Wednesday Bach Blogging: Dan Mumm, Harpsichord Concerto No. 1, Transcription For Electric Guitar


    Dan Mumm's interpretation of the first movement (Allegro 1) of Johann Sebastian Bach's Harpsichord Concerto No 1, BWV 1052.  Totally cool.  Anyone who's listened to Bach for any length of time knows that rhythm is a big part of his music: you can dance to it, both vertically and horizontally, and obviously you can rock out to it.

Also, check out Helene Grimaud's very powerful, and equally rocking, performance on pianoforte of the same concerto, here.

Have a great New Year's Eve, wherever you happen to be!

Holiday Gift Returns Dept.

Danish butter cookies, made in China

    Who doesn't love those buttery Danish holiday cookies?  No one, that's who, and we will usually get a few tins of them every year at this time, at whatever store we happen to be in at the time.

Standing in the cashier's line at the big-box chain pharmacy whose name shall remain nameless (but it rhymes with "Bite Maid"), I grabbed a tin:


When I got home, I happened to notice this:

Danish butter cookies, made in China

"Danish" butter cookies.  Made in China.  What the friggin' heck?  You'd think they'd be happy enough making fortune cookies.

Happy Holiday Season To You

1st gen Honda Odyssey, Eugene OR, December 10 2013 storm, Oregon

    Only very light blogging until after the turn of the New Year.  Some traveling, eating too much food, drinking just enough dark beer, talking a lot, playing some music, staying up late.  Hope everyone had a joyous solstice yesterday, and Happy Holiday Season to you, and all you know!

A note about the above photo: Most end of year seasonal depictions involve images from a by-gone era, one of which is winter transportation of that time: the iconic one horse sleigh in the snow.  Even though it's almost twenty years old, this Isuzu Oasis wagon is our modern version of that one horse sleigh.  Now all we need are some flying reindeer to pull it.

1970s Motobecane Grand Record


    Here's a retro look back into another era, when steel frames were brazed up by hand, when there were many smaller makers of fine bicycle parts throughout Europe and Japan, when there were small shops everywhere that would build a cycle for you from the frame up, with your choice of components - all before Shimano, the Walmart of the bike biz, took over the world.

This classic style bike was built up from a Motobecane Grand Record frame, made in France, vintage early 1970s.  The hand-brazed Grand Record frames were made with thin walled Reynolds 531 (say "five three one", not five-thirty-one) tubing; when unbuilt, this bare frame is extremely lightweight and rings nicely when tapped with a screwdriver handle or pencil.  The main frame has Campagnolo rear dropouts, and clean construction with no braze-on attachments - no shifter bosses; no top tube, downtube or chainstay cable guides; and no water bottle mounts to mar the lines.

As well, there is some outrageous and crazy-beautiful head tube lug work:


According to my brother Jonsan, who really knows about these things, the head tube "lugs are Nervex Professional, or close copies of Nervex.  Nervex Professional lugs were found on many high end bikes of the day, including Schwinn Paramount, Raleigh International, and Peugeot PX-10, coincidentally all of which used Reynolds 531 tubing".

The original fork had gotten fubared somehow long before I bought the frame; the replacement Reynolds 531 fork is a high quality Tange, made in Japan, with chrome fork tips and Suntour dropouts.  When I purchased this fork at Paul's Bike Shop on Alder St. in Eugene, it and the Campagnolo headset were personally fitted to the frame by Paul Nicholson, who also assembled and aligned the Phil Wood bottom bracket and TA cranks.  As many already know, when Paul himself comes out to the shop area and offers to work on your bike, the fee is nominal and two or three stories are also included at no extra charge.

Since the original fork had gotten messed up, I asked Louie at Blue Heron Bikes here in town to check the main frame alignment, and he cold set the head tube and chainstays; Louie happens to be the most knowledgeable and skilled bike tech in the known universe.  I then built this up as a daily driver, with all high quality European and Japanese components, mostly good-to-excellent condition used, but some NOS (New Old Stock), as follows:

• Headset:  Campagnolo (Italy)
• Handlebars:  Belleri (France), 42cm; the bar tops are double wrapped with tan cotton tape, with "naked" drops.  Velox (France) bar-end plugs.
• Stem:  Pivo (France), 80mm.
• Brakeset:  Weinmann (Switzerland), model 605; gum hoods on the levers, Kool Stop (Lake Oswego, OR) Continental "Salmon" pads, and transparent amber cable housing.  The calipers have mico-adjust quick releases and wheel guides.
• Top Tube Brake Cable Clips:  Campagnolo
• Shift Levers:  Campagnolo
• Down Tube Cable Guide:  Campagnolo
• Chainstay Cable Guide:  Suntour (Japan)
• Front Derailleur:  Campagnolo
• Rear Derailleur:  Suntour Cyclone Series I - a great shifting, beautiful and extremely lightweight changer.  Only the Huret Jubilee was lighter, and didn't shift nearly as well as the Suntour; in fact, the first series Cyclones are widely regarded as being possibly the best shifting rear mechs ever made.
• Freewheel:  Suntour Gran Compe; NOS, 14-17-20-24-28
• Crankset:  Specialities T.A. (France), 170mm arms.  This is not the more common Cyclo-Touriste model, but an ultra-rare racing "half-step" setup, with the chainring bolts much closer to the teeth, for added rigidity; close ratio (10%) 50 and 45 tooth chainrings.  Unlike the normal 23-27% "crossover" gearing seen on most all bikes, half-step gears, with an appropriate 5-cog freewheel such as the Suntour Gran Compe, allows for 10 distinct gear ratios, with no overlap.
• Chain:  Sram PC-58 - I love two tone chains.
• Bottom Bracket:  Phil Wood (USA); the best and smoothest sealed bearing BB in the world, really.
• Pedals:  Lyotard (France) Model 82, with NOS Cristophe (France) Medium+ clips.  Also has Cristophe leather straps and MKS strap pulls and shoe pads.
• Rear Wheel:  Normandy (France) high-flange hub with a Wolber Super Champion (France) rim; this wheel was NOS, like the Suntour freewheel that's on it.
• Front Wheel:  Maillard (France) low-flange hub w/ unknown, but probably Wolber, rim (the sticker is faded).
• Tires:  Continental Sport 1000, 27" x 1 1/4" (630x32mm); these cushy but responsive, high quality tires, made for roads in the real world, have gum sidewalls that match the color of the Weinmann brake lever hoods.
• Wheel Quick Release Skewers:  Campagnolo
• Saddle:  Ideale (France); solid brown leather, with brass rivets.
• Seatpost:  SR (Japan), 2-bolt true micro-adjust; very similar to, and looks quite like, an older Campy.  This seatpost was a gift from my brother Jonsan.
• Water Bottle Cage:  Specialites T.A. clamp-on type; I put a wrap of cotton bar tape under the clamps.

In addition to the above, all bearings, even down to the pedals, were completely torn down, cleaned, packed and adjusted; and the entire brakeset, including the levers, was disassembled, cleaned and relubed.  Plus a professionally done wheel truing, new tires (which are themselves classic-style older stock), new tubes, new chain, all new cables, new brake pads, new ball bearings as needed, etc, etc, etc...  It was a lot of work, but it was worth it - this classic old bicycle is solid, responsive, and corners fantastically.

And finally, that's a prototype of 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 here.

Here's some more pictures (click or tap on any photo for larger, higher def images):

Wednesday Bach Blogging: Helene Grimaud, Harpsichord Concerto No. 1



    Johann Sebastian Bach's Harpsichord Concerto No. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052.  Helene Grimaud at the piano, with the Kammerorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (Bavarian Radio Chamber Orchestra).

First two movements, Allegro 1 and Adagio, above; third movement, Allegro 2, below (no video, music only):


Enjoy!

Telecaster And Stratocaster Output Jacks - A Short History

Strat, Stratocaster, output jack, jack boat, cup, Fender, cable, screw on plug, 1950s vintage cable

    Ever since I first picked up a Fender at age 15 and plugged it in, I've had a love - hate relationship with Telecaster and Stratocaster output jacks.  Well, no - that's a lie: I neither hate nor love them; sometimes, though, their design can be mighty irritating.  A few years ago I got a Boss Tone plug-in fuzz box in a trade, and I really wanted to use it that night at a show, but when I tried to plug it into my Tele it didn't work with that damned recessed jack "cup":

Boss Tone Fuzz, Bosstone, Boss-Tone, fuzz, Tele, Telacaster, jack cup, output, jack, 1950s, vintage

Not only was I irritated, but so was the rest of the band, since I was holding up the show switching guitars unexpectedly.  The next day I got a Les Paul jack plate and replaced the Tele's jack cup (the example shown below is of a recent sunburst Parts-o-caster build of mine, not the blonde '68 Tele that I had at the time):


And before you get all like huffy and have a hissy fit and accuse me of "defacing a fine vintage collectible Fender" or something, consider the following: back in the early '80s you could still buy a late '60s Tele for a hundred bucks, and besides - it was my guitar, so sue me.

I also used an Orange Squeezer compressor, which sounds ultra, ultra cool with a Telecaster, but you can't plug it, or any of the original series Dan Armstrong boxes, into a stock Tele:

Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer, compressor, compression, plug in, effect, box

A Short History:

During the late 1940s and early '50s when the follow up to the Telecaster, eventually to be called the Stratocaster, was being developed, input from working players was solicited from Fender, both by Mr. Leo himself, and also the company's reps in the field.  It's no secret that Country And Western, as it was called in those days, was Mr. Fender's favorite music.  And all throughout central and southern California (where Fender's factory - and Leo's office - was located), as well as in many other parts of the country, there were scores of roadhouses, dance halls, and honky tonk taverns rocking to the sounds of live country music on Friday and Saturday nights, and Teles could be seen on every one of those bandstands.

Buck Owens At The Blackboard Cafe, Bakersfield, California
Buck Owens At The Blackboard Cafe, Bakersfield, California
There were no rock concerts in those days (there was no rock and roll yet), and very few nationally known touring acts were playing the kinds of music that real people were actually listening, and dancing to.  Kept away from the artificially hyped "pop" charts were the diverse, dynamic, and ever evolving forms of the true popular music of the people - country, bluegrass, and country swing, blues and jump blues (soon to become rhythm and blues), Tejano and norteño, Cajun and zydeco, polka and schottische - and local dance halls and bars were where the action, and the players, and their early Fender guitars, were at.

I've had the good fortune to meet, and play with some of the younger pickers whose fathers, aunts, and older friends were playing at the roadhouses and taverns in Bakersfield and around the central valley of California in the early 1950s, and it's well known among them that Leo Fender actively sought out feedback from those working musicians on how the Telecaster could be improved upon.

A body comfortable enough to hold throughout those grueling 5 hour bar gigs?  Check: forearm and "beer belly" cuts.  Easier access to the entire fretboard?  Check: the "horn" that shifts the whole guitar toward the right hand when on a strap.  Faster replacement of broken strings, often in the middle of a song?  Check: slotted tuning machine posts.  More reliable and easy to repair guitar to amp cables, with easier to grip plugs?  Check: bulletproof solderless screw-on plugs machined, and knurled, from solid nickel, that can be re-attached to the cable in seconds.

Some way to keep the cable plugs from busting off when the skinny shoulder strap breaks, or the guitar gets knocked sideways or stepped on when it's resting up against the amp on a 15 minute break (no guitar stands in those days)?  Check: a jack plate on the top of the body - also angled downwards to keep the cable out of the way when you're strumming.

Here's another shot of the Stratocaster jack plate, also known as a jack cup or a jack boat; in this picture, that's a real live 1950s Fender plug - still solid, and still functional after a lot of use and abuse over the years - plugged into friend Ron's black Strat:

Strat, Stratocaster, output jack, jack boat, cup, Fender, cable, screw on plug, 1950s vintage cable

As you can see, the combination of a recessed and angled jack plate, along with a smaller form factor plug, makes for a compact and unobtrusive package - rising no further off the top of the guitar than the knobs and switch - that doesn't get in the way of playing the guitar.  And playing is what it's all about - since there were no guitar collectors back in the 1950s and early '60s, and very few "enthusiasts" or hobby players, almost every single one of the Stratocasters sold back then were actually in use, and actually being played - by real players.  Imagine a world with no guitar collectors - Heaven must be a lot like that.

Some Early Strat Players:

Howlin' Wolf, Strat, Stratocaster, band, early 1960s, Kay electric bass, Fender, vintage
Howlin' Wolf

Telecaster And Stratocaster Output Jacks - A Short History, Origami Night Lamp
Eldon Shamblin
Telecaster And Stratocaster Output Jacks - A Short History, Origami Night Lamp
Dick Dale
Telecaster And Stratocaster Output Jacks - A Short History, Origami Night Lamp
Play A Strat, Get Popular - Unknown Guitarist With "The Light Crust Doughboys" Texas Swing Band

Note Dick Dale's Strat mod above: no knobs on his gold metal flake 'Caster!  Also, check out Wolf's bassist playing that cool made in Chicago Kay bass.  And it's hard to make out in the photo, but Eldon Shamblin's Strat is also gold.

A Jack In The Boat:

I've always been a fan of the original '50s style Fender solderless cable plugs and grey coax cable, as well as the later variants, such as the machined brass cable ends from Bill Lawrence:

Play A Strat, Get Popular - Unknown Guitarist With "The Light Crust Doughboys" Texas Swing Band

However, switching between multiple guitars during a set or show, with one of them a Strat, sometimes it was frustratingly fiddley grabbing that small knurled vintage Fender plug handle nestled down inside the jack cup.  Which is why I started using Lawrence cables after a while, since they have a bit larger, but not too large, plug with a well designed, easy to grip reverse taper at the inner flange - way to go, Bill.

And even with a larger cable end, unless a Strat is all you ever use and you're totally familiar with the feel of the jack boat, it can be weird poking around inside that recess a couple of times, until the plug finally slides home.  Not to mention noisy - I'm talking about really quick guitar changes on stage here, between songs, no time to reach back to the amp and turn the volume down.  It's so easy to grab the bottom curve of a Les Paul or a Danelectro or a Rickenbacker and pop that plug in, almost noiselessly; but Strats?  Not so much.

And, just like a Tele, you still couldn't use a Boss Tone fuzz or Orange Squeezer with the stock Stratocaster jack boat.

Alternatives:

In the 1970s and '80s, replacement flat jack plates were available:

Play A Strat, Get Popular - Unknown Guitarist With "The Light Crust Doughboys" Texas Swing Band

The problem with having a flat jack plate is that the usual large Switchcraft type "telephone" plug, and the arc of the cable, sticks way out there in front of the guitar - possibly a hindrance to playing, and certainly every bit as susceptible to breaking off as a jack on the side of the lower bout.  One solution was to use a cable with a right angle (90º) plug.

One Stratocaster player in Montana in the 1970s replaced the bottom tone knob with an output jack, and kept his contraband herb stash under the unused flat jack plate.  True genius at work, and one very aromatic Strat.

Also in the early '70s, Alembic introduced the fat sounding Stratoblaster preamps with flat jack plates; here's a shot of one of the late, great Lowell George's Strats (also note the Telecaster bridge pickup, Tele volume knob, reversed neck pickup, and unusual switch tip):

Play A Strat, Get Popular - Unknown Guitarist With "The Light Crust Doughboys" Texas Swing Band

Alembic continues to make that preamp; now it's called a Blaster, and the plate is still flat, but now made of brass:

Play A Strat, Get Popular - Unknown Guitarist With "The Light Crust Doughboys" Texas Swing Band

Back when I had my first Stratocaster, I learned a cool trick from a picker who had grown up playing in the honky tonks in and around Bakersfield - which is to flip the Strat jack boat upside down.  I still do that to every Strat I've had since, even though I no longer do roadhouse gigs or long shows - it's a handy thing at a jam session or even on your sofa:

Play A Strat, Get Popular - Unknown Guitarist With "The Light Crust Doughboys" Texas Swing Band


Note: click or tap on any picture in this post for larger, higher def images.

Life And Death In The Fast Lane


    Driving north on I-5 late at night, between Myrtle Creek and Roseburg, I looked in the rear-view and saw someone coming up behind me, fast, with maybe eight headlamps and fog lights blazing away on high beam - jeeez, what an idiot, I thought.  Turned out to be one of those idiots that get right on your ass, stay there long enough to totally blind you, then suddenly jerk the wheel over and pass, and immediately swerve back right in front of you, spraying road debris all over your car, rocks hitting the windshield, messing up your paint - you know the type, right?

This time I was ready, and as soon as he came up alongside, I tapped on the brake pedal and slowed down enough to get some space between the idiot and me when he swerved back in front.  But holy hell, he was hauling - must have been going at least a hundred, and accelerating, when he passed.  It was one of those giant-ass SUVs, maybe an Expedition or an Escalade or an Escargo - something big, and white.

But even as fast as it was when it flew by, I still had time to notice: there were at least four TV screens all going inside the SUV, on each of the flipped-down sun visors and on the backs of the seats.  Maybe some kind of music video, with people dancing and waving their arms in the air.  And then whoosh - they were gone, gone, gone down the road, around that next bend in the interstate, gone.  Goodbye, good riddance.

Stopped for gas and a cup of coffee in R-Burg; and then about a half hour up the road I saw flashing lights ahead - construction zone? Drug bust? An accident?  I eased up on the gas, and slowly passed the police cars, tow trucks and ambulances clustered on the shoulder and the right lane of the freeway.  And there, on the other side of the steep drainage ditch and past a swath of ripped out fence, brightly lit by the lights of the emergency vehicles, upside down in a field next to the road, was an SUV - a really big white SUV.

It may or may not have been the same big rig that blew past me before, and it was tempting to think: well, if it was, he deserved what he got.  But.  There might have been a whole family in there, and I had to hope that it wasn't as bad as it looked.

*            *            *

Below are some screen shots of webpages advertising in-car entertainment systems.  I hope all your travels are safe this Holiday season, and as they used to say in driver's ed class, watch out for the other guy, because he may not be watching out for you.  In fact, he might not even be able to see you.


And here's a system that allows both the passenger, and the driver, the choice of watching different DVD movies while they drive; for "safety reasons" (?) the driver has a simplified remote control:



Enormous "Comfort" Bicycles

comfort, bicycle, fat people, overweight, exercise, large, heavy, crappy, obese

    On the last really nice, sunny, and warm day of autumn I went for a ride, and so did a bunch of other bicyclists.  There's a cycling and pedestrian trail that goes along Amazon Creek, and as usual for a nice day in Eugene, there was a lot of bike traffic.  I got stuck for awhile behind a pair of cyclists out for a jaunt, side by side on their bright shiny new bikes with matching paint.  Sorry for noticing, but these folks in front of me were massive, and their bikes were also king-sized.  Or maybe it just looked that way, since they were both riding almost completely bolt upright, not leaning forward at all.

Another thing I noticed was how much both of them were bouncing up and down as they pedaled.  A lot.  I guess that's not surprising - most bikes made these days have suspension forks, and the combined mass of large bike and large rider will cause them to bounce, a lot.  I'm not being critical, and it's great whenever someone takes the time and energy to get out there and do something like exercise, and after ringing my bell, I gave them a smile, a wave, and a thank you as they pulled over to the right and I passed by.

An Admirable Cyclist (random internet image)

There's a lot of really interesting bicycles where I live, and I usually only notice unusual designs, or nicely kept up vintage cycles, or well built-up ugly city bikes, but suddenly I saw that there were a ton of these newer design bikes out there - all with immensely tall frames and even taller handlebars, ultra wide and huge balloony seats, and really long springer forks.  I never even knew these bulky behemoths existed, but now I was curious, so I went to Paul's original shop on Alder Street to find out more:

Ever Fit, And Always Fun Guy Paul, And Friend, At The Alder St. Store

Here's what I found out from the helpful and friendly folks there: this new style of bicycle is called a "comfort bike", or sometimes "hybrid bike".  The term comfort implies that it's a comfortable bike, and "hybrid" is marketing hype, with no connection to high-mileage cars.  These comfort bikes, being humongous, are also really mega heavy - they're half jokingly referred to as being designed by lawyers: made from massively stout material, they'll withstand almost any treatment by less experienced, more portly pedallers without breaking; therefore, less lawsuits.  A sad reality is that we tend to be larger and heavier than we've ever been; something like 2/3 of adults are overweight, and these larger and heavier bikes were made to take us down the road, without collapsing from metal fatigue.


Anatomy Of A Comfort Bicycle

No matter what brand name is screen printed on the frame of a comfort bike, the vast majority of them are built in one or two of the colossally giant-ass factories of the Gigantic Bicycle Company in the manufacturing superpower of China.  Ginormous quantities are sold each year, usually to folks with all the best intentions of a healthier new life, and tens of millions of these hulking beasts languish in dark back corners of garages all across the world, most of them in still pristine, barely ridden condition.

Strange Red Lines Through A Comfort Cyclist's Body

Take a comfort bike out for a spin, and the first thing you notice is how high up in the air you are.  Also, it should be called an "exercise bike", since it takes so much effort to operate.  Much of the energy usually transferred into forward motion is lost in front fork bounce, the dampening effect of the spring-loaded seat post, and heavy jumbo 700C tires, made to resist punctures while supporting a lot of weight.  Having to overcome the sheer inertia of trying to get that monumental mass of metal, rubber, and flesh moving, plus the added wind resistance caused by the upright riding posture, and you can really feel those calories falling off after only a few blocks.  It's no wonder that most of these elephantine bikes are hardly ever ridden after being bought - it's just too much like work, and not fun at all.

Even Stranger Yellow Arrows On A Comfort Cyclist

When I got out of the store and jumped back on the narrow, hard leather saddle of my old lightweight beater made of high tensile steel so naturally springy it feels almost alive, it was like an enormous weight had fallen off me.  Just a few pedal strokes got me up to cruising speed, and it felt great riding effortlessly in the warm sun, with a light cool breeze - you might even say it was a comfort.

Wednesday Bach Blogging: Andras Schiff, French Suite No. 5




    Johann Sebastian Bach's French Suite No. 5 in G major, BWV 816, with the incomparable Andras Schiff at the piano.