Thursday, June 5, 2014

Late Spring

Looking south--Clarkia, Wyeth buckwheat, and yarrow, blooming in the "new" prairie

There are many small plants just sprouted here that are invisible.  A great deal of taperleaf penstemon is coming up throughout these new plantings, for example.  Still, it is nice to have some reward in the first Spring of a new planting.

In banjo news, I have been experimenting with my gourd banjos.  First, I finished "Gourd Banjo #3" which was the rebuilt version of my first gourd banjo. 

It doesn't have the big sound of #2, but it is a sweet and probably more authentic sound--I suspect that the weight of the metal guitar tuners on #2 somehow anchors the neck so that it doesn't absorb as much energy from the body.  I noticed two things about #3 that I liked right away.  The first is that I really dug out a scoop between the body and the fingerboard and I loved having all that room to work my right hand.  The second thing was that the strings were higher, which should make it harder to play, but nylgut strings are not hard to push down, and the increased string angle seemed to give me a crisper attack. 

So, I realized that I had to alter those two aspects of my beloved #2 gourd banjo.  Today, I opened up more of a scoop (previously, the fingerboard went right up to about half an inch before the body--there really wasn't a scoop) and made a new bridge that raised the strings 2 mm.  Instantly, I had a crisper attack as with banjo #3, and the higher action was somehow easier to play.  That is a bit of a mystery to me, since I had understood that generally with plucked string instruments, you want as low an action as you can get without strings buzzing, but there is no doubt that this higher action is the way to go.  Though I wasn't buzzing before, I may have been bottoming out the strings on the playing surface when I hit it hard, which would certainly be a tone killer.  Anyway, the tone is cleaner and I find that I am more precise with this setup.  I am able to use a more vigorous right hand as well, which is fun.  Okay, back to recording, but this was an important improvement.

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