Thursday, August 4, 2016

Let's Do Something With Our Hands


Boy it's been a long time!  No, I haven't forsaken longer form writing for the 140 characters of Instagram or Twitter.  My life is just not that interesting.  In fact, after several years into the successful experiment that has been my divorce and BachelorDadHood, I fell into a comfortable rut.  A rut I felt I could only power my way out of with 750cc of vintage Japanese motorcycle engine.  I've said before that I would love to own and maintain a vintage cafe racer to zip around town on in the early mornings and late evenings, and to work on in the cool dusk of my garage.  Luckily, cooler heads prevailed.

No motorcycle.  It certainly would've spelled the death of me.

So what to do.  I was still in a rut, remember?  Clearly, I needed a hobby other than sulking at home, listening to my vinyl records, or worse, chasing tourist skirts in Waikiki (especially since I was doing that so poorly, as well).  Then I discovered it while talking with another OnceWereBachelor friend, a good friend of mine since third grade, a father of three girls, and husband to a wonderful woman who had his life tuned to such a perfect pitch that he too went searching for a hobby.  Something to keep his hands busy at night.

Three words:  DIY Electric Guitar.  Okay, I know that's more like five words, but you get the idea.

I've always thought the quintessential rock n' roll guitar was embodied by the Flying V, originally built in the heady days of Sputnik by Gibson.  I've always wanted one.  However, their versions, even the most affordable of them, are laughably expensive.  I discovered a company in Australia that will mill one (in China) to one's preferred specifications.  After many weeks waiting, it will arrive unassembled and unadorned.  A moderate amount of woodworking skill is called for, and a like amount of painterly talent and soldering fearlessness, and, as the French say: voila!



I was going for mid-century American muscle, something evocative of tailfins and checkered flags and motor oil on rain puddles.  The center ornament is from an old Chevy Impala, since GM seems to have also gone with the flag motif (to the chagrin of this dyed-in-the-wool Ford guy).

My second guitar began shortly after the V was completed.  In fact, I believe I was still wrestling with electrical issues on my V, when I found this interesting guitar kit on eBay.  Unlike most Les Pauls, this model was routed for a single pick up.  Even more interestingly, it was fitted for a single-coil P90, as opposed to the more common (and more modern) humbucker pick up.  I fell in love with its unrepentant purity and simplicity, and I resolved to build it as the ultimate Punk Rock workhorse, but adorned not with stickers and graffiti, but with the most vintage of vintage paint schemes from Gibson, the venerable Goldtop.  Like the V, it would also have an unfinished neck, for hand speed, and a stinger headstock, where the paint job forms a point on the back of the neck.  I would throw out the cheap Chinese tuning pegs for vintage, snot-green Kluson-style tuners.

Because of the single pickup, it would have much simpler electronics involving only one tone and one volume knob. And for the pinnacle of simplicity, as well as vintage fidelity, it would have a one-piece wrap-around bridge, literally half the hardware of more modern guitars (and by modern, I mean post-1954).  It will take every ounce of self-discipline in me to refrain from stickering it up.

The last DIY guitar was a little different.  I had an old stratocaster-style guitar sitting in a closet, a $30 purchase off Craigslist as part of a punk rocker costume I wore for Halloween a few years ago.  After a little tweaking, I had already made it sound above average.  I decided I wanted an homage to one of the great icons of horror comic books, a rock n roll femme fatale if ever there was one, the voluptuous, the vexatious, the venereal, Vampirella.  For this "build," all I did was learn that old craft skill from the Seventies, decoupage.  I purchased a readily available pile of old Vampirella comics from the local nerd-store, and, (in Bela Lugosi voice) "Good Evening."

And that's what I've been doing for the past six-months, at night when my son is with his mom.  I think it's been well-spent, and it's much better than wrapping myself bodily around a streetlight off the back of a motorcycle.  But don't worry, other stupidity follows, and I also feel one of those Universal Theory posts bubbling up very soon.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Vinyl Adventures in a Quieter Mode

I put together a second stereo for the OnceWereBachelor Pad.  This latest one is not as "totally awesome" as my first.  But in at least one way, it's particularly special to me, as it is partly comprised of my father's old sound system from his dark, solemn den in Manila.  While I found the Sansui 1000X receiver, manufactured in 1969, and the Kenwood KD-5077 turntable from the Seventies both on Craigslist (a place becoming for me more and more like an online heroin shooting gallery), the Standard Radio Corp. speakers in walnut and black and matte steel (very Bauhaus) were smuggled over from Tokyo by my dad in 1968 in a spare pilot's bag.  They are compact, well made, and absolutely beautiful.  They followed us over from the Philippines, along with my dad's own Sansui 5000x receiver and SD 7000 reel to reel.  The latter two pieces gave up the ghost in the Eighties, but my dear mom lovingly stored the surviving speakers away, for me to find decades later.

The whole system is not the powerhouse I have downstairs.  But I leave that for the punk rock.  This upstairs unit, just steps from my and my son's rooms, doesn't threaten the same wattage, but for things like Sinatra at the Sands with Count Basie & his Orchestra, conducted by Quincy Jones, a record pressed in mono in 1966, it's perfect.  I like to think of my upstairs system as a spiritual successor to Don Draper's stereophonic console.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

An American Look Back

She & Him is the pop music duo of Zoey Deschanel (the uncertain rebel hippie of Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous) and guitarist/producer M. Ward (sorry, I got nothing on this guy; the world is full of unsung guitar talent).  Their aesthetic is decidedly retro-lux, and their presentation is reminiscent of my favourites the Style Council.  I discovered this video one night while obsessively searching for vintage stereophonic console cabinets.

I was instantly captivated and charmed.  I had to know more.  I had to hear more.  Thanks to the aforementioned obsessiveness, I quickly pieced together that their video was almost a direct cribbing of a Chevrolet film short from 1958 celebrating American Design.  Wow.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Vinyl Adventures Redux

The hit parade of vinyl continues, and consequently a Mood Room is developing.  I enjoyed the first couple of weeks of vinyl as played through my Eighties era Sony, when I suddenly got the hankering for analog knobs and buttons and the blue glow of Non Specific Warning Lights.  As luck would have it, a 1978 vintage Sansui G-6700 showed up on Craigslist and in two shakes of a lambs tail, said knobs, buttons, and NSWLs were mine.  It now serves as a 100 watt per channel traffic cop for all the audio signals my growing 70s and 80s record collection can produce.

Finding the Sansui was fortuitous for another reason.  As I was driving home from the purchase through an unfamiliar neighborhood, what should I spy but the often-replicated (often poorly) Eames lounge chair, waiting to be picked up by the bulky item sanitation crew, in a condition that can best be described as Not Quite Ready for the Dump.  It's sumptuous naugahyde was only a little sunbaked and cracked.  Shook that lambs tail again, a screech of the brakes, and it was in the back of my truck.  Only made the neighbors a little nervous.

Now, I know this particular chair was nowhere near an original example of the mid-century masterpiece by Charles and Ray Eames, manufactured by the Herman Miller Co., and extant in the dens of Mike Brady, Don Draper, Tom Corbett and his son Eddie, and Maj. Anthony Nelson and his Jeannie in a bottle.  It's armrests and base were all wrong, and the quality of the materials was barely residential grade.  In fact, I already have another one, also a copy, of much better accuracy, which I keep as a placeholder for when I have a spare five grand laying around for a real one.  So I could've taken a pass on this one.  But in an instant an alternative vision developed in my mind for this dumpster find.

Sometimes, with good fortune comes the blessing of freedom; the departure of limitation that zero overhead affords.  This vision fit in perfectly with my idea of the Mood Room, where I was already doing my most profound thinking, whilst listening to vintage New Wave.  The iconic lines and proportions of the Eames chair would serve as a framework for something edgy, and "out there" at least for the Reagan Era.  Something graffitied and hot pink, maybe, and that goes well with the post-apocalyptic simulacra of Billy Idol music in its very prime.  Something that the Warriors wouldn't be afraid to hide behind during their odyssey across New York's deadly five boroughs, while fleeing the Baseball Furies.   Something that Lord Humongous of the Wasteland could use as a campaign chair while laying siege to Mad Max and his friends.  You get where I'm going?  Something that rocked.

So I resurrected some long dormant graphic design skills.  Wielded them poorly.  Took my time.  Two weeks later, I have this, the listening throne to go with my crown jewel Sansui.

Reduce.  Reuse.  REBEL YELL!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Vinyl Adventures in Super Mid-Fi

After probably 2 decades of incapacity, I am once again able to play record albums.  This is no small development for someone of my penchant for music.  We are now GO for vinyl in the OnceWereBachelorPad.  My new favorite saying is, "Come on over and let's listen to records!"

Billy Idol's Rebel Yell Spinning, Black Flag's Jealous Again On Deck
For years, I had been browsing Craigslist for a used system, but I couldn't find one complete that didn't smack of too much digitalia or oversensurroundsound.  No thanks.  Two channels, maybe a bank of levels.  Blue lights.  Finally, after driving Bill's MG, I also acquired his stereo receiver and awesome Bose 302 "bookshelf" speakers.  All I needed was a turntable, and for that I finally bit the bullet and simply ordered a basic one online, as well as a separate phono preamp.  If you're at all similarly inclined, stay away from the cheap self contained units that you find everywhere.  They're no better than the crappy plastic players we used to have as kids in the 70s, from Sears or worse.

I tell you all this not because I am a techie audiophile.  Lord no.  My music hardly calls for the highest fidelity.  With records, the journey's the thing, I think.  Besides putting the stereo components together, consider the act of accumulating record albums.  I've already waxed lyrical about sifting through album stacks at Tower Records.  Bringing out my old collection, which I've gathered since I was about 14 years old, the activity is downright autobiographical.  And now that I am again vinyl ready, I get to return to used record shops?  That's just a bonus to having the stereo.

Eames Fiberglass Shell Chair and Record Player
And what of the act of listening to record albums?  With CDs or iTunes or Pandora or Spotify, the experience is disposable.  One can skip past songs, assemble playlists, impose your own aesthetic on the artists whose songs you've downloaded.  It's also portable, in that one often does other things -- walk their dog, work out, read their email -- while listening to their iPod.  Those are not bad capabilities

Music Listening Space
by any means, but consider the alternative.  One occupies the same space as their stereo.  One has to set aside time to listen to the entire record because it isn't as easy to skip songs on an album.  Also, you'll have to listen to the songs in the order that the artist put them in on the record.  Do you think they put thought into that order?  I should think so.  And if you're going to listen to one record, you might as well listen to a bunch of them.  And what do you do while listening?  Maybe you could still clear your email, but just as likely, you could sit down, in your music listening space, and turn your attention to the cool stuff that came with the record album, the lyric sheet, the booklet.  Heck, even the picture on the album cover is reproduced in a stately, full size that lends itself to hours of scrutiny.  Don't think that it only holds the attention of teenagers.  It's happened to me since I got my stereo.  And I haven't been a teenager for decades.

5 LPs of Bruce Springsteen Live, and Collectible Booklet With Lyric Sheet 

Cheap Trick's In Color

Back Cover of Cheap Trick's In Color

Inside Foldout to Cheap Trick's In Color

This Calls For Super Mid Fi