Friday, December 9, 2011

Western States 100

The lottery is tommorow.. and all I can do at the moment is sit and wait... waiting... waiting...

Everyone seems to have their own opinions or thoughts on how the lottery percentages work, but it seems as this being my second time official lottery entrant (two additional years but those were raffle entries) it somewhere about 10% chance of being selected.

I'm honestly not certain how I feel yet about the potential of being picked but one thing for sure; I'm going to be COMPLETE RACEZILLA until raceday if it happens!!!

Best luck to all in the lottery

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wagon Tail Saloon

The Saloon continues to take shape.  I'm often finding myself anxious to do more work on it so it can be done, but I don't want to sacrifice my design or quality... so easy goes it.  Since tearing down the first version Bar#1 (it was not following my idea from the beginning, but the ball was already rolling and I had to jsut wait for it to come to a stop before picking up the pieces and moving on), I've been very pleased with this rendition of the DIY L Shaped Bar #2.  I was careful this time to build the framing from my design before letting anyone else in on what I was doing, this ensured that now I have no-one but me to blame if something does not work or fit ;) You may also noticed we've modified our Saloon name to something a bit more fun with some word play on it.

The bar framing is complete and decorative stained planks are becoming the bar top and working counter top (as you see in the above pic).  I'm having some trouble locating the edge piecing for bar top but patience is key I've learned.  Sadly it will not be even close to ready for our Christmas party but at least the form works and I can cover it with tarps until I get around to finishing the stain and clear coat for top.

Last night I started on electrical and some audio wiring.  Also test fit the fridge and whew it's a perfect fit!  I'm hoping another month for completion and then we can have our ribbon cutting to the 'Wagon Tail Saloon'

Friday, November 18, 2011

Remember the Planjo Banjo project?

Well, some may recall that over the summer I let myself get wrapped up in the project of trying to build an instrument.  NO I am NOT a Luthier... and trust me the craftsmanship on this Banjo I built lacked a lot!

The important thing was more about what I learned and whether I thought I could suffer through learning an instrument.  This project told me that if I had the patience to see this through, whcih I did... perhaps I deserved a well built instrument?

Lo and Behold I started looking around using the knowledge I gained while building my Banjo.  I was first shocked at the cost of a new instrument.  Like many other things though the theory "buy the most you can afford" holds true for instruments as well.  I just began scouring ads and postings for a decent lightly used Banjo.  Then after many weeks and months of looking I came across a perfect price point for a Classic Goodtime 2 Banjo made by Deering, and the best part is that it was new and un-opened.  Could not pass up the deal so yes I treated myself early... now I gotsta' lern to play the banjer'

Tired Dog Saloon - The adventure begins

For a couple of years now we've been tinkering with the idea of building a bar.  Not just any bar with a top but something themed.  We took an excellent roadtrip to Montana last summer and did some extensive research all along the way.  I can't count how many bars and saloons we checked out, but by far and without doubt our most succesful research was of that in Virginia City, Montana.  This place has the most incredible history and some great stories that are still being told.

Where the bar will go
Upon return from our trip we tried to sort through what pictures we could and make a pile just for Saloon and Bar ideas.  It seemed the right thing to do for conveying an appropriate theme was to remodel the entire room, not just add a new piece of furniture.  So forward we go!

We are taking the front room space and over the next 6-15 months (due to other project constraints and cost) and will turn this space into a an "Old West Saloon".  It's going to be a lot of creative work since we still want some current technology in this room, but not detract from the theme. 
The plan already went into motion by tearing out the grey carpet and installing a tile floor which mimics the color and shape of old wood planks.  Now we are starting with the bar...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Banjo moves forward through the knowledge of its past

The piano may do for lovesick girls who lace themselves to skeletons, and lunch on chalk, pickles, and slate pencils. But give me the banjo... When you want genuine music—music that will come right home to you like a bad quarter, suffuse your system like strychnine whiskey…ramify your whole constitution like the measles, and break out on your hide like the pin-feather pimples on a picked goose—when you want all this, just smash your piano, and invoke the glory-beaming banjo!

~ Mark Twain

Nov. 4th, 2011 on PBS "Give me the Banjo" airs for the first time... I can't wait

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"the BarkBox 1.0"

“the BarkBox 1.0”

We are coming up on one of our favorite volunteer activities of the whole year, the San Diego 100 Mile Endurance Run SD100. Our Aid Station is one of the most critical, fun, entertaining, busy, and everything else... but this leads into my latest project the BarkBox. One of my duties is the music and means of supplying said beats. I’ve been using a really old analog super low power old school boombox, I think the abuse it received last year was the final straw and it’s speakers and internal amp went South and not in a good way… but that’s ok because I think I’ve owned this thing for something like 20 years! Geez , I think I earned a new one.

Well for most folks (and me included at times) would just go start shopping to find a suitable portable stereo. Of the plethora of varieties and prices out there it would be fun shopping; however, based on my unexpected success and results of my previous project the “Planjo”… oh yeah, and my lack of funds, I decided why not see what I can do with what’s in the garage. Thus BarkBox was given life, it has a long way to go and I got some really fascinating ideas for version 2.0 but you’ll have to wait and hear about those once I start building (after the current project of the Bryan Saloon is done).  BTW - Thank you to my very very patient wife who endured my few 2am working sessions.. including one of those where I was testing Volume and Gain on the individual Amps.

The name BarkBox is derived because this was built mainly for the use of our Sunrise Aid Station at the SD100. Our station is themed and aptly named “the Dog Pound” so what better compliment that then to build “the BarkBox”!

Goal: My aim on this project was initially just to build a speaker enclosure for two fairly decent 8ohm 5” DVC speakers I had sitting around (well, actually they are gathering dust waiting for me to finish yet a different project.. surprise surprise). Though since the AMP I was using previously (my store bought boombox over 20 years old) could not handle anything larger than small room listening I needed something that could broadcast and be heard over the mountains in a wide open space. The objective here was to see if I could replicate something as a prototype with minimal funding and be creative with what I already had available to me. It also had to be low power and run of readily available batteries (2.0 will hopefully be solar) and be able to charge whatever device the tunes are playing from.

Cost: about $30 (not counting whatever I already had laying around like speakers and some of the electronics). I actually spent a great deal more than that but I was also replenishing my electronics toolkit and plan to return any unused items.

Time to build: All together about 20 hours, after all I did have to go back and re-teach myself soldering by deconstructing an old VCR (YES, a VHS VCR…ever seen one of those kids). This had the added result of harvesting some ‘new’ LED’s, Capacitors, and some micro switches and buttons… COOL!

Result: AWESOME! Somewhat surprising to me was how well this worked once everything got packaged back together.

  • Two Amps, a Left and Right channel @ 7 Watts each
  • Two speaker enclosures capable of running any format speaker wiring since they are Dual Coil Voice; I can run them as 4 or 8 Ohm, 65Watts output capable, and can be in a single or double stereo setup
  • USB Charger (properly built circuit for you critiques out there, this is not a straight drop down from 9v to 5v regulator)
  • Rugged enclosures and very discreet. I love that it looks like nothing but packs some great performance
  • Can operate on 8v - 15v (9v battery or 12v setup like 8xAA which is what I use)
Other Notes: To save even more money, and since the store was not open at 1am durnig testing I fashioned my own heat sinks as amps and regulators tend to lose a lot of energy through heat.  Yes, not the most efficient project but it works great, I LOVE how it looks, and I have some amazing ideas for version 2.0.  Some of you may also note the kit boards on the amps.  Let it be known I actually did build my own two Amps using the LM386 IC design, unfortunately those produced serious noise problems and static at anything over a Dishwasher volume level.  Not satisfactory for my use so I opted for another IC designed for more power and just a better all around Op Amp.  Only problem is that I could not find these IC's standalone and in my search came across a kit so admittedly I did buy the kit, funny fact is that the schematic was identical on the kit to the one on my breadboard save for some resistance and capacitance values.

We all love pics so here are a few of them and the rest of them will be in my Picasa library (links are on this page in the menu)

A plain old litter box which we have several of sitting around

Your basic $3 dollar cheapo plastic 'Stanley' box

Speakers  with terminal blocks mounted on back-side

Terminal Posts used on bottom to allow for various speakers configs and add-ons, plus a little sound proofing for bass response

Getting Started and needed a based for mounts for PCBs and add to sturdiness

YAY! Breadboarding, which actually was fun and should always be done before soldering

Mounting of the different boards and connections on all sides

Bonus tray in tool box.  Battery access without damaging electronics

RCA inputs, Speaker outputs and Gain/Volume control for each channel, oh yeah and a couple of fans to pass the heat through box

Switches, USB input and LED's  Oooh ahhh

More breadboarding for the USB charger and my home-made heatsink

Tada!  and IT WORKS!!!! :)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Project Success and the Banjo Planjo really exists now

It is with a satisfying “twang” and grin that I declare my Banjo project complete. Now even though it’s complete does not necessarily mean playable. Keep in mind I remember nothing of how to play so it’s just plucking the strings.

Going through the full process of building this was an excellent learning curve and I think in some way even picked up a few lessons on how to play. The build process took a long time but I used it wisely to read, listen and watch everything I could about Banjos. Once I got the strings laced on this homemade project (after snapping 2 of them with my homemade pegs) I started giving my shot at the basic Scruggs rolls. My “Planjo” as I now call it actually turned out quite good considering I several lack in the woodworking skills department. It’s very light weight and has an open back. The neck is very thick, and the bridge and nut are super flimsy and I expect them to break anytime. Also, make no mistake that even though I don’t have an ear for what to tune-it-in yet I can tell you without hesitation it sounds like shit; the best part about all that is that I still LOVE it!

I set myself out on a mission and would not let myself get caught up in spending new money. I took whatever time I could get in between running, work, and errands to work on it and am glad that I stuck with it. The things I learned along the way were invaluable and at times eye-opening. It was really cool coming across new videos and information about all the varieties and possibilities of that sweet sounding 5 stringed instrument.

All together I probably spent about 20 hours building two “Planjos”. One broke a few times in different places and got glued together, while the other faired ok in the process and actually is what I used to play the basic rolls on.

Knowing that I stuck with this process to the finish and the duration was a little over two months it gave me a smile to show what’s capable when you are really motivated. I went from almost knowing nothing of instrument building and certainly barely anything of playing as you may recall from my last story.

For the curious ones there, I really did just use what I could find in the garage.  final parts included 5 eye bolts for tuners, 1/4" plexiglass for the head, and a 4x4 sheet of plywood that was cut, glued, and manipulated to resemble a banjo.  My only cost basis was about $6 for the strings.. WooHoooo

“Twang Twang, play on my Hillbilly friends”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Happiest Sound on Earth …

A BANJO of course. How anyone can turn a frown on a banjo is beyond me. I don’t recall why I had initially thought to pick one up when I was a kid, but I suspect it had something to do with me being a teenager and needing to show I was different (as if Junior High School was not hard enough).

I took up some lessons after acquiring a 6 string banjo at the young age of about 13 or 14. Sadly the lessons nor the banjo lasted long. As you can imagine I did not have much influence around me to play this instrument and never really was encouraged to keep it up. When learning anything it seems to always be the first several lessons over the course of a couple of months which are the hardest. Though I have learned that as long that you can get past that “introductory” phase of anything your chances of being successful are significantly greater.

Without influence or good motivation I found it especially hard to stick with the lessons. In part because I sat in tiny cubicle sized room in the upstairs of a chain type music store with a chain smoking guitar only player trying to teach me some cords. Even though I knew Bluegrass is what I wanted to learn he only taught me everything in guitar style and had no knowledge of actually playing a banjo of any type; in fact he never even took my instrument to show me a proper way to play my variety of instrument. Oh well, with age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes the knowledge to stop wasting money or money in unknown returns.

It was much less than a year after after acquiring the banjo that it became obsolete in my teenage life and went the way of the DoDo bird. Fast forward almost 30 years and I’m pretty sad that of all the instruments I tried and played I never stuck with playing one even off and on, imagine had someone helped me stick with it I might actually know something about music or at least enough to keep a party going. All things I played were from 4th grade when I played the Violin and Cello (Violin being my favorite even still). Shortly after that came Piano and Organ, after all my mom was the best Church organist I’ve ever heard. I do miss the times when I was young being able to sit next to her at the organ and she taught us to play and use the foot pedals…. Ahh memory lane but ‘tis a story for another day. From the stringed and keyed instruments I still managed to find my way into a a banjo, and now as an adult find myself longing for that sound again. I’m certain that part of my renewed interest lately is because life is challenging and we need things that make us smile as often as possible. For me it’s that good old fashioned frailing and picking of a five string banjo. Go ahead try to be mad when you are listening to one. I find it impossible.

Over the last couple of months I have been researching and listening to as much bluegrass music that I can find. Utilizing modern day resources of the Internet, satellite and that old brick and mortar place, a Music store. It also helps that one of my co-workers is a very talented stringed musician and singer, and though he does not know it yet I’m about to embark on a musical journey and will surely have an endless string of questions and discussions with him.

Well here I am in modern day world of January 2011. I find myself challenged by time and money (don’t we all?) and have a thirst to to learn an instrument (it’s on my bucket-list, isn’t it on yours?). Given the constraints above where do I start? Well the Internet of course! This has just fueled my resources beyond what I could have imagined. I find myself day dreaming and having fairly consistent thoughts of playing some bluegrass again. I swear that even when the quiet has settled all around me I can still hear the backwards roll of Earl Scruggs, and I smile. Life is good. Though since I can’t stop thinking about wanting to learn I’ve force fed myself some proverbial sugar (or medicine depending on your point of view) and realized nothing stops you from doing what makes you happen. I still believe that if you want something enough and for the right reasons, a little logic, patience, and thoughtfulness can go a very long way to procuring something and resolving ideas to something tangible.

Sooooo, by now you are asking why all the rambling, and more importantly what are you going to do about it! Rather than sit and wish on something which I think I want to try (because wishing is often times a wasted exercise since you are still at the same place where you started). This time I am going off the fact that I’m done worried about what people think about the adventure and getting off my ass to BUILD A BANJO! Yep, that’s right, me build something that requires a little craftsmanship and patience. My only hope is that the process goes well enough that I’m left with something I can put some strings on and learn to play an instrument again.

Here’s how the process is going down. I’ve probably read through a hundred web pages and listened to a few more than that of songs. It’s time I told myself and to make this even more fun… or frustrating, I am going to do this on an incredibly low budget. If this works out I am already envisioning a much more honed project where proper materials and tools are used; though it will still be homemade.

What I learned in all my perusing of materials is that even a beginner banjo will run you an easy $500 and a playable used one will still cost you upward of $300. Yikes that’s a lot of cash for something that may not last more than a couple of months, remember how my story started? A small digression was that the banjo I had as a child was received as a gift by my uncle who was in a band. Although I’m sure he got a great deal on it, no doubt so money was spent and unfortunately lost since I don’t even know where the instrument ended up. Anyway, back to my project. Since I don’t want to buy a $100 replica from the far East, I decided to spend much much less than that in building my own. If all goes well I’m certain to end up with a nice professionally built and tuned instrument, but let’s first see what the next couple of months hold. Also just to speak my opinion I have nothing negative about products coming from other countries. I also think that some of the first Banjos were introduced and made in China, but to me personally I can’t ever think of anything else but good ole USA when I hear a banjo. Thus any banjo I purchase WILL be American made and I’m proud of that.

The Internet has brought forth many incredible resources in way of pictures, videos, sounds and forums. I’ve ‘picked’ (haha) out what might be useful in my workshop adventure. Step one was to go out in the garage, grab a micro-brew (of course, sheesh I’m not an animal and I do have priorities) and survey the contents as they might possibly relate to instrument building. A Luthier, I am not but at least I can try.

Most of the garage contents are your basic set of hand tools and hand power tools, along with an assortment of plywood cuts. Luckily I had a 4x4 sheet of ¾” ply and thought to myself… “self, why not?” and here the “Planjo” begins it’s journey on a sunny SoCal day in my garage. I took some measurements and generic templates I could find on the Internet (thank you technology!!) and printed those out. Proceed to grab another excellent micro-brew and starting cutting with my old jigsaw. I did make a great little jig to measure out and cut the circles which will become the RIM of my new banjo. For the peg head and neck I’m hoping to make that as a single cut. Since I don’t have any old wood or furniture suitable I took a bunch of left over ¼” and ½” plywood plank strips and glued those together to make a 26”x3”x3” piece which will become the one-piece peg head and neck.

As I drew out my patterns and started cutting into the wood I also patted myself on the back as I’m not a Craftsman but I was handling things well. I also realized that the way I was marking the wood and the sizes I had on hand (must be the Engineer in me) that it would require minimal extra time and no additional wood to cut two of everything. Thinking that if one piece breaks I’ll have another to make sure the project keeps moving forward. Worst case scenario I have a bunch of cut wood that will be easier to recycle and best case scenario is I will have two playable banjos… Dueling Banjos anyone? Really though I would be thrilled to even have just one semi playable instrument. It may not be tuned or look pretty but will have similar traits to a standard banjo and perhaps I can at least pick up some tab playing, “Do I hear Foggy Mountain Breakdown resonating in the distance?”.

As I ramble through this build I also can’t stop thinking about one of the songs that I can’t get enough of, “Over the Rainbow”played on a Ukulele. Understandably you probably should not play that tune on a Banjo, but if all goes well with this build I begin to wonder how difficult to build a Ukulele. That even has a bonus of only needing four strings. Hmmm can I possibly learn a few Uke tabs after gaining some ground with some 3 finger pickin’ or clawhammer…

Ok, back to the project…