“Waiting” with Cajon

Today I went to Craig’s to deliver the parts that are going into the Epiphone Casino.  We wanted to make some more tracks with the old pickups for comparison.  Craig played the Casino through my Boss Katana 50.  I played cajon.  I didn’t expect to play cajon all day, but I was learning and it was fun, so I did.  I have posted pictures of the Casino, the cajon, but not the Katana 50, so here it is:


Boss is a Japanese company, a division of Roland.  Usually Boss makes effects pedals and Roland makes amps and synths, but somehow Boss made an amp.  The Japanese character there is the hiragana letter that is pronounced “ka.”  A “katana” is a Japanese sword, the big one.  Samurai carried two swords, the katana and the smaller wakizashi.  This amp is an incredible value.  It can be loud or soft, has lots of features, sounds great and costs about $230.

Here is a track from the session.  This was recorded into an iPad using GarageBand.

The song, sung by Craig, is one I wrote in high school.  I think it was the second song I ever wrote.  It was recorded by Mary McCaslin on her record, “Way Out West” on Philo records.  You can still buy the CD, I think.  Nice album.

Update: I should add that the song was inspired by the Sylmar earthquake.  I woke up because because my door was rattling madly as if someone was trying to break it down.  I opened it just in time to see all the electrical transformers on all the power poles in the neighborhood explode with bright white flashes.  I thought it was a nuclear attack.  That is what I meant by “And if it seems, we’ve come to harm.”  I see that the quake was in 1971, so technically, it was a few months after I had graduated from high school.

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New Pickups Coming

I have decided to put new pickups and wiring in the Epiphone Casino.  The options were somewhat limited because of the design of the guitar.  The Casino requires a short dogear P-90 in the neck and a tall dogear P-90 at the bridge.  After quite a bit of internet research and listening to clips, it came down to two companies: either Lollar or Kinman.  The Kinmans are noiseless with some kind of advanced humbucking design.  From clips, they sound great.  They are quite pricey, however.  Lollar makes a short dogear P-90 and the material on his site indicates that he understands Casinos.  He makes a standard and an underwound 50’s style dogear P-90.  I decided on the 50’s wind for this guitar.


Lollar Dogear 50’s wind Pickups

I felt that the stock Epiphone pickups were a bit too hot and a little lacking in high end, especially the neck pickup.  They sounded best with the volume rolled off about 1/4 and with the treble in the amp boosted a bit.  Here are a couple of clips of the stock pickups, recorded through the clean model of my Katana 50:

A blues vamp (neck, middle, bridge):

And another blues, a bit slower (also neck, middle bridge) :

I think the bridge pickup sounds a lot better than the neck.  I will add clips of the new pickups in a couple of weeks, after they have been installed.

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Cajon Track

Recently I acquired a Gon Bops Mixto cajon.  There are basically two types of cajons: the traditional Peruvian type and the Flamenco cajon with internal snare wires.  I couldn’t make up my mind so I got the Mixto, which has two playing surfaces, one traditional and one Flamenco style.  They are both very warm and fat.  The snare side has more snap. Here it is:


I am just figuring out how to transfer some of my drum kit skills to this new instrument.  Here is a slow jam with cajon, bass, and two guitars:

This is the traditional side of the cajon.  The rhythm guitar is my Casino, straight into the interface, with a bit of reverb and heavy use of the Bigsby.  The lead is my Telecaster through the Brown model on the Katana 50.  This is the first time I have recorded with that amp.


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Old Rehearsal Tape

I have been cleaning out my old house and I came across a cassette of a rehearsal tape that Craig and I made for a funeral. Our friend and band mate John Lee had been killed in an automobile accident.  John and I had actually played together a couple of years earlier for the funeral of one of his friends, so this was the second time I had played at a funeral. Ironically and sadly, it was his.

John was an amazing friend.  I first met him at a church group meeting when I was in high school.  He brought his classical guitar to the meeting.  I had a guitar too, but I wasn’t very good. He taught me a lot of chords and songs.  Eventually we started a band with Craig.  John was kind, generous, and actively tried to help people around him who were struggling with coolness, self esteem, or other aspects of life.  He made you feel important.  He always seemed like he was the coolest one in the room, even though his jokes were quite silly and he was always self-deprecating.  He had the driest sense of humor I have ever known.  He was also extremely attractive to women for reasons none of us could discern.

John’s father wanted him to be a lawyer, but he just couldn’t take the law seriously, so he quit law school and started working for an insurance company.  He couldn’t really take that seriously either, but he tried.

I don’t think Craig was too comfortable with playing at John’s funeral, but the family asked me and I had decided to do it.  Craig decided to help me.  The songs we chose were songs by James Taylor and Jackson Browne that we had played together a lot.  John and I went to see Jackson Browne many times–at Ledbetters in Westwood and at McCabe’s in Santa Monica.  We even saw him open for Laura Nyro at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in L.A.

The first song on the tape is an instrumental, a sort of slow march.  I am not sure what it is called (it might be “Such as It Is,” since both Craig and I say that on the tape before we play it) or who wrote it.

This next song is “These Days” by Jackson Browne.  I think we actually learned this from a cassette tape we made of Jackson at Ledbetters.  When he arrived at the venue, we showed him our brand new Sony cassette recorder and asked him if we could tape his set.  He treated us mock seriously and said, “That depends on who you are.”  We said we were just kids who wanted to learn his guitar parts.  He let us tape.  I think this is one of the first songs Jackson Browne wrote.

The next song is “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor.  We were big fans.  I probably learned this song from John.  He was always figuring out songs from the record.

And finally, “Song for Adam,” also by Jackson Browne.

This tape was made at about 2:00 am the night before the funeral, sometime in the early 1980’s.

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Reaper in Linux and a New Track

Reaper, the recording software I have been using for years, now has a native Linux version.  It is still in beta, but it works pretty well in Linux Mint.  My computer is still dual boot, Win 7 and Linux, but I rarely go into Windows.  I have lots of great amps sims and drum software in Windows, but Reaper comes with a lot of usable plugins and there are a number of free ones that work in Linux that I have been learning about.  There is a learning curve, however.

Here is a track done in Reaper with Reaper’s amp simulator, Dragonfly reverb, and Drumgizmo playing a midi drum loop.  The two guitar tracks were done with my new Casino, direct into the Steinberg UR44, my audio interface.

This was done quickly, but I kind of like it.

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Epiphone Casino and a New Amp

It’s been a while since the guitarsophist blog has had an update.  I have been busy with my other blog, Teaching Text Rhetorically.  But I have a new/used guitar–an Epiphone Casino.  Here it is in all its cherry red glory:


2006 Made in China Epiphone Casino

I also have a new amp, a Boss Katana 50.  More on the new amp later.  However, because of the new amp, I happened to tell my friend Craig that I might be looking for an archtop with humbucking pickups, maybe an ES 339.  Well, Craig is retired and he loves looking for guitars, so unbeknownst to me, he went on a search.  I was at a luncheon with some of my wife’s colleagues when he called me from the Guitar Center in Oxnard.  He said he had found a guitar and had sent me a video.  I said I was busy and I would look at it when I got home.  He said, “Don’t you want me to put something down on it or something?”  At that point I knew that he thought it was magical and didn’t want it to get away.  Craig is really picky about guitars.  If he thinks its magical, it is.  So I told him to buy it.  It turned out to be this Casino.  I was really looking for a smaller guitar with humbuckers that was not a Les Paul.  This is a big ES 335 style guitar with single coil P-90 pickups.  But I fell in love with it the first time I played it.  Craig was right.

Casinos are famous because all the Beatles except Ringo had one, and Ringo is a drummer.  The Casino sound is all over Revolver and Sgt. Pepper.

Today we got together to jam.  Craig is playing his Epiphone ES 175, a big box jazz guitar, through a Fender Pro Junior III.  I am playing the Casino through the Katana 50.  Craig is playing all the big jazz chords and the walking bass and all that good stuff.  I am playing an improvised lead.  Here is a version of “It’s Just My Imagination.”  I am playing with both pickups and with a little boost on the clean model in the amp.

We didn’t have a vocal mic, so you have to just imagine some of the vocals.  This next track is a quick improvisation just before we packed up.  No rehearsal, everything made up on the fly:

This is the neck pickup with a little boost on the clean model.  We were having fun.  Everything is recorded in Reaper for Linux with two mismatched cheapo mics aimed vaguely in the direction of the amps.

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New Banjo Bridge

I have only been playing banjo since December, but I am already changing out the parts! Today I installed a new bridge, handmade by Tim Purcell. I ordered it from his site.

Tim makes bridges out of many different types of wood, some of it reclaimed from old buildings and sunken logs. Because I am playing clawhammer, Tim recommended a bridge made of Black Locust.


I installed the bridge on my Deering Goodtime Americana.  Deering makes a new bridge that they call a “smile” bridge that has the outside feet shorter than the center to compensate for the concave nature of the banjo head.  Reviews of this bridge are very positive, but it costs $45.  Tim Purcell’s handmade bridges are only $22, and as you can see in the picture, they also have the curve on the feet.

Does it sound better?  Well, the difference is subtle, but I think so.  I hesitate to post audio files of my banjo playing because I am such a beginner, but remember that I have only been playing for four months.  I will upload two versions of my shaky rendition of Old Joe Clark recorded with my iPhone 5 SE.

Original Stock Deering Goodtime Bridge:

New Tim Purcell Black Locust Bridge:

As you can tell from the clips, I am not yet anywhere good enough to justify swapping out bridges.  However, I would say that the Purcell bridge has a bit more old timey “chong” than the Deering bridge.  What is “chong” you ask?  I’m not really sure.  It is a technical banjo term I just made up.

Update: After playing a few more tunes I can definitely say that this Black Locust bridge gives a richer sound with more bass and better note definition.  Notes up the neck, which sounded a bit muffled before, now have more clarity and punch.  It’s a keeper! Now I just have to keep practicing and learn to play better.

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