Bass Rig No. 1: Danelectro Silvertone, Fender Bassman, JBL D140F

JD Newell cab, Blackface, tube amplifier, lipstick pickup, Alnico, Eminence, Pro Co

    My all time favorite, great sounding electric bass set up:

•  The electric bass is an early '60s (I think) Silvertone, made by Danelectro in New Jersey and sold by Chicago's Sears Roebuck department and mail order catalog stores.  At the time, these unusually built semi-hollow bodied instruments with their distinctive sounding lipstick pickups sold for something like $50, and amazingly, they are some of the greatest sounding and finest playing basses ever made.  It seems like I've had this forever; a bunch of other nice basses have come and gone since then, and now it's the only one I own, don't need another.

•  A 50 watt Fender Bassman Amp head, installed in a JD Newell 2x10 combo cab.  This amp also has two Eminence 10" speakers in it, along with a couple of Ted Weber's Beam Blockers.  By itself, this is one of the sweetest sounding amps ever, great for both guitar and bass.  Bypass the internal speakers and plug up to an efficient bass cab, and be amazed by how loud (and good) fifty tube watts of thumping low end power can really be.  Unfortunately, this amp belongs to friend David (who went through the whole circuit and meticulously rebuilt it), and not me.

•  That's my late '60s Fender Bassman 2x15 cabinet, with a couple of factory installed JBL D140F 15" speakers in it.  I've owned it for longer than I care to admit, I've tried to kill it with abuse and overuse and it shows, but it continues to be a seriously great sounding, and loud, bass cab.  Anyone who says these cabs don't sound good have never owned one, never played through one, probably never actually been near one, and like most people who just repeat what they've heard, don't know what the hell they're talking about.  * See update below *

•  And finally, in this picture is a really old Pro Co cable, made with Belden wire and Switchcraft plugs, but I usually just use whatever comes to hand.  My favorites are the '80s Bill Lawrence cables with the screw-on solderless machined brass plugs; yeah, they're very well made and do the job better than most, but the real reason I like them is that they look cool.

And yes, this pile of old junk vintage stuff sounds every bit as good as you might think it does: fat lows, natural tube compression, smooth highs.  It doesn't get insanely loud, but for most American roots music styles it's more than enough, even playing with a good solid hitting drummer.  Want louder?  Simple: stick an SM57 in front of the speaker, and be happy.

Thanks for looking!

* Update:  A bass player in Idaho contacted me with his experience with a very similar model Fender Bassman cabinet . He had read on an internet forum that "those JBL warrant no good for bass", so he sold them on eBay, then reloaded the cab with a pair of car stereo subwoofers he found on craigslist.  After plugging in his brand new Rogue bass with DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups, through a Hartke transistor amp, he reports that "this Fender cabenit sounds like ****ing dog****, and now everybody in my Sunday Worship Band hate me."  Okay!  Thanks to reader "L.D.S." in Pocatello, for getting in touch.

Thanksgiving Turkeys On The Street


    Today, tens of millions of domesticated turkeys, in a somewhat altered state, are gracing supper tables all across the good ol' U. S. of A. with their well-mannered, and tasteful, presence; but in the woods of Oregon, bands of the wild variety walk proud and free.  Here are pictures of some of them, all taken around south Eugene.  Happy Holiday to you!


Playing With Your Food

Fiesta Ware, blue fiestaware, fun food, playing with food, child guidance, God,

    In our household, we permit playing with our food.  I know that many of you, especially those in rural areas, have a personal god of choice who doesn't allow that, and who has instructed you also to tell your children not to, and I am heartily sorry to hear that.  And because why?  Because it's a lot of fun, that's why, and what is life without some fun in it, anyway?

Well, actually, we do have some rules around here - one of them is that we have to eat the food that we've played with.  And I must say, this banana and peanut butter on a hot dog bun sandwich is quite yummy.

He said this, like Pooh, in a rather sticky voice.

1991 Fender Stratocaster, Part 2: Messing With The Body

Squier Classic Vibe Duo Sonic pickups, brown Kiwi shoe polish, Gilmour neck on

    Part 1 of this series of posts about a 1991 Stratocaster told the tale of its life in the years before I acquired it: how it had been completely painted over by someone in the past - body, pickguard, neck, fingerboard and tuners, everything, with white latex house paint - and then was rescued and brought back to life and playability by the next two owners.  By the time I bought it from friend David, it was once again in great shape - looked nice, sounded as good as any Strat out there, and thanks to David's setup and fret work, played like a dream.  However, it's in my nature to change things to suit myself, and soon after getting this '91 MIM (made in Mexico) Strat, I started to mod it.  The first thing I did was to swap out the tuners for Gotoh vintage Kluson-style machines, and the next was to alter how the body looked.

Along with that rather strange 'art' treatment, this guitar had also been played a good amount, and over the years the finish on the neck has acquired a fairly nice patina - the maple has become darker, and there are some noticeable wear spots; overall, the neck has a pleasing, worn look to it.  However, the body's original finish is some sort of incredibly thick, hard paint that must have been developed to resist aging and wear.  Besides a few scratches, it was still a light shade of a creamy white-ish color, which may or may not be Olympic White, also known as Beach Boys White.  In any case, there was a bit of an aesthetic disconnect between the body and the darker neck, as if they had come from two different guitars.  What to do?  It was time to artificially age the finish, if I possibly could.

The first thing I did was to remove the pickguard and hardware, and lay the bare body out in the summer sun for a week; this accomplished nothing.  Last year, I bought a new Mitey Mite one-piece maple Tele neck, whitish pale as the grave, and had some success wiping it down with brown shoe polish, giving that neck a nice golden tan color:

Telecaster, Kiwi brown shoe polish, golden tan color, Partsocaster neck

That treatment worked well for that Partsocaster Tele neck, so I applied the same polish to this Strat body.  The resulting splotchy, goopy looking color looked fantastic - see the picture at the top of this post, and this next photo with the Allparts mint-colored pickguard and Squier Classic Vibe pickups that David had installed during his time with this Strat:

brown kiwi shoe polish, Squier Classic Vibe pickups, Allparts mint pickguard

I thought it looked great, and quickly assembled the guitar, started playing it, and assumed I was done with the visual side of the mod process.  I was wrong.  Within a week, the added color started fading, and by the end of two weeks it looked exactly as it did before the application of the brown shoe polish, with the exception that some of the polish remained inside the deeper scratches and highlighted them.  I disassembled the Strat and tried again; this time there was some darkening of the finish, but not as much as before, and by the time three days had passed, it had lightened up again.  Arrgh.

Okay - one more try, and this time I applied the polish in the hot sun, and left it on for over a week, instead of just a few minutes.  When I took an old rag and wiped the shoe polish off, there was barely any golden color, and that faded within a day.  From all this, I have to assume three things: A) the ultra thick original paint job on this Strat just sucked up and absorbed any applied dye, B) any color change that the polish had on the finish had less effect with each subsequent application, and C) this particular factory paint is some kind of White Zombie color that won't die, no matter how much you try to kill it.

Yeah, it's disappointing, it did look great for a while, but for the time being I'm living with the current white finish, which I'm planning on either repainting or doing some kind of top coat on, in the warm spring of next year.  In reality, it's not a bad color, and looks pretty cool along with the gold anodized aluminum pickguard:

Squier Classic Vibe Duo Sonic pickups, Gilmour neck on mod, pull pot switch

And besides, I didn't really buy this Strat in order to spend all my time messing with it.  I got it to play it, as a daily driver, and I do - it's my go-to electric, never in its case unless there's a jam going on somewhere.  And, as I mentioned earlier, it does play like a dream come true.

Next time, in Part 3, we're moving on to pickups, switches, wiring, and more - stay tuned.  Also, in Part 1, we can see a vintage style tuning machine retro-fit on this Strat.

Click or tap on any picture above for larger, higher def images.  All photos taken with a Lumix TZ-3.

One Week In The Garden

 Eugene, oregon, garden, quan yin, stone temple lantern, japanese maple, fall
Kwan Yin Corner, With Frost
    It's only been about one week since I was out there last, but there have been noticeable changes in the backyard garden.  We had some days of intermittent showers, and a two day long heavy rainstorm, followed now by a couple days with clear skies and below freezing temperatures at night.

Almost all of the leaves on both the six year old autumn blaze maple and the still-potted Japanese maple have fallen, many of the less hardy shrubs are wilting, and the ground in this corner of the garden is now frozen.

The colder weather has brought with it a return of some of the birds that spend a portion of the winter months with us: Oregon Juncos, a couple varieties of Sparrow, Wrens, Townsend's Warblers, Towhees, Stellar's Jays, and Downy Woodpeckers, as well as the Flickers, Scrub Jays, Starlings, Crows, and Mountain Chickadees that are usually with us, along with the charming flocks of tiny Bush Tits that flit through the trees gleaning the branches for what insects they can find.

As autumn does its slow slide into winter, a lot of the wildlife that have been spending their time at higher elevations are being seen more often here in town, such as the quite sizable well antlered deer that just now ambled through our front yard.  There are also the flocks of wild turkeys which seem to be most numerous at this time of year - creatures so massive that I sometimes forget that they're actually birds.

Here are a some photos by June, of Under The Plum Blossom Tree, which you may enjoy; check out her blog sometime, too.

Red maple leaves, japanese maple, autumn, garden, fall, Eugene, oregon, winter
Mouse Eye View Of Stone Temple Lantern
Eugene, Oregon, autumn, birds, fall, garden, Under The Plum Blossom Tree
Seven Juncos, One Sparrow, Light Rain
Eugene, Oregon, garden, autumn, fall, Under The Plum Blossom Tree, birds
Bush Tits Foraging In Fennel For Insects And Larvae
Eugene, oregon, autumn, fall, Under The Plum Blossom Tree, birds, BMW 325
Why Did The Turkeys Cross The Road?
Eugene, oregon, garden, autumn, fall, Under The Plum Blossom Tree, winter, rain
Wood Fungus And Pin Oak Leaves

All photos taken with either a Lumix ZS-25 or an iPhone.  Click or tap on any picture for larger, higher definition images.

The Best Darn Pedals Ever

Union, Germany, bike, bicycle, autumn red maple leaves, bicycling, Eugene, OR

    These are the greatest pedals ever, but something of a mystery.  The local bike shop had a few pairs of these sitting on a shelf gathering dust - I don't think they sell very many of them.  Don't even know if they're still in production, and it's hard to tell what brand they actually are - there's no name on them.  It says "Made In Germany" on the inside flange, along with a logo that may or may not have a letter "U" in it.

They're called rubber block pedals but the blocks are probably made of a fairly soft rubber-ish plastic. In any case, they have an amazing grip; once you plant your foot on one of the pedals, it stays there without any slippage.  The bearings have almost zero play, and incredibly, almost zero friction - they spin smoother than even those great Japanese MKS pedals.  They don't appear to be rebuildable, but a couple squirts of Phil's Tenacious oil once a year or so should keep them happy for a long time.  We've been using them on most of our bikes here for over five years, and they're awesome and trouble free in any weather, as well as being ultra, ultra comfortable.

What's not to like?  Well, you can't attach toe clips, so they're not as secure as you'd need for a fixed gear, but as they're the first to admit, fixie people are a bunch of crazies and who can tell what they'd like anyway? (Full disclosure notice: I have two fixed gear bikes, and ride them)  Also, you'll have to not mind so much when, inevitably, the Bicycle Fashion Police walk up and say in their endearing way, "Whoa! Cute pedals! Where are your training wheels?"  But who cares - ride luxuriously in almost any shoe, whether high top sneakers, flats, Doc Ms, steel toed stompers, Daisy Duck pumps, high-heeled cowgirl boots, or wing tips.  Zip on down to the coffee shop on a warm spring morning in your flip-flops, or heck, go bare foot - why not?

I'm not even going to get started about anyone saying "OMG, but you're not even connected to the pedals!"  If you don't mind cycling in shoes you can't walk in, or if you believe you get some kind of 'performance edge' from using special pedals, hey, that's between you and your own personal bicycling god.  All I know is that these rubber pedals get the job done, and look ultra retro cool doing it.  Whatever they are.

Where's The Rake?

Japanese maple, autumn blaze, fall color, garden, falling leaves, Quan Yin


I think I misplaced the rake, but who cares?  This only happens once a year.

Trek 850 1st Gen + Bridgestone MB-1 Ugly City Bike

Trek 850, B-Stone, single speed, autumn, fall, Eugene, Oregon, red maple leaves

    No matter how many nice bicycles you may have, it's a good idea to have at least one really ugly bike.  It's great to be able to jump on and go without having to worry about your fine ride getting jacked when it's sitting there outside the Jiffy Market while you run inside to grab a couple of micro brews, or coffee and a scone.  But if you're someone who couldn't ever see themselves on a crappy old beat up bike, well - just stop reading right now, maybe look at the pretty pictures ugly pictures, and thanks for stopping by.

Here in Eugene, the bike theft capital of the known world, all bikes are at risk, but that's probably not the case where you live.  In most places, a low-end or ugly bike will be totally safe with just a lightweight cable lock, or even nothing at all.  In Colorado I never used a lock; instead, I wrapped an old black toe strap around the fork crown or rear brake bridge and the rim.  It's almost invisible, but impossible to ride away on unless you remove the strap, which most thieves don't have time for or the brains to figure out:

Bridgestone MB-1, fork, dia compe cantilever, Eugene, oregon, Trek 850 bike frame

I never had a bike stolen, or even touched, until I moved to Eugene, where I've lost two.  Some say it's because of the University (Duck U!) - not the students themselves, but all the slime bags lurking at the edges of society, preying upon the thousands of bicycles those students, and faculty, have.  Maybe, but the bike theft problem here is city wide.

What many riders do to reduce the anxiety factor is to have a beater bike, with good components and well set up, for commuting or general utility riding.  An ugly city bike is less attractive in general, especially to thieves, and if it gets boosted, swiped, nabbed, jacked, filched, lifted, pinched or purloined, hey, it's no big loss.

Here's a truly crummy looking beater bike, a mid-80s Schwinn High Sierra; under that crappy paint it's completely nickel plated, so it should have a long, rust free and ugly life:

single speed, Eugene, Oregon, rain bike,

That's the yukkiest, who'd-want-to-steal-this bike I have, and it's heavy and built like a tank, yet it has some virtues.  As well as being virtually indestructible, it has almost exactly the same slack-angled, laid back frame geometry as a 1950s Schwinn cruiser, so it's really comfortable and tracks straight and true.

My favorite ugly bike, however, is something I put together a couple of years ago:

B-Stone, Eugene, Oregon, Autumn, French canvas saddle bag, leather, lugged

The main frame is from a 1984 Trek 850, Trek's first mountain bike, and was found at a yard sale for $5.00.  It's all lugged and brazed construction, fairly lightweight steel, appears to be well made, and still straight.  I picked up the rescued Bridgestone MB-1 fork for $35 at the Center For Appropriate Transport non-profit shop.  A friend working there did a braze repair on the arch of the Tom Ritchey designed crown, a weak spot in an otherwise beautiful design, possibly the loveliest fork crown ever made.  As you can see, it hasn't been painted yet, so even though it's pretty, it's ugly:

B-Stone, Eugene, Oregon, single speed, autumn, fall, red maple leaves,

The most expensive part on this bike is the handlebar, a new Nitto Northroad; a set of NOS Dia Compe cantilever brakes are shiny nice and new, but were craigslist cheap.  All of the rest of this build are the usual suspects pulled from my criminal lineup of formerly nice parts gone bad, and I've sunk maybe $125 total into this bike, including new tubes, cables, brake pads, and rubber block pedals.

The tires are ancient Continental Town And Country inverse tread fatties, which I've had on a few bikes over the years and are now worn out and more comfortable to ride than ever.  My brother Jonsan would say they're dead feeling and unresponsive, and he's absolutely right, they are dead.  And like zombies, they're dead but never die.  But they're also dead reliable, just about un-flattable, and good for either riding on pavement or doing in-town dirt rides down sometimes pretty technical terrain on deeply rutted and potholed back alleys, all the while dodging to avoid giant lethal thorned carnivorous blackberry creepers.

bicycle, Eugene, oregon, fall, autumn, red maple leaves, canvas saddle bag, ugly city bike

Once again I got lucky using the FixMeUp gear ratio calculator, and it's great to be able to have a single speed with vertical dropouts without having to use a chain tensioner.  A 42 tooth chainring with an 18 cog results in a 61 inch gear ratio, which is an okay compromise gear for most around town riding.  For more reading about FixMeUp and single speed conversions, check out my post on a Bridgestone CB-0 single-speed.

The grips are old used tan cotton road bike tape, wrapped over thin foam and capped with big corks from bottles of bubbly Italiano vino dell'amore.  I just made that up - what I mean is the wine called Lambrusco, and I gotta say, that stuff really works, if you know what I mean.  Unless your special friend is some kind of wine snob, but who would want a wine snob for a friend, anyway?  Oh, okay, a hot wine snob, maybe.

Classic European rubber block style pedals have great grip, nice bearings, ride in any shoe, even barefoot or flip-flops - so what's not to like?  And the seat is an old Japanese leather saddle that I've had like forever, and goes on most of my favorite bikes; and not to get too personal, but after all this time it fits me very well.

This Trek frame has the longest chainstays known to man, and though it makes for slightly sluggish turns, it does have a super stable ride:

Japanese leather saddle, canvas saddle bag, Eugene, oregon, ugly city bike
 
Although designed for an all-terrain bike, the frame has a fairly low bottom bracket, and would probably make for a nice touring machine.  Trek's later mountain bikes had the usual shorter chainstays and higher bottom bracket height, and these first-gen 850s are the only ones made with this strange but interesting geometry.  The fork and frame are from different decades and designers, but they go together well, and the combination has a surprisingly pleasant feel and true ride; when paired with Panaracer 1.5" skins, it can be quite zippy and a lot of fun.

I'm thinking of eventually having the Trek frame and B-Stone fork painted some nice metallic color, sticking some derailleurs and pannier racks on it, and having a really cool looking touring bike.  Maybe, but as they say, that's down the road.  In the meantime, it's my favorite ugly bike.

And finally, that's one of my own under saddle bags, a modification of an old French design and made right here in Eugene, USA, and one of these days I'll probably offer them for sale; if you're interested, you can email me.

canvas saddle bag, leather saddle, autumn, fall color, Japanese maple, Eugene

Thanks for looking; all of the photos in this post can be clicked or tapped on for larger, higher-def images.

Angels, Demons, And Charter Schools

Pieter Bruegel The Elder, 1562, oil painting, Christian, Devil, God, mythology
Pieter Bruegel; "Fall Of The Rebel Angels", 1562

    When our family moved here from Santa Fe, we were surprised to learn that Eugene had a school system that offered so many choices; besides being able to attend any public school regardless of location, there were also a few semi-public charter schools as well.  At the time this seemed like a great idea, and we chose an elementary school whose focus, so said the brochure, was centered on academic excellence; what could go wrong with that?  Well, we found out.

By the end of September, our first grader was less than thrilled with the curriculum - there was no music, no art, and no science.  Her mom and I thought we should give it some time, see if things improved; it might just be a matter of getting used to a new school, in a different town.  Two weeks later she came home close to tears; at her school, she said, there would be no Halloween.  No dress up day, no costume parade; even talk about Halloween was discouraged.  As a substitute, at the end of October there would be something called a "Harvest Festival", whatever that was.

I met with the principal, who headed both the charter school our daughter was in, and the public grade school on whose grounds the charter school was located, and learned that the school we had chosen had been founded by a group of Christian parents who, having some misgivings about the direction of public education, had started an institution that would offer what to them was a "healthier" alternative.  I wondered why their board of directors didn't mention that in their literature; the principal (who, it should be noted, allowed Halloween to be observed in the public school that shared the facilities) thought it had something to do with state funding guidelines.

Being so much in my clueless, boy-in-the-bubble type of head space, this was my first hint that something strange was happening in our country.  That there was a movement, if one can call it that, of people so fixated on what they considered the negative aspects of American life that they were actively working to create a new social order.  People who saw penises in Disney films; who not only banned their kids from reading, but also burned, Harry Potter books; who drooled over every detail of the President's impeachment for a blowjob; people who wanted to outlaw Halloween.

Banning Halloween; burning Harry Potter.  It makes you want to ask "What in the hell are you afraid of, anyway?"  I did some asking around, and it turns out that Hell is what they're afraid of.

If you're reading this, and if you live in the U.S., the overwhelming chances are that you believe in the existence of Angels - supernatural beings who intercede on behalf of, and carry out the wishes of, God in his Heaven; depending on the study or poll, somewhere between 75 to 85 percent of us do.  And by extension, you are also convinced of the presence of Demons in our world, or at least in our country - the counterparts of Angels, Demons are the minions of the Devil, who according to legend was once an Angel himself.  Of course, if you believe in Angels, these aren't legends, or myths at all; they're facts.

So, as I mentioned earlier, I talked to a few people who really knew what was going on, and here's how it works: Demons are some pretty big mojo badasses, pretty much capable of any kind of evil or cruel act, and their boss, the Devil (or Lucifer or Satan), who is the biggest evilest badass of all, has a Plan.  Just what that plan is, I didn't find out exactly since there's some difference of opinion, or 'doctrine' as they call it; but basically it involves Really Messing Us Up.  And causing a lot of suffering and death along the way.  And what Angels do, is they fly around and try to prevent a lot of what the Demons want to inflict on us.  In most people's minds, Angels are our guardians, our protectors, and we should feel blessed, and thankful, that God in his wisdom has seen fit to provide this valuable service for us.

And just how does Halloween fit into all this?  It turns out that it, and Harry Potter, and Disney films, and a whole lot more, including public education, PBS, and universal health care, are all a part of that rascal, the Devil's plan.  Simple as that.  And what's more, if by some slim chance you don't believe any of this, why then, you aren't on the side of the Angels, and so you are by inference rooting for the other team, and thus actively helping to advance the Devil's agenda.  Whoa.  I had no idea.

Well, my eyes are now opened, and I guess I should be glad that our country, along with most of Canada (except Quebec), and a few select parts of Europe, has this kind of wonderful protection.  Of course, it's a different story in the rest of the world, or the Godless Heathen Foreign Lands, as they're known, since those ignorant heathen foreigners don't even believe in Angels, may God have mercy on their souls, and so they don't have or deserve any protection at all.

On the other hand, it's kind of freaky to think that the greatest military power the world has ever known is being run by people who sincerely trust in the divine intervention of Angels.  And it also goes a long way toward explaining why we as a nation have made some really dumb collective mistakes.  After all, anybody gullible enough to believe in supernatural beings wouldn't need a lot of convincing to also fall for things like the existence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, or the hyped-up meta-threat posed by the latest scary medical pandemic (currently ebola), or making voting decisions based on TV advertisements paid for by giant corporations.

Getting back to our first grader, yes we changed schools.  I was able to schedule a meeting with the principal of a school in the neighborhood south of the University, within easy cycling distance from where we live; on Halloween day I walked up to the portico of that fine old brick building a bit after school let out, and the door was opened, and held open for me, by a cheerful, smiling young witch who outran me up the steps.  The principal, who happened to be dressed up that day as an elementary school principal, suggested I also meet with the first grade teacher, and after finding my way down a high ceilinged wood floored hallway to room 104, I met a wonderful tooth fairy who said she would be pleased to welcome our daughter into her classroom.  It felt a lot like coming home after being gone for a long time, and that year was the first of our very happy Halloweens in Eugene.