Tag Archives: Music Biz

Schmutz In My Harp

Regular readers of this site (both of you) might recall how I had been working on bringing harmonica on the rack back into my act. In pursuit of that, I bought a sparkly fresh set of reed plates for my Lee Oskar C harp, which had gotten so old that it was all blown out of tune and, after some moderate kerfluffle, got them installed.

Only to discover that one of the reeds didn’t work well at all.

(Full disclosure: the pic is of a Hohner Blues Harp. I chose it because, unlike with the Oskar, you can see the reed plates when it’s assembled. They’re the brass bits in the picture.)

Now, taking apart and re-assembling a harmonica is a bit of a chore. The top and bottom covers are held on by wee little bolts and, in the case of the Oskar, weirdly shaped and equally tiny nuts. The bolts are sized so that when everything is tightened up, only a smidgen of the bolt comes out the other side of the nut. This is a good thing for a variety of reasons, but it makes it damned difficult to put the bolts back in. So, when I discovered that one of the reeds was only going to make odd little sounds I set the whole thing aside for later, sniffling a little bit about the $25 (+ shipping!) that I thought I’d just wasted.

Oh yeah. And the ~$6 I spent getting a stubby little #1 Phillips head screwdriver.

Then life continued happening and I didn’t get around to popping the thing open until yesterday. I thought maybe I could give recalcitrant reed a little prod and free it up. I got the bolts out and carefully placed where I wouldn’t lose them and pulled the top off.

What’s this? A little piece of brownish schmutz, maybe a bit less than twice the size of a kitchen match head. Tilting the thing made the schmutz drop off and a bit of testing (prior to messing about with the bolts again!) revealed that the reed was free to vibrate in its proper fashion.

But here’s the weird bit. When the harp is assembled properly there are no openings large enough to let mister schmutz get in. I mean, it was soft enough that if you poked it with a hairpin or something like that, you could force it in. But I certainly didn’t do that.

So I’d managed to inadvertently introduce ol’ schmutzy to the interior of the harp when I was originally re-assembling it. Without knowing I’d done so. In fact, I can’t for the life of me figure out just what the schmutz is made of, so I can’t even hazard a guess on how I managed to pick it up and secretly slip it into the works.

Oh well. I guess it’ll have to remain one of life’s little mysteries. Meanwhile I’ve got loads of practicing to catch up on.

Victory!

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photo by Ari Helminen (https://www.flickr.com/photos/picsoflife/)

After some research and the exchange of several emails with two different support departments, I’ve finally gotten the WordPress app on my tablet working again!

This may not seem like such a big deal to y’all, but I’m drowning in all the details I’m supposed to keep up with in order to make some kind of living in the current music biz paradigm. I just want to bang on my ukulele all day; not be a marketing expert, a recording engineer, a social media guru, a booking agent, a… well, you get the idea.

Anything that makes it easier to keep up with such stuff is a great goodness. Since most of the wasted time in my life happens when I’m away from home and my “big” computer and away from my housework, something that allows me to get things done during those times is a tremendous mitzvah.

So getting this fixed is more than enough to get me doing the Happy Hobbit Dance™. If you can’t imagine the Happy Hobbit Dance™, picture Gene, Gene the Dancing Machine (if you’re old enough to remember him) and you’ll be pretty close.

Rinse, Repeat

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As I posted here, I’ve been working on bringing back my harmonica on the rack skills, so as to be able to play ukulele and harmonica at the same time. My practice has been sporadic (at best) and I was feeling like I wasn’t making any progress.

So yesterday I decided to lean on it pretty heavily and, after a half hour or so of much the same, it occurred to me that the fault may lie with the harp rather than with me. I slowed way down and, sure enough, there were several notes coming out quite fuzzy. Aha!

I used an old trick, to wit, rinsing the harmonica with very hot water and then tapping/patting it dry. It made a huge difference! I can’t remember how old the harp is, much less when the last time it was rinsed. If ever.

There are harmonica players who will tell you never rinse ’em, but I can’t afford to spend another $30 to $35 to replace a harp when such a simple fix works. (I bet them other folk buy a new car when the floor mats get dirty.)

I’m still “not ready for prime time.” But maybe it’ll be ready for a test run some time this week. Meanwhile I’ve got to finish breakfast (I’m at the Market Diner) and get out to the bridge spot for a solo busking set.

6/8, Is It?

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I recently had a conversation with a fellow busker about time signatures wherein he mentioned that he simply treated 2/4 as 4/4 and it was all good.

Well yeah, but…

There really is a difference in feel between the two. (You can replace “feel” with “pulse” there.) The pulse of the music is different between the two time signatures. I struggled with it myself and found that putting in the extra work paid off. It’s the pulse of the music that determines how (or whether!) the audience is going to shake their booties. However, I seem to have missed that point with Miranda.

Miranda is a tune I wrote 4 years ago and have returned to several times since. I keep chipping away at it but never seem to get quite right. Nobody’s even heard more than a bit of it, except for my long suffering sweetie and my cats. I thought it was a plain old waltz — living and dying in 3/4 time, y’know? — but there are a few places in it where I lose the beat and it sounds like I’m playing in 4/4 time. I think it’s the lyrics throwing me off.

So the other night I was noodling about with it and the thought occurred to me to give it a whirl in 6/8. Holy Smokes! It’s much smoother now. (OK. There’s still a fuzzy patch in it, but at least now I know where to aim!) A hair more rewriting and I may end up with another song for my all-too-slim “tunes I have written” folder.

As a small final irony, I often take a stab at writing a tune in something besides 4/4 or 3/4, mostly without success. I find it amusing that I may have written one in 6/8 completely by accident.

Old Skool Tech

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I am now the proud owner of of a “No Knot” banjo tailpiece (patented on the 19th of this month, 114 years ago) and a bog standard banjo wrench, which has been around since at least the mid-19th century. These are to get my 30’s era banjo ukulele up and flying.

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I got this ukulele from the estate of Hokum W. Jeebs, famous busker and neo-vaudevillian, and it is simply soaked with mojo. So I’m pretty tired of just looking at it. I want to play it. I feel like I’m disrespecting Jeebs’ memory by letting it sit around collecting dust instead of making music on it.

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Also I’ve been thinking for some time about putting a band together which resembles some of my favorite bands, including Trashcan Joe and the late, lamented Asylum Street Spankers. (Pennies for bombs, billions for hokum!) Having another “voice” in my regular act wouldn’t hurt my feelings either.

The major problem with the little uke is that fancy-schmancy tailpiece. It’s intended to allow fine tuning of the strings but was designed for a full-sized banjo, at least twice the size of the little fella here. The upshot of all that is the angle where the strings go over the bridge isn’t sharp enough and therefore the strings don’t press hard enough on the bridge. So if you strum with any exuberance one or the other of the two outside strings pops loose. And believe me kids, I strum exuberantly.

I’m hoping this will be sufficient to fix the issue, but I suspect it may also need a neck reset. Since I’m going to wait until I get a new set of strings before I change the tailpiece, it may be a week or so before I find out.

A week or so shouldn’t be too bad, it’s been four years since I got it. But I’m getting closer!