Remember to click G+1 if you like a post... It will make me happy :-)

24 December 2015


For the past couple of weeks I've been embroiled in a bitter war over the internet. Our weapons were banjos and the prize was none other than Spirit of Christmas itself. Have I ever told you how easily-led I am? Co-collaborator Jake Tolbert challenged me to something he called #ChristmasShootout on Google+. I couldn't resist.

"Sunny Japan: Our Greatest Xmas Show for Boys and Girls" 

22 December 2015

Of Quadrants and Sextants

Given the close proximity, it seems odd that I've never been to Newcastle. I've passed through loads of times on the train, but for reasons I can't explain, I've never ventured into the centre to have a look around. This weekend I fixed this! Today's post is inspired by some of my adventures...

As soon as I walked out of the train station I felt myself falling for Newcastle. The Architecture of the town is amazing. Everything brims with history and it seems to me that every nook and cranny hints at some great long-forgotten story.

You know when things just happen? When one lucky happenstance leads on to another, and another, and another? I live for these moments. I've learnt that the trick is to realise when one of these wonderful events is unfolding and to grab onto it with both hands.

It happened this weekend. Here's how it began:

I had stopped to take a picture of the stonework above when a gentleman popped his head around the corner and said: "Do you want to take a look inside?"


14 November 2015

When I'm Cleaning Windows

I'm feeling pretty shit having watched the horrific tragedy unfold in Paris over the past day. Don't worry, I won't dwell on this now. Let's see if I can pick myself up a bit with a random blog update!

I did promise you some photos from my trip to the US, but I just haven't had the time or energy to pull anything together. Above is a little teaser, but really I want to share with you the video below. It's a rough-and-ready acoustic version of a tune I've been learning of a Townes Van Zandt song for an up-and-coming collaboration. Here's my interpretation of Better than waiting round to die. What do you think?

30 October 2015

Snowpiercer (1984)

I'm falling out of the habit of posting on this blog. Let's do something about this right now. At first sight, this is a review of the Snowpiercer graphic novel by Lob Rochette. On closer inspection, it is simply the ramblings of a tortured soul...

I bought the graphic novel and film both at the same time. It turned out that I got to the film first sometime in the summer. I picked up the comic this week and had it read in a couple of nights. The comic was originally published as "Transperceneige" in 1984, but the edition pictured is from June 2014. And I see now that there is a typo in the comic where it tells me this. Good job these sorts of things don't bother me these days.  

11 October 2015

Skylark is published!

If you've been wondering why I haven't been posting blog updates recently, then you'll probably be unaware of my latest project to produce book 5 in the Bad Moon western comic series. The good news is that I have just published it! And unlike the last one, it wasn't an accident! ;-) Read all about it here...

"Skylark" is the latest episode in the Bad Moon comic series.

Previous comics in the series are:

Bad Moon
The Black Pirate
Dead Hand
The Lost Man

2 August 2015

Of Mice and Masons

I was asked the other day whether I am a Freemason. No, but I do seem to have a bit of an eye for spotting their work. I'm intrigued by the art and also some of the history of this group. I'm no expert by any stretch, but I do enjoy bumbling through their mystery.

Today's post is a bit random, but I'm going to share with you some shots from a recent trip to Dublin... where I found myself sleeping with the Masons... :-O

I start with a shot of the magnificent Bewley's Hotel in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Under ominous skies you can see the imposing tower of what was once the Masonic Female Orphan School of Ireland.

The school was founded in 1879 by Chevalier Bartholomew Ruspini, an Italian who made his home in England, and who eventually wheedled his way into becoming the state dentist to His Majesty King George III,

After a failed attempt to join the Bear Lodge (meeting at the Bear Inn, Bath) in 1759, Ruspini was later accepted into the Burning Bush Lodge (1762).

Although perhaps more famous for his work founding the Royal Masonic School for Girls in Rickmansworth, as we can see from the photo, Ruspini was also doing the same here in Dublin.

I do like the philanthropist angle to the Masons.

25 July 2015

"Damned" is published!

I've a confession to make: I published my new comic yesterday by mistake. Ha ha. Oh dear! To be fair, I reckon I was pretty close to signing it off anyway. Publish and be damned!

"Damned" marks the 5th installment of the Bad Moon saga.

All of the comics are available in all the usual eBook outlets for free. Damned can be found on Lulu right now, and I'm sure it will be available from the other outlets within a month or so.

If you get the chance to read any of my comics, please drop me a comment or a review; I love to hear feedback,.. good or bad. 

19 July 2015

How to restore a washboard

The past couple of weekends have been spent cleaning up a washboard I bought and had shipped over from America.

Here's the washboard as it arrived. It's a pretty basic design: a wooden frame, holding some corrugated brass. It's obviously seen a lot of use; There is soap and remnants of fabric ingrained and caught in the holes. The wood itself is dented and worn, exposing a raised grain. The nails holding it together have rusted. The brass is tarnished and dull.

I love it! 

27 June 2015

How to make an Experimental Double-shaker

Last weekend I felt the urge to build something. I'd had my interest piqued by a video of the Schlagwerk SK40 Double-shaker and in no time at all I was busy planning my way to making something in the same style...

Here's my design. I'll call out some of the more important details throughout the post, but right now I'll explain why I'm calling it an "experimental" double-shaker design. You'll see that the top is removable with the intention of changing the beads. I don't have a clue what will sound good so I've giving myself the option to open it up and change it. Genius?

20 June 2015

Xiaomi Mi Fit Madness

This past month or so has been a bit of a frustrating time with my Mi Fit Band. Fingers crossed, I'm through the worst of it. Time for a rant and to share a little bit of Xiaomi news with you.

If you want a sort of 101 on the Mi Fit band then please check out my earlier post that shows you how to set one up from scratch.

A couple of months ago my wife's Mi Fit got "stuck". It stopped counting steps and sleep patterns. The band would vibrate when you'd locate it and appeared to be happily paired with her phone, but it simply wouldn't clock up the stats.

I spent ages trying to sort it out. I charged it to max; Rebooted the phone; Unpaired and re-paired the band; Uninstalled the Mi Fit app and reinstalled... Nada. What on earth had gone wrong? I didn't have a clue. More frustratingly for me, was the fact that my wife gave up on her band; She'd lost her unbroken record of hitting her target! Oh dear! The only bright side here was that I now had a chance to catch her up! Ha ha! ;-)

Eventually I spotted a firmware update appear on my Mi Fit, so I updated my wife's to see what would happen. It fixed her band! Woohoo!

This episode ended with Mrs Uke back wearing her band and me with the longest unbroken record for hitting target. Ha ha! Life was good.

And then it happened to me... :-O

14 June 2015

How to make a Banjo Nut

I know... I've been absent for a while. I've been up to all sorts of things; some of which might make it into this blog. Today I'm going to take it slow and ease myself back into writing with a short article on making instrument nuts...

Here's a picture of my Windsor Whirle 5-string banjo. If you look really close, you'll see a problem with the nut. Yes, I've only gone and knocked the instrument over in its stand. This old bone nut has begun to crumble. You can see that the hole for the 4th string (furthest to the left in this photo) has collapsed and is now flush with the fretboard. I could have built it back up again with superglue, but in this instance I opted for a new nut. My feeling was that it would only be a matter of time before I'd be patching it up again, and anyway, making a new nut is way more fun ;-)

25 May 2015

Experiments in DIY Instrument Strings

I got into some interesting research yesterday wondering whether it would be possible to use fishing leader line to string up my banjo. The answer of course is yes, but I was wondering how I went about figuring out which line to use. I'm going to share some of my musings...

2 or 3 years ago I posted this excerpt from Pete Seeger's book "How to play the 5-string Banjo (1961)" where he talks about using fishing leader to string banjos. I told you at the time that I would try this out and I'm close to being true to my word. Pete gives us a few great hints, but there is a little more to this than he lets on about.

17 May 2015

Time and Tide - Sneak Peek

I want to give you a little bit of an update on my musical collaborations today. You may remember me talking about the latest one with Stephen Jedlicka and Martin Kirwan. It's been running for a good number of months now and everything under the sun seems to be conspiring to thwart it. Last week I shared a new song on Soundcloud. Today I'll give you a bit more background to the collaboration...

I came up with a name for the collaboration and a tentative name for the album. As of right now we're aiming to record under the name "The Trailmen" which is a reference to our cowboy roots. The album will be called "Broken Bones" and this harks back to a more rough-and-tumble age.

I have been asked about the symbolism of the artwork. Yes, there is a nautical theme, but actually the real story is one of displacement and looking for a better life, which are ideas that I think are just as relevant today as in the era in which this collaboration is set.

9 May 2015

Dreaming of Mountain Banjos & Murder

What's in a number? This happens to be my 500th blog post. I don't want to even think about all the hours I've frittered away writing nonsense for you. Am I just wasting my time, or will I eventually find that bloody Golden Scarab? We'll just have to wait and see.

After what was a cracking start to the year, I'm finding myself short on time and in a bit of a lull. It's not that I'm being lazy... more that I simply haven't got much to share with you.

I was doing a little bit of banjo dreaming earlier in the week when I mocked up this design for a fretless mountain banjo. I'm calling it the "murder banjer".

I would love to make it, but I haven't got the energy for another build just yet 

2 May 2015

Ukulele Kids Club UK

In today's post I'm going to showcase a worthy cause that I think everyone will be interested in learning about. It involves children and ukuleles...

Ukulele Kids Club Inc. is a not-for-profit organisation based in the US with a mission to donate ukuleles to children's hospitals to aid music therapy programmes. The organisation was founded in January 2014 by Corey and Edda Bergman.

26 April 2015

Highwayman Banjo: Terminado!

I've finished! The build is done! Woohoo!

I had one last job to do last night before fitting it all back together...

Raise your glasses to the Highwayman Banjo! 

25 April 2015

Highwayman Banjo: Varnish and be done!

I'm drawing to the end of my Highwayman Banjo build! I've been at this for at least a year now and I'm almost done. I can't quite believe it. Today I set out to do the final shaping of the neck. It took a while, but I got it done with time to spare...

I don't have any shaping pictures for you. Here's me having cleaned the neck down with white spirit. The wood looks quite dark due to it still being a little damp. This was the first hint of how the wood was going to turn out with varnish on. Looking good! I had high hopes.

I didn't plan to do any banjo building today, but was forced into it when I realised that  I was starting to mark the wood by playing it unfinished.

The mahogany sanded down a treat. It really does make a difference to the feel of the banjo knowing that I'm not going to spike myself with a splinter

19 April 2015

Highwayman Banjo: Wish I'd reflected a bit longer

This morning I did an update on the Highwayman Banjo build not thinking that I'd get to do any more on it today. Oh, how I wish I'd waited until next weekend to take the project forward. Let me explain...

It is important when beginning to do something that cannot be undone, that you measure twice, cross your fingers and toes, and generally take every precaution you can think of to make sure that you don't bugger it up.

 Listen to my wise words... You'd think that I knew what I was doing wouldn't you?

Highwayman Banjo: A Time to Reflect

I seem to have drifted into a bit of a lull with the Highwayman Banjo building. Time has been short and I've been spinning a number of different plates. Even so, I reckon I can scrape together a bit of an update for you.

I was trying to figure out the best way to attach the tailpiece to the body when I made the mistake of searching for broken drums and drum parts on eBay. What took my eye was a particularly grubby-looking lot for metal parts salvaged from a 12 inch tom tom.

I didn't really want the hoops. It might seem odd, but these don't lend themselves to banjo making due to their tall rims: you can't get the strings close to the skin without some pretty major surgery.

What had piqued my interest were the lugs. They're bigger than banjo lugs and look great into the bargain. Perhaps I could use one to hold the tail in place? Unfortunately, I've since found out that these lugs are too big for the Highwayman so they're going into a box until I can find a use for them,

12 April 2015

How to make a banjolele bridge

This post is a poke in the eye to all the conventional bridge-makers out there. I'm pioneering a return to grass-roots banjo-building and it starts right now with the bridge!

A short while ago I made a Pete Seeger-style bridge for my Highwayman Banjo. As lovely as that fancy bridge is, it has sparked in me an interest in single-foot bridges which just won't go away.

Today I'm going to share with you my first foray into banjolele bridge-making. Let me explain...

Although these bridges mark the start of a new era in luthiery history, I'm starting with quite a conventional first step. Here I am gluing a thin veneer of ebony to a thicker block of maple.

Highwayman Banjo - Buffalo Soldier

Time for a quick update on the Highwayman Banjo build. I was going to promise to try to keep on-topic, but I won't make promises I can't keep...

Isn't this picture great! I've swiped it from the Trapper Creek Bluegrass Festival page on Facebook. The festival is on the 22 May at Trapper Creek in Alaska. I'm sending our very own Ukulele Blog correspondent, Ukulele Russ along to check the gig out. In fact, I think he might even be playing a set for all the local bluegrass trappers. Brilliant!

4 April 2015

How to make a Pete Seeger banjo bridge - Part 2

If you're interested in knowing how I got to where I did today, then you'd probably be best jumping back to Part 1 in my quest to build a Pete Seeger style bridge.

I did a l little more work on the bridge and got it playable. There's a short sound-check below for you to get a feel for how it's all gone.

Let me start with a close-up of the bridge as it looks fitted to my Highwayman Banjo. I've trimmed off the arm tabs that were poking through the bridge and rounded off most edges. I keep listening for a gunshot sound as it collapses under the weight of the strings, but so far it is looking like it is up to the job!


3 April 2015

Highwayman Banjo - Over the (Bad) Moon

I've been doing hand-springs around the house and carrying Mrs Uke about on my shoulders. What a day! I've spent most of it holed up in the garage, furiously working on my Highwayman Banjo. I've done so much and the end result has surpassed all my expectations. It doesn't happen all that often, so I'm savouring it while I can! Ha ha. Let's relive a little of what I've been up to...

This morning is was all about shaping the banjo neck. I did it in two phases: Phase 1 was to get the depth right; Phase two was to round off the neck. I have gone for the same depth as my Windsor Whirle which is 7/8" at the nut and 1" at the 12th fret. All of the rounding has been done by eye so far and I have no intention of digging out any templates. I'll just keep working it until it feels good to my hands.

See the lump I've left on the neck for where I'm going to fit the 5th string tuner. At this point of the day, I had no idea what I was going to do here, so I left plenty of wood to give me options.

2 April 2015

How to make a Pete Seeger banjo bridge

The title of this post offers a lot of promise. I got all excited yesterday as I convinced myself that I could perhaps make myself a banjo bridge like Pete Seeger's. The idea had never crossed my mind before, and now that it has, I just have to give it a go.

In case you're wondering what bridge I'm talking about... cast your eyes over this picture. It's from the video below. What an unusual bridge with its two arms curling forwards. I posted on google+ asking for hints on how to make one and the feedback was brilliant.

1 April 2015

Highwayman Banjo - How to fit a banjo neck

Sorry for my first aborted attempt at this morning's post. Damn a slow internet connection and damn Google for sticking Close buttons on top of the Publish button. You can guess the rest.

I don't have a great deal to reveal in terms of action, but I do have a lot of thinking going on. Time to reveal what I've been thinking about...

I'd promised that I wouldn't do any more work on my Highwayman Banjo build yesterday and I just couldn't help myself. I guess that makes me a big fat liar!


The short video above shows you that I've temporarily strung the banjo to get a little tune out of it. Wahay! What I was really interested in though, was knowing whether I'd got that bloody neck fitted right. Read on, because I think I'm making progress here.

(In case you don't recognise the tuning, I only ever play "Dead Hand" on the banjo.)

31 March 2015

Highwayman Banjo - Coming Together

Day 2 of my holiday banjo building and there's lots to show you! With no further ado...

This is where I left it yesterday. I'd glued the fretboard onto the neck and here I am admiring my handiwork. What a beauty! I had all sorts of unanswered questions about the neck joint, but I realised that there was no point worrying about that until I could get the instrument playable. But what should I do next?

30 March 2015

How to set up a Xiaomi Mi Band

I have absolutely no interest in fitness bands... well, that was until I got myself one. It was all +Michael J King's fault. He posted a link to a site in America that was selling them off cheap. After a quick chat with Michael, I was convinced to give one a go. And since Mrs Uke was poking her nose in, I got her one too!

Although I bought the bands from America, the goods were shipped direct from China and took about 3 weeks to arrive. You can get the bands in all sorts of colours... yep... I got two black ones.

I've been using mine for a couple of weeks. I set up Mrs Uke's tonight. Because I can... here's a run through of what I did...

Mi Band

"Unlock your phone without a password
Monitor Fitness Level
Track Sleeping Quality
Smart Alarm
30 Days Standby
Industry's most power-efficient Bluetooth chip and accelerometer
Water Resistant IP67
Always On"

I was asked by +Jake Tolbert why I should get a Mi Band over say a standard pedometer? I've never had a pedometer, but I'm guessing the difference lies in the additional features mentioned above. The sleep feature is pretty interesting (I still haven't figured out how it's doing what it does). I haven't figured out how to do the automatic unlocking or alarms yet. I thought I'd also read somewhere that it could be set up to alert you when you receive a phone call and your phone is on silent. Again, I haven't found out how to do this, so who knows whether it is possible or not.

Highwayman Banjo - Stand and Deliver

I can't believe it! I've actually done some work on my Highwayman Banjo build! I woke up at stupid-o'clock this morning with banjos spinning around my head. I must have laid in bed for hours scheming up ways to get back into the project before I could fight it no more.

For those who might have forgotten, the Highwayman Banjo is my first attempt at building a 5-string banjo. I did a lot of work on it over the Summer and had to shut up shop for Winter. Now Spring's here, I've been itching to get back out in the garage to create more sawdust.

Today's challenge has been to fit the neck to the head. I've had many sleepless nights wondering how I'm going to do it. It seems I just needed to take the plunge...

Here was the plan I put together this morning.

I'd already cut an 88 degree slope-back on the neck and curved it to fit flush with the head. What I intended to do was to drill a hole for a barrel nut to hold a long bolt that is going to act as the dowel stick.

You'll see above I mention a block to hold the neck vertically aligned. I haven't done this in the end, but more on this later...

29 March 2015

How to cure colour-blindness

Call me an old cynic, but I couldn't believe my eyes (pun intended) when I saw the following video earlier this week. A paint company has apparently manufactured some glasses that help the colour-blind to see the world differently. Is it a cure to the affliction that has been with me since birth? There's only one way to find out...

This video brought a tear to my eye (pun intended). A big thanks to +Kryptyk Physh for bringing it to my attention.

I personally am very sceptical of what this video is showing, but despite my misgivings over the glasses themselves and the sickly "pull-at-your-heartstrings" sentimentality of the directing, I applaud Valspar for raising awareness of colour-blindness. Well done Valspar!

I write this post with that same aim. Colour-blindness affects 8% of males and 0.4% of females. There is no known cure. Please give generously.

28 March 2015

Brian Carver Unboxing

No, no, no, this is not an unboxing of Brian Carver; This is an unboxing of the Brian Carver Banjo Kit that recently arrived in the post.

Here's the parcel that cost me a small fortune to have shipped over from the States. What a bloody customs and excise minefield! Never mind... I'm sure I've learnt my lesson. Inside is a Banjo Kit supplied by Brian Carver. Brian's made a plywood box to ship his kit in. Brilliant!

You can find more about the kit and Brian on his blog.

When I got chatting with Brian he told me that he's been building for about 10 years, selling his 99th banjo last month. His kits have been a runaway success; He sold 30 of them in 30 days! That's a lot of banjos! Brian says that he usually only makes about 10 a year. That's only about 10 more than me. ;-)

27 March 2015

Pahulele Kickstarter Project

I don't have a great deal of time, so I'll try to keep this quick. I discovered a fantastic Kickstarter earlier in the week and only now do I realise that we're on the final countdown. If I'm going to tell you about it and encourage you to support the project... I'd better do it right now!

Before we go any further, I'll give you a link to the Kickstarter itself. It has a lot more detail. Go offer Reid Shigemura your support now. At the time of writing you have 9 days to do it! Tick tock...

Pahulele - Unique Backpacker Travel Ukulele - Made in Hawaii

Here's a basic shot of what all the fuss is about.

You know that I'm a big fan of travel ukuleles. I love the challenge they present in designing something that is small, but playable. There are many different takes on the problem and the Pahulele is no different, presenting us with something fresh.

I'm told that Pahulele translates as "jumping box". It's a reference to the cigar-box-like baltic birch plywood body. A neat idea. The real twist though comes in the removable neck. BTW, I love the "smokey" neck wood-grain in the picture above - Hawaiian luthiers have access to some lovely wood.

The neck comes off and can be stored inside the body for travel. It's an interesting idea. I remember seeing a folding ukulele design a long time ago, but I can't recall seeing a completely removable neck before. I'm not sure how easy it is to disassemble/reassemble a Pahulele, but I bet you could fit more than just the neck inside that box. I'm thinking maybe a tuner and if you've got one of the limited edition versions with a pickup fitted, maybe you could use it to hold some sort of practice amp?

23 March 2015

The Conquest of Science

With all of my projects, I set out to give you all the highs and the lows. Unfortunately, I feel that I've reached a bit of an impasse with my latest Piezo Buffer circuit and I'm not sure what to try next. If you have any hints to offer me then please offer them now. Let me try and explain what I've been up to...

I got this package earlier in the week from China and immediately started to wonder what was inside... Something musical perhaps?

When we last spoke I told you about this low buzzing sound being produced by my piezo buffer. In an uncharacteristic moment of optimism I told you that everything would be okay... I'd convinced myself that I could handle it by tweaking the pull-down resistor. What a fool! Ha ha

What followed next was lots of internet research and trial and error.

17 March 2015

The Don Valley Casebook

Today I'm going to post you a little bit of history. A long, long time ago I used to quite like a bit of country and western banjo music. One of my favourite bands of the time were an outfit from Sheffield called Don Valley and the Rotherhides. I regained an EP I owned by them a couple of months back and was bemoaning the fact that I couldn't find the single. Quite by chance, this weekend it just turned up. I was handed a box and in it was this mysterious looking book... "The Don Valley Casebook". Hmmm. Round about page 27 I only bloody found the missing single! Wahay!

Now, I seem to remember putting all these sheets in this case for safe-keeping, but I can't remember a great deal more than that. I do remember catching the boys live at least twice and maybe both of those times was at the Adelphi Club in Hull, but I can't be 100% sure of that.

I see that there is a Don Valley and the Rotherhides website... so you can check that out for more information. No more words... I present to you the Don Valley Casebook:

15 March 2015

Dreaming of making a Wood Block

If you're here looking for ideas for Mother's Day, then you need look no further!

In the week that my daughter has been fitted with blocks for her teeth (poor thing) I too have been captivated by blocks... only my ones are made of wood and used to make music. Surely even I can make a percussion wood block? First I needed to do a little bit of research into the subject. Here's what I've uncovered...

Here's a run-down of the basics of Wood Block design. Above is a hand-held wood block that can be used to generate two tones by flipping it over.

You generate the note by hitting the top and the sound is shaped and amplified by a small hollowed cut-out.

Although you could mount this as a fixed arrangement by drilling holes at either end, I think that generally you'd only mount a single-tone block (i.e. only one cut-out) and this would allow you to drill your mounting hole(s) at the centre-back of the block (opposite side to the cut-out).

As musical concepts go. this all seems pretty straight-forward.

13 March 2015

A discourse on Power

Today's post is one giant step in my ongoing mission to build a Piezo Buffer. I've got a Mark 2 circuit on a perfboard and sort of half fitted in an enclosure. I'm getting close to being able to explain the circuit to you, but first, I talk about disaster...

This was how I left things in my last post where I was talking about my problems with circuit noise. Can you spot a schoolboy error in the picture above? No? I never spotted it either.

I plugged everything in and switched it on. The background hum appeared and then it disappeared... and then it was back... and then it was gone for good. What? Had I magically fixed the noise problem? Wahay!

Seconds later my elation turned to despair as I realised that I'd only gone and blown the power supply. Damn, damn, damn! That's why there was no noise... there was no power! Oh dear! What an idiot!!!

While I waited for another supply to arrive in the post, I still couldn't figure out what I'd done wrong. It was only when I plugged in the new one many days later that the penny dropped and I scrambled to unplug it as quick as I could.

8 March 2015

The colour of noise

I'm not sure really what today's post is going to be about. I'm going to do some free-writing and let's just see where we end up...

Events have put a break on my project-work. Just as well really, because look at the state of my cave! I've been forced into some long-overdue tidying up.

7 March 2015

How to build an audio probe

Yeah, I know it's only a matter of hours since my last post, but it seemed like a good idea to split this mini project out into its own post. The topic is debugging...

You already know that I'm building a Piezo Buffer circuit. It's a simple pre-amplifier and my circuit has a single 2n5457 n-JFET at its core. The journey has been long and painful and I haven't reached the end yet.

In my last post I talked about some challenges I'm having with audio "noise". I managed to eliminate most of it by tuning the DC supply voltage (you can see the extra resistors I've added top left to do this), but I'm still left with a sort of hum that is driving me mad.

My challenge is to come up with ideas for how to figure out what's causing it with a view to fixing it. I'll capture my thoughts as I go...

Perfboarding the Piezo Buffer

Time for another update in my Piezo Buffer project. If you've only just stumbled across this blog then you might want to backtrack for a little background:

Dreaming of building a Piezo Buffer
Breadingboarding the Piezo Buffer
How to test a JFET

Having got my circuit prototype working on a breadboard I began to wonder how representative it really was of how the end buffer was going to perform. You may remember me commenting on how noisy the circuit sounded when fed into an amp. Was this noise the result of the breadboard or something else? There was only one way to find out and this involved building another prototype. This time I pulled out some perfboard.

Above is what I used. I see that there are various types of perfboard available, but I chose this one specifically because it doesn't contain any conductive strips. Each hole stands on its own and as such I felt that I could be as freeform as I liked. My hope was/is that if I can get the circuit working to my satisfaction then I will simply box it and project done.

4 March 2015

How to test a JFET

For the past couple of days I've been battling a problem with my latest project to build a Piezo Buffer. When we last spoke I'd got the prototype working on a breadboard and I was on the verge of experimenting. It went downhill pretty quickly from there...

Do you remember my impromptu experiment on Sunday where I tried to get an LED to light up without exploding? I only managed it once, but that was all the encouragement I needed to begin wondering whether I could add an LED to my Piezo Buffer circuit.

My biggest fear was that I would break my Piezo Buffer circuit in the process. With shaking fingers I made the required adjustments and what do you know, the bloody thing worked! Ha ha. I was bouncing off the walls with happiness!

That was until I started experimenting with different resistors and everything went dead on me. DAMN! What on earth had I done?

What happened next was hour after hour of debugging. Try as I might I couldn't find a fault. Eventually the penny dropped... perhaps one of my components was broken. I'd destroyed the JFET on earlier attempts. Surely this was the most likely one to have been broken. But how could I test it? Read on...

1 March 2015

How to blow up an LED

I had no intention of doing any projects today, but somehow I've been lured in. It all started with me wondering if I could add a light emitting diode (LED) to my Piezo Buffer circuit. Wouldn't it be cool if it lit up when the circuit had power? Hmmm...

You'll see here that I just happen to own a box of LED bulbs. It was only as I was taking a look at them just now that I realised that don't know anything about them. How would I get them to work if I don't know what voltage or current they need. The answer was only a Google away.

Breadboarding the Piezo Buffer

I'm back! Today I'm going to reveal a few more of my adventures in building my piezo buffer circuit. Let's get to it!

My new challenge of becoming an electronics wizard is full of firsts. Everything I do requires research and learning. I'm finding that I can't take anything for granted and often the simplest things are the hardest to get right.

The picture above shows a new skill I've been working on: "Breadboarding".

Breadboarding is a means of prototyping a circuit without actually having to solder anything. Because everything is temporary, you're free to move things about and experiment. Ideal! ...or so you'd think...

22 February 2015

A Ukulele Handbook for Beginners (2015)

Today I'm going to give a plug for a new Ukulele Instruction book that comes to us all the way from Oregon, USA.

"A Ukulele Handbook for Beginners" by Aaron and Nicole Keim is published through Lazarus Books and can be purchased from The Quiet American on-line store.

21 February 2015

How to build a Dying Battery Simulator MARK 3

Here's an update on my Dying Battery Simulator project. This is my first attempt at building something that goes beyond breadboarding or simulating on iCircuit. I burnt myself on my new soldering iron, but other than that I'm feeling pretty good with myself!

Here's the final box. It love the retro look. I haven't finished the wood at all and right now I have no intention of doing anything more to it. Read on for a bit more detail of how I got to the end of the Mark 3... 

15 February 2015

"The Lost Man" is published!

I never thought I had another comic in me, especially so soon after the last one. Today I published the fourth installment of the Bad Moon series on Lulu. Let me tell you a little bit about it...

With "The Lost Man" I let my imagination run wild. It's a story that I love, that I have loved for years. This idea must have been knocking about my head for the best part of 30 years. I've tried to write it down in the past, but always I'd fail. Perhaps the time just wasn't right?

Finally, having set the scene with my earlier comics, I've managed to get to the end of the road. It kind of wrote itself. My biggest fear in turning this into a comic, wasn't coming up with the story itself, it was more me wondering whether I had the skills to do it justice.

On reflection, I reckon this might be my best comic yet.

14 February 2015

Dreaming of building a Piezo Buffer

Today's post has taken a bloody age to come to fruition. It's a tiny step in a giant journey. I'm working on a new electronics project to build a Piezo Buffer. The problem I have is that I'm starting from knowing diddly-squat about Electronics. There has been so much to learn that it's been quite overwhelming at times. I’m going to try and give you as much info as I can as I work through this. Let's hope that I can string it all together. Today, things are mainly theoretical. Come on… let's get stuck in...

First of all, I'll set the scene by revealing what a Piezo Buffer is, and why I think I might possibly need one.

You've seen a handful of posts from me over the years where I've discussed piezo pickups. I've fitted them into some of my instrument builds and always wrestled with getting a good sound out of them afterwards. I've had varying degrees of success, but it's never felt like I've ever properly cracked it.

The piezo pickups that I've been using are the ceramic under-saddle variety; They sit under the bridge and operate by turning the vibration generated by the moving strings into AC signal.

25 January 2015

How to build the CRAZY Music Generator Kit

This weekend I had a go at building my "Crazy Music Generator" kit that I bought from Maplins a short while ago. It's meant to be a sort of Theremin, and I guess it is. Can you sense that I'm not buzzing? Let me explain why.

This is how I was hoping to feel. This short video is from Cirque Berserk which I caught yesterday. If you get a chance to see the show then I highly recommend it.

24 January 2015

How to build a Dying Battery Simulator MARK 2

Hot on the heels of my last post where I knocked together a prototype dying battery simulator, I have more to share with you in the form of a Mark II.

Before I get any further I want to reveal that electronics snobbery is alive and well and it lives at See the above snippet...

"The non-professional nature of the 'free-form' construction method merits no further comment." ~ AllAboutCircuits 2015

Where would Rock and Roll be if Jimi Hendrix had had this attitude? Do you think we'd have made it to space if Leonardo Da Vinci had stuck with the "professional" conventions of his time? NOOOO! :-D

I expected to find a lot more of this type of comment as I've been researching my projects and to be honest this sort of thing really does seem to be in the minority. Of course, visit any forum and you get what you rightly deserve, but I've found that most of the learning articles are well written and capture that sense of adventure that Electronics seems to engender.

And yes, I am doing all sorts of things that will raise eyebrows and might even be dangerous. You know what? I don't care. Stop reading now if you are easily offended.

23 January 2015

How to build a Dying Battery Simulator

If you've been following my antics on Google+ recently, you'll have realised that I've been getting ready to try my hand at a little electronics wizardry. It's not something that I've done before and not something that I know a great deal about... but I'm not going to let those minor details get in the way of a great adventure... and possible death!

As is often the way, I'm going to share my ordeals on this blog with you to scoff at. I will try and be as honest as I can. Please remember that I am a novice, so there are likely to be many mistakes and omissions, and I can almost guarantee to not follow convention. Let's begin...

Where to start? I have a number of projects up my sleeve, including trying to figure out how to get the pictured circuit working again. This is a picture of the innards of my Tascam Portastudio. It hasn't powered up in 20 years. I would love to get it working again, but right now, I haven't got a clue as to how to start this project.

Knee-deep in resistors, I realised that I needed to start with something a little less ambitious? Read on... 

17 January 2015

"The Wrangler" Concept Ukulele

There's lots going on at Chez Uke at the moment. Time for an update!

I had a flash of inspiration for a custom ukulele last night. It started with  a new idea for a headstock. See above a sort of hanging "T" shape. I don't recall seeing one like it before. Is it unique? I hope so. If you know of a ukulele with something like this then please drop me a comment. As soon as I'd shared this mock-up I began wondering what the body might look like.