Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Goodwill hunting

I like thrift stores, specifically Goodwill Thrift Stores, and there are many in California, especially (I have learned today) in the SF Bay area. I was staying in San Jose between a gig and a set of reversals this week, and decided to drive up to San Francisco by way of the El Camino Real Route 82. To my delight, there seemed to be Goodwill Stores every couple of miles (I hit four of them today). Besides a $400 Macy's black lightweight wool 4-button blazer and a decent grey cotton dress shirt (all for $16), I spotted some cool album covers worth sharing.

The first two are just great design - I do miss LPs with the 12x12 display or art (or at least the possibility for art). I have decided not to buy these things, as they just pile up, I'll probably never actually play them, and recently I have been  trying to donate more to Goodwill than I actually buy from there. Here's a 50's Jazz and Classical album with great 50's-era artwork:

And then here's a 60's album so awful in every way I could not resist sharing -UP WITH PEOPLE!

The coverquotes for the responsible white men of the time are just terrific; I left out the John Wayne one to zoom in on Pat Boone and Want Disney (and on the front cover, so parents would feel good about buying this for their kids):

Gee Walt, I didn't see credits for songs about segregation, oppression of women and the Vietnam War on the album, but maybe I just missed them...

BASSES: Here's a couple photos of two Allparts necks (one Jazz, one Precision) that I am looking forward to installing. I tinted them with Stewart-MacDonald tinted Nitro Lacquer, but ran out before I could make a second pass, so these are curing while a new can is in the mail. As you can see from the last photo, bass bodies are piling up, so I feel a few birthings coming very soon. More to follow...

CHOCOLATE: Shared some decent dark chocolate bars after dinner last night; one was a 65% with almonds and sea salt, the other a 71% that was a bit harsher but very smooth/creamy. Don't remember the make, I should have snapped photos of the packages, still getting used to sharing this stuff. Today I found a Paris Baguette bakery (a Korean chain that has a number of Los Angeles outlets), and enjoyed the chocolate croissant as I drove from thrift shop to thrift shop (they also make a bitchen' high-gluten donut and Belgian-style waffle).

As I am in Berkeley for the next couple of nights, I will be visiting and photographing my FAVORITE chocolate shop, The Bittersweet Cafe, and will post and comment more about that tomorrow.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Funster classic sunburst Precision bass

Building basses is a crapshoot, like any work of art. I never know how they will turn out until they are done. I get better at the craft of assembling basses, mostly because as I get older I have gotten more patient; I am willing to spend months thinking about the build and accumulating just the right parts, then take my time assembling. If money was no object (a hilarious phrase, since money is ALWAYS an object), I could probably accumulate the parts much faster, although the idea that spending more guarantees better quality is not always true (only sometimes, like with Allparts necks). But whether or not the body resonates properly, the neck plays well (the one thing I still don't trust doing myself is fretwork, so I am at the mercy of whomever built and finished the neck before I receive it), and the two play nice together is only something I will discover once the bass is assembled.

In wanting to build a classic 57-early 60's passive precision-style bass, I wanted to experiment with body weight. It seems to me Jazz-style basses don't need as much body mass to get that mid-rangey tone, but the Precisions I have built in the past, although sometimes playing great, always seem to be missing something at the very bottom. I still have an unfinished, custom-made slab-style Precision body waiting to paint in the shop, to go for John Entwistle's famous Frankenbass with the non-contoured slab body and overwound pickups. That bass is still to be made, and all of the parts are ready, once I build up the courage and find the time to paint it (cans of Guitar ReRanch nitro are standing at the ready). But I found a dealer on eBay with a VERY heavy, pre-finished 2-tone sunburst Precision body (I think it's a Mighty Mite - like their bodies, but have not had luck with their necks). Even though it's a poly finish, the weight intrigued me, and the finish enticed me, so I ordered the body. I also ordered a set of custom scatter-wound pickups (totally vintage spec) from Mark Lariccia, a pickup maker in the Los Angeles area (his eBay user name is mcm_guitarworks). This is the first set I tried from him, as well as the first bass set he has ever made, so that was a total shot in the dark, but I got a good impression from his other listings and email communication.

I scavenged a maple neck from an older sunburst Precision I built and played regularly with a Who tribute band (and plan on trying that body with a maple fretless neck I have in the ready to recreate John Paul Jones' fretless Precision). I remember that although the bass lacked some bottom, it had a great-playing vintage finish Eden neck (a Chinese neck supplier I have had good results with) and top-shelf Hipshot tuners with a D-tuner on the E string, so very versitile. The fret ends were never finished well (I filed them after I assembled the bass), but it always felt great at all positions. All I had to do was apply a newer FUNSTER JOEL BASS decal, with lots of clear coats on the headstock. A nice heavy bridge with brass saddles, a brass nut, a tortoise pickguard and a 1mil orange cap with 500k pots finished the parts list (along with a new set of La Bella flats, my favorite flatwounds), and here you go:

It's certainly a beauty, and I already knew it would play well from previous use of the neck. It is certainly the heaviest Fender-style bass I have played, coming in at over 10lbs (I think my custom Fenderbird may be slightly heavier - I'll feature that one soon)! Mark's pickups did not disappoint: they are full and warm, and I have gotten great compliments from sound engineers who ran the bass direct at live gigs with no need for addition EQing (I now have 2 more sets of Mark's pickups waiting for use in a Jaguar bass and a passive sunburst Jazz bass build). But the extra weight (with a very wide strap, thank you very much) seemed to do the trick - this thing has amazing bottom end, so much so that I spent a few gigs going back and forth with pickup height adjustments to find the right balance (I actually backed them off a bit more than normal to keep a real clean tone). The dynamics are wonderful - I can play light, then really pull a louder and slightly edgier tone out of it, while still maintaining a clean sound up and down the neck.

I can't exactly remember where I got the bridge, but it's a high-mass monster with gorgeous brass saddles, something like a Wilkinson, but most probably Chinese-made (aka Wilkinson, etc). Everyone seems to want high-mass and string-thru bridges for more sustain these days, but if I am going for a vintage tone, they all had the lighter, thinner bridges and LESS sustain, so I split the difference here.
I am becoming more and more of a passive fan in my old age, after decades of active EMGs, but it probably has just as much to do with the classic rock music I have been leaning towards these days aa much as a newer appreciation for flat tone (and flatwounds) without bass and treble tone controls. A truly great bass for classic 60s-70s stuff (I've used it for Eagles and Zeppelin so far) - this one scores a win, and I look forward to using it for years to come (I'll just try to carry it in a single bass bag, thank you very much).

The Funster JOEL BASS logo decal is something I designed and had made just for my basses; no one ever figures out it does not say Fender unless I make a big deal out of it (which I TRY not to do, sometimes succeeding).

NOTE: I build these basses for myself, not for resale (generally), but I love sharing build ideas with other makers and players.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Drinking chocolate (the most efficient form of delivery)

Everyday hot chocolate is a joke, usually little more than weak hot chocolate milk. The idea that milk belongs in chocolate certainly seems American (i.e. corporate American), although I'm not letting the Swiss off the hook here. For the last couple of years I have regularly indulged in real, straight and sometimes very thick dark drinking chocolate in the mornings (and sometimes afternoons, but never evenings - read on). Real drinking chocolate should generally consist of only TWO things - semi-sweet dark chocolate and very hot water. Adding milk (or using only milk) in absolutely NO (never mind I am mostly a vegan, it's just unnecessary, and ruins the intense chocolate experience).

I first discovered true dark drinking chocolate at The Bitterweeet Cafe in San Francisco (now in Oakland and Berkley, CA). Eight ounces of finely ground quality dark (probably 70% or so) semi-sweet chocolate in very hot water, and nothing more. Besides the amazing flavor, it's quite the stimulant - the first time I had this "shot" I was practically dancing within a minute (and I DON'T dance). This creates quite a buzz, and I would not recommend it after 6pm if you want to sleep that night! One of the privileges of playing in two San Francisco-area bands is that I am regularly in the area and can go to The Bittersweet Cafe. Please open one in Los Angeles!

In my 2012 trip to Europe, I traveled to a few cities in Italy, the motherland of this style of hot drink. It's considered an adult drink there; while in Florence, every morning I walked to the Caffe Rivoire (see photo) for the ultimate drinking chocolate - very rich, very thick, very satisfying. I first found this drink in Venice, but the shop there made it much thicker - more like a pudding - and served it (necessarily) with a spoon. Moving on, I also hit gold in Barcelona - also VERY thick (it must have had flour mixed in it), and two shops up from an amazing churro maker (also available dipped in chocolate - I put on ten pounds during this 2 week trip, even with lots of walking).

I have the privilege of traveling quite a bit while performing, and while in New Orleans I  discovered and frequented the Cafe Du Monde, with its famous and fabulous hot powdered beignets, served with a passable hot chocolate (too weak, too much milk). The beignets made the hot chocolate worth it, and I was grateful they had more than just coffee (which was supposed to be good, but I don't drink it, so...). The day I was leaving I went back very early, even stealing some untouched but abandoned beignets on the adjacent table while waiting for my order...

In Los Angeles the drinking chocolate tradition belongs to the Mexicans, specifically from the Oaxaca region (with their amazing Moles). There is a famous Oaxacan restaurant on Olympic Blvd here in Los Angeles, called Guelaguetza, where I order sweet corn and raisin tamales and drinking chocolate. They make it a bit thin, and without milk (when requested), but I buy a bag of their chocolate and make it at home - thicker and mixed with whatever other dark chocolate I have lying around (Mexican drinking chocolate usually has some other spices in it, including cinnamon and some chile, which I prefer to dilute). This morning I dropped one round piece of Mexican chocolate and four squares of Belgian 70% dark from Trader Joes (their Pound Plus bar is excellent) into 1 1/2 cups of hot water, then microwaved for 90 seconds to melt the chocolate. Stir it up with a fork, pour it into a mug, then sipped onto the tounge! This particular batch of Mexican drinking chocolate has a bit more spice than I prefer, but it got better and thicker as it cooled off.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

The dangers of gluttony and obsession

People are hoarders, it's in our programming. We evolved and survived by collecting things and food binging, and animal protein made our brains bigger, which made us more clever at killing animals, which added more protein, which made us more clever, etc. We now seem to be too clever, hoard and binge too much, and like guns. These things combine to create a problem.

I am at the Las Vegas airport, and once again run into a familiar advertisement for a gun store: a pretty model in black military-style clothing surrounded by guns (surrounded in this setting by slot machines). I have heard that America's problem today is not that there are more people owning guns - there are actually less - but that those who do own more and more of them.

If someone breaks into my house while I am out and steals some of my basses, the worst thing that will happen (besides a broken heart) is that, sometime in the future, a few more people will have and might possibly play a bass guitar. If someone breaks into the home of a gun collector and steals some of his guns, what's the worst thing that could happen?

(fill in latest news story here)

Yes, how nice that we live such easy lives that we can indulge in our gadget obsessions, and to each his own. But my bass collection/obsession is more about my ability to build my own basses on the cheap (mostly), and then play them to make music, while getting paid to do it. Unless you are a cop or soldier (private or public), a single handgun or rifle will take care of most all real or imagined fears, as most people will never actually use said weapon against another person in their lifetime. Any more than that is gadget porn at best, sociopaths paranoia at worst.

If you are not actually crazy, then try to keep these things in check. I'll try not to become John Entwistle with his hundreds of basses; you try not to become an armory. We'll all live longer.

Chocolate: some down at the Vegas airport, got a dark chocolate coconut and a salted caramel from Ethel M. Coconut was pretty good, a tiny $2 Mounds Bar with better chocolate. The caramel was too sweet as usual, but I wanted the salted chocolate (too many years with braces and I still can't enjoy caramel guilt-free). And as for this obsession, I could get fat, diabetes or both if I overdue it, but that just keeps me focused on quality over qty.

A good general life rule, actually. Keep focused people.

New blog, new birthday, new thoughts

As I type this (although "tapping" is a more accurate description), I am flying to Las Vegas, connecting to Reno, then driving to Lake Tahoe to perform my second gig with the
Journey tribute band JOURNEY UNAUTHORIZED. It's my 52nd birthday, and here I am on my way to playing in yet another cover band, the same basic thing I was doing 30 years ago - and loving it.

Getting older is many things, and a yearly life check is inevitable. I'm not much on nostalgia, and would rather just get on with things, but for all my over-analyzing and forced focus on the processes of my life, the fact that I am pretty much where I was headed 30 years ago is sitting fine. Getting older sees to be a combination of learning what it is I truly love, figuring out how to avoid the things I don't, and accepting that I'll get and be much less than I had hoped. Which is another way if saying that I have learned to accept less, love more and try not to get caught up in the rest of the bullshit.

I call this blog Bass Guitars and Chocolate because they are two of the things I love and continue to explore as I travel, perform and live. I'll be playing catch up for a while, with lots of photos and descriptions of amazing dark chocolates, thick Italian chocolate drinks I have enjoyed from around the world, and amazing bass guitars I have built, owned, seen and/or played. I have no idea who could possibly be interested in this combination of sensual and intellectual obsessions, and I am sure I will talk about much more than these two topics, and admire the elegance of extreme niches blogs can inhabit.

The only pity is that my birthday gig tonight is as a keyboard player, no basses involved ( not in my hands, anyway). Oh well, it's a gig, and at least I am playing music tonight!

Chocolate: had enough time on my way to Burbank airport to stop at Porto's for a chocolate croissant. Very good here; the chocolate inside is more of a ganache now, is soft and creamy with decent flavor, and not too sweet. Half of the outside is dipped in chocolate as well, an extra treat, reminding me of the chocolate dipped soft serve ice cream I loved as a kid. The croissant itself is not the best (compared to Maison Giraud in Pacific Palisades, which rivals any in Paris), but with all the chocolate flavors and textures the pastry itself does it's job and stays out of the way (without the chocolate the plain croissant there is not satisfactory). Sorry for no photo, I was driving and eating. Can't say I expect anything exciting in Tahoe as far as chocolate is concerned, but the day is young.

Basses: as already mentioned, tonight I am not playing bass, so no such tactile pleasures for the fingers in the near future. I have 3-5 basses is pre- or mid-build stages at home in the shop, and in my mind I am still working out some construction or design issues ( a couple more jazzes, 2 or 3 precisions, and a beefed-up sunburst Jaguar bass, along with 3 others that need necks and/or tuning machines swapped out or upgraded).