Two Wheels - Six Strings

Random news and thoughts about various two-wheeled projects and music, especially my band, Skull Full Of Blues.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Horse Trading at Guitar Center

Yesterday, I stopped by my local Guitar Center to grab some strings. While I was there, of course, I had to wander around and see what all had come in since my last visit. As I walked around, I saw this:

It's a Monoprice 15 Watt tube amp. These sell for a couple of hundred bucks, new, and sometimes less. This one was priced, accordingly, as a used unit. So, I wanted to check it out and see how it sounded. I had read about these, a while back, and had considered ordering one, but I didn't want to take a $200 gamble without hearing it, first.

So, I looked over at the used guitars display, and I spotted a Burnt Orange Les Paul Special. That's a guitar with which I am very familiar, tone-wise, so I grabbed it to see how the amp sounded.

They sounded so good, I had the sales guy put them aside for me, and went home. There, I reverted my Explorer to stock (reinstalled the stock neck pickup, removed the Bigsby) and loaded it and my SG into the van and went back to GC.

After the deal was done, I had the amp, the Les Paul in a hard case and a few hundred dollars in my pocket.

The picture doesn't quite get the Burnt Orange color, but it's close.

This one is a bit better, on the color.

This is a 2004 model. Cooper, my black, highly modified version, was built in 2003. I think I will leave this one in stock trim, for awhile. I think I might even leave the pickguard on, even though I'm not a huge fan of LP pickguards. 

I won't say that it will stay stock, forever, though...

One of the reasons I decided that I had to have this guitar was that, while I was testing out the amp, I ended up writing a song. Some guitars just do that to me. When I find one, I want to make it mine.

The Explorer was not getting used. I think that the Flying V and my Korean Moderne copy fill that "flashy guitar" niche well enough that the Explorer was just redundant. The SG, while a terrific guitar, had actual cobwebs on it, because it had been so long since I even pulled it off of the wall. Hopefully, the two of them can now go to good homes and get played on a regular basis!

It was nice to make my trades for the guitar and amp. I really don't have a lot of cash to spend on instruments, right now, and I have too many guitars hanging around (the dust and cobwebs on the two I traded in are testament to that). Trading two for one resulted in a net reduction of one guitar.


Saturday, August 25, 2018

My $89.00 Huffy Is Coming Along

A couple of weeks ago, I finally gave up on trying to find a beater cruiser in one of the local pawn shops, and just ordered a new one from I wanted a beater to lock up outside at my house, so that I could just jump on and ride down to Ace Hardware, or wherever, without having to pull down a bike from the rafters of the shop building. And I wanted something that would be a little less of a financial hit if someone steals it than one of my nicer beater bikes would be.

The Huffy Cranbrook, in refrigerator white, was $89.00, with free shipping. I ordered it on Tuesday, and it was in my front yard at 1:00 PM on Thursday.

I unboxed it, and slapped it together in about 45 minutes. It could have been a quicker build, but I spent some time trying to find a stem and handlebar in my shop that I liked better than the cruiser bar the bike came with.

This is what I ended up with, on the initial build:

The stem and bars are from a 700c studded tire fixed gear bike I built up a few years ago. I has hung in the shop, slowly shedding parts, since I built up a 26" studded tire fixed that I like much better in the snow. The basket is from my Western Flyer that I had as a kid, and was purchased at Western Autoin 1971!

After I snapped that picture, I installed a layback bmx seat post, and used a quill stem shim to size it to the frame.

I rode it around, and actually used it on a run to get some spray paint, last weekend. It occurred to me that, with the layback seat post, I thought an upright bar would work a bit better. But, I didn't want to just flip the bar that was on it, because the Dirt-Drop style stem would set the bar too high to suit me.

So, I dug around in the shop, but I didn't find anything that suited. Then, I looked over at my old Columbia tandem, leaning against the house, and spied the Specialized Slingshot stem and bar on it.

The Slingshot was a stem and bar system that Specialized used on some bikes in the early 1980s. It resembles a Bullmoose bar, but the actual bar is separate from the stem, and held by two 7/8" clamps, like a motorcycle bar.

Soon, the bar and stem were off of the tandem, and on the Huffy:

I liked the look, but the bars were just a little more narrow than I really like. That was the style, back when the bars were new. But, I couldn't swap to a more modern, wider bar because the two clamps are 7/8", and the 25.4" bulge on an mtb bar would not work. If only I had a bar without the bulge...

Wait a minute!

I happened to have a motorcycle clubman bar in the shop. I flipped it over, and Bob's yer uncle!

My buddy Marty was hanging around as I worked on the bike, and he said he had some 1/2"-spindle pedals I could have to replace the plastic, crappy stock pedals. He went home and got them, and I swapped them out for some cooler, metal platforms.

So, here's the bike as it stands, right now. My cheap cruiser is turning into the Accidental Kustom...

It rides great with the new bars, and looks pretty cool, at least to me.


I Ended Up Selling That School Desk Guitar

My last post concerned the building of a second guitar from the school desk top I picked out of a dumpster, last Thanksgiving Day. I had planned on keeping that one, but my buddy Jesse looked at it with longing in his eyes, every time I played it at the Tavern, so I made a deal with him.

But, before delivering it, I actually finished the build...

Above is how it sat after the initial build, with the big, goofy Epiphone headstock and less than stellar tuners which came on the neck. I had ordered some repops of the Kluson Deluxe tuners, like Gibsons often came with in the 50s (and some still do), with the greenish knobs. I thought that they would not only improve the tuning of the guitar, but they would also look more appropriate on this build.

I used a Chock Full O' Nuts coffee can to draw the radius I wanted on the headstock (again, following the barn-build aesthetic), then cut close to my mark with the bandsaw. After that, I used my power sander to get a bit closer to the final shape. I did the final shaping by hand, with a small foam sanding block and 3 grades of paper. I hand-sanded the face and sides of the headstock, in order to avoid accidentally sanding a dip into wood. 

The TableTop Guitar monogram was burned in with a wood-burner, as was the SD (School Desk) on the truss rod cover. Black Walnut Danish Oil finish topped it all off.

I delivered it to Jesse, last night. I was happy with how happy he was with the finished product. I really did plan on keeping that one, but I'm glad it went to a good home!


Monday, July 23, 2018

The Latest Tabletop Guitar Build

A couple of Saturdays ago, I spent the afternoon cutting out three guitar bodies with my band saw. I figured I might as well cut out a few, so that I could easily work on them as time permitted. The body on the left, in the picture above, was cut from the same school desk top from which I built Ted Intorcio's "School's Out" guitar. I used the lighter colored top of the desk as the front of his guitar, but I liked the look of the bottom of the piece for this one.

Ted's guitar...

The other two bodies in that same picture were cut from a vintage piece of milled lumber (probably 1950s) which my buddy Eric Chavez gave to me, quite a while ago. I think it is pine, though it is so aged and so welled dried that it has no scent when you cut it.

I mocked the guitar up on the floor of the shop building, just to get a feel for what it would look like, once done.I decided that a bar-type tailpiece would suit better than a trapeze, just due to the thinness of the wood. How to mount the controls remained to be seen.

The pickup is a Gretsch lap-steel unit which I bought off of eBay.I've read numerous accounts of people using lap-steel pickups to build guitars, especially in the old days, so I thought I would give it a shot. I figured that, if I didn't like it, I could always swap it for something else and use this pickup to build an actual lap-steel.

The two rails on which the pickup sits are liner strips from a cigar box guitar. They not only got the pickup height to where I needed it, but they also provided an easier mounting than screwing into the rock-hard work of the desk top.

I scavenged a neck from an Epiphone Les Paul Special which I had bought for parts. I will sand the face of the headstock to remove the logo, once I get some better tuners to install on it. The stock Epi tuners leave a bit to be desired. I'll probably throw a bone nut on it at that time, as well.

The volume pot and the output jack are both taller than the body is thick, so I elevated them above the  face of the guitar, much as I did on the very first Tabletop Guitar.

TTG #1

On that first guitar, I used pick guard material to elevate them. But, on this guitar, I wanted to stick to an all-wood face.

The same cigar box which supplied the pickup mounting rails also supplied a piece of its bottom to act as a mounting plate. The plate is screwed to the body through two Monkey Shoulder Scotch corks and one from a bottle of whiskey whose name I forgot.

I left the pickup wire exposed for a couple of reasons: It not only suits the "made in a barn" aesthetic of the guitar but, also, I may want to reposition the pickup, at some point. Having the wire easily accessible would make that a bit simpler.

The Thursday after I finished the guitar, I took it to the Englewood tavern and played slide on it during the open mic which I host. It has a sound which is distinct from the first of these I built, which was made out of Maple, with a P-90 pickup. I wanted a different sound, from the same configuration. No sense in havingtwo guitars which are exactly the same!

I may actually find myself playing this one in Standard Tuning, and using the other for slide.

Anyway, I was well-pleased with how it came out. I really like parlor guitar-sized body with the full-scale neck. I might actually build another, and set the neck with a 16th-fret junction of the neck and body so that I have more usable frets. With the 14-fret junction, you are a bit limited in the upper octaves.


Sunday, July 08, 2018

They Say That You Can Never Go Home. But, Here I Am...

After our trip to Vermont, we did a lot of hanging about. Joy took Momma to the doctor to check out the hairline fracture she had gotten on her little finger, the first day I was there. Afterwards, Momma came by and spent some time at the house.

Momma and I, sitting on Joy's patio...

The following pictures are random shots from the next few days:

A baby bluejay which had fallen out of the nest. Momma Bluejay followed him around for a couple of days until we lost track of him.

My favorite breakfast-time activity...

The baby bluejay is on the stick behind sSteve's chair.

Proof that at least one person is paler than I am. Sean and I comparing "tans"...

I ordered this repeating rubber band gun for Sean, while we were in Vermont. It arrived in Monday's mail, and we had a good time shooting it.

My mileage at the start of the trip home...

Eventually, all good things come to an end, and I needed to head back to Denver. So, I left Mercer at about 7:30 on the morning of July 4th, and headed west on I-80. I wanted to take a different route back, in order to avoid the I-70 madness between Columbus and Indianapolis.

First gas stop, outside of Mansfield, OH

I got off of the Interstate at Mansfield, Ohio, and got on US-30. It was a good road, and the scenery was relatively pleasant, for Ohio. I made pretty good time, but the heat was building. All along the way, the bank thermometers were showing 97 to 99 degrees, and the sun was beating down.

By my third gas stop, in Monticello, Indiana, I was pretty dehydrated, and getting a bit goofy. I didn't realize it until I had to go inside to prepay, because the pump wouldn't take my card. I sort of got into it with the clerk, and suddenly realized what was going on. I apologized, profusely, got my gas and something to drink, and took off, again.

At that stop, I texted Joy that I had made it 300 miles, so far. About 20 minutes later, after my drink had gotten into my system and my brain started working right, again, I realized that I had actually gone 400 miles, I just couldn't do the math in my addled state.

I made sure to stay better hydrated, after that!

I had to get off of the US highways, in Illinois, and take I-57 south to Champagne/Urbana in order to pick up I-72 (which becomes US-36 at Hannibal, MO.) At Decatur, Illinois, I stopped for gas and had the most aggravating experience in a convenience store.

I went inside, after gassing up, to get a drink and a snack. I got a Diet Mtn Dew and some peanut butter crackers, and went to the front to pay. There, a gentleman had three 18-packs of Keystone light, and was asking if there was any more in the back. (It was on special.)

The second clerk walked up, and the gal checking out Mr. Keystone Light told her to go get him three more packs. Meanwhile, an older guy got behind me in line.

Clerk #2 comes back with the beer, sets it on the counter, then walks to her register. As she does, I start to move that way and the old guy behind me sprints over to the counter to pay. Clerk #2 just looked at me, and started ringing him up.

Meanwhile, the Keystone Kowboy has paid. I start to move forward, and then he says, "I need some help getting this out to my car."

So, Clerk #1 just grabs some of his beer and carries it out. Meanwhile, I'm still standing there, waiting to pay, and the old guy is chatting up Clerk #2.

So, I just put my stuff back and left. No-one seemed to mind...

Anyway, that got my adrenaline up to the point that I decided to just go ahead and ride to Hannibal, another 140 miles away. I really wanted to get Illinois behind me.

My reward to myself for making it to Hannibal in a day...

The next morning, I checked out of the motel, and talked to a Harley rider from Canada. He had been planning to rider to Decatur, get on old 36, and take that to Indy. I told him about my experience with that route, on the way east, and he decided to plot another route.

Fueling up in Hannibal. Notice that I took my jacket off to get gas. I was already pretty damn humid, at 8:00 AM.

Once I was moving, the riding was pleasant. The sun was out, but the temperature was much lower than it had been the day before. Missouri flew by in about 4-1/2 hours. I drank water at every stop, and took it easy. I knew that there was no way to make it home, that day, as tired as I was. But, once I passed Cameron, MO, I knew that I was under an easy day's ride from Denver.

I ended up stopping in Oberlin, KS, for the night. I had planned on staying in a new, "nice" hotel, but I saw the Oberlin Inn and RV Park, and checked it out online. The reviews were good, so I got a room there.

My bike in front of my room. The other rooms in the little building were storage, so I had no wall mates. It was nice and quiet!

I was somewhat charmed by getting an actual room key.

Downtown Oberlin

One of the things I really like about the small towns in Kansas, other than how friendly everyone is, is that most of them have retained their historic look. Brick streets and old storefronts greet you in almost all of those towns, if you leave the highway corridor and go to the Business District. 

Just past that red truck, in the second picture above, is The Reload, where I ate dinner. Pizza and sandwiches ... I had a cheeseburger and fried dill pickle chips. The condiments were in squeeze bottles, and the Coors Beer was ice cold, and both of those facts pleased me.

After dinner, I went back to my room and decided to make myself a cocktail. 

When I'm on the road, I usually drink my whiskey in some Diet Coke. It allows me to have as much drinking time as usual, without drinking as much whiskey. I didn't have any ice in my room, so I walked across the street to the gas station convenience store to get a large fountain drink, with a ton of ice in it. Once I had it, I walked up to the counter and ... realized I had left my wallet in my jacket pocket.

In a moment which was the polar opposite of my experience in the convenience store in Decatur, one of the clerks told me to not worry about it, and she paid the $2.58 for my drink out of her pocket. (Good ol' Kansas!) So, I walked back to the room, got my wallet, and rode the bike back over to the store. (I was tired of walking.) I gave her $5.00, and told her to keep the change.

Later, as I was sitting outside, drinking and swatting skeeters, a truck drove by on 36, and I watched the front driver's side wheel fall off of it, and it continued a few yards in a shower of sparks. The driver pulled off to the road between the gas station and the motel, and made a rather loud phone call describing his predicament to someone I think may have just sold him the truck.

The wheelless truck. You can see that the wheel didn't come off of the hub, but the steering assembly has partially detached.

By the time I finished my second drink, a tow truck had arrived and loaded the truck up and hauled it off.

After a great night's sleep and a refreshing shower, I walked over to the office for the Continental Breakfast. The eating area had a dining table, rather than small individual tables, like a boarding house. I had a bagel with cream cheese and a cup of coffee, then grabbed another cup of coffee and some peanut butter crackers (finally got some!), and went outside to sit and have my "second breakfast". 

After that, I went back inside for a third cup of coffee, since I was in no hurry to get on the road, being only about 250 miles from home. I met the owner, sitting at the table with one of his cronies, and talked for a while. Definitely a colorful character!

A couple of hours later, and I crossed into Colorado (which isn't really very colorful, there). A little over two more hours saw me back in my driveway.

I forgot to get a picture of my odometer at the house, so I took this shot at Fermaentra, which is two miles past my house. If you go back and look at the mileage when I left Denver, and do the math, it comes out to almost exactly 3,000 back to try driveway. And, by almost exactly 3000, I mean 2999.8!

Safe and sound, happy as a clam

Despite my concerns, the pin striping on the gas tank came out undamaged, even though I stopped putting the cloth under the tank bag after the first day.


Monday, July 02, 2018

Why You Never See Me With a Tan

 By the time I got to Mercer, last week, I had a bit of a sunburn on my throttle-hand wrist. My jacket sleeve rides up a bit, and the gloves I was wearing have a short wrist-piece, so a gap would appear between them as I rode.

 For many people, this would result in an amusing, abbreviated "farmer's tan". For me, however, this is the result:

Radiation burns!

So, while we were all up in Vermont, I went to an outdoor supply store and bought some deerskin work gloves, with a longer wrist area.

The old glove, with the short wrist...

The new glove...

Notice that, with the new glove, you can no longer see the burned area. (My bracelet is in the same position, in both pictures.) Hopefully this will prevent a repeat of the problem.

The old gloves would sorta bind my fingers, as I rode, too. This made my hands pretty sore, after a few hours on the motorbike. I think the new gloves will prevent that problem, as well.

Sometimes, problems arise on the road which have never occurred on shorter, local rides. Nothing to do but find a fix for them.

That, my friends, is my entire attitude toward touring on a motorbike.


Sunday, July 01, 2018

Side Trip To Vermont

My older nephew, Kyle, is working Event Support at the Marlboro Music Festival, a few miles from Brattleboro, Vermont. Joy, Steve, Sean and I loaded up the car and drove there so that I could have a short visit in with him, since he could not come home while I am here. (It's an eight to twelve-hour trip, depending on how much of a hurry you are in.)

We rented a cabin on Gate's Pond, twenty minutes from the campus of Marlboro College. The cabin was a lot nicer than we anticipated, and the general consensus was that none of wanted to leave, once we were there!

These sunny pictures are actually from the day we left. It rained, almost constantly, from the time we got there until the morning we were to leave. To tell you the truth, I enjoyed the rainy time as much as anything I've experienced in a while. We don't get a lot of rainy days in Denver, like that; it's usually sunny or stormy. So, rain and 70 degrees for a high was a nice change for me. (Also, it was over 100 degrees, both days, back in Denver. So, I felt almost like I was getting away something!)

We called Kyle on the landline (no cell service at the cabin), and he arrived soon after. During a brief lull in the rain, he and Sean walked down to the shore of the pond to check things out. That was the last time any of us left the porch, except to get into the car, for the rest of the trip.

The pond looked, at first glance, to be rather scummy. But, when we looked closer, we realized that the green on the surface was actually lily pads. There were plenty of bullfrogs croaking, and we saw a couple of beavers swimming about, and we watched a hawk through the binoculars for a bit, as well.

This is where I spent the majority of our time at the cabin.

On Thursday, Kyle came by and we piled into the car for a tour of the area. We drove though the Marlboro campus, visited Hogback Mountain (Famous 100-Mile View!) and spent some time rattling around in Brattleboro before heading back to cook dinner at the cabin.

Brattleboro is a very quaint town with a lot of historic buildings in the downtown area. I quite enjoyed walking the shops and looking around. On the way out of town, we stopped at Disco Bev (Discount Beverages) to replenish our whiskey supply. Our only bottle had mysteriously drained, the night before...

Sunset, of our second night in the cabin, was quite pretty. Venus peeked through the a gap in the clouds, during a brief break in the rain. The mosquitoes were a bit of a handful, but nothing that a good swing with a baseball bat wouldn't take care of.

As I mentioned, the second morning we were there dawned dry and bright. The pond looked a bit different in the sunny conditions.

But, I still say that we lucked out having the rain. It lent an atmospheric aspect to the place that I really enjoyed.

On the way home, we stopped in Oneonta, New York, at Brook's, a regionally famous BBQ joint. On the premises, there was a picnic area/playground, where Sean and I goofed around a bit.
Me, in the "Ragin' Rooster".

You can't see it in the photo, but there was a slide which went from the tailgate of the Rooster to a sand pit, behind it. Pretty cool for little kids (and not too bad for us big kids, either).

We got home kinda late, on Friday night, unloaded the car and went to bed. All in all, a pretty good 72-hour trip!