Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Life of a Guitar Repair Wizard

I know some people think I'm like this Guitar Repairman Wizard or something, but this week, I had a bad day in the shop and, my blog needing an update, I’m going to tell you all about it.
A while ago, I got in a '67 Martin D-28 that just needed a neck reset and some frets. Easy job.  I did the frets and did the reset.  When I strung it up to check the action to set the saddle height, the front of the stock bridge snapped clean off. In 15 years, 150 guitars/year, I've NEVER had that happen. So I informed the owner and offered to make him a new bridge for free. I don't like making bridges- it's one of my least favorite things, especially when I have to make an _exact_ replica of something in order for it to work. I just hate blowing it and wasting a bridge blank. Irks me to death. Anyway....
After spending most of the previous day meticulously measuring and fitting the new bridge(*) to fit precisely in the stock footprint, and drilling the pin holes in a nice precise clean line so that they’d line exactly with the stock pin holes, today I was routing the saddle slot, which I always do last so that I put it exactly where I want it for good intonation.  Something felt funny. The router was making strange noises and I could feel it struggling. “Well, it’s a hard piece of ebony”, I thought. Then I took another look and noticed the router bit wobbling, so I quickly stopped the router and got it out of the way. Turns out the bit had worked its way loose from the router collet and dug deeply, widely, and sloppily into the bridge, ruining it. I've NEVER had that happen.
I decided to try to fill and re-cut the slot just to see how good I could make it look. Hours later, it looked great, so I strung the guitar up, but guess what? The bridge was .020" too low. The  stock bridge was really tall and I never got to test my reset 'cause the stock bridge broke as I was putting a test saddle in it. For guitars to work correctly, the neck angle has to agree with the combined height of the bridge and saddle. My new, repaired, bridge was too short, making the new saddle too tall and.... it just wasn't gonna work. So, 2 days worth of work went down the drain.  If you’re paying attention, you’ll note that, being too short, this bridge was really doomed from the start. The wayward router bit just finished the job.
I just hate going to bed with unfinished work, so after throwing tools and crying and tearing my shirt, I pulled the meticulously made repaired bridge and started on another one.  After spending all evening on it, I got a new bridge made and fit before quitting for the day so hopefully I've managed to take 1 step forward after 2 steps back. The next day I successfully cut a nice saddle slot in Bridge #2 and the guitar is currently strung up, awaiting final adjustment. I’m not claiming “success” just yet, though.  Not until a week has passed. 

This little mark is all that remains of the jagged slot

The original bridge, cracked

L-R: The new new bridge, the wobbly slot bridge, the original.

Bridge and saddle together determine string height-
they have to match the neck angle.

I watched a couple of these and felt better about my "bad day".

(*)In case you don't have a clue what I'm talking about, this is another bridge (that I made). The wood part is the "bridge", the bone part in the middle is the "saddle", and the black things are "pins".

A Good Day
Another Good Day

To make this right, you gotta get the curves in the wings just right- clean and sharp with a C shape. The overall height of the bridge and saddle have to match the neck angle of the guitar perfectly. The holes for the pins have to be the perfect distance from the saddle and perfectly spaced and in line. In the case of today's guitar, the new bridge needs to fit precisely into the old footprint on the top- that means that all curves and widths have to be exactly right. If they're not, I re-do it.
These bridges look good. I got lucky those days.  I’ll take lucky. It's what Wizards are made  up of. Luck. Luck and ebony dust.
Oh yeah.... the book is done! I took a couple of boxes to the North American Falconer's Association meet in Kansas and sold a bunch of 'em.

Unloading off the truck

Loading into the Ranger

1st box opened!

In case you go looking for it:

Falconry Equipment book

Friday, September 25, 2015

Whipped at Winfield

The "Big Fast Train" has done come and gone. Just as I said in that post, there was a point at Winfield where I had to actually sit down onstage and start playing the tunes I'd been practicing for months. Georgia documented it (below). There was a lot that needed to happen before then, though, and no, I didn't really get "whipped" at Winfield. It's just a fun alliteration. I'd use "Winning at Winfield!" (with more exclamation marks) but I didn't win.

The trip to Dallas to pick up our new Casita went well. We stopped in Clarendon and had lunch with Brianna and Quenten which turned out to be a good thing as they ended up moving (to Claremore...what's next?  "Clareless"? "Clarefree"? "Clare-by-the-sea"?) the week I was at Winfield. We picked up the camper- another undramatic event, except that I had a blown fuse which was promptly fixed at the factory- and headed north to my half-sister's place near Pilot Point, TX. I'd asked for all kinds of advice for traveling through Dallas and we ended up taking 45 to 75 to 380. That was a good route but I have to say, north Dallas was the worst part of the whole trip!  Lots of traffic, lots of construction, fast drivers. However, it still all went without event and we even managed to stop at the Cabela's in Allen, TX.

The Motherlode of Egg Campers

Checking out floor models while waiting

Getting together for the first time.

Out in the lot, ready to roll!

We'd stopped at Cabela's in Fort Worth on the way in and were disappointed. The place was full of screaming kids, merchandise was on the floor, and we just didn't find anything we wanted. Plus, we only had an hour before they closed and when they close at 7 pm, that means they empty the floor at 6:30 pm. The Cabela's in Allen TX was a lot better to us. The former is 250,000 sq ft and the latter "only" 100,000 sq ft, but the Allen store was cleaner, neater, and.... better. Maybe it helped that it was Monday morning and not Sunday afternoon. We scored all kinds of stuff on our list including a Benjamin Titan NP air rifle with a slightly cracked stock for less than 1/2 price. Derek's been wanting one of these for ages but I didn't want to spend $160 on one. This one was marked to $80 and we put it in the basket along with a pair of camo overalls for $20. We found a lot of things and the stop here was well worth our time. We also managed a stop at In 'n Out Burger but, honestly... it was just okay. I like Five Guys' fries better.

Cabela's in Allen TX

After that, it was to my sister's place, whom I haven't seen in 12 years or so, although we talk on Facebook. Her and her husband train, raise, and sell horses and we had a fun, although way too short visit. Derek and I slept in the Casita for the first time and started figuring things out.

Derek, Bryan, and Ky after a successful meal

We took off at first light for Winfield and stopped at Bass Pro in OKC on the way. Prior to this trip, I'd bought a Garmin GPS and, while I'm good with maps, this proved to be a useful purchase for navigating big cities. The main thing is that it warns you of upcoming exits and you get a little picture of what the exit looks like. Armed and empowered with this technology, we navigated into Bass Pro where we spent more money!

Bass Pro in OKC

And then, on to Winfield! Our GPS was pretty helpful here. I'd never come to Winfield from the south and didn't realize that I-35 turns in a toll road. So, we bailed an exit early and the GPS helpfully suggested a road that ran straight to the road I wanted. Finally, around 2 pm, we parked the Casita and breathed a big sigh.

One of my antelope hunters had given Derek a really nice fly-tying kit and I knew there plenty of experienced fly-ty'ers in our camp.

Coy and Derek tying flies

Proulxs and Donohues

The Casita. Camping.

The Famous John Beaver

Dugas and Moe

"Are you SURE you want to learn to play banjo?"
The evening flight of turkey vultures coming to roost

Winfield was fun. I didn't place in either contest and there was no question about that. I did better in the mandolin contest than I did guitar and got a lot of nice comments. One of the most appreciated was when Steve Kaufman- the original and for a long time only 3-time winner of the guitar contest- came over, pointed his breakfast banana at me and said "You played great in the mandolin contest! Smooth, clean, interesting... that was good!" 

Advice from Steve before the contest

Wanna hear my contest tune? Video!

I drew next to last in the guitar contest and that gave me about 2.5 hours to listen to the other guys, get tense, and think about what I should've done. I played pretty good, but my arrangements and execution, honestly, are not up to Winfield standards. But I paid attention and brought some lessons home. This year was tough.  Of the 5 finalists, 4 were previous winners. And at least 3 previous winners did not make the cut, as well as a few professional musicians there to try their hand at the contest. So, it was no dishonor to not make it. I think I could've played better and done more, though. Next year, maybe I will.

Here comes that train!

Picking away!

Warming up for the guitar contest

I didn't play well, but here I am.
My view

Derek slept well.

That was Winfield. It was a fun but tiring week and we drove 1400 miles round trip. On the way home, I decided that 2015 would be my last year. Next year, I'm going elk bowhunting or fishing or whatever. It's getting really hard to hear in noisy environments and I had a hard time participating in anything other than very small group conversations. So, I'm done. Of course, when I got home, I started learning new tunes and practicing. Maybe I'll go but just not say anything.

This is long enough.  Next time, I'll talk about cattle shipping and the End of The Year. Maybe I'll even have a photo of me opening a box of the Revised and Updated 2nd Edition of "Falconry Equipment".  We'll see.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Big Fast Train

The big fast train is here.  "What", you ask, "is 'the big fast train'?" It's a concept that I use to describe events that are a long time in the future and seem like they'll never get here.  Then, suddenly, they are here. I don't know if you've ever been out West (where the horizons are a long ways off) and watched a train coming, but you'll often see them way out there, sometimes as nothing more than a dot, a million miles away. You can sit beside the track and spit your tobacco (if you chew, and you really should quit if you do) and wait. Nothing happens. The dot doesn't seem to get closer but if you keep waiting, after awhile you'll start feeling the tracks vibrate a little. The train still seems a long ways off. When it gets closer, you can start making out details. Closer still and maybe the conductor will blow the whistle to warn you to get your foot off the track where you've been feeling for vibrations. And then, with a lot of noise and rumbling and flying cinders and whooshing air, the train is HERE! The ground shakes, the rails flex, your eardrums scream at the noise and commotion and then...WHOOSH!!!!.... it's gone. And off into the distance it goes until it becomes a small dot on the other horizon and before long maybe you don't trust that your memory was all that good and it really wasn't all that. So, wait for another train.

That's what long-anticipated events are like. You plan and prepare and it seems like the date will never get here and then, suddenly, it's here and like a fully loaded train, it sometimes threatens to just flat-out run you over.

My big train right now is "Winfield" or, as it's more formally called, the Walnut Valley Festival. This is home of the National Flatpicking Guitar (and other instruments) contest and this year, I'm entered in both mandolin and guitar. I did the guitar contest 4x- 1994, '97, '98, '99- and the mandolin once ('99, I think) but then quit contesting and just focused on playing. There is a maximum of 40 contestants, each of whom play 2 tunes. From these, 5 "make the cut" to the finals where they play 2 more tunes and from here, 3 are winners. It's a very prestigious contest and hard, too. On any given year, there will be 3-9 former winners and your first job, if you wanna make the cut, is to beat them. Also on any given year, only 1-2 of those former winners will make the cut themselves. It used to bother me that I competed for 4 years and didn't make the cut and then I thought harder about the fact that a lot of great players don't make it either.

This year, I needed some motivation to practice guitar and I was starting to feel semi-creative again after a long non-creative period, so in March, I signed up for the contest.  This kicked me into a frenzy of tune preparation and practicing. I could see the big train down the line and knew it was coming and I wanted to be ready. The train isn't quite here yet, but the tracks are shaking. Our truck is loaded up and tomorrow, Derek and I head off to Dallas TX and then up to Winfield. Once I get to Winfield, I'll be able to see the conductor and hear the whistle. At the end of the week- on Friday, at approx 1 pm- after being intimidated by 15 year old hot-shots backstage, I will step on the mandolin stage, sit down in front of the mic, adjust my chair, look at my rhythm guitar player, and then...I'll play the first note of my first tune. At that point, the train will be upon me. I'll be a little nervous, but with any luck, I won't forget, mid-stream, what tune I'm playing like I did in the guitar contest one year when I had to just rip around in the scale for a few seconds until I remembered and got back on track. On Saturday morning, I'll do it again in the guitar contest, but having- hopefully- survived the mandolin contest, I should be more relaxed. My goal is to simply make the cut. If I make the cut in either contest, I will pass out backstage and be the first person in the history of the contest to fail to make the finals because he's passed out backstage from excitement.

If you want to hear quick recordings of my contest tunes, go here. These were done with a simple digital recorder sitting on my desk, just so I could hear how the tunes actually sounded.

In May, I noticed that I'd started to put finish wear on the top of my mandolin neck. I bought this mandolin new in 2002 and I've never worn a mandolin neck before- 2 guitar necks, yes, but never a mandolin. I took pictures.

Finish wear in June

Finish wear in Sept

Underside of neck. 

So, why I am going to Winfield via Dallas?  Well, several months ago, I got it into my head that we needed a Casita travel trailer. Derek and I have been doing a lot more fishing, archery shoots, and just getting out and I would really, really like to have a little trailer that I don't have to pop-up and which has a bathroom and shower. The Casita fits the bill. The family was a little hesitant but one day we headed off to Clayton Lake to go fishing and I brought up the topic. As we came down the hill to the lake, lo and behold, can you believe it? There was a Casita travel trailer! The owner kindly gave the family a quick tour and our fate was sealed.

This is not our trailer. This is what they look like.
We're getting a 16' for the lower weight

I started earnestly searching for a used one but they are hard to find and the only ones I found were 7-9 hour drives away and, yeah the pictures look good, but who knows what condition they were really in? I decided to check prices on new ones and what do you know? Casita is having a sale. The price quoted for a brand-new trailer was barely higher than what I was looking at for 10 year old trailers. I figured that in 10 years, I'd have a 10-year old trailer instead of a 20-year old trailer, and so, thanks to generous financial donation from my mother, I ordered a new one. Lead time was 2.5 months and there, folks, is another big fast train. After all this anticipation and preparation, Monday, Lord willing!, we will hook the new trailer to our truck.

In other news, Derek and I have been fly fishing. After testing the waters ourselves, I decided to hire a guide and jump start the process. We ended up selling 2 of our doe pronghorn permits and using that money to finance a full day's fishing on our local waters. We learned a LOT and had a lot of fun. I hope this is something that we'll be doing more of in upcoming years. Thanks to Eagle Nest Fly Shack in, appropriately, Eagle Nest, NM

Derek's first Brown trout (yes, the fish was back in the water quickly)

Stalking fish pre-guide

Derek and guide

Last bit of news... "Falconry Equipment" is being edited by my co-author Jim Hodge as we speak. When I get back from Winfield- Lord willing- I will make suggested corrections and send it off to the printer. I should have copies in hand by mid-October, if all goes well.

It's been a great summer. I'm looking forward to fall.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Archery Adventure 2015

We are back from another NFAA Grand Field archery shoot. This is for the State Championship and it is a long 2-day shoot in which one shoots the Field, Animal, and Hunter round in 2-days for a total of at least 252 scored shots. The round is outdoors and there's a lot of hiking up and down hills in the July sun.  It's a tiring round to shoot!  There are 6 lead-in shoots at which the winner is given 10 points, 2nd place 9, and so forth.  You can bring 40 points to the Grand Field and then score a potential of 30 points (10 for each round) at the Grand Field. It's important to shoot the lead-in shoot as you can win the Grand Field, but lose the championship if you only shoot 3 of the lead-in rounds and your competitor shoots 4 or more. More on this later!

Scoring the rounds

Derek and I spent both nights at long-time falconer Tom Smylie's house in Edgewood NM and had a great visit there. Tom goes WAY back in falconry- longer than I've been alive, actually- and knows everyone and everything about it. Derek had a good discussion with him and maybe learned a few things about campers, hawks, falcons, pigeons, dogs, book, kayaks, climbing, search/rescue,...

At the shoot, the first day went well and normally.  I matched my highest score on the Animal round and Derek broke his own records in the Field and Animal rounds.  We left Tom's at 6:15 am and got back at 6:30 pm.  Long day. I was happy because I've been having rotator cuff issues all summer and in fact had skipped some of the earlier shoots in Jan-Mar due to this. At some point, I discovered kinesiology tape and started using it on my shoulder.  Mark me down as a believer; after shooting about 150 arrows on Saturday with the tape in place, my shoulder was great.

Day Two: I started the day 100 points up on my next competitor.  Should be an easy win, right?  Especially when the next 2 guys below me didn't show for Sunday's shoot... Derek was about 50 points up on 2nd place. Off we went.  About Target 4, my bow was shooting high and it just got higher and higher so that by Target 7, I was using my 20 yard pin at 35 yards. Something was going on and I couldn't figure it out.  On round 8, my first two arrows went high off the bullseye. Arrow 3 went about 18" low, completely off the target face!  I was positive I'd used the right pin, so I shot again... pow... same low spot.  When I looked at my bow, I saw the problem... my arrow rest launcher was broken.  At every other shoot I'd shot for the past 3 years, I'd taken an extra bow.  This time?  No.  And of course, I have an equipment failure.  Well, I was dead in the water now!

Broken rest!!

What it's supposed to look like

Or so I thought.  After trying to shoot Derek's bow and taking a "0" on the next several long shots (50-70 yards), we were back to a 30 yard target and I decided to at least try to score some points. By holding my 60 yard pin up and to the right about "this far", I managed to sink an arrow in the 4 ring. After that, I just kept working on it and by the time we got done, I was able to score 16's (4- 4 rings) on the 40 yard target and score a whopping 320 points (compared to my regular 500-ish).  Derek, in the meantime, was shooting great and scored another new State record of 528.  A perfect score is 560.

Derek's day was not w/out excitement, though, as Bob lost Derek's scorecard just before the start of the 2nd round. We have 2 cards for this very reason and I quickly took a picture of my copy for safekeeping. We started a new card, someone found the original card, Bob transferred scores, and all was well.

Derek shooting

Talking to Bob, District chairman

Back at the pavilion, scores started coming in. Derek won easily.  In my class, Competitors #2, 3 had gone home, but #4's score beat me by a mere 40 points. I wrestled with this a bit because he had 7 sight pins on his bow and you're only allowed 5 in my class. I wondered whether to protest him and make an enemy or just let it go. Then I remember the lead-in shoots....and he hadn't shot any of them. In the end, it turned out that he was shooting as a "guest" and got no points anyway. So, I took my 2nd State Championship.  Had I started shooting w/out my rest and not taken the 0's, I might've beat him straight up!

Derek, on the other hand and to his immediate disappointment, lost the championship due to the fact that he'd only shot 2 lead-in shoots and the other boy had shot 3. Maybe math will become useful to him now!  On the upside, if he'd won, then he would have 3 State C's to my 2.  Now, we're even!  Yeah!  But, me, I have no records, and Derek broke 3 of his own records today, probably setting them away for awhile.

State Championship #2!

After shooting, it was time to go fishing.  We both had new fly-fishing gear to try and so it was off to Coyote Creek SP to fish and camp. Coyote creek was busy and we ended up catching nothing. To make the best of our time in Northern New Mexico, we decided to move on to another area and headed for Red River.

Fishing Coyote Creek

At Red River, I spotted "Starr Fly Fishing" and we pulled in. The sales help gal was very helpful (and more than slightly cute...) and we left with directions and some new gear (a Fishpond San Juan pack for me) and headed to Fawn Lakes. That was a nice location and even though we didn't catch anything in the heat of the day, we had fun and we'll be back when it's cooler and the tourist season slacks off a little bit.

Our next stop was the trusty Cimarron Canyon and this time we were going to try the "Special Trout Waters".  That ended up being too tough for us, due to the brush along the road, and so we moved down to the easy Gravel Pit lake.  There, we found some other fly fishermen working the little "dam" and while I spin-fished (I really wanted Derek to catch the first fly trout), Derek talked to the guys fishing there and got some good pointers.  Before long, he had his first fly-fish trout and was happy as a clam, even though he looks sleepy in the photo. He was bound and determined to catch a fish with his fly-rod and it was great seeing him finally succeed, even though it was slow going to that point. He also got some good casting and fly pointers from an older guy there and was casting pretty well by the end of the day. I asked Derek about catching the fish on a fly-rod and he said it hit a lot harder and it was more fun fighting it in. He continued to fly-fish after this and moved away from the easy waterfall to the little pond behind it where the "big boys" were casting. He had one there, too, but lost it bringing it in. The "big boys" literally applauded him when he was fighting it and he got a kick out of that.

Derek's first fly fish trout

We finally headed home about 8 pm, driving thru a big thunderstorm/rain to arrive home, very tired and stinky at 10:30 pm.  Shower and bed were quickly in order.  We're already talking about going back to Red River.  I've still got my trout to catch, after all.

Lessons learned:
1) Shoot the shoots.
2) Carry spare rest launchers.
3) Don't give up. Throw arrows at the target if you have to.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

July 2015

I don't have a funny creative title for this post so I'll just call it like it is.  Last time I checked in, I'd just broken my foot. It took a full 6 weeks for that heal, but it finally did. I wore my walking cast for 5 of those 6 weeks; every time I tried to do without it, my foot would hurt w/in a few steps.  So I wore the boot.

It's been raining.  A lot.  May was the rainiest month on record since the early 1900's. The grass grew unbelievably well, ponds/creeks filled up and it was just about perfect really.  For the first time in 5 years, we were able to stock decent numbers of cattle.

Here's a little video of us taking some of the first cattle to water.  This is before the rains really kicked in, so it's still pretty brown.


Flooded yard from the 1st big rain


More clouds!

Down at the creek

June 9

In between rains- it felt good to say that!- we got some hay to get ready for winter.  We have fewer over-wintering horses, far more grass in the pasture, and should be able to get by with less hay.

A mere 40 bales

All this sounds happy and cheerful.  Me, though, I've been really struggling to get moving sometimes. I think the release of the stress of the past 4 years has just wiped me out and some days I can't do anything but sit at the computer and surf around. I had to cut way back on guitar work this spring and summer as I just had to have a break. The thought of getting up and doing something just flattens me. Eventually, I get over it and get up and going, but it's hard some days. Fortunately, I have jobs where if I need to sit and drink coffee until noon, I can. That's a tremendous blessing. I play my guitar a lot, but it's hard to find much joy in it and it gets frustrating. My hearing sucks and it's not going to get better... it's just a real struggle playing these days. Nevertheless, I just keep at it and plow on and eventually the black cloud goes away. It helps a lot to look outside at the green grass, big fluffy clouds, and rain on the horizon. It also helps a lot to think about the temporality of this life and focus ahead on the things to come. 

I've been doing a lot of reading on physics, vibrations, energy, music, and God and those are stimulating things that get my brain going. Lots of food for thought there. This perks me up considerably.

Music books

Energy books

I suppose I'll end this with another little video.  I went to check the mail and found 17 steers lounging in front of the pens where the cows were being temporarily held. Turns out that a gate 1.5 miles away had come loose and the steers went walk-about outback. Derek and I easily herded them back with the help of Spots and Risky.

Thank God for the rain!