Friday, September 21, 2012

A Pine Speaker Cab, Tung Oil and a Burlap Sack!

When I started planning my all pine 57 Tweed Deluxe clone I had in the back of my mind that it would be Johnny cool if it sat on a matching cab to form the ultimate tweed stack.

The Tung Oil Learning Curve
I found a cab maker on ebay that had a pine 1x12 box that mimicked the combo amp cab I already had. These two cabs are so similar that I almost thought the same guy had built them both, but I'm sure this is a pretty common design. The combo was done when I bought it. If it was up to me I would have a less glossy version but the combo does look pretty sexy.

The speaker cab was raw with no finish. The combo was finished with tung oil. I looked on my shelf and I already had two bottles. After my first application I read the label and the Formby's Tung Oil has no tung oil in it! It is a thinned wiping varnish.  I hoofed it to the hardware store and bought the Minwax Tung Oil. Guess what, Minwax doesn't have tung oil in it either!
After some Googling I found out most people use the Minwax. I let my first layer of Formby's dry for 24 hours and then I applied my Minwax. I followed the instructions and wiped the excess off after 15 minutes. The problem was after 2 or three applications I found it hard to believe it would ever look as shiny as my combo cab. I thought, "man that guy must have used some sort of clear coat and not confessed to it!"
I went back to the builder of my extension cab and asked how he got his cab so shiny in the "after" photo. He simply replied, "with 400 grit sand paper." I found it hard to believe but this gave me a chance to drive the Caddy and crank up my new favorite song - ZZ Top's "Heartache in Blue". I almost bought some clear coat for backup but I came home with 8 sheets of 400 grit. I sanded the cab and then wiped it down. I hit it again with a nice wipe down of Minwax Tung Oil. 12 hours later it looked better. I sanded it again and noticed that the sanding was actually shinning it up in some areas. I laid down more Minwax but this time I didn't wipe it down after 10 minutes. I let it sit in the sun. Right before I went to bed I sanded it down and hit it again and left it "wet" over night with no wipe down after 10 minutes. When I woke up I ran down to the basement and it was pretty shiny! I was afraid it might not dry and be gummy but it was pretty good. I waited until noon and sanded and wiped it down with Minwax one more time. By 5 PM it looked almost exactly like my cab. I would have never believed it!

Burlap Potato Sacks are Cool
After watching Heartworn Highway and spotting Charlie Daniels wood amp cabs and burlap feed sack speaker covers I had to have my own. That led to me sitting on my porch in the evening on Ebay looking for two feed sacks. It's not as easy as you would think. I would find cool burlap sacks and they would want $80 bucks for them. There is no way I could bring myself to pay that much for some burlap. The other problem was finding sacks that looked cool but also had a graphic that would fit the cab. After weeks of looking I wanted the sack that Charlie used. I had given up and then out of the blue there it was and for only around $8!! The sad reality was that there was no way it was going to fit my cabs. It was just too big.
It was a sad burlap sack hunting day. I ended up scoring an Indian head that looked super bad and was just the right size. Usually I would feel a little funny about an Indian head as art work but since my people walked the Trail of Tears I figure I can pull it off. I also scored a sack with a train on it. When they showed up I was blown away. I just didn't expect potato sacks to look so damn cool! My wife and I both felt bad that I had to cut them up. I think I'm going to get a few more to frame for the basement.

There you have it - my retro, all natural, potato sack boxes of wood. The cabs look even better than I thought they would...and how often does that happen?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Jim T's Caddy - Featuring Walt Wilkins

Click above to listen to Jim T's interview with Walt Wilkins!

The whole crew at the Alamo during SXSW
I've known Walt Wilkins since my college days. Walt was my film professor at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He always had a guitar in his office and had the kind of parties at his house that Robert Earle Keen might write about. We ran back into to each other in Nashville many years later and did our best to wring out Nashville in every way possible. He was a professional song writer at that time and I somehow finagled my way into running a record label called Groovetone. Pretty soon Walt was on my label and we were fully engulfed in the music scene in Nashville. It was all music all the time and when the bars closed we would all head back to my house on Woodlawn Dr. to keep the party going as long as possible.  I also met my wife around that time. Walt played a role in helping me woo her with the song "Big Hopes." All that to say Walt has been one of my best friends over the years and an amazing song writer and performer. He is in Texas now with his lovely wife and great singer Tina, and his son Luke.

During this interview we go over his early days in Austin,  his influences, his Nashville Music Row days and now his role as hardcore troubador in Texas. We also talk about the first song Walt ever wrote, "Songs About Texas." This was a nice hit for Pat Green and one of my favorites. For his birthday I did a version of it with Alabama bad ass and my neighbor Davis Raines. I can barely stand to hear myself sing but I put our version of the song at the end of the podcast.

Walt is just on of those guys that can take the stage and take the audience out of their every day lives and wrap them up in his songs.

Be sure to check out Walt's new CD Plenty, as well as his other CDs

Sit back and get to know Walt and his music a little better!

Check out this episode!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Thoughts - Potato Sacks, Guitar Pedals, and More

After my Coca Cola pedal board I had to keep going down the tunnel of custom. I have been all over the Ebay looking for suitable burlap feed sacks to use as speaker cloth on my 57 Deluxe Pine Mini Stack. One of my sacks showed up today. As I took it out of the container I was excited to see it looked 10 times better than I expected. Then I realized I was getting excited over a potato sack and had to rethink my thinking. My wife assures me that this is a good thing. The Tung oiled pine cab on the amp already made my office smell pretty good but holy shite have you ever smelled a burlap bag? It's very burlappy but not horrible. My USA made Warehouse Guitar Speaker is already here but my handmade pine 1x12 cab is on the slow boat and by slow boat I mean the USPS. Have you ever tried to track anything with the USPS? Here is how it goes - "You item has shipped" - "You item is in transit" - I'm sure after I get it I will get an email that states "Item arrived!" That's not tracking. That's just telling me what I already know! No wonder the USPS is in the red.

I'm also about to start making guitar pedals for fun. My recent rust experiment with my pedal board got me to thinking - what if I made some equally rusty pedals? You know, worn paint, dented and rust flavored? I'm getting a nice order together with Parts Express.

And now to our Friday music report:
I purchased the new ZZ Top album La Futura - It makes for the perfect Caddy driving music. More on this in a future article.

I stayed up late last night trying to determine what electric blues albums I needed to own. I gave up at midnight and still can't decide. I'm all into Smokin' Joe Kubek. Once again I'm learning that sparse is good.

I took my girl Miss Billie out in the Caddy. She loves riding shotgun. She's 11 now but I hope to have here around for many more years to ride with me. When I left LA I had Cecil as my Caddy partner in crime. That dog rode next to me with the roof down from LA to Nashville. That was a hot ride!

I found a great video for you Steve disciples. This is an in depth interview from this month (Sept. 2012). Steve talks about his time with Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, his son John Henry, Allison, The Pogues and a lot more.

Now it's time to sit on the porch, light my tiki torch and watch the traffic go by with Miss Billie by my side. Happy Friday!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Coca Cola Pedal Board!

I'm still working on my "Woody 57 Tweed Deluxe Mini Stack" amp. All pine, all hand wired, all the good stuff. I decided I wanted some pedals to go with it but I want to be careful about his whole pedal thing. I have fallen down the guitar pedal rabbit hole and I actually made it back out. I have had the boutique high dollar pedals and I have had $20 Danelectro pedals. What I don't want to do is get lost in my pedals when really the tone I want is going to come from the amp. With this in mind I ordered two Danelectro Fish N Chips equalizers (1 for each channel), one Visual Sound Garagetone Axel Grease delay, one Visual Sound Garagetone DriveTrain OD, and A/B box that goes to the Equalizers and then out to the amp and finally an ancient volume pedal. This story is not about the pedals, it's about the board.

I have been watching a Facebook page from a pretty cool pedal board maker called Salvage Custom Shop. They make killer boards that are new and also use old type writer cases and suitcases. You can see their stuff here. Don't go look yet though. I thought I was going to get one of those but I didn't really want to lay out the cash. So then I was on Ebay and found a killer board that was all fauxed out in my favorite colors. The problem is that one doesn't pack up in a case. Right after I looked at that I walked out of my guitar room/office and my eyes landed on two wood Coca Cola crates given to me long ago as a birthday present by the vivacious Cheryl. BAM!! I knew right then I was going to make a Coca Cola pedal board! I put some pedals in one and while not huge it seemed about right for what I needed. Then I slept on the idea. By morning I had the whole build worked out in my head.

First I started with the two wooden crates. I wanted to make sure every piece of the board looked as old as everything else. That is when I realized I could take apart the wooden sections that held the cokes and use them for the board. They were already close to the perfect sizes. The other holder was for two six packs and it had some nice wood in it as well.

As I was trying to figure out how to get them apart I really got a good look at how these were built. While the long sides were always red I realized the short sides were originally yellow, the old color. Also under the red paint is the name of a town and the word "TEXAS", how cool is that?! It also looks like these were hand made and hand cut. I have no way of knowing for sure but they look hand made to me. It made me wonder about the people that worked on them. Another interesting thing is that when I was cutting some of the pieces the wood smelled just like Coca Cola. All I can figure is over the years more than a few cokes were spilled on these crates.

I used the main piece of wood for the pedal board floor. I hinged it on the back so I could open it up and put my daisy chain power supply under there. It also has enough room for extra cables, slides and pedals. I used a piece of the wood as a lip for the board to lay down on to stay secure while playing.

To create the case I went to our hardware store and bought 4 snaps and put them on all four corners. I didn't know if that would actually worked but damn it did! They also had a metal handle that looked perfect to me. I got all that together one evening and brought it upstairs to show the wife. She actually really liked it. She even called it "art." High praise!

I decided the new hardware didn't fit. It looked too new. Everyone went to bed and I googled "aging metal hardware." The first link listed things I had in the house so I set out to age all the hardware. By morning every piece of metal looked as old as everything else. I was petty blown away.

I stole some rubber feet off an old type writer we have and took two of the side boards to elevate the front of the board. After I was done it looked great and worked just as well!

A few days later my pedals arrived and I went about figuring out how I wanted everything laid out. It all fit perfectly! I found some foam for the top and bottom. The top foam holds all the pedals in place firmly. I will anchor the pedals down with bicycle chain links when I feel good about what I'm running but it totally works as is now.

I can unplug the power and cables, put the top on and lock everything down and actually haul this thing around. I think it looks pretty damn cool. It's exactly how I saw it in my mind...and that's a pretty rare thing.  So there you have the "Coca Cola Pedal Board" from Jim T!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Amps, Watts and Decibels

 5 Watts is Half the Loudness of 50?!
You know the old amp wattage battle that occasionally will break out on the intrawebs. The concept is that a 100 watt amp should be twice as loud as a 50 watt amp. Another twist to this is that people will say a 5 watt amp is half as loud as a 50 watt amp. How can that be you ask?

Not Buying the 5 Watt Theory
When I was trying to decide on my amp this became a real life question for me. I wanted a Champ, but most Champ amps are 5 watts. An amp builder I was talking to kept telling me 5 watts was more than enough. On occasion I will do a gig so I wanted something I could love at home and play at a show. To me 5 watts just didn't seem like enough. My amp guy kept telling me I would not notice the difference between 5 watts and 12 watts. "It's all about headroom", he said.

Ear Drums Be Damned! Testing the Theory
I decided it was time to do my own tests in my own labratory, aka my guitar room/office. I own a few amps. I have a highly tweaked 5 watt Valve Junior tube amp, now called the "Hell Junior" with an 8 inch speaker.  I also have a 130 watt MusicMan 2x12 HD tube amp (love that amp). It can do amazing cleans and I finally figured out how to get it to break up as well. I have a 32 watt Kustom Coupe tube amp with a 12 inch speaker.
 I like this one but I might sell it to fund something else. I have a 100 watt solid state Mustang III with a 12 inch Celestian speaker. Finally I have a Fender Blues Jr. with a 12 inch speaker and 15 watts.

The Testing Begins!!
The first question is how do I test the decibels of these things? I download a free app called Decibel by Skypaw for my iPhone. It was free and simple. I was a little concerned it might not be accurate but I decided even it it wasn't at least it would be accurately inaccurate between each amp and that data would be useful. Based off the numbers it seemed to be right on. I also had a set of ear plugs.

Amp Findings
I warmed up all the amps and then rolled all volumes and masters to 10. Some of them fedback at max volume but I wanted to see what they would really do. If I strummed a chord I would get a solid reading and then it might fluctuate up a db or so for just a second. I went with the decibel rating that seemed the most stable. 
The 5 watt Valve Junior amp was pretty damn loud. It came in around 95 decibels. The 8 inch speaker pushed no air. It also broke up earlier than a 12 inch would. I know that because after testing it with the 8 I plugged it into a 2x12. Neither seemed to push any air though. That comes into play later.

The  15 watt Blues Junior was slightly louder at around 98 decibels. I couldn't really feel much air being pushed by this one either.

The 32 watt Kustom Coupe came in at a respectable 98 decibels! It pushed some air.

The 130 watt MusicMan did what it does best - GET LOUD. Prior to being married I lived in a house on Woodlawn Dr. in Nashville. I used to turn that amp as loud as it would go and shut all the doors and windows and sit on the porch and play it. I crap you negative when I say it literally shook the windows in their panes. That bad boy was pushing around 102 decibels. Now you wouldn't think there would be a big difference between 95 and 102 but holy hell was that a lot louder! The 2x12s were also really pushing the air and the bass. You could feel it in your body. This has a lot to do with "feeling" loud as well. 

The surprise of the group was the solid state Fender Mustang III 100 watt modeling amp. I really do like this amp for all the things it can do. It has every effect in the world build in, not to mention all the classic amps. While it may not be the purest amp on the planet it gets close to sounding like some of the best. When I cranked this thing up it was LOUD and it sounded GREAT! To top it all off it really pushed a lot of air! It was right there with the 120 2x12...almost. I was severely impressed! It came in at around 99 db.

Based on all this I went with a the hand wired 5E3 Fender Deluxe Tweed clone at 15 watts with a 12 inch Jensen Lightening speaker. It pushes 100 decibels and seems plenty loud. The breakup on a 5E3 comes early with the right tubes and I'm fine with that.

The Outcome
So the ultimate outcome for me is that a 5 watt amp is a lot louder than I thought. I also learned that a few decibels really make a big difference in loudness. Who would have thought it would have taken that much wattage to increase the decibel level. Could I gig with a 5 watt amp? Sure, if the sound guy ran a mic to it. Is 5 watts too loud for home use - very possibly yes! The fact that 130 watts is loud was no surprise but the feel of 130 watts really
 surprised me. It pumps right through your body.

SIDE STORY - I was at a show in SC and I guess I cranked my MusicMan up during a song. The lead singer leaned back and yelled in my ear, "Your really burning it up!" and I yelled back, "THANKS!" and then he yelled back, "NO! YOUR TOO LOUD!!" Whoops.

Attenuation of the Situation
While the 5E3 is exactly the tone I was looking for to get it I had to crank it and if I kept going at that level I would go deaf. I jumped on ebay found a killer attenuator. An attenuator connects between your speaker and your amp. It's not a master volume. This one is super nice with a bypass and a bright switch. I tried it during my decibel test and the attenuator would crank up to full volume levels. It also allows you to get full tube grind at living room levels. If you like saturated amps you should own one!