the head, but also to make use of the partial brace.

In my new banjo, to increase downward pressure on the bridge (hopefully increasing volume and enriching the tone), I have moved the bridge towards the tailpiece, which been the standard configuration on banjos since the 19th century. In this case I think the American innovation makes sense, especially because I have increased the head size and I think the bridge would be most efficient on the stiffer surface nearer the rim. Because of the shift of the bridge location, I can run a shorter brace from the tailpiece end, and that way I hope to maximize the potential of the vibrating surface while still canceling the "ring."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gourd banjo, part five

I am at last focused on spending some time working on this instrument, so things should happen pretty fast. For me, anyway. I have just finished an arrangement of the Vivaldi D major lute concerto where I play the orchestra to Richard Kriehn's mandolin playing the lead, and I need this more powerful (I sure hope) instrument to be able to hold its own with other instruments.

First, I built a maple rim for the gourd, leaving two gaps for the spine to fit. I made six angled pieces like the one on the right, each piece was put on the gourd rim and marked from below, then cut out on the bandsaw (see my previous post) and sanded to an approximate finished shape on the belt sander. Because the gourd is so irregular, I made each piece, glued it on (with the masking tape clamp method you can see above), and then fitted the next piece to it. I had marked locations on the rim of the gourd for each piece, but I assumed (and this turned out to be the case) that once I started fitting them, the marks would change.

Next came fitting the spine. Cutting a precise fit into a gourd is very satisfying since the material is so easy to work. I got pretty close just marking things and cutting the basic shape with a coping saw, and it was easy to file a tighter fit. I have the square end at the tailpiece, and a small rounded heel for the neck.

I don't know of any African instruments that have a wooden rim like this, and I don't know if other modern makers use them, so I think of it as my idea. I did this on my first gourd banjo, though through several alterations not much of it remains. I think it significantly stiffens and strengthens the gourd, and I guess some part of me likes the idea of a "tone ring." Because I intend to glue the head (instead of attaching it with nails), I think that it will become very strong when reinforced with glued skin.

Now I can file the final maple rim shape and prepare the gourd for finishing, finish the tailpiece shape, create the rim sections in the spine, and make the head brace, which will be the subject of a future post.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The right tool for the job

The first power tool I really learned to use was a bandsaw, since my first extended experience with power tools was when I learned to build stringed instruments in college. Maybe a Dremel tool was first, now that I think of it, but the fact is that bandsaws are essential to luthiery because they can make cuts like the ones above, where I started making the maple cap for the gourd banjo I'm working on.

This is a nice old cast iron bandsaw that my friend Wayne found in his barn and sold to me when he was cleaning out old stuff before he moved. I thought it was rusty and possibly hopeless, and it sat in my basement for five years until I needed to make a curved cut in rosewood for a guitar bridge, and I discovered that it was just very, very dirty, but the bearings were greased and the motor still worked great. Mechanically it looked a bit vintage but still it was a very solid tool. The blade was even sharp. But I recall that when I was cutting the little part, it seemed to heat up a lot and burned the wood. I finished that part by hand and (odd for me) put the experience out of my mind, until last month when I tried to cut out the banjo spine. The blade was really smoking and not really cutting at all, so I found other ways to make the spine and determined that I must get a new blade.

It was when I got on the Internet to find a new blade that I found out that the 78.5" length of the blade of this saw is associated with meat-cutting bandsaws. Oh, so that blade was sharp, it was just designed to cut frozen meat, not maple. The mechanism is precisely the same, however, and now that I have a sharp new wood-cutting bandsaw blade I can at last get some work done with this thing!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Asters and gallardia in bloom...I have always been surprised how the prairie blooms well into the fall. Younger plants whose parents bloomed in July throw out some impressive color in Indian summer here.

Elsewhere in the prairie, I am planting many, many divots of (so far) lupine and sticky geranium. Many species yet to go. Mainly I am planting in the southeast part of the property. This is where a fire from the east burned about half of the entire property, back in 1997 or so. I somehow took this as the call to plant native grass all through the area, but I was overwhelmed by the weeds that exploded along with the grass. Over the last six years, I have been very aggressive about taking the invasive species out, and I was surprised this year as it became clear that I had cleared it pretty well, and grass I planted last year has started to fill in very nicely, after most of what I had put in the first time years ago had been lost along with the weeds. Time to start putting in prairie plants!

This is looking in a vaguely southwest direction...the dirt area in front of that ponderosa pine has received a lot of the seed varieties I have planted this year, including early spring flowers, like deliphinium and blue-eyed Mary that I wanted to try seeding in summer, soon after their seeds were mature in nature. This entire area (as well as the acre or so behind me and to either side of this image) will be getting more native grasses soon as well, but currently is getting hundreds of little divots with 2-3 seeds in each one. After the geraniums I will start in on Rocky Mountain sunflower. And paintbrush, and cinquefoil, and...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Gourd banjo, episode 3

The ongoing epic tale of the making of a new gourd banjo design continues...

The image above is the banjo "spine" after the first hour or so of the table saw and radial arm saw, a few days ago. Today I removed material from the thick center section with the radial arm saw and a chisel and spent a few hours with my belt sander armed with 40(!) grit. I was taught to do this sort of thing with rasps and files, so the belt sander is a guilty pleasure. I know it's wrong, but I've decided that I'm not a real luthier, I'm a musician--I just want to get this instrument finished and in my hands! This machine is also the perfect tool for evening up the handsaw cut on the gourd, too. So, it seems that I am not above power-carving with the belt sander.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Stress is good?

I know it doesn't make sense to say that stress is good, but it might help native plants grow a bit more like they do in nature. Earlier this year I wailed and moaned over the destruction wrought by the dreaded voles, tunneling and gobbling up many plants. They really did eat a lot of stuff.

But then I started to notice that some of the plants they ate came back later, and had spread out into much more natural-looking plantings. These gallardia whose dirges I had sung but a few months ago started coming up around the end of July. The voles had eaten the mother plant but spread roots and seeds around.

Same thing with this lupine. There was a plant, now gone, in the middle of these, but earlier this summer a bunch of small lupines sprouted up around the original vole excavation. The bloom is over, sorry...

So, I have these two pretty large "creeping" Oregon grape (Berberis repens) shrubs that I planted fifteen years ago. The joke is that these monsters had no intention of creeping anywhere; they were fat and happy right where they were. Here is one of them.

For several years I kept looking at these, thinking that they looked like mutants. Then, last year I got the idea that maybe they needed to be stressed, kind-of like what happened to the gallardia and lupines. So, well, I mowed one. Just to see what would happen. Ran the big ol' DR Field and Brush mower right into the thing. And now, a year later, it has begun to creep! The green around the base there are little runners shooting out.

That other monster, above, had better watch out--I finished mowing the epilobium cloud today...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Pink Cloud

Asters (Aster occidentalis) in the foreground, Tall willow herb (Epilobium brachycarpum) in the distance...that's the pink cloud.

I am facing a dilemma. The pink cloud of epilobium is even more substantial than last year's, on which I posted exactly one year ago today. Here is the standard view, taken today, of the northern part of the prairie--
Beneath this pink cloud is a good spread of Idaho fescue, quite a few geraniums, some lupine...all sorts of young prairie plants. I have been going through and digging out individual weeds (some sow thistle, China lettuce, mustard, a few salsify, but not too bad) and wondering whether this epilobium will put down too much seed or if this is the kind of biomass that is going to help create the mulch that makes a prairie. My dilemma is whether to mow it down before it goes to seed or to leave it. At the moment I am thinking I should mow. Even now I will still get some epilobium seed, but not the awesome onslaught I (or my neighbor Jerry) would get if I don't, and the clarkia has already gone to seed, so that seed will be planted anyway. At some point I need to let things go but I'm not sure this is the time; while perennials are still pretty young and small, mowing doesn't upset them too much at this point and it might even the playing field.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A new instrument, part 2

I was a little stunned to look back and see that it was February 1, more than six months ago, when I posted the first bit of this story. Here's what happened: I decided that I needed to finish a room that I had been working on for four (!) years in this house (which I have been working on for 20 years). Get something done, and then I will start on the gourd banjo.

In the interim, I did work on some music of course, and I moved many yards of river rock by wheelbarrow, and I had a lot of prairie maintenance and seed collection in there. But I also finished this room, and it was an important one because it's for my wife, Dona, a sanctuary for her spirit and her stuff, away from the crazy lives of her boys ("I live with boys!," she says). Beginning with the stair railing in 2007, this has involved as much woodworking than the kitchen did. The newel post here at the bottom was original (though I added the maple cap and Dona's dad Frank turned the walnut finials), but I made the other 4 1/2 from a beam recycled from an old church in Pullman.

In 2008, I trimmed the stair landing and built some cabinetry. The white drawers and the trim above them come from an old bolt cabinet I found in the barn. The drawers, with the delicate calligraphy of Vo Lucas (who lived in this house from c. 1940-1980) labeling garden supplies, turn up in the kitchen, there's another bank in this room, and there are a couple drawers left over to use in the bedroom, when I at last finish that room.

The bookcase was built (also in 2008) out of a taller bookcase that came out of someone's office at the University of Idaho. I tried to get it upstairs but it wouldn't fit through the opening for the stairs, so I cut it in half and built it into the knee wall. Sealing and insulating that wall made a big difference in the coziness of this room.

The rest of the cabinetry along the knee wall, the window and skylight trim, baseboards and door trim took me the last year. So, I was really already seeing the light at the end of this particular tunnel when I realized I wanted to build an improved gourd banjo last winter.

It feels a lot better to take on building this new instrument, having reached an important milestone in the renovation of this home, finishing this special room for a remarkable woman.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The "new" (now in its second year) prairie, shot today from the standard view I've used in several postings. The pink flower in the foreground is clarkia, the white flower is yarrow, and there are several other flowers in this image that may or may not be visible, including silky lupine, gallardia, and cinquefoil. Much of the green is epilobium (there is a post on this plant from last year), which will bloom with small pink flowers in the next few weeks. The image isn't all that different from what you could see last year, but there are many more plants out there. I have been intrigued by the vigorousness of plants like this clarkia in the foreground, that these plants in nature are usually much smaller than what shows up in my restoration project in the first few years of a new area. I suspect this has to do with having less competition, and that new areas have not built up much of a crust of mulch that is found in original undisturbed prairie. In older areas, as with the six-year-old area below, the plants begin to look more like what you'd see in native prairie. I still don't have all that much "crust" here either but there is more competition. I think the real crust takes a long time...I don't really have that anywhere on the property.

In this next image, in two-year-old prairie, you can see how a gallardia plant has grown quite large. Even though there are a lot of plants of various sorts here, you can also see dirt, which indicates that things have not really filled in yet, and so there is less competition. Idaho fescue is there, for example, but being planted just last fall it is only an inch tall or so. I think I just have to accept the process here, and appreciate that these large plants produce a lot of seeds that I can use throughout the project. Voles decimated about half of my gallardia last year (the image above would have had two of these big gallardias before the feast last year), so I am happy to harvest seeds from the six or seven large gallardias I have left in various spots.

The last image shows a new arrival this year. I got quite a few of these Phacelia heterophylla (the spiky white flower) to come up from seed--for awhile it was the "mystery plant" out there until it bloomed. Seeing it made me realize that there is also quite a lot of it down the gravel road from our house. There are several quite large ones (this may be the gallardia effect, as above) in the gravel amongst several aggressive nasty weeds that sprouted when the gravel road was widened and worked on. I think it's interesting to see a native competing successfully with several invasive non-native species.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

So here is a piece of music from Cassandra, just finished, hot off the press, the bits still shimmering on the hard drive. It is an instrumental, where action on stage is followed by the music. I realized, composing this music, that the action onstage was part of the composition, and I found myself reducing musical ideas to their essence, so they hold just the right balance. As a result, it seems to me essential that a listener knows what's going on here (directions are written in the score).

The piano part in the beginning accompanies Cassandra and her slave Partana in the temple after a ritual (long story, but...). Then Partana leaves, and the priest Pantos enters (he's the violin, essentially). Pantos watches her awhile and it's a little creepy. Partana returns unseen and hides, watching what unfolds. Pantos drugs a glass of wine and offers it to Cassandra, who drinks. That's when the drums come in and immediately the scene intensifies. Pantos goes off on the side and puts on a mask to look like Apollo, as Cassandra weakens and lays down on a bench. He comes over to her, and she tries to resist, but she is too drugged to stop him as he gets on top of her. Just then Partana bursts out of hiding and clobbers Pantos over the head. She helps Cassandra up and they exit.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Camas (Camassia quamash) blooming in the prairie.

I am actually working on music, too, though I haven't had much to say about it. In fact, I have an instrumental section from the opera that is almost ready to be mixed, and I thought I'd post it, but the prairie is currently the hot story--things are blooming, what can I say? This is in the "new" prairie, and there are all sorts of things coming up. My camas appears to bloom a couple weeks behind the native patches around here, and I think I've figured out that the older the camas plant is, the earlier it blooms, so this one is about a week behind the patches I planted five years ago. Anyway, suddenly this year there seems to be a lot of camas, though most of it is young sprouting leaves, not yet blooming this year. I suspect that the half pound or however-much-it-was of camas seed (from Grassland West, from whom I got my native grass seed, as well as the iris seed) that I planted three years ago has at last come up, and I have had the pleasant realization that I may be done planting camas, since if all this stuff ends up blooming we will have an impressive drift.

Oh, and that Douglas brodiaea in the previous post...chomped by deer that night. One has to have a sense of humor about these things...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Western groundsel (Senecio integerrimus), blooming in the prairie among Woods rose.

I have been able to start the groundsel from seed, but one plant that has been more difficult is Douglas' brodiaea, or wild hyacinth (Triteleia grandiflora). They are pretty persistent and fairly common around here, surviving even when every other native has been eliminated, but I have never gotten the seeds to produce plants. And that's when I can find seeds, as some animal finds them delectable and generally the seeds are gone before they are mature. Fortunately there has been quite a bit of it hanging on in the southern fence row, and over the years I have encouraged it to move north. It grows very slowly, putting out a green hair at first that gets thicker over the years until at last it puts up a spectacular flower. The deer chomp these too, but this year there are enough that some have escaped being chomped. Here is one in full bloom that I found today.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The cage worked! Here is the blooming iris, in all its glory...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rocky Mountain iris (Iris missouriensis), about to bloom.

Between the deer, rabbits, and voles, I figured that I should take some action ahead of time to make sure some beast doesn't chomp this little jewel. Later I spent an hour under the pie cherry tree in bloom, dappled sunlight, filling walls-of-water for the newly-planted tomatoes, puffy clouds gliding by overhead. Spring, at last!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

I found two distinct kinds of successes out in the prairie this afternoon. The first was the sort I worked for, the triumphant return this Spring of a clump of red besseya and sedge that I carefully dug up out of a drainage ditch beside the road near Kamiak Butte almost exactly a year ago. I carefully nursed it along last year, and hoped it would come back this year...

The other kind of success is the unexpected gift, all the more mysterious because it was unanticipated. Here is a tiny blooming ball-headed waterleaf that just showed up all on its own and decided to put on a show in its first year. I almost stepped on it!

Postscript...The next morning I went to check on the red besseya and darned if some deer didn't chomp that lovely flower stalk off. Good think I took that photo yesterday! Oh well, the plant is fine anyway.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


This desolation was caused by voles, the little short-tailed field mice who eat plants, roots, and bulbs, and they apparently felt that they hit the jackpot when they got to this spot, which last year had 15 clumps of sisyrinchium, 5 or 6 fritillaria pudica, several delphinium, and a few other lovely native plants. These little buggers have been a significant scourge since late last summer, and it was pretty sad to see a spot that I had nursed along for almost ten years reduced to this.

Nevertheless, looking closely, I can see little green hairs that indicate baby sisyrinchium. I think the fritillaria and deliphinium are toast, but clearly vole attacks are one of the strategies Nature uses to spread sisyrinchium, which otherwise become crowded clumps of the beautiful little flowers. I discovered years ago that I could dig up one of my fat clumps and divide it, and even single plants would usually survive. They are accustomed to being ravaged by voles, I guess, and after an attack, several little bulbs escape and start new clumps. I have decided that I will leave this spot alone for now and see how/whether it recovers.

This is the current view of the new prairie, showing a lot of Idaho fescue coming up at the moment.
In the area between the young ponderosa pine in the center of the image and the fence, I have planted numerous clumps of sisyrinchium, divided from large clumps from elsewhere in the prairie. There is a small clump of prairie star amongst them, moved from a growing colony of it at the foot of the silver maple in the front yard (I have no idea how/why it started showing up there, but I intend to use the spot as my prairie star nursery). One triumph I spotted just north of that small ponderosa pine, is a red besseya (besseya rubra) just starting to bloom in a clump of sedge and maybe a couple of other things that are coming up; I dug this clump out of a drainage ditch last Spring. Here is an image of the new sisyrinchium coming up...

I have been writing a peculiar composition for the opera, an instrumental piece that accompanies action without singing. Yes, that makes it a mime, but no one should be wearing white makeup. If it stands apart from its support of the scene, as a piece on its own, I may post it on my website. I keep trying to find ways to make these pieces come together more quickly, but I accept now that there is no way to rush compositions, recording, or prairie restoration. Thank goodness there are no music-consuming voles in the studio!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum), just sprouted in the prairie, alongside a clump of Idaho fescue.

I was surprised and delighted to see this sign of spring today. Since my last post, an awesome and unusual late winter storm clobbered us. First the temperature dropped, as low as -15ยบ, and then about a week later we were assaulted by fourteen inches of snow in 24 hours--it was wild! So, I didn't get the cabinet-making finished upstairs (I was stuck because I do final sanding out on the porch, and it has been too snowy, icy, wet, and miserable for the last month out there!), which means I didn't get anywhere on the new gourd banjo because I promised Dona I wouldn't start on it until I finished her room upstairs. I did get the perfect piece of maple to build the spine of that banjo from Paul Hill in Moscow--thanks! Anyway, just this last week I've at last gotten sanding done and am oiling a couple of cabinet doors. The project is back on track.

There is salt-and-pepper lomatium (lomatium gormanii) coming up and it's even blooming in a few south-facing sunny spots by the railroad tracks in Palouse, but elsewhere it looks like the unexpected winter weather over the last few weeks has delayed Spring a bit for the native prairie.

The bad weather has been good for playing, recording, and writing, though, and now I am getting the kinks out of my Irish fiddling, as I will be playing for several hours on Thursday, Saint Patrick's Day.

Things are stirring, at last...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A new instrument

What is it?

The surface of a gourd, just arrived from my sister and brother-in-law. Tom grew it when they lived in North Hollywood. From this remarkable vessel I am about to build a musical instrument.

Essentially I am updating the design of my original gourd banjo, built in 1992. That design was directly inspired by the surviving instruments and documents of mid-19th-century African-American gourd banjos, though the ebony fingerboard and peghead veneers were added because I had carried that lovely figured piece of ebony around for about five years and decided I had to use it. The neck is actually pretty modern; I put a gentle arch into the fingerboard and the cross-section is what I am used to playing modern banjos and guitars. I originally had a smaller head on it with a peculiar system of wood screws into a maple rim, but a few years ago I enlarged the opening, removing all the maple but a tiny edge, added a "brace" to the neck under the head (there will be more on this feature in the future). I reattached the head using the traditional Mande method of little nails (I managed to crack the gourd in this process but it glued back together OK).

I realize I need a term for the continuation of the neck as it passes through the body to the tailpiece; this traditional African lute design has the neck all one piece going through the body. I think the Mandinka call this the penis of the instrument. I will go with "spine".

Anyway, as I have worked with this instrument on a variety of projects, I have wanted to address several design flaws I ran into with this first instrument I made. I would like it to be louder, for one thing, which with this one would be as simple as making a bigger sound hole, but I can't bring myself to mess with the lovely sound hole I carved. And I think the head should be larger, more like it is on the akonting (a West African plucked lute). One issue I had is what led me to a radical redesign of the instrument, that with friction tuning pegs and a animal skin head, keeping the instrument precisely in tune can be challenging. Now that I have started to bring this sound into my opera, not as a "banjo" but as a soulful vaguely-ethno-Mediterranean-sounding plucked lute, I have to be able to tune the thing quickly and accurately. That means mechanical tuners, but the instrument is so light that any more weight on the peghead would make it very awkward to hold. So, I'm moving the tuners to the tailpiece, a bit like the Steinberger guitar design.
Hmm, I don't know, maybe you can just make out the basic top and side views of the plan in that image (if you click on it, it gets twice as large). Anyway, making the plan was first. My next step is to locate the piece of wood to make the spine.

Friday, January 21, 2011


View south from the back porch, late afternoon, 1/19/11

I have neglected this, alas. Of course, not much news is to be expected from the prairie in January. There are voles (little tunneling field mice that eat plants) everywhere out there, but our experience with our potatoes, where they were all over the place but only got 10% of the crop, gives me hope that they won't consume everything I've planted.

The main thing that has kept me from writing is that I have at last found a rhythm of work, and once I'm in that mode, it is difficult to pause for reflection. This laptop has the script and the Finale (music notation software) score of the current song open, and I go back and forth between the studio recording, writing any lyric changes in the score and script, writing out the parts for the music. At the moment I have 25 minutes of my djembe playing to sort through, just for one five-minute piece. I am constantly making up music in my head, but I have learned not to trust that what I imagine is as good as what I can make out of it in the real world. Especially with rhythm and percussion I need to hear the music in real time and space in my body to make any meaningful decisions. It is also very important for harmony vocal parts. Coming up with parts that "obey the rules" is easy, but why a particular part is right in a certain spot is far more mysterious--I have to hear it. So, I come up with several things in my imagination but I have to try them out to get the one that really works.

Framing these intense work sessions are 3-mile walks along the river road and cabinet-building upstairs. The collective feeling of progress is somehow like that pink-orange glow at the top of McKenzie Butte in the photo above.