Bluegrass Music Lutherie Songwriting

Back to Work!

Well, we laid my mother to rest yesterday, and I feel that I should get back to busy-ing myself in order to keep my mind alert and my slightly arthritic hands working.

Yes, I missed SPBGMA, but I am glad to see that it was a success. Lots of jamming, and plenty of surprises. I am committed to being there next year!

I will still be moving back into my mom’s house and selling my house, so the clean up will continue, along with cleaning out some of my mom’s stuff from her house. As for me, more selling off of music equipment, especially amplifiers and other electric guitar-related stuff that I never use any more. I’ll be also selling some jackets that don’t fit or never fit in the first place but I was too lazy to get rid of. My advice is, if you are in the Detroit area, keep checking Craigslist and look for “Dearborn/Hamtramck” as a location.

I will be trying to hit more shows as well. Not much offered during February and March, but I will keep checking and hope to find a few major bluegrass shows that I can have guitarists try out the 2208! I will definitely try to hit a bluegrass festival as well, but with Milan and Blissfield both cancelled, it will be either Charlotte or something on the west side of Michigan.

And back to practicing gutiar and fiddle, as well as songwriting. Taking care of mom took a lot out of practicing, and I was not motivated to do any songwriting, Hopefully, I can get inspired. I plan to attend more Songwriters Anonymous meetings, as they have always had supportive people.

And finally, lutherie. I definitely want to get back to maintenance and repairs of guitars. I plan to start simple, like setting up that $47.01 bass guitar that I got a few months back ( I still have a few Yamaha acoustics that I want to set up, one that needs some repairs, and a lot of other minor jobs. I really enjoy working on guitars, and I want to accomplish a few things before the Demon Arthritis takes over.

Next week, I should have a blog full of rants and raves. Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music Bluegrass vocals Lutherie

What To Do During The Winter?

Winter is around the corner. More time indoors, most of the time outdoors (especially north of the Mason-Dixon Line) is spent shoveling and snowblowing instead of out on the road heading for a festival or jam session. There is little to look forward to during the next few months. Even most bluegrass bands go into hibernation, since most of their in come comes from performing at outdoor events.

This doesn’t mean that everyone (including you) have to forget about anything musical until March or April. This is the perfect time to better yourself for the 2023 bluegrass summer season. There are a number of activities that you can do to busy yourself at home while improving on your musical skills.

Practice – That concept cannot be repeated enough! There is always something that you can learn to improve on your playing. Time spent outside gardening or lawn maintenance can be spent indoors (once the driveway and sidewalk are shoveled) learning new things on your preferred instrument. There are tons of books, videos and YouTube channels devoted to lessons on all stringed instruments. Moreover, I have discussed jam-along videos in previous blogs that can help you improve your playing with others ( I have also mentioned checking out instructional videos from other genres (rock, blues, jazz, Celtic, etc.) to see if there is any tips that you can pick up.

Learn Another Instrument – So you play guitar and that is the only instrument that you own. Get a beginner bass guitar rig, or a mandolin, and transfer some of your skills to one of those instrument. How about a tin whistle? Those are extremely inexpensive, and you can pick up a few tunes within a week or so. If you want to stick with strings and have a little more dough to blow, start working on a good banjo, dobro, or fiddle. Make yourself more viable at the jam sessions next year.

Vocals – If you are a lead singer, keep stretching those pipes! Do warm-up exercises every day. Sing loud, like in a band, not in a lower talking volume. If you are not a singer, then start working on it! I did a two-part blog on bluegrass harmonies ( and Bluegrass vocals depend on great-sounding two- and three-part harmonies. Some people have an ear for harmonizing naturally. Others need to work on it. Now it the time. Find some bluegrass recordings with great harmonies, and pay attention. Then, tune-in to those harmonies and see if you can match the pitches. Find some solo-singing bluegrass vocals and try to harmonize. This is something that takes a lot of work, but again, makes a bluegrass performer more viable. If anything, you can check out Cary Fridley’s YouTube courses on singing.

Basic lutherie – This does nto mean to try and build a guitar or mandolin on your own (although if you have the time, money and passion, go right ahead!). Do some basic maintenance besides changing strings. Clean the fingerboard, polish the instrument, perhaps even do some more advanced work like crowning frets or adjusting the truss rod. Again, there are a number of books on guitar/musical instrument maintenance out there, plus dozens of videos on YouTube that can walk you through simple maintenance.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Fiddle Bluegrass Music Lutherie

Tidbits #5: Hillbilly Thomists, Brittany Haas, Iris Carr

I have talked about The Hillbilly Thomists before on this blog almost two years ago ( I just picked up the band’s latest CD, Holy Ghost Power. If you are into The Earl Brothers/Mumford & Sons/Avett Brothers style of bluegrass, you definitely need to pick this disc up! While every song has religious overtones, it is not the strict gospel songs that one hears in church. The best cut IMHO is “Good Tree.” The mood that this song sets will move your heart.

What surprised me to see in a pleasurable way was finding a YouTube video of the band performing live on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville! If they weren’t wearing their Franciscan robes, you would think that they were another quality bluegrass band. Besides good musicians and excellent harmonizing vocalists, they have a great stage personal, and communicate will with the audience. This performance was in conjunction with a convention of the Knights of Columbus being held in Nashville. I guess that the only bigger stage for a band like this would be the Vatican!

Brittany Haas is probably my favorite living fiddle player. I am so amazed by her work with Hawktail, as well as numerous other projects. While her forte is bluegrass, she can easily spin into old-time, country, Celtic, Texas swing, and the blues. Her playing never lets me down, and I am so proud of her accomplishments over the past few years. I want to let everyone know that she is putting out a new video instruction series through ArtistWorks called “Old-Time & Bluegrass Fiddle with Brittany Haas.” This promises to be a rewarding educational series for beginner and intermediate fiddlers from the best in the business. It comes out in December, and the ArtistWorks YouTube channel has a sneak preview. Great lessons from a great lady!

Also be sure to check out two new videos on Darol Anger’s YouTube channel where he is duetting with Brittany. Here’s one of them.

A luthier that I have been following for a while is Iris Carr from England. She writes a blog about some of her more exacting repairs to violins, violas, and cellos ( I absolutely love to see her expert work, which is so professional that I often call her “Dr. Carr” in the comments section of her posts. Iris has recently started an online course for repairs and restorations of stringed instruments. From what I have seen of her previous repair work, a beginning luthier will learn a lot from this lady.

Chew on it and comment.

Acoustic Guitars Lutherie

String Slots for Better Tone

A while back I caught this YouTube video from Driftwood Guitars regarding a small saw-like tool from Stewart-McDonald that can provide your acoustic guitar with better tone.

The procedure involves cutting a slot in the string ball-end holes of the bridge so that there is more contact between the string and the guitar itself. Normally, the string comes out of the bridge hole and has the slightest contact across the saddle before traveling over the fretboard, nut, and to the tuning gear. This procedure allows the string to be in contact with the wood of the guitar as well as more contact with the saddle, providing more resonation of the guitar (the video shows how).

A few years back, I purchased a used Jasmine S35 acoustic guitar with case at a real cheap price (the cost was worth the case alone!). I noticed during playing it that, while the tone was not fantastic, it was quite loud, especially for a cheap acoustic that sold for about $150 new. After seeing the Driftwood video, I checked out the Jasmine’s bridge, and sure enough, there were slots in the string holes.

Now the tool from Stewart-McDonald costs about $25, and add to that shipping costs and having to wait for the package, I decided to make my own device. I took a hacksaw blade, cut off about an inch from the upper half of one side of the blade, then attached it to a smaller holder. Total cost was about $3.00.

With it, I dug into the bridge of a Yamaha F-325 that I was cleaning up. I figured that I would try this procedure out on a less expensive guitar than my Martin D-28. I learned a few things along the way:
– Hacksaw blades have finer teeth, meant to cut through metal. It takes a lot of time and effort to cut even a little slot, especially when two different woods and some glue are fighting you.
– I was working on this while quarantined at home during my battle with COVID. Do physical work, even light physical work, when you are healthy.
– It seems that while I could tell the difference in volume and tone, the normal (i.e., non-guitar geek) doesn’t care. I played a slotted Yamaha F-325 against a non-slotted Yamaha F-325 to a friend, and she didn’t hear any difference.

I do plan on doing this procedure on the other two Yamaha acoustics that I have, as well as one or two other acoustics that I own. Until I get really good at it, I will hold off on the Martin. This was a good lesson learned about improving the sound of an acoustic guitar, and I feel that it is worth the work. If you are still jittery about attempting it on your own, check with your local guitar repair person or a luthier.

Chew on it and comment.