Tag Archives: guitar

Surprise EP of Scottish Songs for St. Andrew’s Day!

Here in the U.S. St. Patrick gets parades, green beer, and buttons telling people to kiss you, and everyone becomes Irish for a day. Everyone goes to the “pub” and sings along to “Finnegan’s Wake” even though the song isn’t nearly as hilarious as the book.

But mention St. Andrew and you get looks of “huh?” which, coincidentally, is also the reaction most Americans have to songs in the Scots dialect. Some people know what a caber is. Everyone knows Robert Burns’s “Auld Lang Syne,” or rather, they know a single verse and chorus sung to a different tune than the one Burns wrote, because they sing it around his birthday. (News Years is close enough, right?)


The wild haggis in its native environment.

There’s no swilling copious amounts of Scotch that’s been dyed blue or wild haggis hunts. We don’t run around calling each other “Jo” and dancing the fling, except by accident.

We don’t even get to see the St. Andrew’s Day Google Doodle in the U.S.! This year’s is Nessy winkin’ at ye. Look at it. Loooook!


I love that Scotland allegedly invented a lot of its history and culture during the 17th century because everyone was doing it.

I love that possibly their most famous citizen ever, Robert Burns (or at least he was until that Braveheart movie came out — you know, that movie staring the crazy racist Australian living in a America) was not just a writer, but a songwriter, and one who wasn’t afraid to toss off a bawdy verse or two. I love Scottish music and songs, especially the really dark stuff that comes from the ballads throughout Britain — stuff that doesn’t survive as well in other Celtic folk music traditions.

So in honor of St. Andrew’s Day, this year, on a whim, I decided to spend the last week recording an EP of five Scottish songs plus one that’s American but has a connection to one of Robert Burns’s most famous songs, mostly in the original Scots. Silly? Maybe. A peculiar thing to just up and decide to do on a week’s notice? Maybe that, too. But it was fun.

Here are dropbox links to the MP3s if you don’t want to use Bandcamp:

Twa Corbies
Glenlogie (Bonnie Jean o’ Bethelnie)
Battle of Harlaw
MacPherson’s Rant
The Blackest Crow
Is There For Honest Poverty

Continue reading →


Meet Sakura! — Me and My Dad Built an Amp

Normally I like to keep the blog more about music and relegate my gear stuff to my “Things I Make” page, but this one’s something special!

This is my “Woodchipper” amp design. It’s nothing revolutionary, basically a tweed-era champ with some modern refinements, like better power filtering, a mids boost/modified presence control on the second preamp stage, and switchable negative feedback that adds a surprising amount of versatility.

This is a build report for the amp itself. If possible, I’ll create a build document if you’d like to make one for yourself (or modify an existing champ build), excluding plans for the cabinet, of course, because that was all my dad.

Turren board

A friend from the forums (Morgan) hooked me up with a drilled piece of eyelet board in a trade, and loaned me his staking anvil and provided the turrets.

Sakura woodchipper - guts

I populated it and worked on it a little bit at a time over the following week or so, until I had the chassis wired.

Sakura Woodchipper guts - heater wire

Took Merlin Blencowe’s (The Valve Wizard) advice on keeping the heaters away from the side of the tube sockets, and coming up over the top

Sakura wood chipper guts - pots

Took a close-up of the pots and feedback switch and realized after I did so that the wiper lug of the mids pot was backwards, so I fixed that right after. Comparatively minor mistake to having that leftmost cap backwards (yeah, I did that) or forgetting to connect the leftmost red wire (B+ power connection) (yeah, I did that one, too!).

PCB close-up

Close-up of the circuit board. Not the absolute neatest work possible, but I did my best, and it was my first time working with turret board after all.

Sakura woodchipper - chassis tube side front

Here’s the finished chassis from the front …

Sakura woodchipper - chassis tube side back

… and the back (yup, I tortured myself with a detachable power chord).

Sakura woodchipper - mounted without shield

Inside the cabinet showing the tubes in and the speaker (a Weber alnico Signature 12). We came up with a nifty way to keep the chassis in there without requiring bolts through the whole cabinet, using z-brackets …

Sakura woodchipper - back of cabinet

… and a piece of wood across the bottom of the back of the chassis, so simultaneously protect the tubes and hold the chassis in. You can see that I didn’t exactly coordinate with my dad on every aspect of the cabinet design … so reaching the on/off switch can be a tiny bit annoying.

Sakura woodchipper - cabinet corner

Have I mentioned what awesome cabinet work my dad does? He made it out of solid cherry!

Sakura woodchipper - Front of cabinet

Here’s the front, taken outside under our cherry tree :). Oxblood grillcloth goes great with the cherry wood:

Sakura woodchipper - faceplate close-up 1

Close-ups of the hand-painted control panel.

Sakura woodchipper - Faceplate close-up 2

For the curious, the “midrange ^” label is easier to read in person.

It gets a little gritty but still sounds mostly clean, basically perfect for my music, and it’s not overly loud.

We’ve already taken the amp for a spin: we took it to the blues jam/open mic I go to a lot on Thursday (Bippy’s), before I had painted the faceplate, and it did a great job of hanging with a (respectful) drummer with the volume at noon despite the 5W. That 12″ speaker really helps!

The name “Sakura” is a type of Japanese cherry tree. My dad wanted me to name it Cherry, but I thought that was a little um, not my style.

Update 7/5/14:

I filmed a demo:

Updated 12/21/15: I forgot to post the schematic. I also have made a few improvements to the tone control and voice switch since filming the video. Here’s the schematic. If you’d like to hear what it sounds like now, my 2015 FAWM album uses it on nearly every track, including for bass.

Song Sources: “26th Street Underpass”

This is part of a series I’m doing on the tracks on the new EP, Baltimericana. To read the other parts of this series, simply click on the tag “Song Sources” above.

apartment 2

Gets so hot in the summer …

My first apartment in Baltimore was a third-story walkup on 25th Street between St. Paul and Charles St. I lived there for a couple years, most of the first year by myself and then for about a year with Lexa after her lease ran out while we saved up for the house. Continue reading →

Song sources: “Fallout Shelter”

Warning: There’s an explicit lyric. You have been warned.

This is part of a series I’m doing on the tracks on the new EP, Baltimericana. To read the other parts of this series, simply click on the tag “Song Sources” above.


To be honest, I don’t remember the writing process for this one too well. I think I started writing it after I noticed a sign for a fallout shelter one of the buildings near work that says the capacity is 1250, and it was almost certainly influenced by Josh Ritter’s “Temptation of Adam” (if you’ve never heard that one, it’s is lyrically perfect and one of the best songs I’ve ever heard). I do know that my wife had been playing Fallout 3 a lot around the time I wrote this, so that might have had something to do with it.

Baltimore still has a one o’clock whistle, which is an old air raid siren that’s played on Mondays at 1:00 in the afternoon. What little reading there is to do on the subject leads me to believe that this is in fact one of the many strange things about our city. Also, there are supposedly 112 of them. (Not a primary source, there, but there’s a picture of it.) I don’t remember hearing it in other places I lived, but the only other large city I’ve ever lived in was San Antonio, and I lived on the outskirts and worked in a windowless building, so who knows. Continue reading →

Song Sources: “Robin (The Mirror)”

This is part of a series I’m doing on the tracks on the new EP, Baltimericana. To read the other parts of this series, simply click on the tag “Song Sources” above.

This song came out of thinking about the cancellation of the U.S. shuttle program. If that sounds weird, then you don’t know me very well. Really it’s more complicated than just having given up on flying around in space. There are all sorts of implications, but the biggest one is probably “well, this planet is all we get after all, ever.” I have a general interest in space and astronomy, so I consciously know that the chance of terraforming Mars or reaching another star is remote in the extreme, but that doesn’t seem to help. People fight hopeless battles all the time, even knowing that they’re futile, but there’s a big difference between than and actual despair. So I pondered that a bit.

My wife was on vacation for the weekend at a conference, so I had the house to myself and got the song done in a couple days. Continue reading →