Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hamy V Progress

I presented the 'Hamy' Flying-V to Henry on Christmas Day. Since then, he's been asking (pushing) me to make some headway on it. From his perspective, it must seem almost done, ready to play.

I know the difference- It's got a ton of work left to make it playable, but some portions of the work are being achieved faster than I expected. Over the weekend we glued on the fretboard, shaped the headstock and began shaping the back of the neck.

It's amazing that a few short days ago this was thick, roughed-out blocks with just the wings glued on.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

At a loss for (kind) words at a moment in history

I understand less and less of the world I live in.

Congress marches forth on its battle against free markets and liberty. I don't want to take the hours to write about how wrong the healthcare bill is, how much lying is being propogated, how dissapointed I am with senators across the nation who are ignoring their constituents and bellying up to feast at my table*, bringing back to their districts the spoils of battle.

Least of all do I wish to waste time expressing my utter disgust with and disdain for my fellow citizens, who are so ignorant about fundamental concepts of liberty, free markets, dignity, and lack a value system beyond emotional responses... The schools have worked to perfection. They have succeeded in their goal of raising wards of the state; they have replaced the family and the faith.

I simply have to document that here, screaming "No!!!!!!!!!!" as they struck Battleship America with the final torpedoes. I was here. I screamed "No!!!!!!" I was here. Now I will go and cry for this country (for there are no others like it; there will not be again).

Then we will rise, my wife and I, and we will raise our children as best we can, raise them to lead, to be humans, to be the souls they are, to be free spirits and free thinkers in this nanny state of serfs to which we Americans have subjected ourselves.

We will remember these days (far more than 9/11) as the days that American liberties were taken in a silent coup of subservience to the false freedom from worry...

"No, Mr. President! No!"

*who the hell do you think is going to pay for this? Aside from my grandchildren's children, of course. The mean and nasty rich will pay for it. And rich will be defined as anyone who has money left after taxes.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Guitar building update

measure twice, cut a few times, see what you get; don't paint yourself into a corner.

I thought I'd offer a little proof of the effort I've been putting forth on the luthier front. Effort? Heck yeah. Success? To be determined. Learning curve? Steep. Mistakes? Oh yeah. Victories small and large? Absolutely. Under and over estimation? Verily.

I've been using (I almost typed 'leveraging,' but that's such a business term, I just can't bring myself to use it here) the tools at the local high school shop- most notably the jointers, planers and band saw to transform my big pieces of hardwood into smaller, more accurately sized and shaped pieces of hardwood.

For the 'V,' I made a mistake on the width of the neck- shaved it too close for the purposes of getting it square. For 'Jr,' IItalic had some huge chunks pulled out when routing the body to shape. I don't know how I'll recover (or cover) those. Damn.

On the other hand, the fret-board tapering worked out really well. I did a lot of work with rulers and straight edges to get a centered, squared taper stenciled on the back of the fretboard and then used my big plane to whittle it all down. Smooth, easy, sharp. Whew! I was worried about that.

The routing of the neck for truss rods turned out okay. And now I'm not afraid. Shaping the necks will be another learning experience. I have a spoke shave, some shure-forms, and a contour gauge to check my progress. Are there mistakes in the waiting? Assuredly. But I'm holding my nose and diving in.

And learning.

The next two guitars will be much better. That's okay. I'm learning. Hamer, here I come.

Pics below are of my one-winged flying V, for Henry, as I glued a wing on.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What kind of Change we talking about?

Here, with just a few choice modifiers left out of the dictionary term, is a fairly good description of where all this Change is headed:

A political ideologically based on centralized government, government control of business, repression of criticism or opposition, a leader cult and exalting the state and/or religion above individual rights.

Sound familiar? I don't know if you can say examples can be pulled from the headlines, given how in bed the press is with our current political leadership. I don't watch the news- haven't been able to for a good fifteen years without becoming enraged or depressed instantaneously- but I know what's reported and, more importantly, how it's reported. But let's review, shall we?

Has the Obama administration and our liberal congress been pursuing the growth of the power of centralized government (which is here to take care of us, a very loose interpretation of "provide for the common good")?

Has Obama administration and our liberal congress taken control of any businesses lately? Hints. Overtly: financial, auto, and health care; covertly, using increased regulations in the name of protecting ...innocents from, um, greedy people. Uh, class warfare.

Has the Obama administration repressed cristicism? Nah. The media has done that by looking the other way. Then again, there was that whole "email suspicious people in" thing. Oh, and playing the race card.

Do people look on Obama in a cultish fashion? Kindergartners aren't singing hymns to him. Well, not every day. I mean, there's no prayer in the schools, but that's probably because he's not officially been named a deity. Yet.

Does Obama exalt the state over individual rights? There is nothing but the state to take care of the individuals. It's what the state does! Lord knows you can't take care of yourself. Well, you can for now, but you won't be allowed to soon enough.

Anyway, I'm sure you know this, but the word of the day is Fascism. And here's the whole definition. I took out the part in green.

From wiktionary:

A political regime, having totalitarian aspirations, ideologically based on centralized government, government control of business, repression of criticism or opposition, a leader cult and exalting the state and/or religion above individual rights. Originally only applied (usually capitalized) to Benito Mussolini's Italy.

Some time with Jack

Jack, it turns out, does more than shoot droids (or hold his daddy's guitars).

In the last couple of weeks he's matured at an amazing rate. His speech is very articulate (going from "No! Me have cereal" to "No! I will have Rice Chex"). He's playing more complex and imaginitave games with Henry and Sam. And he's spending a lot of time in the upstairs playroom, sitting on the floor, floating in a sea of legos.

I sat down with him yesterday for a good half-hour (until the hard floor hurt my bum and ankles too much). He wasn't playing with the monster-sized Duplo blocks, mind you, he was playing with the "Indiana Jones shirts" and "Stormtrooper pants" of the little lego people, moving them around on various scooters and ships and, well, shooting doids. I fumbled around for a while trying to build my own ships and get into the battle, but it wasn't very interesting to Jack. I was reduced to a lackey finding specific shirts, pants, helments, and arms for him.

Then I picked up a base and started to build a classic lego brick wall. Overlaying bricks, putting in the occasional wall. "Do you like my wall, Jack?" big deal. Shoots some droids. I keep building "Want to help me build my house, Jack?" Nah. Needs another helmet. I keep building. "Want to come over to my house, Jack?"


Jack came over, walked his Indiana-Stormtrooper up and down the walls, looked out the windows, went down the slide on the front, had dinner. He even took a nap (with both blaster-guns pointing straight up) to wake up and shoot droids. He's got an imagination.

Later that night, as I headed off to bed so I could wake at 3:30 for business travel, I came across Jack back in the play room. "Jack, want to go to bed?" Sure. He brought his Indiana-Stormtrooper, we got his jammies on, brushed teeth, crawled into bed, and he was out in a few minutes.

I was a good dad yesterday.

Spotlight: Album Reviews 04- Maria McKee, You Gotta Sin to be Saved

Shame on me.

Early this morning, from 4:15am to 5:00am as my car floated down I295 in Maine from Augusta to Portland on my way to Manchester-Boston Regional Airport (that's MHT, y'all) for a 7:30am flight, I did something I should have done sixteen years ago. I listened to Maria Mckee's "You Gotta Sin to be Saved" for the first time.

It started off with soul, as only Maria can deliver, and drifted into blues, country, more soul, and more emotion. Here and again a song would start weak and I'd think "here's the filler." but without fail I'd be singing along by the end of the song. Ooh, and the guitar solos were, at times, to borrow from William Miller in Almost Famous, "incin... incidi...incendiary!"

When I find an artist I really love, like, say, Aimee Mann or Mark Knopfler, and I discover they have a pretty extensive catalog, I like to savor each album individually for a period of months before adding the next one. This I had done with Maria. Her eponymous first solo album has been with me from mixed tapes (yeah, remember those?) to mixed cds to playlists. Somewhere in the early 200os I picked up "Life is Sweet" and was so frightened by it that I only listened to it once. But as I got a Zunepass, all you can eat downloads for the price of a CD each month, I found more maria releases and have enjoyed "Peddlin' Dreams" and "Late December" over the last few years.

"You Gotta Sin to be Saved"'s turn came up last month when some YouTubing led me to watching some live Lone Justice videos from back in the day,* which led to some Zune searching which led to reading some reviews which led to me realizing that I'd completely missed it. Down it came onto the Zune.

If I had not procrastinated so long, this would have been one of those albums that's always in heavy rotation; that always gets played.

I wasted sixteen years. Please, don't you make the same mistake and let sixteen good years go to waste.

*Maria made her debut with Lone Justice in the mid to late eighties. Find the live video of "I Found Love" and you'll be a fan. That or you have no soul. Or Maria's got so much she must have borrowed some from you...

Here, I found it for you.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Say hello to Jr.

I'm taking a chance, a risk, plunging in.

I'm undertaking a project beyond my current skillset. I'm full of excitement and aprehension.

I'm making a guitar. Actually, truth be told, I'm making two. Ambitious? You bet.

I knew I had something boiling in me. Since the beginning of the year, I've had a feeling it would be making a simple tube amplifier. Truth be told, that would probably be a much easier project. You can be sloppy with wires so long as the connections are in the right place. A guitar requires actual precision and planning. Oh, and patience. Oh, and the time to act as a container for the patience. Oh, and tools. Lots of the right tools. Oh, and expertise and advice in many aspects- wood selection, plans, woodworking techniques, luthiery, and patience.

Pieces fell into place.

The local high school offers adult education courses and tooling in woodworking. Basically, access to some experience and most of the big tools- jointers, thickness planers, band saws, table saws, rasps and files and clamps and glue. Bring your own ideas and materials and you've got access to the tools you need one night a week for ten weeks.

I was considering building a replacement neck for my Telecaster copy; I never liked the neck on it. Then, in a build thread on Harmony Central's Electric Guitar forum on a Les Paul Jr Double-Cut, the author had a CAD file of the guitar- body shape and measurements. And an LP Jr. is my kind of guitar. Simple flat top; mahogany body and set neck, Gibson scale (24 and 3/4), single P90 dogear pickup in the bridge. I asked him for a copy and he was happy to forward. It did occur to me that a neck is the hard part; the body is the easy part. So why not just add in a body to that neck project I was contemplating and call it a guitar? Hmmm? Not only that, but here was someone building the same guitar from the same kind of wood. I could learn a thing or two along the way.

My friend Birger has been working on a custom guitar for me, called Four, over the past couple of years. It isn't a couple of year project, but life keeps getting in the way of finishing it. Having six kids and a travelling job myself, I completely understand.
Ask my bikes and golf clubs.

Anyway, if you have a luthier or woodworking question, Birger is the man to ask. Just sit back and take notes to the answer- you'll get more than you asked for.I had plans, a shop, and advice.

I went wood shopping.

You can spend as much as you like. I don't like to spend much. By great fortune, there's a real woodworker's supply store (what we used to call a lumberyard) close to my parent's house in Loudon. I was in Boston for a presentation and swing by last week on the way home. $96, tax free, got me much more mahogany and maple than I'll need to complete my projects.

By way of comparisson, I was willing to pay $70 for just a body blank on ebay. The wood was a much better bargain than expected. I hope I treat it well.More on this pr0ject as it develops.

I'll post pictures of my completed stages; but I would feel pretty akward bringing a camera into the workshop to snap pictures of every step. The workshop is for work, is it not? Maybe a few.So I hope you can say hello to Junior by end of year.

I've already made a good start, but more of that in another post.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The 80/20 rule. Or: There is no ROI in a college education.

Anyone know anything about the time value of money?

Let's assume a mediocre college education (let's call it vocational training for professionals) costs 20k a year, totalling a smooth 80 grand. I know, it costs more than that, but bear with me.

And let's assume you're prudent and wise and you've saved that 80 grand by the time you're twenty. I know, I know, you're laughing now. But wait- it gets better!


More accurately, leave that money alone and find another way to get the money to go to college. Study something FUN for crying out loud. Not accounting, business, engineering or, heaven forbid, law or medicine. Study music or literature or philosphy. Find a nice girl. Get married. Have kids. Tithe. Buy cars, a house; take vacations. Don't save another penny for retirement. Play some golf. I don't care, play the ponies. But live on cash-flow, not debt, and leave that college fund alone.

But leave that college money alone. Let it sit in a retirement fund until you're sixty-five and earn the (worse than market) average 10% per year on that money. When you look up at sixty-five, assuming the government lets you keep your own money, you'll have


sitting in the bank waiting for you. Enough to cash flow you $63,282.12 a month if you can live on that.

It's what I call the 80/20 rule. Get 80 grand by age 20, and you'll be a multi-multi-millionaire when you're 65 without any other investing.

What's it take to get 80,000 together by the time you're twenty? Well, if you start late, like, oh, say age 16, it takes $20,000 a year. Which you can earn, net, in a 40 hour work week at $14/hour. When you're 18-20 you can work more than 40 hour work weeks and get it done quicker. But that's work. How about saving from the moment you're born and not working a lick? Just convince your parents to put aside $100 a month for you until you're twenty and resist the temptation to buy a Corvette when you graduate from high school.

Back to the title. What really is the value of a college education? Most see it as an investment for their career so they can get a better job; make more money; move up the ladder. But most will not come close to saving as much for retirement as they (borrow to) invest in their education.

So here's a different proposal: DON'T GO TO COLLEGE! Leave the college money alone and get a job. Or backpack around Europe. Then work your way through college, paying as you go.

Okay, okay, $80,000.00 is too tough. I know. Here's plan B- the 20/20 rule.

If you insist on only having $1,767,083.62 when you retire, try the 20/20 rule. Get 20K scratched together by the time you're twenty. A year of college, which can wait, I think. Yeah. I'll take 1.8M to wait a year to start college.

In summary:

All of you out there that have college funds set up for your kids, set up retirement trust funds instead. Forty years is a lot of wealth.

The $1,258,221.27 first car

Driving home from Church this morning, more than a little irate at the retired priest's sermon, of which I quote "you have a right to a job, home, and health care. Please call your senators,"* I tried to focus on something else, anything else... and this is what came to mind.

I'm a huge fan of "live like no-one else so you can live like no-one else" financial advisor Dave Ramsey. My favorite Dave-ism is, "Unless you're a millionaire, you can't buy a new car." This is so profound on so many levels, I thought I'd expand upon one of those levels... that rite (or is it a right? *snicker*) of American passage, up there with being dumped at the prom or barfing after too much beer, your first new car.

What's a decent car cost these days? Not a Mercedes mind you, but a decent first car? Something cool like a Mazda 3 or a Mustang? 20k-25k for something a little better than entry level? That sounds about right. Gotta have that nav-system and the satellite radio!

Anyway, for the sake of argument, let's say you graduated from college at age 21** and, as the story goes, trade in your cap and gown for a new Mustang the next week. Assuming it cost 23k or so, your monthly payment is roughly $588.76. Figure insurance on a new car (for a hot-blooded, fun-luvin, all American male under the age of twenty-five), plus registrations, plus plus...

Okay, let's start looking at the Kia.*** Okay, we found a stripper with both power windows and AC (but no nav system or blue tooth. Bummer.) for 16,000. Bringing us payments of $399 a month for four years. And then it's yours, baby! Yours to... trade in for another payment, or a mini-van, because by now that Kia has impressed the ladies enough to get you a steady, whom you've married, and with whom you look forward to a bright future together with Junior in the car seat in the back. A lot can happen between 21 and 25, can't it? Anyway, you've spent $399 a month for 48 months at a reasonable 6% interest. And when you're done, you've got a car or a trade in.


You can invest that money for four years into a good mutual fund, and average 10% a year growth, which is a little worse than the historical average, but then again, I'm just a little conservative in my estimations. After your four years you'll have $23,430.27; which is an extra $7,430.27 for your pains. You could skim those earnings and buy a nice reliable ten year old Toyota with 90k miles on the clock from a little old lady in Topeka. Those Toyotas last forever, don't they? That's what the commercials say.

But let's say you're truly wise. Let's say you leave that money alone, in the mutual fund, for, oh, another 40 years until age 65 when you retire, without adding another penny too it. That's 40 years at a (below) average 10% growth. Waiting for you on the other side of that retirement is...


I don't know about you, but I'm wondering if that new Kia was really worth $1,258,221.27.

Now what if you invested the money you were thinking of using for college? Hmm..? What is the ROI on an $80,000 college education?

* I know! Can you believe it? A Catholic priest, even. How very, very wrong. I asked him to call me so we could further discuss. He was a bit surprised. I hope he calls.
** "What about the high-schoolers, Toady," you ask? "It's awfully snobby of you to assume everyone can go to college and graduate and buy a car. Not everyone is so priveledged!" Oh, but there you are most often wrong. High School grads get a four year jump start on this and, if you're taking the American way through college, the student loans, the High Schoolers have even more of an advantage... they don't have loan payments for the next fifteen-twenty years.
*** What is the plural of Kia? Kium? Kii? Kias?

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's Hamer time!

I haven't done a guitar post in a long time, so here's a quickie.

It's a Korean Hamer Studio with Duncan Designed humbuckers, a beautiful blue burst maple flame top, binding. All the usual Hamer import superlatives apply. The neck and fretwork are fabulous, though not quite the same feel as Goldie. At some point I'll replace the pickups with something more fun or purposeful. Why? Because tweaking is fun, dammit!

Speaking of Goldie, I swapped her stock Hamer P90s with some GFS P90s from a Xaviere XV600 Semi-hollow body. Wow. Fabulous pickups. I'm impressed. The poor Xaviere feels a little silly with Hamer cast off pickups in it, and I'm sure the fine folk over at would be a little insulted by this... but I love Goldie too much.

School Lunch

What do you get when you let the government run something like, say, social security, the auto industry, health care?

School Lunch. Oh, gross.

Given that, does everyone see the (pathetic) irony in the following interview?

Pack your own damn lunch, Damon!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Favorite Muppet

Kermit the Frog: We will also see a rousing finale from Sam the Eagle. What's it called, Sam?
Sam the Eagle: It's called "A Salute to All Nations, But Mostly America".

I've always felt an affinity towards solid Sam the American Eagle. What is it about him? He's built of simple stuff. He's not dim, mind you; rather his beliefs are founded in fundamentals instead of confused by complex obfuscations. He's full of faith in and love for his country. He knows this is the greatest approach to mankind governing itself that will ever be*.

He is trusting. He has come to reasoned conclusions and now sticks by them. Sam is genuine.

Sam is moral and ethical:
Sam the American Eagle: I would just like to say a few words about nudity in the world today. And I, for one, am just appalled by it. Why, did you know that underneath their clothing, the entire population of the world is walking around completely naked? Hmm? Is that disgusting? And it's not just people, although, goodness knows, that's bad enough, but animals too. Even cute little doggies and pussycats can't be trusted. Underneath their fur, absolutely naked! And it's not just the quadripeds, neither. Birds too. Yeah! Beneath those fine feathers, birds wear nothing. Nothing at all! Abs... [realizes and walks off, covering himself]

Sam loves wholesome entertainment (you know, Wayne and Wanda!):
Sam the American Eagle: Mr. Cooper.
Alice Cooper: [turns abruptly to face him, wearing much goth make-up] Yes?
Sam the American Eagle: Oh, good grief! Let me come right to the point. You, sir, are a demented, sick, degenerate, barbaric, naughty freako!
Alice Cooper: [smiling] Why, thank you!
Sam the American Eagle: Freakos: One. Civilization: Zero.

Sam enjoys classical entertainment, even if he's not so well versed in it:
Sam the American Eagle: Ah, Beethoven. Finally! Well, for Beethoven I will stay. He's my favorite playwright.

Sam has a sense of humor. Sam is hurt when that which is sacred is torn down.

Sam is genuinely, innocently, and rightly shocked that anyone could come to different conclusions about America. For Sam; yeah for all of us: America is wonderful, America is liberty, America is opportunity, America is the melting pot. How could this not be so? How could this be bad? How can success and opportunity exclude? How could anyone surrender liberty for a life of convenience when so many have surrendered their lives for liberty?

Sam pledges allegiance to the flag, with its liberty and justice for all.

Sam is an American Eagle.

And yet, despite all these wonderful qualities, Sam is a punchline. He is jeered and ridiculed in his face and scoffed at behind his back.

Why? Because he is trusting? Because he is simple? Because he stands for what is just and scorns what we all know to be wrong? Do we not have nursery rhymes to teach us these truths? Bible stories? Parents? Priests?

Or is it all in the hands of the schools where they're taught social studies and environmentalism and keyboarding, but not penmanship or math, history or liberty. Skills but not knowledge. They do know that they need to save Sam the American Eagle, not because of who he is, but because he is a member of an endangered species, a minority. How sad. How true.

And so I love Sam the American Eagle. I love what he stands up for. I will teach my children to be Sam the Eagles. I will be Sam's friend, and I would be proud to have him be mine.

* And, being an experienced idealist, I will add that this great experiment, the American Idea and implementation of Liberty, will not be tried again in the future history of mankind. Can you conceive of another revolution for individual Liberty in a world now so connected and organized and, well, regulated as ours? If we continue this path of surrendering individual liberties for a mere change from inconveniences, or sharing the wealth, for the dubious goal of fairness, this American experiment will come to an end, not learned from, and not to be renewed again. to Paraphrase Screwtape, "Oh, we've all been through that phase."

Imagine explaining to your children or grandchildren the liberties we used to have, in our lifetimes, that they now receive from the government in exchange for their fair share. Does this sound far fetched? I'm forty one. In my grandfather's time, there was no national income tax. There was no social security. No federal standards for state-issued identity cards. There was no FDIC. There weren't seat-belts, anti-lock brakes, or airbags.

In my time, I've seen health insurance change from something an individual was responsible for to a required benefit from employers; I've seen beer go from something that an 18 year old with enough facial hair could buy to having to submit, for approval by the 16 year old zit-faced authoritarian-child-pawn-of-the-state-and-the-unions-point-of-sales-operator-junior-class-initial-pay-grade-bureaucrat behind the register, the aforementioned state-issued identification card as proof of my (advancing) age, so that I can buy a drink and drown my sorrows. That pisses me off.

Hell, a decade ago there was no Sarbanes Oxley. Last year, I wasn't an owner of General Motors or Chrysler, though I do own one of their products, which has served me well and with value. Next year, my income will surely continue to fund everyone else's health coverage (I mean beyond what it's already funding in medicaid and other forms of already available health coverage for those who can't or don't want to get it by themselves) while the AARP membership will now be able to afford a monthly payment on a new Cadillac (whew! thank goodness, because that whole recession thing was awful last year, hope it doesn't happen again in four years during the next election), which they bought because my tax dollars supported their cash for clunkers discount. In the future, my tax free Roth IRAs won't be, and Social Security? I've never considered it to be part of retirement planning. It's just stealing from me throughout my working career. It is aptly named a tax on my paystub.

But I digress. My point was that America (and Americans) once protected rather than consumed liberty. If liberty dissapears from America on its slippery slope , then who else is free or oppressed enough to try it? Who? Who? When? Where? Tie a rope and hang on, Americans. Get a friend on that rope and start pulling. Tug-o-war, Americans. Tug-o-war. Get an anchor and start moving our flag back.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Spotlight: Album Reviews 03- Gwen Stefani


is a guilty pleasure. And she's not for the kids. But damn if this syntho-pop ear-candy woofer-work out doesn't make you scream really loud when you're cruising down the highway all by yourself at 75 mph on the way to or from the airport.

To quote one of her songs, "The sh*t is bananas- B.A.N.A.N.A.S." What the heck does that mean? I don't know. I don't care. Some of the music is drivel, some of it is nasty, some of it is obviously inspired by the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince (an entertainer whose talent and stage presence, if not his subject matter, I've really come to appreciate in recent years, if only my Zune would stop playing "Take Me With You" every eight songs when it's set on random).

But from her past with No Doubt's "Rock Steady" album, who's Hella-Good I've adopted for chatting wit hmy daughter Stella, to her Sweet Escape album, she's carved out a unique mix of synth, hip hop, and downright Dale Bozzio quirkiness that infects. Picks are:

Rich Girl, Harajuku Girls, Hollaback Girls, Bubble Pop Electric, Cool, Waiting Room.

Silly stuff, but that's what a guilty pleasure is, isn't it?

Somewhere in England, oh, 1977...

The door banged open and slammed the wall, rattling its hinges and recoiling from the hole in the wall where the knob had been impaled so many times before.

"I've got it, lads, I have f-ing got it!" came the bombastic shout.

"What's that, Freddie?" Brian inquired, distractedly, unable or unwilling to separate his intense focus from the knobs, dials, meters and guages on the board in front of him.

"Ho-there, Fred, what-ye got?" chimed in John and Roger.

"Three words lads, three stupendous, outrageous, gorgeous words. These are the news of the world, my friends, so prepare yourselves."

John and Roger looked briefly at each other; exchanged a "here we go again," as Brian, not as distracted as he appeared, mumbled an "oh, shit" under his breath.

"We're sitting down, let us in on it then."

"Now get this," Freddie said, addressing each one in turn. "Fat," he lobbed to Roger. "Bottomed," he threw at John. And pausing, forcing Brian to look up, he flailed, with triumphant finality, "Girls."

"Oh shit," iterated Brian.

"That's right, blokes, it's f-ing fat, f-ing bottomed, f-ing girls. If that isn't rock and f-ing roll immortality, what is? I mean, fat bottomed girls, they make the rocking world go 'round! Am I right or am I right? You can you feel it, can't you?"

"Freddie," said Roger, "The name of the album is Jazz. Where's the bleedin' jazz in fat bottomed girls?"
"Freddie," said John, "you don't even like girls."
"Freddie," said Brian. "Freddie," sighed Brian, "Freddie."

"Pah-look at me. Though I'm just a skinny lad, when it comes to rock and roll, I know good from bad. Give 'em the naughty ladies every time. This is going to kill'em! I can see it now, hundreds of fat bottomed girls on bicycles on stage. This is better than Tie your Mother Down!"

"Roger, give me a baudy heavy bass drum, John, a thumping low E. Give it all you've got. Brian, join in when you're done fiddling with your little knobs. We've got a glamour-rock world to dominate and this is the ticket of the year"

My friends, can you see this important moment in rock and roll history playing out in any other way? Yes, I know Brian may wrote this one. But this is much more fun, isn't it?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Spotlight: Album Reviews 02- Derek Trucks band

Derek Trucks-

has, in my opinion, two claims to fame. He's widely regarded as the only one to closely approximate the tone and style of Duane Almann. And his wife is Susan Tedeschi who, of course, is widely regarded as using Derek as a claim to fame.

But I gotta say, southern rock rarely does it for me. Derek really should be claiming relationship to Susan. Despite her lesser skills with the guitar, in the medium of the blues, it's all about what you do with it. And Susan, with a straightforward Fender Twin and Telecaster tone and a whiskey dark voice to make Bonnie Raitte jealous, does quite a bit.

I tried Derek out based on his claim and buzz in various guitar forums. And I have to say...

Yawn. Not enough there to play it again.

Spotlight: Album Reviews 01- J.Geils Band, Full House Live

Ah, the J. Geils band.

The great band that never quite made it to the top tier of classic rock fame.

But. But. But! Everyone knows Whammer Jammer from the opening Magic Dick harmonica lick. It came from this album, a frenetic over-energized collection of boys from Boston cranking out electric blues in what must have been a beer-soaked, smoke-filled, couple-thousand seat armory somewhere in the heartland.

Full House helps you feel the vibe from a band that was obviously better live than in the studio. If you're familiar with their classic hits- Love Stinks, NightTime, ComeBack, and Centerfold; you won't recognize a thing on this. But if you crank up your local classic rock station every time you hear Peter Wolf's spazzed monologue introduction to "Musta Got Lost," then Full House is an album for you to discover.

Mind you, "Musta Got Lost" is on a different live album. "Full House" is early in their career, but the mix and the energy are beyond compare. Go with it!

Spotlight: Album Reviews

I've always loved music. I have 500 or so record albums (yes, in a box in the basement. What of it?) I have 500+ cds. Hundreds of mixed tapes. If I had spare time and spare change in a spare town on a business trip, I'd find record shops and pick up a few missing pieces now and again.

Then, well, it all stopped. It was the perfect storm of other distractions -golf and kids and, come the mid nineties, the ability to copy cds on a computer. I still remember the 486 Mrs. Toadroller and I purchased after getting married. Whoo-hoo! It had a cd player in it. That day and age, it didn't yet have a burner, but at least I could play music while working on the computer with its dial-up modem and dual boot to OS/2 Warp 3.0. Have I mentioned I'm a geek?


Fast forward to 2003 or so and the world had gone mp3 crazy. I was still setting up and tweaking my mega stereo system in the "listening room" of our finished basement and buying audiophile amplifiers and speakers on eBay. But at the same time, I bought a Rio Karma 20gb mp3 player- the first serious challenger to the iPod (and the first to seriously die a sad death in the marketplace. Remember Rio?) with twice the battery life and ability to play wma, mp3, au, ogg-vorbis, flac, heck- it played formats no-one has heard from since. It came with a docking bay with a pulsing blue light, RCA line outs and-get this- a DHCP client so you could control it through IP. I mean, the little tyke was a music server, for crying out loud. Oh, and 2/3rds the price of the iPod.

How did this fail in the marketplace? I don't know. What a great little unit. I still have it plugged in downstairs and it limps along, playing background music on random. Still has a better search, scroll, insert-into now-playing capability than my Zune.

I spent a week in the office with a spare old laptop, ripping my cd collection into the appropriate wma formats, grabbing the artist and image content from cddb or whatever it was that the ripper (was it Media Monkey?) used, and built up my colection. One of the nifty features of the Karma was its ability to play music by any old tag, including the year of the recording.

So there I was, looking through the collection- 400 some-odd songs from '87, 450 from '88, etc. Clicking along- '91 had 200 or so - a real drop. '92, 93, 94 and on? Something like 100 songs combined.


This is a long way about explaining my pursuit of new music really waned for a long time. Sure, I'd hear something and enjoy it, but I really stopped paying attention. To this day I'm shocked to find out that something current I'm listing too, feeling I'm pretty hip with the kids out there, was recorded in '97. I mean, that's 12 years ago of this writing. Aerosmith's big comeback was in '85, people. Ragdoll was NEW Aerosmith, and now it' s coming up on its twenty-fifth anniversary! Scary.


The point of this post was to do some quick album reviews on music I've been listening to or trying out of late. So here goes- the Toadroller showing his eclectic and insightful musical tastes in brief reviews to the world that has passed him by. I think I'll do them as separate posts. Thanks for tuning in. Please stand by.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ted Kennedy has Passed

Initial reaction?


The first public benefit of this blessed event is that the skyway bridge from the parking garage to the terminal at Boston Logan airport has been rendered suddenly serene and respectfully quiet. Those of you who have travelled through Logan will recall Ted’s warm and cheery, if garbled (Teddy did slur his speech- sauced or not) welcome to “His home town,” encouraging you to see the sights including Haaa-vid.

I have admitted before that, while not a cynic, I am certainly an experienced idealist. This has, in a form of efficiency to make the Germans jealous, led to jaded opinions as a form of saving time and effort, and avoiding further letdowns from society. That said, I’ve not been able to refrain from muttering “Shut up, Teddy,” every time I’ve travelled that skyway in recent years. Helps vent the larger picture frustration at any and everything else I've heard from the man in the last couple of decards.

Today, however, the skyway held museum-like, library silence. Pure bliss. Until I sat down at the gate to await my flight. Guess what was on CNN blaring through the concourse? Hmm? Ted's funeral procession. Or was it Irish wake coverage? I certainly couldn't subject myself to the torture of looking at the screen to find out. Headphones on!

Ah well. At least he shut up. A month or two from now he’ll still be dead. Along with Michael Jackson and Joe Piscopoe. Or is he in Canada?

And the Skyway? I'm sure John Kerry's iPhone is ringing; he can't be too busy these days.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Not only is Liberty worth defending to the death, it's also worth all the little inconveniences (you know, saving, paying your own way, caring for your family, failing when you fail, picking yourself back up...) that come with being responsible for oneself.

Yes, you can!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Doing my best...

This was on my coporate travel reservations site:
"Go Green • Consider Your Environment • Offset Your Emissions"

My office is painted green. After much consideration , I have to say that I like my environment. I don't know how much I can offset my emissions- I like to eat baked beans.

A disposable coffee cup recently implored that
"only if everyone does their part, every day, can we succeed!" after some mumbo jumbo about their environmental stance; implying that we can save the earth.

Well, it looks like I can doom the planet by simply taking a day off. I took two cups, becuase the coffee was so hot that you couldn't hold the cup without some kind of insulation. Ironic, eh?

Just doing my part.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

National Healthcare in the year 2274...

"In the year 2274...the survivors of war, overpopulation and pollution are living in a great domed city, sealed away from the forgotten world outside. Here, in an ecologically balanced world, mankind lives only for pleasure, freed by the servo-mechanisms which provide everything. There's just one catch: Life must end at thirty unless reborn in the fiery ritual of Carrousel."

A positive thought...

They repealed prohibition, didn't they?

Just a reminder that foolishness can be undone if necessary. Like, say, Sarbanes Oxley, Cap and Trade, Cash for Clunkers, Nationalized Healthcare, Social Security...

I'm just saying that our constitution (at least for the moment) lets us slap our collective foreheads and say "what were we thinking?"

Keep smiling!

State of the Union

I feel like an ant in a country that's gone grasshoppers.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Come on people, snap out of it!

“Capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom.” —Milton Friedman

“Our economy rests on a three-legged stool—political freedom, economic freedom, and moral restraint.” —Michael Novak

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Guitar Collection

This post is probably long overdue. Here's the collection today. Starting in the upper left and going down the first collumn, we have:
Hamer Stellar 1 (HH) Korean
Kramer Striker 422 (Quad and 2 dual rails) Korean
Kramer Focus reborn as a Strat parts-o-caster (SSS) Korea and parts unkown
Peavey EVH Wolfgang Special (HH) MIA
Hamer SATP90 (P90s) Chinese (my number one)

Second Column, top to bottom:
Hamer Standard (HH) Korean
Xaviere xv800 Tele (SS) Korean?
Ibanez Roadstar II rs135, (SSS) Japan. It is required that I say it has a nice neck.
Nelsonic Starliner LP Clone (HH) Korean?
Gretsch Rambler (S, neck) MIA 1958

Not pictured: Daughter's pink Squire, Taylor 514ce Acoustic (on loan to me brother so he can soak in the goodness, then buy his own acoustic), and the obligatory Squire Precision Bass. Oh, and Four, under construction in Miramar FL. Come on, Birger!

At some point, I'll blog about each of these as, like children, they're all unique.

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Throwing me for a Curve

This was one of those "well, duh!" moments which be came a "way cool!" moment. Here's what led up to that moment.

I don't drive much but around town. When I take a business trip, however, I'll drive to the airport in Portland, Manchester, or Boston, trips of one to three hours depending on traffic and rest stops. In those long drives, I like to catch up on music or audio books. More specifically, I'll batch up a whole bunch of Dave Ramsey podcasts and then listen to them.

My car has a great stereo- 6 disk cd in the trunk, am/fm/cassette, volume/seek controls right on the steering wheel. With my Zune mp3 player, I just plug into a cassette adapter, choose the music or podcast I want to play, and off I go.

But I've also got a Blackberry Curve cell phone. For Christmas, Santa left behind an 8gb memory chip for it, and I've loaded it up with a few thousand songs. Without the best in usability and maintaining content, the phone does an acceptable job of being cell phone, music player, and a poor-man's GPS (way to go, Google Maps!). But my driver's seat becomes a spider-web of cables, headsets, and small media serving devices filling every cup-holder and storage bin.

When an email or phone call comes in, if I catch it it's because of the interference it sets up with the radio- you know, the buzzing deet-da-deet-da-deet static . Then I've got to kill the radio or mp3 player, fish out the phone, answer it, play cat's cradle with the phone's ear phone/mic combo, and pray that the volume is loud enough to cover the road noise.

Last night, on the long swim back home from a customer demo in the Boston area, I went through that whole exercise on a call with Mrs. Toadroller. My headset was unfortunately buried in my computer bag, so I was trying to do the neck craning/hold the phone up thing. I'd turn the volume up to hear her, and then my boy Jack would scream on her end, piercing my ear drums. After a while, I fumbled for the tinny, tiny speakerphone capability and then snuggled the phone into my sun-visor above me. Ahh, hands free. But still, hard to carry on the conversation.

And then it occured to me, "well, duh!"

My Zune had been playing through the cassette adaptor; the headset out on the Blackberry Curve is a standard 1/8" stereo plug, with an extra ring for microphone in. I might not have a mic-in, but it was worth a shot. I yanked the cassette adaptor from the Zune, plugged it into the Blackberry Curve, and carried on the conversation.

Mrs. Toadroller (and my boy Jack) were now being broadcast in crystal-clear stereo through the car radio. And I mean clear- you could hear him playing with the faucet in the background. With the phone sitting on my lap, she could hear me just fine. Boom, like that. My voice into the phone's built in mic; her voice through the headset out jack and into the car stereo, with volume control on the steering wheel.

Way cool! No blue tooth borg-assimilation head units with blinking lights or expensive installs needed.

The best thing is that I can do the iPhone scenario with it. I can be jamming along with my Blackberry Curve playing the tunes through the cassette adaptor, and when a phone call comes in, it will pause the music, play the ringer tone, and I can accept the call and carry on without switching units or fussing with cables. When the call is done, hit the phone's end button and the music starts up again. Ta dah! I'm a PC and I'm rocking like a teenager, but with a nicer car.

Now if I could find an all you can eat music subscription service like Zune's Marketplace and a better media player/synchronization toolset for the Blackberry, I can leave the Zune behind and remove yet another device from the travel kit. It used to be CD player, Noise Cancelling Headphones, spare AA batteries and 10 of your favorite CDs for long trips. Now it can be cell phone, headset, and an adaptor cable.

By the way... In the dark, the Curve's LCD display makes for a handy near-field flashlight, lighting up the front seat quite well for 15, 30, or 60 seconds at a time, depending on how you have your backlight settings configured.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Nice Stockings

Here's a photo I'm proud of. (click for full size)

I noticed (it's hard to miss) the sun on my daughter Bridget's legs, so I took a few different shots. The picture is as framed, without any cropping or post processing. I suppose a little cropping wouldn't hurt, but I give thought to the framing of a picture when I take it and am generally pleased with the results.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Practice pays off with an insight

Over the last month or so, I've been practicing scales. Sitting with a metronome and running up and down different modes of a scale might sound boring (and it can be), but ten to twenty minutes at a shot is bearable and builds a solid base for the future.

Besides, I'm not crazy. I'd change it up: I'd make up little games like one finger on the left hand, jumping all over the fretboard- up the scale at this position, down the scale at another, cross over on the 2nd string. Always on the beat. I'd ramp the tempo up and down. Switch from 8th notes to 16th notes. Hammer hard on a transition that was hard. Work on it until I got it and then switch to a different mode and work in its hard transitions. Do three note step runs, five note step runs. Run a bar at 16th notes and then pause and ping for a few notes before digging back in. With some imagination (and a wee bit of gin) you can make up new games to entertain you for a while.

Playing with a metronome is good, but a drum machine is even better. It helps you count the beat and you can focus on hitting the note with the snare, adding accents and character to the note rather than just hitting it on time. Muffle, pinch harmnonic, clean, soft, hard. And playing clean through your amp reveals the misses that an overdriven sound can hide.

Regardless, when warmed up I'm capable of working the metronome with plucked 16th notes at a tempo of 90 beats per minute which, when you do the math, is six notes a second. Kind of a milestone. I'm no shredder, but that, to me, is pretty darn good for actuallly picking each note, not just hammering on and off through a scale run.

Its the kind of foundation that will let me, in a real playing situation, pull myself up to the tempo of the band and surprise myself with a clean run.

Which brings me to the insight and the payoff. I came across this simple lesson earlier today and it made perfect sense.

I couldn't wait to experiment though I had to (work, errands, dinner). My month of ramping up had left me with nothing if not an ability to take a snippet of a scale and consider it a lick. I've played along with blues songs before, and even felt decent about staying close to the boundaries of the pentatonic in the appropriate key, and the notes I would play would be harmonic- sometimes even emotional- and I could go up the neck and play them here, and I could go down the neck and play them there. But heck, I sounded like a computer program. Play up the scale. Now do it fast. Go down to another mode slowly. Play scale notes. Do it fast then slow.


But tonight, with the insight, it was different. I was able to take a small piece of the scale and center around it, repeat it and change it, reach out to another note on either side, come back; play the same thing up a string and come back, trill around with different emotions, play part of it. Repeat! Hold a note for a long time and make it talk again.


No, I didn't record it.

Suddenly I knew which pickup I wanted because I was trying to get an emotion through. I knew that I needed to crank down the tone knob on the bridge but keep some saturation. I was a boogie-woogie monster. I'd throw it on the neck and clean. I knew my place in the twelve bars. I'd throw in a minor chord along with the rhythm and hen jump back into a solo. I'd go a few beats without even playing a note just to add to the feeling of what I was doing. I got lost in it and was giving Tab Benoit a little bit to handle- certainly not on the skill side, but man, can't anyone deny we were feedin' off each other. As much as an mp3 can feed of someone, that is.

Bottom line, I was feelin'it. Breakthrough.

Oh, and that Hamer Stellar is Stellar.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Wood moves

Just as rust never sleeps, wood moves. Right in step with the spring equinox, in the last week I've noticed some of the doors around the house emerging from their winter sticknicitude* while others are reverting from winter freedoms to their summer catchy stations. A sort of changing of the guard for the doors.

It also reveals itself in my guitar necks. As fall sets in and leaches humidity, the wood in the necks of the guitars slowly dries out and start to raise the tension on the strings and straighten their necks out as if they could approximate good posture. What to do but tune them down a bit and give the truss rod some relief- loosen it. At ease, gentlemen.

But now it's spring, and the humidity rolls in, reversing the winter's arid effects. Day by day now I've noticed the action turning into a trapeze wire. The tuning slumps low. And so the truss rod is given a tweak in the opposite direction. Straighten Up! Look Sharp! Attention!

Is this significant? Well, yes and no. As with all things minute in nature, the movement can be undetectible to those not paying close attention until finally it crosses a threshhold and -whoomp, there it is.

Yes, that's an analogy for the typically subteranean shifts in our daily political lives. I beg of you to pay attention to the seismic tremors big and small happening in our country these last six months, because we've gone way past that threshhold of visibility and are entering into critical stresses.

Yes, wood moves. Back and forth, back and forth with the seasons. But you can't fold a guitar- you'll break its neck.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Vote Democrat, get free stuff"

It might just be okay to leave a child behind once in a while...

There are so many things I could say... but I think Julio speaks volumes by himself.

Quote of the day

"More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

-Woody Allen


Monday, March 23, 2009

The many faces of Jack

Mrs. Toadroller (I can call you that, can't I Cheryl? I don't want people knowing your real name) put up a post with pictures of my boy Jack's sundry expressions over at her blog.

I thought I'd better respond with one of my favorite collage of the Pteryjacktal:

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Ain't he something?

Yes, quite Stellar indeed

She's a Hamer Stellar 1, probably 99/00 time frame, with a crimson hued burst to black with some great lines and carves. It's unique and will fight its way into rotation with my other Hamers- a China goldtop P90 and a Korean Standard. It's got two nicks on the front edges, a little rash and some bumps on the back, but overall, a great looking guitar. And it's a Hamer. You know it plays just fantastic- beefy neck, not heavy, balanced, and resonant.

I didn't quite realize it when I hit the "buy it now" button at $150 (delivered), but upon arrival today I realized that I must be rescuing this fine piece from what can only be considered guitar abuse. A friend selling for a friend, so the story goes; regardless it made it here, luckily in one piece. Here's what greeted me opening the rather large shipping container:

Umm, why is it only one third filled with packing peanuts? Thank you, UPS, for treating it with care or it could have been a disaster.

Scissoring through the mummy-wrapped bubble plastic, it let out a whiff. "Smoker," I warned Cheryl. This thing was grimy, slimy, with rusty strings and, for some reason, black magic marker on the back. One knob was missing, the other was hanging on at an angle that made me worry about the shaft of the pot, but not a problem- the knob was an oversized mis-fit and the shaft was fine, the pickup switch tip was nowhere to be seen. There was a huge chunk on the edge of the fretboard. Crap! No, wait, it came off. Dirt. Whew!

I was pleasantly surprised that it contained a genuine Seymour Duncan (TB 4, it turns out) bridge pickup and a no name "Patent Applied For" neck pickup.

I stripped it down and spent the next 2-3 hours clearing the grime, cleaning off the magic marker, polishing the body to an incredible luster (this thing glows, you know?), oiling the neck, graphiting the nut, restringing with 10s, adjusting the truss (the neck was like a canoe until I snugged it up- straightened right out), adjusting the action, and setting the intonation which was, no surprise here, waaaay off.

How can one do this to a beautiful guitar? It's neglect, I tell you! Criminal neglect! Come here, little Hamer, I've got a home for you.

Here's a "before" photo. Notice the overall haze on the body and all the gunk around the pickups:

Here's an after:

I waited until after all this cleaning and restringing to plug her in . I couldn't bring myself to even touch the strings it came with. Bloom-floom, beautiful music from the neck pickup. Swapped over to the old SD bridge pickup to see what she could do and phlaaat-spizz. Super thin and a ton of noise/hum...

Opened up the cavity and whoa! Spaghetti!

That ain't right. I followed leads, scratched my head, did a little research on basic wiring patterns for a 3 way switch with only one volume and one tone, scratched my head some more, looked up Seymour's advice, and identified what was likely the problem. The wrong leads from the bridge pickup were soldered to the wrong stub of the pickup selector switch. Five minutes with a soldering iron and fat as shat she's alive!

I'm having a blast here because I rescued a beauty of 24 fretter, dual hummer, oak/lacewood mystic lava lamp topped, fine Korean built Hamer for the princely sum of a buck-fifty and it's a keeper. Can you believe the character in this top? It changes in the light from different angles. Like I said, it's a lava lamp.

Here are some shots of it"




Thursday, March 19, 2009

Oops, sorry, TODAY is a very bad day for America

How successful has Obama's first 100 days been?


He's made us and our great grandchildren wards of the state with the debt he's enacted. Oh Dennis, you silly, our great grandchildren? Come on! This will be ancient history by then! Oh really? I'm a great grand-child of the depression and I know its effects on my life. This is roughly the same time-cycle as the great depression to now. And a significant portion of our country's history.

He's brought banking into the fold of government responsibility; dare I say nationalized them. Who's next? The core of manufacturing.

He's just defined how much is too much. 250K and then 90% tax rate. Don't forget what the tax burden is for someone making 250k. Oh Dennis, that's just for those companies mismanaged by the evil greedy who deserve such a punishment! Why yes, yes it is. For now. In the industries suckling at the pig. But it's not fair that one group should be allowed to make more than 250k and others not. Why, that makes them Rich with a capital R and that's not fair. As promised in the campaign, the rich are those making over 250k, and this is just the first tug on the noose to put an end to such unnecessary over-abundance.

Congress floated the idea yesterday... I do believe it was our favorite schlepp Barney Frank that did so... that he'd tax those bastards 90% if he could. And sumbich if the house didn't act in less than 24 hours. Astonishing.

Healthcare is going to be a cakewalk. Especially when the retiring boomers start whining about how their retirement funds disappeared (if they had ever actually been responsible enough to create them, which many, many weren't) and they simply can't afford it; someone's got to take care of them, they're the old and infirm.

Sorry. I'm pissed, I'm embarassed, and most of all, I'm dissapointed in the American people for still believing these things are good. I want to run every stinking Subaru and Prius with a liberal bumper sticker (which is, last check, all of them) off the road right about now.

A very successful first 100 days indeed.

Beyond any liberal's wildest dreams. A multi-orgasmic 100 days of liberal achievement whose first wave was at the coro-nomination, second surprising gasp was on election day, and whose third throbbing peaked during the sickening whorefest of the inauguration. The filthy fourth can easily be found over at Barney's playhouse this evening.

Tomorrow's hangover is gonna suck for America.

I'm anticipating something Stellar

Don't let cash burn a hole in your pocket. No sir.

My solemn vow was to stash cash for a genuine USA Hamer Studio. They can be found on Ebay or Craigslist or a few other guitar oreinted forums for under a grand and, at such prices, are well worth it.

But dang if this Hamer Stellar 1 didn't show up with a Buy it Now for $150 delivered.

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This is the guitar from its crappy listing photo. It looks like at least a good polishing and a replacement knob are in order. Probably more. Notice, in comparisson to the photo below, the moire patters on the finish due to the low resolution.

Here's a much better photo I found of the same model. When I get mine, expect a review and better pics:

Courtesy of this flickr album.

It took five minutes of hard research and googling of this rather unique bird (which also yeilded the same guitar's previous listing at $250 Buy it Now) and the fact that I actually had $150 stashed away and, well... It's supposed to be here tomorrow from UPS. So that's a reset button on saving for the genuine Hamer USA Studio.

What has this thing got going for it? It's a Korean Hamer. That doesn't suck. More intriguing is its theoretical through-body maple neck and its oak/lacewood top, a transluscent red burst finish, a 24 fret, 25.5 inch scale length, and what will probably be decent if not great Duncan Designed humbuckers. I doubt that it's a through-body; it's probably a maple core body with a maple set-neck and oak/lacewood veneer. Many of the on-line reviews seem to be confused about this. I know what a through body neck actually is and promise to set the record straight.

So what? Well, its oak/lacewood finish caught my attention as that's exactly what is on Four, the custom guitar my good friend Birger is making for me. See the mini-slide show to the right. And Four has a maple (and mahogany core) through neck. And it's the same scale length.

Bottom line, if it's in any kind of decent condition, I've got the confidence to clean it up and get it playing great. I can experiment with pickups till the cows come home. Or resell it for a profit. I'll also probably throw the old Kramer Striker up for sale.

While the Striker is one of my first electric guitars and was what I first sought- humbuckers, pointy hockey stick neck, Kramer name- I've never really bonded with it. It plays great, it's light, looks cool, the pups scream "Ratt," and the Korean fit and finish is exemplary. But it sits in a case in the closet. To me, it's $200 or so back into the Hamer USA fund or whatever else sidetracks me.

Like building a small tube amp. Stay tuned...

I think it was asking for help...

Yesterday was a day of significance for Americans.

I drove from Augusta, Maine to my regional corporate office in Burlington, Mass through mid-day for a meeting, dinner, and a late night return. The farce of Obama's outrage against AIG's executive bonuses was playing itself out in real-time on talk radio and I caught before, during, and after perspectives from a variety of sources.


A huge American flag unfurled into the wind and into my view as I rounded a corner. The sight of it there- large, alone, billowing, evoked in me an emotion I've never, ever, EVER before experienced about our flag, our home. I don't know if it was shame, disappointment, fear, regret, or guilt, this strange stew of anxiety. But when have you ever looked at our flag with anything but a positive or supportive emotional response?

I listened, crestfallen, as Obama railed away at the injustices and the greed and the evil ways... as he borrowed tired cliches from his political ancestors ("The buck stops with me"? Come on!)... and floundered despite his great oratory prowess ("...and" "but let us recall..." "I want to make... one... thing.. clear") and finally made his power-grabbing point- that this was all just proof and evidence of the need for more regulation and control in this and all capitalist industries. Let's tick them off together, shall we? Banking, Insurance, Health Care, Automotive, Investments... What's left?

Obama and Congress sanctimoniously, righteously, soullessly had the gall to crucify a pawn to satisfy the masses screaming for Barabbas. To quote Captain Renault in Casablanca:

Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.

That's right, Barney. I'm talkin' to you. You hypocrite.

Late at night, swimming north into the darkness that is I95 through the Kennebec Valley of Maine, my MP3 player glowed with an image of Ronald Reagan as he delivered, single-handed and boldly, a defiant challenge at Brandenburg gate to "Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev... Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

My day started with the shameless shameful and ended with liberty's successful stand at the gate of tyranny. I pulled over and cried.

Our flag stood there yesterday, huge and proud in the wind. I saw it. I don't know who else did.

I think it was asking for help.

Friday, March 6, 2009

I can't put the Hamer down

More than bicycling. More than juggling. More than golf, for heavens sake, I've fallen for playing the guitar.

And more than strats, teles, les pauls, wolfgangs and kramers, I've fallen for a simple, amazing guitar. A Hamer XT Sunburst Archtop gold-top with P90s.


Now, to fall for a particular guitar and have it become your favorite is expected... right after you get it. It's the honeymoon period of newness, it's difference from the others, in lavishing some love through a re-string, neck adjustments, pickup heights, playing and learning how it sounds. Eventually, however, the other guitars get a little jealous and beg you to spend some time with them and your new love begins to slowly move into its slot in your regular rotation. Just ask Woody in Toy Story. The shine can come off the relationship in a matter of weeks.

I have a number of guitars ranging from cheap to expensive; American to Japanese to Korean to Chinese and China, for all its political implications, has arrived on the manufacturing scene. People hear China and think cheap. Recall, though, that thirty years ago, people heard Japanese and thought cheap. Twenty years ago people heard Korean and thought cheap. This particular guitar is - you guessed it- manufactured in China. It made it to my house in time for Christmas last year. $300 included a TKL hard shell case, second day delivery, and the usual case candy- all brand new and unplayed. Hang tags hanging, as they are supposed to, on the peghead.

The story...

It's funny how something you at first find awkward and, even a bit ugly becomes unique and endearing to you as you gain familiarity. I felt that way about the original pocket rocket Rabbit GTI twenty five years ago. Then I bought one as my my first car and have nostalgiac memories of that little BMW wanna be; it drove like a beemer and it had the maintenance needs of one- just the cost of entry was lower. I felt the same about Hamer's paddle-like, oversized and gloss-black headstock shape merely a few months ago. But now it's a mark of distinction to me... a membership in a club where simple nods of appreciation are knowingly exchanged.

I asked Santa for this because I had a yearning for a guitar with a set of P90 pickups in it. I was back and forth between this and a flashier, lower in price Xaviere XV-560 guitar from Gutar Fetish. Flashier in that it's got GFS P90s (which a lot of people will go to as a decent aftermarket P90 at a low price), is a semi-hollow body, and has a "look at me!" maple quilt top. Look at pictures of the two side by side, and you're going to choose Xaviere's candy almost all the time. But as the saying goes, candy's dandy, but liquor's quicker. I did the usual poking about the internet, reading reviews, lurking on discussions of Hamers, and watching youtube videos. I even found a fellow with videos of the Hamer P90 and a Xaviere with the same basic design (Semi hollow with the same P90s) as the particular model I wanted. His opinion was more towards the Xaviere but...

Here I am on Christmas day:

It's got this neck, you know? Ask any guitarist with a little experience about their favorite guitars, and they're bound to say "It's got this neck, you know?" I've got a bunch of guitars. I like them all and have found all their necks to be... fine. No issues, can play, can't dislike them. And then I picked up this one and it was different. And I've stepped into the brotherhood of guitarists who get that far-off, misty look in their eyes and say things like "it's got tone, man," or "It's got this neck, you know?" The neck is thicker than most. The subsequent reading I've done indicates this was the norm on 50s era Gibson Les Pauls. All I know is that my medium sized hands just wrap around it; it fits. I can play quickly, smoothly, precisely on it. It's interesting to go from a shredder's speed guitar like my Peavey EVH Wolfgang or my slappy strat-style Ibanez Roadstar II to this. It's a different beast; easier to play and not as hard on the fingers.

It's lighter yet stronger than any of my other guitars and all day long comfortable. Its weight is a bit of a conundrum to me, as it's a mahogany body with a maple cap and a mahogany neck- it should be heavy as mahogany is generally dense stuff. But this thing is light and comfortable. Strength comes from the thick neck and with it comes a resonance, a wholesome brightness; play this thing unplugged and you can feel its vibe in your hands. This transfers directly to its amplified sound.

My boy Jack loves it.

For the electronics, the P90 pickups are Hamer branded jobbies. I don't have any other P90s around for comparison. They work and have unique character. The volume pots are nice- there's a good boost from 9-10 on the dial, making it easy to play along at 9 and have a quick touch for playing a solo. Said the dunderer who's been able to accomplish almost half of the simplest of solos, e.g. Judas Priest's "Livin After Midnight," but hope springs eternal that some day... this nice feature will be of value to me. The fun thing about the P90s is that they are so much more forceful than typical single coils, yet they have a tight, tight bass. Cleans are full of character. They're fun to do bouncy blues strumming. I'm learning how to overdrive them- they're very sensitive to amp equalization and gain- and since they're so different from regular single coils and humbuckers, I'm still on the learning curve. But if you want something that just starts to breakup the pre-amp into distortion when you push it, these babies are for you. I'm sure I'll get the tweaking bug someday and replace them with a brand name P90- a Seymour Duncan as used in the Hamer USA on which my guitar is based, or some handmade BG pups or the Lollars. I don't know enough now to judge, and I'm not ready to dump $150 into a guitar when I can pick up another guitar for roughly the same price. Time will tell; until then I'm enjoying the sounds and the learning curve.

Real Hamer guitars- "Hamer USA" guitars, are hand crafted to a purists perfection by a small crew in Connecticut. And by hand made, I mean hand made. Start here:

Hamer USA's can be found on places like eBay for under a grand and that, my friends, is a bargain if quality means more to you than the name on the headstock. Though I can't imagine being embarassed with a Hamer in a room full of Fender and Gibson custom shops. Might be true the other way around... I've gone so far as to declare I'm not buying any other guitars but Hamers from here on in, and a Hamer USA at that. This is foolishness and these words I have already eaten, as I just bought a Korean Hamer Stellar 1 on eBay and am looking forward to lavishing it with love and affection. More on that one when it arrives. It's a 25.5" scale, 24 fret PRS interpretation with dual humbuckers from what I know about it. For $150 delivered I couldn't pass it up. Move over Kramer, a Hamer's about to take your place.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

On Our Fifteenth Anniversary

On a wintry and romantic day fifteen years ago, January 29th 1994, Cheryl and I married and committed our lives to each other and to God and placed a ring on each other’s fingers.

It is together that we have taken on this rewarding challenge of life, dedicated through sickness and health, better and worse, times good and bad, and we have managed with some success to meet this challenge. While we are all individuals, it is in recognizing that the husband and wife together, a new creation, takes precedence, that the individual melts away and transforms.

Cheryl and I have been together more than half of our lives. She is my spouse and my love, the mother of our five- soon to be six- children; she is a teacher; she loves, she gives; she is stubborn yet wise; she is dedicated to her mission of bringing her family towards heaven; she is considerate, passionate, patient and impatient; she is frustrating and yet enlightening; she is Irish and Italian; she is set in her ways and yet seeks new paths; she knows what she won’t do and damn well knows what she will.

She and I are how we have chosen to live our lives together and do our best to honor our pledge and dedication to each other:
Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. Matthew 19:6

Those rings have not been off our fingers since that day and it is not our intention to ever remove them. We have learned in the last fifteen years that Life is more precious than the world we live in can comprehend; that being open to children is not governed by your financial status or vice versa; and that a big noisy house full of children is much like a small noisy house full of children. It’s noisy. It is full of both joy and strife, order and mess, myrth and mischief, silences of anger and and love, late bed times and early mornings, sick children and barking dogs.

Our path is different than most, but we can’t imagine another. We will continue down our path together until one of us must find their way alone, supported by family, until we see each other again.

I love you Cheryl. Thank you for sharing this journey as we are Mr. and Mrs. Ruffing