Inspiration from a Gentleman

Duncan Moore, Lecturer and BArry, Student at Athlone IT with Drumming Legend Ralp Rolle
Duncan Moore, Lecturer and Barry, Student at Athlone IT with Drumming Legend Ralph Rolle

                                            

I was invited along to a talk yesterday, given by a man I’d never heard of, but had heard many times in my life, without knowing it. Ralph Rolle, drummer with the band Chic came to Athlone Institute of technology, to give a talk to my brother in law’s students, who are studying instrument making and other aspects of the music business such as sound engineering.

The reason I am writing about it today, is that I woke this morning still thinking about the talk Ralph Rolle had given and the completely calm, level and gracious person he appeared to be during the afternoon visit.

It’s quite possible he liked it that way, but I don’t think any of the young students listening to Ralph yesterday, considered him “famous”. I can say this with confidence because not one looked for a selfy with him or looked for his autograph. This was intriguing to me because Ralph Rolle has a resume like no one I have met. Apart from playing with the band Chic, an iconic group of the funk era, he has toured and played on sessions with everyone from Paul Simon to Prince to Sting. What I found intriguing is that the generation of young people sitting in front of me in the small lecture theatre yesterday, seemed not to measure fame by achievement, ability or experience. They are of the generation that looks at fame as something separate from achievement. They see fame and recognition as something that can be obtained without accomplishing or creating anything. They see “famous” people all the time on TV, who are, as the old saying goes, ‘famous for being famous’.

Fitting then, that the talk Ralph gave, concerned itself with the themes of, Hard Work, Perseverance, Diligence and a humble attitude when comporting oneself in the world of work. He spoke about a need to put yourself forward, to do the lowliest work, (as he had done), for little or no financial reward, at the beginning of your career. This pays off in the long run, because it shows real dedication and interest and it lets you mingle in the environment you want to work in. This attitude is important in all careers, not just in the environment of the recording studio.

The reason that Ralp Rolle isn’t ‘famous’ in the celebrity sense of the word, is that I don’t get the impression he would think much about that kind of renown. I hope that rubbed off on the students a bit yesterday, because they live in a world of great privilege; a world of instant access to information on any subject you could think of, instant communication, from wherever you are, to any number of people simultaneously, and sadly a growing sense of entitlement, to anything desired because of that instant world.

You have to work hard for what you really want, if it’s something worth achieving. You cant allow words like “can’t” into your vocabulary. If you want to be a good musician, you gotta put in the practice, hours and hours of it. If you want to be a sound engineer, you gotta put in the hours, you gotta sweep the floor, before you pan the tracks!

Luckily in life, we sometimes get to encounter people who show us a model of how we can behave as professionals and the attitude we can adopt toward the people around us, on a human level. Ralph certainly gave a great example of who we can aspire to be in our dealing with others, in business or otherwise.

As a footnote, I should mention that I contacted my daughter, Aoife, who is studying in Tokyo at the moment, telling her to check and see if Ralph’s cookie store still exists in there. It is mentioned in the YouTube video I have linked below. After watching the video, Aoife texted me back saying of Ralph Rolles, “What a Geezer”.  Indeed, What a Geezer.

Final Harp Guitar Video

So here is the last video for this project. It’s been fun, so I am planning new builds already. However, I am missing playing every night, like I normally do. Also, I need to tke some time to work out a good technique for playing this thing!

Guitar Build Day 04

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It’s a bit disingenuous of me to title this day four……it’s been many more days. This is just the fourth blog, but that’s close enough to the truth for modern communication!!

In the last couple of weeks I have been finishing the neck and body; Shaping the neck and routing out the spaces for the new pickups and extra electronics. I did everything by hand, (see pics below) as I was afraid of doing damage with my cheapo electric router.

Making a decision on how to control the new pickups led me to seek advice online. I had originally planned to wire the two new, JBE pickups in series and attach the hot lead to one of the control points on the kit guitar switcher. I was then advised by some enthusiastic and friendly fellow “guitarists of G+” members, that I should wire in parallel, and perhaps add a toggle switch to isolate the new pickups from the rest of the circuitry.

So with that decision made, I was able to concentrate on painting the neck and work out how I would bolt the whole thing together.

As far as bolting on the new neck went, I decided to go for roofing screws as they come with nice wide, rubberised. washers, that I countersunk to keep them flush with the back of the body.

The only big disaster was with the through body string arrangement. I had some nuts I was using as string fasteners. I damaged the wood on back of the bady countersinking one, so I decided to rout the whole line out and in my haste used my aformentioned, cheapo  router….and guess what I gouged out even more splinters!! I broke my golden “Hand Tools Only” rule.  This will be tidied up in the coming days.

The painting didn’t go so well. I went for an obnoxious orange, but was sensible enough to try it out on the head stock first. This caution paid off as I discovered that spray painting a guitar from cans, by hand is a disaster. My attempt to remove some of the paint actually turned out quite well. Leaving a cool effect of the grain being stained orange, which I think is quite effective. The back of the neck was then given several coats of a clear, satin varnish and the body was treated with Dutch Oil polish. I felt the wood looked classy enough in the body not to require staining…….especially as I have discovered what a pain in the ass spay painting is.

You can see here the final construction, although I will make a video now to talk through my thoughts and discoveries about tuning options, how the guitar sounds plugged in ,(REALLY LOUD!)  and electrical issues.

A really satisfying first build and a solid foundation for a new project that I will build from scratch, not relying on any pre-built parts.

Guitar Build Day 03

At this stage I am looking beyond the body and neck shaping and thinking about the placement of the pickups and where I want to place any extra control knobs for the additional pickups. I have bought two JBE pickups. They are a good make, so will hopefully do the job.

I have started to wonder if I might not be better off integrating the new pickups into the wiring of the original three pickups on the ‘Kit’ section of the guitar. It will make for a tidier body and I could just use one of the toggle control positions as the ‘On’ position for the new ‘Harp’ section pickups. The next video and post will be all about electrical schematics and wiring options for the build…..once I’ve done some research on it!

Here are some pictures of the neck taking shape. In the first picture you can see the dowels I used to make a stronger joint between the neck and the head-stock. The second two are pictures illustrating the contouring I achieved on the neck, using hand planes and spoke shaves…..and good old sanding.

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And here is a video of the latest stage of the project.

Guitar Body. Laminating and shaping

So here are the latest pictures of the work in progress. Some compromises and changes have been made to the original design. I have started shaping the neck and hope to cut the head stock tomorrow.

Because I chose the ‘Strat’ style body from the kit company, I have given myself some extra shaping problems. The Stratocaster is a very contoured body, so when I sliced off the top to add the extra width for the twelve string neck, I needed to contour the new section of wood into the original body shape. This presented some challenge but I think its turned out well. As you can see from the pictures it is not the first design I conceived for this guitar. In the video below, you can see the original design concept and how it was going to make the instrument too top heavy. I have decided to go for the ‘two neck’ style, a’ la Jimmy Page and many others. My second neck is moving towards the harp theme. The strings are mainly there to be played open. I envisage an open chord/arpeggio being played on the twelve string harp section, which I will ‘loop’ and then play over, on the normal guitar neck.

The last image is a a look at some of the contouring I had to do on the back of the body. The next step is the neck. The joining of the head stock to the neck will be an interesting challenge to my wood working abilities!

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Guitar Project DAY01

So here is the notional design I have decided on for the “harp/guitar” self build project. It will be constructed on the kit body (on right). This is not to scale but once the kit guitar body arrives I can make measurements and start cutting the wood for the “Harp” section that I am adding. I think I will go for lamination of the two sections using dowels. I had thought I might join the wood together with splines in the shape of music notation, but I want to stain the wood then clear varnish it, so I think splines would distract from the final design, (and they would be difficult and I might feck it up!).

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I would never try to build an acoustic instrument, as I have no pretensions of being a Luthier. I bought the cheep kit guitar so that I would have a ready made neck, because while I could build an electric guitar body shaping a neck would be beyond my woodworking abilities!

I have these pickups to put into the “Harp” section, (it will be twelve strings, so a blog about tuning decisions will pop up in the near future). I cant decide weather to wire these pickups into the existing jack on the kit guitar I am buying, or have a separate jack for the “harp” section, so that if the sound is really poor, I can at least route it to the ADC  and use the computer to ‘enhance’ the sounds I get. A MIDI interface for the “harp” section is also an appealing Idea.

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Any opinions….let me Know.

I built this Harp last year, for a performance called, “Shape Shifter”. It was a bit of a bodge job because the wood was of poor quality, and I didn’t really consider the tuning in any deep way. It worked great, but hasn’t lasted the test of time. The plus side is that I have twelve machine heads for this new project!

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The project is inspired by this kind of instrument.

New Ibanez on its way

Just bought this guitar. Should arrive to me shortly. Some musicians have told me I’m crazy buying a guitar online. “How do you know if you’ll really like the weight and balance, the tone, the feel of the neck?…..” Well, I wouldn’t buy a guitar I hadn’t played. I have played this exact model and I loved it. Yes, all guitars will be different, but after 30 years playing I can say with utter certainty that you never know an instrument immediately. They all have to grow on you, you have to , “grow into” them, over time. Just because you played a guitar in a shop for twenty minutes, doesn’t mean you have any more insight into the instrument than buying online. You have to take it home. What I’m saying is that all instrument purchases are a shot in the dark.

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This is a mid price range model for an Ibanez. My other pet hate is the concept that if a guitar costs 5000 euro, or dollars, that you will play better, or it will sound better than one half the price. Guitar prices are a bit like wine prices. You can by a 50 euro/dollar bottle of wine…but it won’t taste 40 euros better than a 10 euro wine. A good deal of the extra costs in these things is snobbery. This guitar has beautiful wood, a respected name, top of the range pickups, expensive metalwork in the bridge and machine heads, so its materials are top of the range. It just doesn’t have a famous guitarists name stuck to it, and it isn’t a “vintage” remake/copy/classic. Which are the things you pay all the extra money for.

I’ll blog a bit about how I get on with it. It is being purchased for a new business and performance venture, (details to follow).

The other purchases were a DeMarzio pickup for my old Artcore, Ibanez semi Acoustic. I wanted a warmer and more powerful, fuller tone n the neck pickup, so I will be blogging about fitting that to my other main guitar.

And finally………I have purchesed a kit guitar for sixy euro. The plan is to use this basic set to build a custom guitar, which will include an extra twelve string harp/drone/zither thing section for freaky looping accompaniment to the six string bit. Designs and initial project plans in next post.

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Compositions

I have been furiously writing music all this month, some conventional, others pieces …not so conventional.    Here are a couple of examples of a more freestyle approach I have been taking.  Click the images to see a pdf.

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This first one is entitled “Celebration fanfare to the Quick death of Computer Music (for assorted Brass and Percussion).”

Only an imaginative human mind could interpret this with any cohesion. I was thinking of all those guys like Xanakis and Schaeffer, and I was reaching for something that might punch them, and their cul de sac, music theories  in the face. Excuse the aggression….but I wasted a good deal of time studying those twits.

The second one (below), I note also hopes for a “Slow painful death for music theorists.” My god this anger and aggression is shocking me…but its how I feel. This is also a percussion piece, and perhaps, watching the video below might explain where I was coming from in terms of music theory, although the piece is an analysis of theories in rhythm…..and how they don’t really make any sense. Especially the idea that music is somehow just mathematics.

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