Recent Simple Victories

Over the last month or so I’ve managed to rack up several of what I refer to as Life’s Simple Victories, including a couple minor problems that have stuck with me for years. In keeping with my custom of celebrating such occurrences, here’s a few brief stories.

When Ideas Collide

the little xylophone

I bought this little xylophone from the sadly defunct Seattle branch of the Lark In The Morning music store. Only cost me something around $25 and I figured I’d eventually use it in some recording or another. Since Lark In The Morning closed some time in early 2010, I’ve had the thing for at least 6 years and it’s never been used.

Some months back a project came up that I thought would be a good place to use it. I pulled it out from its storage, gave it a few test taps, and oh dear… remembered why I hadn’t been in much of a hurry to use it. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the xylophone per se, it’s the fact that the mallets it came with are made from a really hard plastic. This causes each note’s attack to be quite an obnoxious clank before it settles into the nice chime sound. This is not good.

A quick price check told me that buying “real” mallets for it would cost nearly as much as the instrument, if not more. I thought of a number of ways to cover the striking ends. Crocheted covers, like the kind that come with numerous varieties of cup(s) and balls sets from your local magic shop. Alas crocheting isn’t in my skill set and, though it is in my sweetie’s, I’m simply not going to ask her to drop the important things she’s doing so she can spend a couple hours making cosy little sweaters for mallet heads! I also thought about tying a Turk’s Head or a Monkey’s Fist knot around them, both of which are within my skills, but I was concerned that they would end up with a very lumpy surface. Plus the process is freaking tedious! So I ended up just occasionally muttering darkly to myself on the subject but nothing got done about it. I am quite adept at that process.


Back in early summer I had finally gotten around to upgrading the kazoo holder I’d made. It worked OK and, as designed, I could put it on and take it off with one hand and without removing my hat. The problem was rubber banding an odd shaped object (say… like a kazoo) onto a small, round object (enter the wire). It kept slipping off to one side or the other, meaning it wasn’t where expected when I wanted to grab it in my mouth and make with the buzzy noises. I wanted to be able to just clip the kazoo on with a clothespin, but I figured it would spin around just like the original issue.

busker engineering: a kazoo holder from a piece of grounding wire

I had ideas for a bunch of over engineered solutions, all of them pains in the ass to build. It finally hit me… tool dip! The brand I use is called Plasti Dip and it’s a synthetic rubber in a liquid form. You dip your tool handles in it and it air dries into a semi-soft rubber cover. It’s just soft enough to give the clothespin something to “bite” into and it works like a champ. You can see it at the uncurled end of the holder.

But now I’ve spent a number of months muttering darkly to myself about what a waste it was to buy a whole can of the stuff and only use it for one project. Until one day about two weeks back when I was working on one of the more mindless of my regular chores and the two dark mutters met. Et voilá!

If you scroll back up to the picture of the xylophone you’ll note that the hard, yellow plastic mallets are coated at the head end with a layer of black tool dip. And they too are now working like champs.

Sounder Sound System Savvy
Since I’ve already done a separate post on this subject (with band pics!) I’ll simply say that using my sound system at a late October Snake Suspenderz gig taught me lots more about how to use it effectively.

A Brief Digression 

I usually stick with music related stuff in the news section, but I’m throwing in two non musical simple victories here.

  • I found the proper glue to fix the heel cap on my second best pair of shoes. I’ll now get more wear out of them for a bit over $7 instead of the $75 it costs at a cobblers.
  • I’ve tried several things to clean the greasy buildup on the range hood. Two days ago I remembered my sweetie had some stuff called Goo Gone and maybe I should try it, hm? The range hood has a new lease on life.

Don’t Let Perfect Become The Enemy Of Good

I may have had the xylophone for 6+ years, but I’ve had this brass washboard for longer than that. I’d say probably 8+ years ago. I picked it up from a “collectibles” shop I found while on my way to an open mike. It cost me $25, which was more than twice as much as I’d spent on a washboard before that. I decided from the very beginning that I wouldn’t use it until I got “all the right pieces.” Over time the definition of all the right pieces changed a bit, but the list settled in a couple years when I saw a guy playing board at Pike Place Market.

He had this bizarre, multi-jointed arm that clamped on to the board at one end and the other end was set up to hold a cymbal. This allowed him to fold it nearly flat to the board for traveling and fold it out for performance so the cymbal hangs more parallel to the ground, like a cymbal does on a normal trap set. Cymbals sound better that way. So that was it. The search was on. And on. And on.

the once and future washboard

The closest thing I found was online but the pictures weren’t good enough to tell if the clamp would work on the washboard. Plus they wanted nearly $90 for it, not including shipping. I don’t think so! The upshot is I was on the way to the music store to spend some of the money I got from the previously mentioned late October Snakez gig – I needed a new cord – and I decided to check out the drum department and see if they had anything that might work. The result is in the picture. It’s not perfect  (the stem could be shorter for one thing) but it works. And it only set me back $30. Now I have all the pieces except for some hardware (mainly nuts, bolts, and screws) and a few tin cans.

I can’t wait to sit in with some of the old timey, jug, or skiffle bands around here!

Do you celebrate your simple victories? Let me know in the comments.

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