Wednesday, October 7, 2015


This glossy orange finish has been really difficult to get a picture of, but I think things have finally worked out. I'm a big fan of natural finishes—if it's metal let's see it, if it's plastic let it be and if it's wood well it's damn near offensive to paint over it. At the same time a well executed, high gloss metal flake finish is a beautiful thing and who doesn't love a pinstriped hot rod? Well, I think I've finally found a nice mash up of the two and I call it "pyrostriping." It's a little bit primal and a little bit rock 'n' roll… here's my first go at it on the back of the Flattop.

Monday, September 28, 2015

2 towards 100

The 51st Chicago International Film Festival begins October 15th. This year they had a poster contest with the winner to gain fortune and glory. Having done a couple of these over the last nine years, I intended to throw my hat in the ring, but it seemed my idea was too big for the time I had. With a festival them of "Because everybody love movies," I decided I would draw about 50-100 portraits of all sorts of people… work and life got the better of me and I fell 48-98 short.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


"Brenda, Brenda… oh you (yea you), you speak my language!" -- Mark Sandman/Morphine

This is Brenda. She is a 32" scale acoustic bass made by Ibanez which they call PCBE12MH.

Now, for a guy that feels an unnatural impulse to customize anything and everything I exercised a tremendous amount of restraint here. Back in August I was looking for a backup bass, but found a wonderful-playing, inexpensive practice bass. After deciding to live a fret free life a couple years ago I wasted no time removing these irksome frets. Only this time I used a proper fret pulling tool instead of an old pocket knife.

The PCBE12MH was fret free within minutes and on the road to becoming Brenda. I'm a big fan of Plastic Wood—if it's good enough for Jaco it's more than adequate for me. The gaps left by the frets were filled…

Took the time to tape off the fingerboard which saved a ton of time with sanding.

I had every intention of using this at my live shows, but after several rounds of feedback testing, I began to doubt the possibilities.

After some sage advice from Curio's drummer Taylor—"you don't have to play everything out, just enjoy it"—I decided to do just that, play it around the house and enjoy it. Curio will have it's first acoustic show this fall, so perhaps Brenda will see the outside world. One thing that still bugged me however—a problem which plagues many bass guitars—was it's tendency to dip towards the headstock, which can cause shoulder/back issues after long periods of playing. I decided to install a chunk of heavy wood—Panga Panga—to offset this. Sawdust from Panga Panga "has been reported to cause central nervous system effects, irritation of the skin and eyes" so I was pretty cautious while working with it, but beware, Brenda is a dangerous little lady!

After the balance was improved I installed a jack plate. I noticed that over time the thin wood which comprises the sides of an acoustic bass guitar can get stressed through the in and out of the instrument cable. I stopped in a Guitar Center to buy this part, but as is my luck, they were out. The repairman gave me this used one and told me to come back when I need some real work (tricked him). In the parlance of Monster Garage, this was a freebie!

I've found that I prefer naturally finished necks as opposed to laminate finishes. My hand has a tendency to stick to heavy finishes in the heat and humidity which bugs me. So I removed the finish on the neck and gave it a single coat of danish oil.

That was about it… oh, I replaced the plastic bridge pins with some nicer walnut ones I had around and shifted the strap buttons to help with the balance. I set out to buy a bass because I didn't feel like building another one, but this purchase has sent me back to the garage to build a new bass as identical to Brenda as possible, with the only difference of withstanding loud volumes without feedback…

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wes Craven

Wes Craven left us this week and I'm sorry he had to go. This guy scared the crap out of me more times than I can count, but also got my imagination churning away. If you're on the Netflix check out Never Sleep Again this week—or you know, whenever you've got 4 hours…

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Flattop Tune up

With an allen wrench and a round file I've taken the flattop from a thumping troll to a fat bird singing. It's amazing what a bridge and neck adjustment can do.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Steve Swallow sketch

In the jazz world you might think the acoustic bass guitar might find more use, but the only player I know is Steve Swallow. Swallow and Brian Ritchie both play acoustic bass guitars with picks and piezo pickups and get completely different sounds. Proof that tone is all in your hands… or maybe, tone is where the heart is.

enjoy the faces…

Monday, August 24, 2015

Brian Ritchie sketch

There aren't many bass players that use an acoustic bass guitar as their main instrument. In fact, you can count them on one hand—if you know of some let me know. The first person that comes to mind for me is Violent Femmes bassist, Brian Ritchie. Although there are many options available today, at the time the Femmes started just about the only option was the Ernie Ball Earthwood bass (which is what Ritchie played). The Earthwood bass was (excuse the pun) based on the Mexican guitarron.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

How to ruin a perfectly functional bass with panache and thoughtful abandon.

When I built the Flattop bass two years ago I had every intention of using it as a stepping stone towards playing upright. Although I'm still threatening to make the switch, there's something I really enjoy about the acoustic bass guitar. For one thing it's nice and flexible when blurring genre lines like we do in Curio, it's also a bit unusual as a main instrument. After shows people are really interested in learning more about the Flattop—what is it? did I build it? how does it work? As a result I've gotten into some great conversations with other players, chefs, mechanics… finding common ground and talking about doing your own thing—I really enjoy that.

This year Curio has played more shows than we have in the previous three. Which means my building abilities are being put to the test (along with my sleep schedule). I've run into pickup problems, bridge issues and tailpiece malfunctions this summer. For all the bass guitar building I do, most of it amounts to tinkering and experiments—scale lengths, coupled strings, number of strings, etc. and sometimes they break due to amateur woodworking—meaning, the Flattop is my only functional fretless bass and fixing a tailpiece the morning of a show is not a place I like to be.

To make a long setup longer, I've been looking for an electro-acoustic fretless backup. Problem being—they're hard to find! When I do find them I either don't like the styling or they're completely out of my price range. I set out looking for a kustomizable kandidate (that's hot rod spelling). The Fender T-Bucket acoustic was a front runner for a while, but it didn't feel like a $400 instrument when I played it. Very recently I came across the Ibanez PCBE12MH—hard to find in a shop, but a really nice simple bass guitar—all mahogany, naturally finish and half the price of the Fender. I stopped by a shop on my way down to our Lasalle show this weekend and picked it up for less than 200 due to a factory flaw. Now it's time to sprucemoose it up!

The plan: 1, polish down the chrome tuners to a pleasing copper satin finish; 2, sand the gloss finish off the neck; 3, de-fret; 4, add 1-3 feedback-busting soundposts.

The deadline: Curio's show on September 10th.

The project begins with an epitaph to the PCBE12MH…

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

smokin' skull

Most summers I tend to hole up in the AC, but for the first time in a very long time my forearms are tan. I've been out there sweatin' to the oldies with house work, bass building and rock n rollin. Which is all great stuff, but it means that I haven't been doing too much drawing. Few and far between, but here's a drawing for one of Curio's August shows…

Monday, July 13, 2015


A couple weeks ago unprompted, a co-worker and friend built me this bracelet which was inspired by Mike Ness' "Don't Think Twice." To my dismay, about 2 miles into my bike ride home this evening I noticed it was missing. After walking and feeding Wats I took off again—into this muggy armpit of a day—to find my bracelet. Happily, I found it about a mile away from home! Big relief. I would have been pretty upset to lose this.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Cromagnon dirt track racer

We'll be playing Brauerhouse in a couple weeks. I'm working to get my bass back up and thumpin'!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Flattop's Surgery

I finished building "The Flattop Bass" in September 2013. It quickly replaced my Eastwood Classic 4 and has been the only bass I play for the last 2 years. Back in January it cut out on me, but worked fine the next day. It cut out again at last week's rehearsal which I fixed, about which I was quite dubious and sure enough with three songs left in our second set last Sunday, it cuts out. The long and short of it—it needs a new bridge. I thought I might take the time to refinish the back as well. Hopefully it all works out.