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Meinl Cajon Kit in Albania

September 20, 2014

This September (2014) I had the privilege of visiting a child feeding programme in Albania… the aim was to serve, encourage and inspire the local Albanian team… and to engage with the children and their families…

I had thought to do some percussion with the Kids… but there were two issues… 1. my percussion is big and heavy (baggage allowances were pretty small)… and 2. whatever I brought with me I wanted to leave behind.

I had already planned to bring some tuned percussion in the form of a BoomWhacker kit (Here at Thomann)… as this was a lightweight 25 piece kit…

So the idea was to build percussion in country… and we were advised not to assume that we could find the resources we needed there… so we needed to bring all that we needed

That’s were the Meinl Cajon Kit came in… a ‘flat pack’ Cajon.

Meinl Kit

Weighing in at 4kg it was ideal weight and size for transport… so ok I did have to bring some clamps, an awl, a screw driver, compression straps, sandpaper and glue… but by pre drilling and counter sinking the playing surface before I left no drill was necessary.

Meinl ConstructionArriving at our first overnight stop in Albania I started assembling the main body of the kit (gluing top, sides, back and front brace) before heading to bed and completed construction (snare, playing service and feet) after breakfast in the morning…

Back on the bus again… the first use of the (unsanded) cajon was at a staff meeting with the Albanian team…

I haven’t played a Cajon that much… but the highly reflective room we were in created a ‘huge’ sound… the bass notes had real body and depth. Folks sat up and took notice… and the Boom Whackers were a delight (our translator told us he was bewildered that he could ‘hear music’ before he realised that the tubes were ‘tuned’)

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Movement in worship was also part of our team – and the girls started with some pre-recorded music – but this started to be drowned out as more and more people started to participate… so I joined in on the Cajon… wow!  in a few moments the pulse of the drum was filling the room, providing a foundation for the dance that was developing…

Meinl FinishedI had to be careful – the Cajon had sharp edges (not sanded yet)… but the effect was dynamic… excellent!

The cajon had proved to be very effective…

After our two meetings of the first day I spent some time sanding the edges of the instrument, giving it a smooth safe playing surface.

The Cajon was a hit (pardon the pun) with the team in Albania and through the week various Kids and Adults gave it a go… and everyone has great fun.

Before our team left we wrote some Albanian phrases (suggested by the local kids) on the Cajon… their promises and prayers  for their village and country — te jene te lire (to live free), blessings on their families, faith, hope… each surface covered with words written in colourful sharpies… and as the drum is played, the sound will resonate through the words… carrying them through the villages and valleys of the places where it is played.

The Meinl Kit was easy to put together – it sounds good (though the snare sound could be a little better) – and it is easy to play… may it’s sound resound for you Albania….

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Mastering with Focusrite VRM

February 12, 2014

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the privilege of working on the final stages of a new album – Kiss of Grace – by Lorna McDougall.

The recordings of the tracks arrived with me for mastering and preparing for production.

So the question arose – the tracks sound great on my speakers: but what do they sound like on others…

Big budget studios and mastering houses do this the brute force way – playing the tracks through arrays of differing speaker types in differing acoustic spaces… which mere mortals like me can neither afford the space or the finance to achieve.

Thats where the Focusrite VRM comes in.

Focusrite VRMThis neat little box is a USB audio interface providing a headphone out (and SPDIF in – but more on that later), a sweet volume control and an application that simulates different speakers in different acoustic spaces…

So – with a good pair of headphones you can hear what your mix ‘may’ sound like across a range of pro to domestic speakers in a ‘studio’, ‘bedroom’ or ‘living room’.

Add this to your desktop or laptop and off you go – where ever you are mastering the sound of your recordings is a doddle.

I’ve got to admit that since this has arrived my headphones have been ‘superglued’ to my head… the sound is just so good… at least to my tastes…

The range of speakers and environments is very useful… and some extreme differences between speakers/environments can be interesting to work on mastering against.

VRM Speakers

In use…

The music I was working with was in Studio One, on my old iMac core duo.

My iMac has been my workhorse from 2006 – I use it for everything… and I was interested in what effect the VRM would have on the system…

I created an aggregate audio device with my Presonus FW mobile (used to route FX via SPDIF to my TC Electronic M350)  and the VRM… and routed the ‘main’ out to the VRM.  The outs of the FW mobile went to my speakers as a cue mix.

And it worked – first time, no sweat… badda bing!

Studio One VRM

A screen capture from using VRM today!

Working on the final mix today – the Focusrite VRM has been great.

Now I have it and understand some of its limitations – I will be using this almost constantly from now on.

If you get one of these – and I don’t see why you shouldn’t at £49, from Absolute Music – register it and get the updated software – the 1.0 software… well… sucked!  the 1.4 is significantly better…

Pros

  • Price
  • Convenience
  • Great sound – speaker emulations sound fab.
  • Built like a brick shed – I’d be happy to throw this in a laptop bag knowing that at the ‘far’ end that it would be functioning perfectly.
  • The volume control – very useful, very sweet to use- always by my right hand.

Cons

  • The VRM software takes up CPU cycles and increases latency from the DAW.
  • If there is a load on the computer – or there is a particularly memory hungry application running the VRM starts to crackle.
  • The volume control – there can be noticeable ‘steps’ in volume than would be expected from a purely analogue control… (but I’m being extremely picky)
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Christmas Telecaster Nocaster’51 project

January 2, 2014

Over the holidays I took the opportunity to upgrade the pickups on my 2003 Mexican built Fender Telecaster.

The original electrics had been becoming noisy over the last couple of years, pots were noisy, the jack plug un-sure.  The sound rather thin and anaemic.

Things had to change or the Tele had to go…

I got myself a set of Fender Custom Shop Nocaster’51 pickups at a bargin from Thomann, and found a great wee Guitar builder seller on ebay that supplied all the wiring, pots, caps etc…

IMG_9753On taking the old electrics out what amazed me was the really poor quality of the cabling used… it was really not surprising the sound was poor… even if everything else was perfect the cable was really sub-standard.

The replacement cable was AWESOME – wound and tinned it’s whole length, enclosed in two layers of woven shielding… a joy to use!

So the pickup cavities were stripped…

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I started with the neck pickup… attached to the pickguard…

then the bridge pickup… note I added an ground wire from the bridge to the control cavity… in the old electrics the signal ground wire from the bridge pickup was grounded here an a then extended back to the control cavity… I didn’t like that arrangement… as I was planning to use a 4 position switch to allow the pickups to be wired in parallel and series…

followed by the jack plug…

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I assembled the pots, and switch mechanism..

and wired the pickups in the following configuration…

tele4way

There are a huge number of options for wiring a telecaster – it is such a simple guitar… I was really tempted to drop the tone control to use it as a blend between neck and bridge pickups – but I am extremely glad I didn’t.

Creating spaghetti…

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Reassembled control area..

Fitted a new set of Elixer lights .010’s

and we have tone!

Volume control and tone control are unbelievably better…

The general sound is thicker, has more body to it… it’s great.

having the option of the pickups in parallel & series gives another ‘feel’ in the sound (which I am enjoying immensely)

Lessons learned:

I wish I had done this earlier – my poor Tele has been languishing over the last few years… I’ve been disappointed in the sound… NOT NOW!

I am amazed at just how poor the quality of the wiring was from the original manufactured guitar…

Single coil pickups are noisy… they are susceptible to electrical interference… when my fingers are on the strings, or my palm resting on the bridge – the guitar is pretty quiet… but when not in contact with either of these – it can be a bit noisy.

I should have spent some time shielding the cavities, and especially adding shielding to the rear of the pickguard.

But I don’t know if I would quite go the length of this article…

Noise reduction for SC pickups

which seems the ultimate in noise reduction.

In summary

If you have a stock Mexican Fender Telecaster – replace the the pickups… it’s easy and well worth the couple of hours it takes to do.

Sources

Thomann – Nocaster’51 set is unfortunately no longer stocked!

Guitar builders on-line – Fender USA Wiring kit (four way switch)

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Musical playpen…

November 27, 2013

Over the past few years I’ve dabbled in music… attached are some of the rough messing about I’ve done… enjoy

 

This tune is my Telecaster, VOX amp… with everything cranked to 11

I acquired a 12 string electric guitar and this is a recording of what it sounded like through my VOX amp

Playing with Loops and synths in Ableton…

My trusty Suzuki W400 and M-Audio Oxygen 49 and Keyrig…

Telecaster.. loops.. and Keyrig again…

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Poem – Of Truth and Flies (or, When the Wifes Away…)

November 4, 2013

Autumn Trees

Of Truth and Flies  (or, When the Wife’s away…)

A still, clear November morning.

The lochan ringed with golden trees

Reflected in the mirrored pool

Give warmth and light more than

The shallow incident rays of autumn sun.

A line unfurls, reaching out over the waters

Settling gently, kissing the reflecting interface

Between cold clear water, and crisp clean air.

There presents the ‘lie’ – a sharp, curled, barbless abdomen

Dressed red body and ruff – dips into the water

Dark hairs clinging to the tension of the surface.

A piscine mind – always hungry, always eating

Always looking for an opportunity to feed – sees food…

And voraciously takes the lie – creasing water, twitching leader

In expectant moment arm muscles tighten

Rod tip lifted high, bows towards an unseen opponent

Strike! – it’s on – battle commences.

A smile broadens.

The line once lazily resting on the pool

Now taut describes a vector between two worlds

One of water and one of earth.

Racing – tugging – pulling – snatched to and fro…

Adrenaline flows… arm wearies… smile remains

The vector shortens, and at times lengthens

As the war of will plays out

But inexorably the line taken is more than is given out

Drawing fish and fisherman to waters edge

Soon, all too soon, man and fish are eye to eye

Surrendered to an encounter with each other

What will the final outcome be?

Warm hand reaches out and gently removes the lie

From the cold blooded lip

Once a prisoner, now released, set free

Leviathan flicks a tail – returns to the depths.

Until next time.

Resting on damp knees, the smile remains

Present at this blue pool, ringed with gold

Thankfulness flows for this place, this time, this moment

And the warm light of a clear, still November morning.

Andrew Gregg (4th November 2013)

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Fun with photography… creating a 120 megapixel image

August 12, 2013

Last Saturday we visited Ullapool and Gairloch on a family road trip.

I didn’t plan to take any photo’s but found myself taking a series of portrait photos with the idea of creating another panorama using Hugin…

10 x 18 mega-pixel (RAW) images where used to create a panorama of the beach at Gairloch…

As Hugin processed the image it claimed to be processing 18635×6345 pixels.. generating a roughly120 mega pixel image…. BUT

the final dimensions 17934×3429 pixels… 61 mega pixels..  losing 50% due to alignment & projection losses above and below the composite image (next time use a tripod).

This is a 15% thumbnail image of the output – (the original is a 156Mb TIFF image).

(C) Andrew Gregg, 2013

(C) Andrew Gregg, 2013

Canon EOS 550d, Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.4

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discard any lingering doubt…

July 19, 2013

I have a confession… I like rubbish action movies… and sometimes I just feel the need to sit down and waste 90 minutes watching the formula unfold…

Rookie team taking on overwhelming unknown enemy… in the first 2/3 thirds the team losing with members being picked off (remember the red shirts in Star Trek)… then when things seem hopeless the hero steps forward delivers inspiring speech… the team comes together… and the the close of the movie show the team overcoming the odds… baddies overcome… air punched… credits roll.

Last night I watched “Battle: Los Angeles”…

Photo: Richard Cartright (C) 2010 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group

Photo: Richard Cartright (C) 2010 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group

same formula… but four words from the hero speech remained with me…

“Discard any lingering doubt”…

These are good advice to any Christian…

Something in This reminded me of verses in Hebrews…

Hebrews 10:19-23 Hebrews 11:1 Hebrews 12:1-3

Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

If you’re finding things tough… If the circumstances you are in are difficult… Have faith… Hold unswervingly… Persevere… Have confidence and assurance..

Discard any lingering doubt.

God will prevail.