"People who make no noise are dangerous."
--Jean de La Fontaine

Monday, January 26, 2015

In Search of a New Key

I must admit that this post is kind of silly. A few days ago, I was helping a student tune a drum so I reached for my trusty key. I placed the key on a tension rod and couldn't get it to turn. A quick look confirmed that instead of being square, the inside of this drum key had was round. I hear all of you shouting, "So what! Get another key you big cry baby!" The thing is, I have had this key on my person everyday since 1994. This key hasn't been left under a bass drum in bar as I hurried out. It hasn't been taken from me by the TSA. It hasn't been stolen by a student. These are amazing accomplishments for this little key.

So now I have 2 problems. The first is that I need a new key. I have a new key on my key ring right now but it  doesn't feel right in my pocket and frankly, I'm not sure it'll ever be able to replace this old Pearl key. I'm sure I'll figure something out. The second problem is trickier. If you've been reading this blog, you know that I am a fan of recycling. I like to recycle as much of my used drumming equipment as I can. I recycle because it helps the environment but as is the case with my drumsticks, I feel there is something spiritual about disposing of something that helped me create art. So, I'm not sure what to do with this key. I would like to recycle it but I believe the pot metal it is made of makes it hard to recycle where I live. If you have any suggestions, drop me a line and until I figure out something, I'm going to keep looking for a replacement.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Meinl Make-Your-Own Cajon Experiment

I have been cajon crazy lately. I recently bought a great cajon and have been using it on every gig I can. I thought it might be fun to build my own cajon. After combing the Internet for different examples, I found that there are hundreds of people making custom cajons. 

I decided the best course would be to buy a Meinl Make-Your-Own Cajon kit and see how these things work then later, build my own from scratch. Plus, the $50 price tag made this an affordable experiment. If I messed up, no big deal. I will do my best to describe each step of the building process so you'll get a sense of my experience. I know I should have taken more pictures of each step but to be honest, I forgot.  

The cajon kit arrived with everything you would need to build except for glue, sand paper, and a small number of tools. The instructions start with the basic construction of the box. Basically, you glue all of the supports to the inside of the shell and then glue the box together. This was really simple with the help of some C clamps and wood glue. The sides come notched so they fit together easily. Make sure you fit the sides together correctly before gluing. There are 2 ways that the sides will fit together and if you pick the wrong one, you're pretty much DOA. The instructions tell you to glue all of the pieces together and then use strap clamps to hold the box in place. Like so:



If I were to make another, I would not use the clamps. You really don't need them and they are hard to work with if you're building by yourself. Just pile some heavy stuff on top of the box and make sure it's square.  It should be fine. Let the glue dry for a day or 2 before going to the next step.



This is another view of the strap clamps. The more observant reader will notice tools and the front piece sitting on my congas. You should not use your congas as a table. I should know better and I am ashamed of this picture.  

Once the sides dry, you attach the snares and the other 2 sides. This isn't a big deal except that it does require some time. The front piece has 10 or so screws that have to be perfectly diagrammed and drilled into the front or your cajon will look bad if a screw is out of place. This takes some time, especially if you're not used to using the metric system (my hand raises) because all of the figures are metric. Aside from a metric ruler, you will also need a screw tap for this step so the screws will sink into the front piece and not stick out.  

Once you have finished putting all of the pieces together it is time to sand your box. Hilariously, the front and back piece that came with my cajon were slightly larger than the box shell. No problem except it meant a lot of extra sanding. I went mental and thought I could sand the box by hand, giving me something to do during commercials. Five minutes of hand sanding made me run to get my electric sander. Sanding this box takes forever if you want to get it right. You have to sand all of the sides smooth but also sand all of the corners round. All of that plus the incorrectly cut back and front pieces made for an all day sanding event. I should have a picture of this but...

I had so much time to think while sanding that I realized I don't need another cajon. I decided to finish this cajon as a gift for a friend. Christmas was about a week away so I had to make some quick decisions. I decided to finish the cajon with "child like" pictures of my friend and his family. I was going to create a cool design in black for the front but I decided this cajon should be fun and not so stuffy.  



Actually finishing this cajon took some thought.  I originally wanted to paint the box but quickly realized that the paint would run on the unfinished wood. I eventually used Prismacolor Watercolor pencils. They are expensive but were perfect for this project.  


















The pencils work like pencils but when dipped in water, they function like a paint brush. The mixture of the 2 options made the drawings look like a kid drew them with crayons. I finished the drawings with a paint marker to add outlines. Once the drawings dried, I clear coated the entire instrument. It took many coats of polyurethane to get a solid result. Each coat required light sanding which was difficult because of the drawings, but I made it work. The final step was to add the feet on the bottom, which once again called on knowledge of the metric system.

Overall, I had a blast making this instrument and it sounds great. I must admit that it's probably just as easy and cost effective to buy a cheaper cajon and paint something on the side. This project was about the journey. If you decide to make your own cajon, drop me a line and let me know how it went.

Monday, January 12, 2015

TreeWorks 6" Studio Grade Triangle

I had some time to kill a few days ago and found myself in a Guitar Center. If you follow this blog, you know I am not a huge fan of this company but every once in a while, they have some deals on instruments that are so weird that your average drummer wouldn't touch them. I was looking for that kind of deal and stumbled upon this TreeWorks 6" Studio triangle.

I believe that TreeWorks makes some of the finest mark trees in the business and I love that they are made in Nashville, TN. I have been looking for a triangle to keep in my percussion bag that would work in pop music situations and found this TreeWorks Studio triangle.  I didn't know TreeWorks made triangles so I was excited to check it out. I could not test the triangle in the store because it was wrapped in plastic and even if I could, I wouldn't be able to hear it over the 5 church drummers who were giving a recital on the electronic drum sets.  I figured for $25, I could take a chance and if it matched the quality of other TreeWorks instruments, this triangle would be a great investment.

I must say that this triangle did not live up to my expectations. The overall sound quality is ok.  It's not super bright and does not have the "ping," that you would hope a nice symphonic triangle would have. I don't think this triangle would be able to handle the demands of an orchestra but it should sound ok for the typical pop gig. On the upside, I found the woodblock triangle holder to be easier to hold than a typical triangle clip but of course, the block does not give you the option of clipping the triangle to a stand after you finish playing. My biggest complaint about the triangle is the unusual finish. The metal has been finished so that the surface texture is rough. This would be ok except the surface finish is so rough that the triangle kept catching on my shirt every time it got too close to my body. It was also very uncomfortable when I played it while holding the triangle in one hand without the clip.

Overall  this triangle is an alright instrument for the money, but I hope TreeWorks continues to develop this instrument in the future to make a better product.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015: Bringing in the New Year with a Bang

I always like to start the new year with a bang and this year is no exception. At my house, the stroke of midnight doesn't call for singing and kissing but for strikes on the gong.  I assure that my neighbors love it. Well...at least it gives them something to talk about.  I can only imagine their weird phone call to the cops.

Police:  How can we help you?
Neighbors:  Yes.  Well, my neighbor is banging a gong and it's really too late in the evening for that.
Police:  A what?
Neighbors:  A gong.  You know, like "open sesame," and then BOOM!  Huge clanging sound.
Police: Right.  Like the big gong thing in all those Kung Fu movies?
Neighbors:  Ah, sure.  Please come quick.  It's so loud and our baby is trying to sleep.
Police: We'll send out an officer.  

This year, I ended up with a new gong for my celebration.  This is a Sabian 26" Symphonic gong.  Technically it's a tam-tam.  A gong is tuned and this is not.  But, it says gong on the front so I'm calling it that.  This is a medium sized gong which has a quick, bright, explosive sound.  Ironically, I bought it from the police.  I found this plate online at a police auction and it was priced so low, I had to buy it.  I got this instrument for $80. I need to build a stand for it and find some better method to hang it instead of a shoe string.  


The beast pictured below is a little bit of a mystery.  I picked this gong up a few years ago and I'm not actually sure who made it.  I assume it is a Wuhan but it doesn't have their typical finish.  It has the finish of a Paiste gong but it may also be a Zildjian.  I don't know.  Either way, this is a 38" gong that roars like a beast.  

I have so many gongs of different sizes that I think I am going to build a bunch of stands and display them in a cool way in the house.  An art installment that makes noise.  

Until next time, get it on, bang a gong...



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Happy Holidays

I love being a percussionist at Christmas. There are more gigs to play during the holiday season and I always end up with the coolest percussion instruments.  This year was no exception.  Here is a sampling of the instruments I grabbed this holiday season.


This cowbell on a handle was in my stocking this year.  My parents thought I needed one and I agree.  I think it is supposed to be used for football games but I am going to use it in the pit to replicate an actual cow moving through the pasture.  


My brother hooked me up with a LP Finger Shot.  This little shaker attaches to your finger so you can have a shaker effect while playing hand drums.  I'm going to use this a ton.


I accompanied a choir during the holiday season and needed an organic shaker sound. I picked up this set of pod rattles from Steve Weiss and found they worked perfectly.  The price was so cheap that you really should pick up a set of these for your collection. I expect that they will have tons of uses.


I don't often trade for equipment however this Holiday season, I found myself in a unique situation.  I won't go into details but a friend needed a cymbal and offered up this new Grover Beryllium copper Tambourine in trade. I can always use a high quality tambourine so I made a trade. The tambourine sounds great.


Also included in the trade was the following pair of LP rawhide Maracas.  They sound amazing!  If you need a set of maracas, you have to pick up a set of these maracas.  They are very dry and have a great feel.


In preparation for an upcoming concert, I had to pick up a LP metal vibraslap.  I like the wooden ones better but the composition calls for this one. Either way., it's another sound in the arsenal.  


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Matt Cameron and Concert Etiquette

Last night, I had the opportunity to see Pearl Jam.  Pearl Jam is one of those bands from my youth that I never had the chance to see. I was excited to watch the show but mostly, I was excited to see the great Matt Cameron.  

Matt's work with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog is already legendary and I knew he was a solid drummer. What I learned last night while watching him in person is that he might very well be the best rock drummer working today.  


It only took seconds for me to realize that Matt has a command of the kit that is rarely seen these days. His playing was understated, musical and perfect for each song. You get the sense that as a drummer, you're capable of playing everything he plays, but that if anyone were to try to replace Matt, the music would simply fall apart. Simply put, his playing is perfect.


I always hate seeing concerts in arenas because the drums typically sound so bad.  Matt's drums sounded amazing. They were perfectly tuned and mixed so that they never sounded thuddy or distorted.  Furthermore, his bass drum was mixed at the proper level so that it didn't overpower the kit and it was tuned in such a way that it sounded like a bass drum and not like a click.  


If you haven't had a chance to see Mat Cameron live, I suggest you do.  He's amazing and you will not be disappointed.  


__________________________________________



I really did enjoy myself at the Pearl Jam concert but I do have a few complaints I would like to address. I understand that I am getting old. I also understand that my view of live musical performance as a magical experience is not shared by everyone. Keep that in mind as you read my following rant.  


The Pearl Jam concert was at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN. The Forum is a cave. The Memphis Grizzlies play in this arena so you can imagine the size and acoustical properties of the place.  I believe there may have been 8 seats in the building that were worse than the ones I had.  My tickets cost $88. I was excited to see the show even though I had expensive "cheap" seats.  My gripe is that it appeared no one else around me wanted to see the show.  


From where I was sitting, I could see about 20 people in the surrounding rows without having to stand up or do any kind of weird straining. All of them, and I mean all of them, were recording the show on their cell phone.  We were so far from the stage and the sound quality in a place like that is so poor, I can't imagine what they expected to take home. And why take it home?  I have been to a large number of concerts and if you asked me to describe any of them, I bet I could do so in great detail. I don't need a recording of the concert, I was there!


The cell phone thing has got to calm down a little. The lady behind me had her cell phone flashlight on the entire concert. It was so bright, I thought the band had added lights in my section until turning around to discover it was just some stupid lady. The guy who sat in front of me spent the entire concert writing his dissertation which he must have been sending to his advisor via text messaging.  This guy was writing full screen texts and shipping them to someone. He never looked away from the screen during the entire show.  His neighbor spent the entire concert playing a game on his phone.  I know I shouldn't be bothered by such things but it is hard to concentrate on the music while there are so many blinding blue screens in my face.  I recently saw Weezer and the guy in front of me recorded the entire concert on his ipad.  It wasn't a big deal except he held the thing up right in my view so instead of seeing the band from the fourth row, I saw a tiny picture of the band that was directly in front of me.  


I couldn't believe how many people left their seats during the show. I spent $88 on this concert and I wanted to make sure I saw everything. The guy next to me left to get beer 12 times during the concert. 12!  Why come to a concert if you are going to spend all of it in the beer line?  Stay home and buy yourself a 6-pack.  


Do I sound like a crazy old man?  I probably am. I just wanted to see a good show and felt like my neighbors ruined it a little. Leave your cell phones at home people and learn to live in the moment you paid so much money to enjoy.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Schlagwerk 2 in One Large Snare Cajon

I have wanted a cajon for some time but I have always been wary of actually owning one. There seems to be a stigma surrounding the instrument.  I think some people see the cajon and immediately think that the person playing it picked the instrument because they're not good enough to play anything else. You and I know that's not true, but I believe that prejudice still exists. Anyway, I finally talked myself into buying one for an upcoming gig.  I found selecting the right one was more difficult than I imagined.  I am lucky to know people who own different makes and models so I have tried several different types of cajons in person.  This allowed me a better educated guess about which cajon to buy than most people get. I spent several hours last week trying to find the perfect cajon and here are a couple of truths I discovered:

1.  The cajon is a box of wood.  For the most part, all of them sound basically the same.  Some have more snare buzz and others have more bass, but basically, they all sound like a buzzy box of wood.

2.  It doesn't matter how many videos you watch, the cajon you pick will not sound like the video.

3.  Just like with cars, a pretty girl sitting on top of a cajon, sells products.  Listen with your ears, not your eyes.  

4.  Try as many instruments as you can in person.  

5.  Did I mention that these things are basically a wooden box with cut up snares in them?  Seriously, this shouldn't be in the same difficultly level as selecting a ride cymbal.    

6.  Apparently, only Germans know how to construct the Peruvian cajon because 9 out of 10 cajons seem to be built in Germany. 

7.  You buy an oboe, you get a case.  You buy a cajon, it's an extra $75 for a case.  


I finally decided after much deliberation that the Schlagwerk 2 in One Large Snare Cajon was the best choice for me.  Let me first say that out of the box, the instrument was choice.  The industrial look of the playing surface is very cool and the unfinished look of the entire box adds to the overall aesthetic of the cajon.  Of course, looks are not important.  The sound of this cajon is so much more than I could have ever asked.  The bass sound is huge and has very little snare rattle.  The snares seem to have the perfect mix of snap and buzz.  The slap sound you can get near the top of the cajon has a bright woody quality that is really different from the rest of the instrument.  Thus far, I have discovered 3 distinct snare sounds, 2 bass sounds and several slap sounds.  This instrument is simply the best cajon I have played.



One big plus with this cajon is that you can turn off the snares if you want.  I would like to have a cajon where this adjustment is quick turn of a knob.  However, all of the cajons I looked at that had a quick snare disengagement also seemed to have a mechanical flaw that was directly related to the snare adjustment.   The snare on this model has to be adjusted by hand through the hole in the back of the cajon.  It is a very practical, sturdy design (Germans) but not necessarily a quick one.  I like the addition of two small sleigh bells.  I have no idea what they add as you cannot really hear them, but I feel like they have a purpose I haven't discovered yet. 


I couldn't be happier with this cajon.  I know many of you are searching for the perfect instrument. I don't have a lot of good advice aside for trying a lot of boxes and picking the one that is right for you.  During your search, make sure you check out the Schlagwerk cajons.  Good luck.