I recently returned from a nice week-long art residency along the northern California coast. My primary goal during this time was to record some solo jazz guitar. Imagine my dismay when I plugged in my Apogee Duet 2 interface on the first night and it didn’t turn on.
After an hour or so furiously swapping cables and downloading drivers, I discovered that it was indeed “working” and being detected by the system. That is, the inputs and outputs of the unit were functional. But the OLED screen that usually showed meter lights and other UI was busted.
Well luckily, you can do most of what you need with this thing in software using Apogee’s “Maestro” drivers and some might agree it’s a better overall UI experience. So I was able to get some recording done that week after all. But of course, the broken-ness of it all got under my skin and I started researching how to fix this out-of-warranty $300 future paperweight.
Ugh, drilling holes in old acoustic archtops, right?
Unfortunately, for adding an output jack there are not a lot of good solutions. In the past, I have super-glued them under pickguards, which works fine for the casual cross-legged sit-‘n’-play but it isn’t the most stable thing when you’re standing. So what can be done?
I’ve had this mid-century pole lamp that’s been sitting in disrepair. The plastic (?) cone lampshades started disintegrating and one day a friend was over, reached up to adjust one and it exploded and shattered in his hand. Game over. No one makes replacements for these.
Lee Jeffriess spread the word that I might be the guy to reproduce obscure pickup covers, and sure enough I got a request for a new one, this time for the Fender 1000 Pedal Steel.
These guitars have “jazzmaster” style pickups in the 8-string format. The client reported they were a perfect fit and after some polishing using a plastic buffing compound they might be able to fool Leo himself. The above shows 3 covers with the original. Not telling which is which 🙂
Remind me to go on walks more often. I was passing by one of my favorite ephemera shops Stuff Modern and remembered they have a real convenient (and well decorated!) bathroom upstairs that I needed to use.
So I popped in, and stumbled upon this:
It’s an Ampro 12″ speaker cabinet with a glorious art deco metal faceplate. The grill cloth behind the faceplate is unscarred. The back of the cabinet is removable and latched on like a sewing machine case. The handle is spring-loaded and automatically stows itself down when not in use. It was $119 and looked as “like-new” as anything from the ’40s possibly can.
Thankfully, the days of carrying around a gigantic binder full of your set list charts is over. Like many gigging musicians these days, I use an older iPad running iReal Pro for reading basic chord charts. (I know, I know, purists might take issue with this idea. If you are one of them, can skip this post and continue shaking your fist in another direction.)
I find that full-size music stands are a bit “loud” on stage when all you’re looking at is a 10″ x 7″ rectangle. Plus, as you all probably know by now, minimalism: it’s my thing. We’re still a ways off from reading music charts off of cloud-connected ocular implants, so I came up with this guy:
The stand base is the ubiquitous Hamilton two-section folding stand, a classic of jr. high school band rooms. Notice that (perhaps intentionally) “music” does not precede the word “stand” in the product listing. Their flimsy top sections weren’t the best at holding up actual sheet music. Memories of overstuffed binders somersaulting off of them are now flooding back.
I’ve been curious about the Bugera AC60* for a while. After seeing one picture of it, it was obvious that it is a flagrant knock-off of the AER Compact 60*. But the most compelling thing about this little poseur is that comes in at around $250.
That’s more than 5x less than the $1300 AER! Now I’m all for supporting quality boutique products, but I’m also a musician that earns a fraction of a real salary and I love a good deal.
Coincidentally, one soon popped up on my local Craigslist for $150. I sat on the decision for a while. Gear Acquisition Syndrome is real and my apartment is not getting any bigger. But curiosity got the better of me and I’m sure I made some flimsy justifications such as: “it can be my backup/travel/loaner/practice/whatever amp!”, “maybe I can use it as a portable PA!”, “I could use it as an extension cabinet!” (editor’s note: these situations have occurred exactly 0 times in several years).
Needless to day, I took the plunge. Here it is tagging along next to it’s fancy cousin:
Luckily for me, it was virtually unused. It still had some of the protective plastic covering on the logos. The fella selling it was definitely a casual player. He even asked me if I wanted to start a light rock/country band before even hearing me play.
After picking it up I took it straight to a gig (no doubt it’s first) where I planned to use it for half the night. I ended up using it for two sets and switched back to the AER for the quick last set.
In short: I didn’t notice a “night and day” difference that would justify the 5x premium. I simply set it up the way I would an AER and I didn’t have a miserable time with tone or trying to dial it in. Now that may sound lukewarm, but in my experience, “not being miserable” equals high marks in the acoustic guitar amplification space. Both my bandmates were also using AER amps and they too were quite surprised by it.
The next day, I set it up as above with an A/B switch. I noodled around while toggling between the two amps and again, didn’t hear any total dealbreakers. They are both sufficiently loud, nice-sounding amps.
But how about an audio taste test with some samples? Read on….
When I first met Lee Jeffriess, he was playing bass in a Hawaiian swing band that I perform with called the Alcatraz Islanders. What I didn’t know at the time is that he was a steel guitar legend and a former member of the fantastic Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys during some of their best years.
Go ahead and put this on while you’re reading this, why don’t you?
As I got into steel guitar playing myself and combed through the Steel Guitar Forum for tips on this unforgiving instrument, it soon became clear that not only was Lee a monster player, he was the authority on all things vintage steel. That included history, technique, gear, recordings, and other minutiae like tone capacitor values. Many informative threads ended with something to the effect of, “That’s what I think anyway, but Lee Jeffriess would know for sure.”
So when Mr. Jeffriess, knowing I’ve been getting into this 3D design thing, asked if I could make a pickup cover for Fender Stringmaster T8 pickups, I knew that there was absolutely no other way to get them. A quick googling pointed me to aforementioned Steel Guitar Forums, which confirmed this. Ironically, you can still get modern reproductions the pickups themselves… just not the covers!
A banjo-playing colleague came across one of my AT bridge mounts and liked it, but found that the fit was quite loose on thin-string gauges, which are common on banjos. We went back and forth a bit trying to adjust the clearance gap, but at such tight tolerances, results were mixed.
It then occurred to me to make a more universal adjustable model. I had some M3 threaded inserts left over from a previous project so I simply separated the halves of the string clamp sections and made it so they attach to each other and tighten down with a thumbscrew. Now any gauge of string should work, including bass strings if you’re feeling lucky!