Monday, January 19, 2015

Trombone: One Year Later


It has been a little over a year since I started learning how to play the trombone, and although fun, the learning curve has been steeper than anticipated.  Since I played trumpet in high school, I thought mastering this low-brass instrument would involve little more than learning slide positions.  Wrong!  After trying to play a Sousa March, I found that I had forgotten some of the musical nomenclature.


Plus, what little embouchure I had for the trumpet did not map over to the trombone’s bigger mouthpiece.  But I stuck with it, and between learning the rudiments from Rubank’s Elementary Method for Trombone, and re-learning to sight read by playing hymns, progress was steadily made.



After a couple months of practice proved to me this was not a passing fancy, an extra-tall, band-room quality music stand was purchased for the effort.  That was money well spent as it simultaneously made keeping up with several music books easier and cleaned up the look of my practice room.

By the end of the year, between birthday & Christmas gifts, two other stands and several more music books were added to the effort.


Although the free tuning fork software provided by the Internet was perfect for matching slide positions with the correct audio frequencies, everyone’s metronome software didn’t click with me for various reasons.  I tried going without a beat reference but after a while, the timing of most of my musical selections seemed to be corresponding to some variation of the room’s cuckoo clock beat period.


Acting on the premise that a mechanical metronome might appeal to my “do it the hard way” nature, we got Amazon Prime to send me a wind-up version.


The metronome is on the left.  Rebellion is an outstanding locally brewed red ale.  Not a good practice beer, though, because it’s high alcohol content makes the slide move a bit too freely; better to stick with Natty Lite if I ever plan to get good at triple-tonguing fast passages of music.

I occasionally share my trombone adventure with friends, and the ones with musical backgrounds often ask if I am taking private lessons.  Although “no” is the short answer, YouTube has been a wonderful resource for this effort.  JohnWright1964.com in particular has many helpful videos available for anyone wanting to learn a band instrument.  The musician at ClassicalTrombone.com is nothing but amazing with both his virtuosity, and ability to adapt the trombone to pop music.

After a year’s worth of near daily effort, I have finished my Rubank’s book, and have practiced 450 hymns at least one time each.


At this point, I would rank me as either a first-chair Junior High School trombonist or third-chair High School.  So there is no worry about me giving up my day job.

But if I am ever able to keep up with Christopher Bill on pop, Harry Watters on jazz or Bob McChesney on anything, I would think strongly about a second career!


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Making Lemonade From Maple


This year at my in-law’s Thanksgiving dinner Kim’s mom asked me to make her another wide cutting board because the size of the last one I custom-made for her was handy for keeping hot stuff from damaging her countertop.

So a few weeks ago, a maple, rough-cut board that appeared to fit the material list was dug out the wood crib.


The 1-inch thick board was then cut into three pieces which were then planed to remove most of the roughness, then edge jointed for flat glue surfaces.



Just as I have done countless times in the past, the boards were then bonded with polyurethane glue, clamped, weighted, and left alone overnight.


The next day, the glue-up was ripped to size, and repeatedly run through the planer with the intent of producing an end-product with a thickness of no less than ¾-inch.


But it eventually became evident that I had screwed up the boards’ arrangement at glue-up because at 11/16-inch thickness the project was still not flat.


So the uncompleted effort was tossed back into the wood crib before commencing round two with a different board.


After paying attention this time, I was rewarded with an end product which turned out like I wanted.  Plus, Kim’s mom was thrilled with it.


The story would have ended there if my youngest son had not asked me to fix the keyboard tray attached to his computer desk a few days later.  One look told me the repair would not just be a simple adjustment.


Repairing the stripped out screw holes looked like a problem until I remembered the failed cutting board blank.  Bingo!  It had the perfect starting size.


It finished out well in very little time.  I skipped applying a protective finish because no one cared about one nor did they want to wait out the drying time.


Everyone was pleased with the final product.


Waste not, want not!


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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

YouTube On A Dumb TV


I get a lot of enjoyment listening to many of the musicians on YouTube and iTunes.  But after burning CDs and queuing playlists on the iPod to play on the den stereo started getting old I decided to run an audio line under the house to connect the computer directly to the stereo.  The convenience was great; wish I had done it sooner.

But after a week or so I decided it would also be neat to watch what was happening on the den’s TV while listening to it on the room’s big speakers.  While Smart TVs are all the current rage, the boob tube in the den ain’t that bright due to age.  For a variety of reason$ I decided to run new wires to it instead of replacing it with something that can spell WIFI.

After looking at the computer’s outputs and the TV’s available inputs I was pleased to see that the purchase of an HDMI cable would interconnect the two and provide both video and audio to the TV.  Amazon offered one of appropriate length for an insanely low price, and delivered it for free two days later.

Although there was no reason the setup should not work, the cable was run down the hall first for a GO/NO-GO check.


Immediate success on the video portion.  The audio took a few mouse clicks on the computer to get it going.


Usually, when wiring a room for either power or signal, I run wire off of a spool and crimp/solder it to the wall plate’s connectors.  HDMI cable, with its 19 individual signal wires, is only commonly available with the ends already installed.  The wall plate has a short pigtail in which the end is installed.


Fortunately, the connector was slightly smaller than the wiring drill I already owned.


The problem with adding individual capabilities over time to a room is that one can end up with a lot of wall plates.


The computer room’s wall is not as bad since many functions are doubled-up.
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Between not wanting to cut another hole in the sheetrock nor purchase some rather expensive, specialty wall plates, I decided to run the HDMI wire out of a hole drilled in an existing wall plate directly to the TV or computer.  Although no major issues are expected, the specialty wall plates can be easily added later.

The new setup worked out even better than anticipated… until a new issue was noticed: Now that a computer was nowhere near, I never realized how often my mouse had handled the “Click here to skip advertisement” button.  It was annoying to pause dinner preps to trudge down the hall to do nothing more than click a button.  Remote control of the computer was needed.

Once again Amazon rose to the challenge, and offered a wireless keyboard & mouse combo for a reasonable amount of money.  The immediate problem with using the hardware was that there were communication-blocking walls between the computer where the hardware’s USB transponder would be plugged in, and where the mouse & keyboard would be used.  The transponder would need to be moved to be within visual range of the hardware.

To complicate the issue, the length of USB extension cord necessary to extend the transponder exceeded the magic number of five meters (~16 feet).  A USB repeater would be required to span the required distance.  Once again, though, Amazon had one available with a reasonable price tag.


This time the new wire was run to come out on the wall which services my cordless headphones.  This will ensure the mouse and keyboard can be operated from the kitchen as well as the den.


The transponder, mounted in an old D-Link WIFI dongle holder, is quite unobtrusive.


The latest new wiring has been in place for a week now, and I haven’t found anything else to add or change.  Time to kick back in the La-Z-Boy® and enjoy!






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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Trombone Bumper Felt Replacement


Even though I have not been at the trombone for a year yet, thanks to a yard sale another trombone, a Cleveland 605, now graces my bass clef instrument collection.


Although the slide is worn, the horn is still playable.  The instrument caught my eye because the mouthpiece it came with, a Bach 7, was recommended by some on the Internet, and I was interested in trying it out.  Since the total cost of the trombone/case/mouthpiece was less than the cost of a new Bach 7 shipped from Amazon.com I now have a backup beginner trombone.


The instrument did have two significant issues, though – the slide lock spun freely instead of latching at its stop, and the slide clanked when slid to first position.  Fortunately, both issues were due to the lack of dampening material between the inner & outer slides.

After thoroughly cleaning the ~39 year-old instrument, I scrounged around in my shop and found an O-ring which appeared to be the perfect thickness for the task.  After slipping it down into the deep recess of where it was needed, the slide quit clanking.  But the slide lock now would not lock at all.  The O-ring had apparently hung on something (probably a bumper remnant) before hitting dead bottom, and the resultant gap made the effective O-ring thickness too great.

After picking through my toolbox yielded no mechanical means long enough to get down to the O-ring to remove it, I decided to dissolve it with chemicals.  Sadly, while just about anything will dissolve a rubber O-ring, no commonly available chemical appeared able to dissolve the neoprene version I installed.  A special tool was going to be needed.

I thought about taking the slide to a brass instrument repair shop until Mr. Google advised me $75 was the going Hourly Shop Rate.  Taking that route would have more than doubled my investment in the instrument.

Fortunately, Ferree’s Tools out of Battle Creek MI sells the tool I needed for a reasonable cost.  Since my other trombone’s bumper material is close to being worn out, I ordered the tool.  I wanted to buy new bumper cork from them, but they only sold it bulk packages for more than I wanted to spend.  Although eBay had a couple of vendors selling the needed parts, in what was no surprise shipping & handling was more than the parts themselves.  Perhaps it was time to check locally.

So, I went back to the local music shop who originally sold me a learn-to-play-the-trombone book.  Although their back room had lots of brass instrument repair tools strewn about, I could tell their technician leaned more towards woodwind repair, and although I watched him scour the shop in earnest there were no bumpers to be found.  Nice guy, though – I would definitely keep him in mind should I ever need a woodwind repair.

The next stop was a place that did nothing but band instrument repair.  Unfortunately, the lady who greeted me when I walked in only did the books, and advised me to come back when the man who did the actual repairs returned from a service call.

Mr. Google advised me there was another music shop on the other side of town who also advertised instrument repair.  Since it was a nice day out I decided to drive over with the resolution of getting the bumpers from eBay if this place did not work out.

The lady who greeted me when I walked in had no idea of what a trombone bumper cork was, and walked me over to an older gentleman in the front office & presented my request.

“Got no cork.  Only felt” he said kinda gruffly while appearing to decide if I looked capable of effecting the repair.

“Felt would be great!” I replied.  “Because the trombone has neither right now.”

“Do you have the right tool for the job?  Any trace of the old bumper will keep the new one from working right.”

“Yes sir, I do.”  I figured there was no reason to explain why I had already found that out.

After a brief trip to the back, he returned with the four felts I requested (two for each of my trombones).  As he was ringing the sale up, he both asked again if I had the right tool, and reaffirmed the importance of removing all traces of the old bumper.  “Yes sir, I bought it from Ferree’s.”

“Ferree’s Tool & Die?”

He appeared to be simultaneously pleased and relieved at my choice of tool.

“You’ve got the right tool.”

Two dollars later I was on my way home.


The funny thing was that even though I had probably the only tool capable of getting the O-ring out, I thought it was going to be a huge challenge, and the O-ring was going to come out in small pieces.  Nope – even as tight as it originally fit, the O-ring was removed intact in under a minute.  Cleaning all of what remained of the original green felts ended up being the time hog.


It took well over an hour using a combination of WD-40 and the special tool before I was satisfied that all traces of the old felts were gone.


But my reward for the time spent was to have a slide that now latched correctly, and not clank when sliding into first position too fast.


With the slide now behaving more like it is supposed to, I practiced with the trombone for a couple of sessions.  I like my Olds Ambassador better because the slide is lighter, and the spit valve spring does not require the pinch of death to actuate.  The jury is still out on the mouthpiece, though.  Perhaps one day I will get some trombone lessons, and find out why it was different than I was expecting.

Hopefully, the next trombone I see in a yard sale will have an F attachment – some people on the Internet think they’re pretty neat…


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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Carrying A Weber Grill Without A Suburban


As much as I did not want to, I sold my 1984 Suburban last year because it got too expensive to operate.  As an Airstream hauler, the truck was great because the back would hold everything we wanted plus the kitchen sink.  My full-size Weber grill fit especially well.


The post-Burb plan was to tow with my Silverado for camping trips needing the grill, and Kim’s Yukon the rest of the time.  The plan almost worked until my oldest son grew too tall to fit comfortably fit in the pickup’s extended cab for long trips.

So we bought the smaller Smokey Joe and tried it out for a few trips.


For its size, it does a really good job, and would be perfect for two people.  But for our family of four and/or cooking for others, the big Weber is the grill I would rather have at the campsite.

Since it was not going to be carried in the Yukon, the goal was to figure out to safely carry it in my Airstream  The best area appeared to be forward where the fold-out table is.


A small cabinet to the table’s left is securely screwed to the wall, and appeared to be strong enough help with keeping the grill from rolling around.

A carrying fixture was constructed from various wood cut-offs to bolt to the side of the wine cabinet with one, 7/16-inch fastener.


The wheels are constrained from rolling with moulding strips while a simple keeper on a grooved block of cherry keeps the grill on the fixture.  A long cherry board mounted to the side dissipates the stress of panic stops.


While it is easily removable, the fixture is not that obtrusive.  We actually left in place on a layover stop while en route to Disney earlier this year since the table easily folds out over it.

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The carrier ended up being so stable we ended up bungee-cording a couple of bicycles to the grill on the way back from our last trip.


In addition to working out much better than I initially hoped for, the simple fixture makes not having the Mighty Burb anymore easier to live with.


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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Making My Own “Forties On 4”


Of all the time periods, music of the 1940’s is my overall favorite.  Out-of-town road trips in my wife’s Yukon were always fun because I had the chance to listen to XM radio’s forties’ music on channel four after Disney Radio had looped through too many times for everyone’s comfort.  Sadly, the channel went away, and after XM increased their price for the remaining channels, the subscription was dropped.

Having the satellite radio channel to listen to meant I could keep ignoring roughly 200, 45rpm records from the forties I had mastered on five reels of the wrong kind of tape back in 1997.  In a nutshell, the 45’s needed to be transferred to cassette tape for someone else, and I decided to dub to reel-to-reel first because the deck is easier to start & stop recording than my cassette deck.  A while earlier someone else had given me a small stack of brand-new, Ampex reel-to-reel recording tape, and I thought this highly regarded brand would be great for the task.

After the completed recordings came out sounding tinny, research revealed that the Ampex tape required a different level of recording bias than my machine normally produced.  Although post-processing could have resolved the issue, the cassette end-user, since none of this cost him anything, was okay with adjusting his stereo’s tone controls at playback.  Plus, I didn’t have any post-processing equipment then like I did in high school.  Way back then, I had a stereophonic, 10-band graphic equalizer from DAK which was bought to compensate for my system’s low-fidelity speakers.  That device would have easily corrected all traces of the original issue.  But the need for that piece of hardware evaporated after I got my Polk Audio SDA1 speakers, and the equalizer was given to someone who needed it.

If nothing else, 2014 will go down as “the year of the $1 yard sale finds” because a few weeks ago, a dollar bill was traded for a seven-band equalizer which only needed a power cord.


The next step was to experimentally determine the best settings.  For this phase, the equalizer was hooked up to the output of the tape deck, and a song from the turntable was recorded on the same lot of Ampex tape as the original effort.  The tape was then rewound, and the stylus placed back at the start of the record so both were playing at the same time.  Alternating between the two sources, the equalizer slides were then adjusted until the two streams sounded the same.  Daniel’s young ears were a big help here.


I thought it was a great exercise for Daniel in that he got to see what used to be involved in playing music back before iTunes & YouTube.

After calibration, it was supposed to be a simple task of playing the tapes into the computer.


But after the first tape, the sound was off in a new way.  It was muffled & dragging.  Although the tapes appeared to be in good shape, the effects of time had not totally escaped them because the deck’s heads & drive paths were gumming up with tape particles as the tape passed over.  Luckily cleaning the deck with denatured alcohol & Q-tips after each side of each tape was digitized solved that problem.


A new issue with my old deck popped up, and it is doubtful there are any new parts available to fix it.  The pinch roller is worn down, hard, and has lost its grip.  They used to make a potion with a potent smell that could be swabbed on which would restore grip for a while.  But I haven’t seen that stuff since the Carter administration.  Since I only had five tapes to do, fulcrumming a screwdriver weighted with solder provided enough extra force on the pinch roller to keep the songs playing back in the key in which they were recorded.


After the kinks were worked out, the digitizing software was set to stop recording a minute or so after the tape ran out.  This way, I could go off & do something else without listening to the music because the listening came when each song was split from the big .wav file.  In the image below, each colored block denotes a single song.


Different software was used to burn CDs with title/performer information added as CD text.  This info makes the radio in our new Chevy look just like XM radio when one of the new CDs is playing.

It is my understanding that public outcry forced XM radio to reconsider, and bring back the forties channel.  While that’s great, I am in no rush to sign back up.  At least, not until I get tired of listening to the nine hours of music I just finished producing.


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