Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Building a Mountain Banjo: Marking the Neck

This is a continuation of my series of posts that are following my construction of a mountain banjo.  If you missed the first post it is available here, Building a Mountain Banjo: The Pot.

Here are some basic tools that I used to measure out my neck because I couldn't get a hold of full size plans.  
      Before I could begin measuring out the neck, I head to find suitable material for the neck.  If you look at the profile of the neck on the plans (courtesy of bluestem strings) you will notice that the angled headstock makes it necessary to use a large block of wood if you want to cut the neck from a block of wood rather than joining a headstock onto a smaller piece of wood.  Some people get away with joining a headstock (I myself have used the method to construct a cigar box guitar), but a neck cut out of block of wood is stronger and looks nicer.  That does not mean the block of wood has to be solid.  Roughing out this neck from a block (laminated or solid) of wood requires the block to be at least 25 1/4" long x 2"wide (not accounting for the width of the headstock) x 2"deep (accounting for the angled head stock).  These are the bare minimum measurements with no extra room.  I found it easier to use a 3" x 3" block.  However, a neck is best made out of hardwood, and a 3" x 3" block can be expensive.  So, I laminated 3, 1" x 3" pieces of poplar together to form a block that was 26" x 3" x 3".  All I had to do was cut the poplar to length, dampen the sides to be joined, apply gorilla glue and clamp the pieces tight overnight.  I should also point out that I followed some advice I found on both the Banjo Hangout and the Bluestem Strings websites that said to try and book match the grain.  I'm not sure if I did this correctly, but I'll describe what I did.  I had two slab sawn pieces (quarter sawn would be better but this is a homemade banjo that I'm not investing much money in it) with curves in the grain (when viewed from the end of the board) and one without curves.  I put the one without curves in the middle and laminated the others on the side so their curves were convex to the middle piece.  Hopefully these crude drawings will clarify things.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

-General MacArthur

      It's just something to think about while you enjoy the day off and grill some food.  Take some time to remember those who have suffered for us.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Old-Time Jam: New Timey Technology for Old Timey Needs

Oldtime jams can be a great way to meet musicians and learn new tunes, but not every area has local jams and not everyone can make it to jams even if there are some nearby.  Old-Time Jam is a resource for musicians in either of those situations.
      I just found a great resource for old-time musicians, Old-Time Jam!  I can't believe it took me this long to find this website.  Basically, it is a media player that has tracks for numerous old time songs played in various ways (banjo and fiddle, backup guitar, fiddle and guitar etc.), and also displays the chord progression for the songs.  Creator, Josh Turknett, intended for it to be a practice tool for old-time musicians so they could work on songs even when there aren't other musicians to jam with.  He did a great job achieving that goal.  In addition, it is pretty relaxing to just let the tunes play in the background even when you aren't playing.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sautéing the Chanterelles

Some smooth chanterelles in the raw form.
      I was told that chanterelles have a lot of moisture and can get quite mushy if prepared improperly.  I didn't want to waste my harvest so I looked up the proper way to cook them on youtube.  The only change I made is I didn't add butter.  I didn't have any.  In addition, I find it humorous that so many foragers rave about how good something is and then they tell you to fry it in butter or bacon grease (think Euell Gibbons).  I appreciate there knowledge, but I have to say that practically anything would taste good if it was fried in butter or bacon grease.  Anyway, here is the video.  Mine came out alright, but most of them were smooth chanterelles which are not known for being as good as golden chanterelles.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Alabama Chanterelles

A smooth chanterelle (Cantharellus confluens) emerges from the leaf litter.  This was just one of three edible chanterelle species that I have found in the last week.
      Last week, I left the Florida coastline behind and moved to Auburn.  I left behind ample outdoor recreational opportunities in Navarre, and hoped Auburn would be able to provide some new experiences.  From the moment I arrived in Auburn I noticed how green and verdant it was.  The mesic soil supports more hardwoods than I was used to seeing in Florida (excepting some unique Florida steephead ravine habitats).  The abundant wildflowers and lush plants make these Alabama forests especially inviting, but this post is not about plant life.  Instead it is about some amazing organisms that spend most of their lives under the thick, rich leaf litter mingling with tree roots.  Unnoticed beneath the forest floor are hyphae, filamentous growths of fungi, that form mats of mycelia.  While the mycelia may be hard to notice, the fruiting bodies that form when two compatible mycelia meet and reproduce are more easily noticed.  This is especially true when the fruiting bodies are bright-colored, edible mushrooms such as the chanterelles.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Brewing Remains Illegal

      If you read my blog, you probably know that I like to brew beer and I recently moved to Alabama.  Unfortunately, home brewing is illegal in Alabama (and Mississippi).  This state has a lot going for it, but there are definitely a lot of hardcore bible thumpers that live in fear.  For the past few years, Alabama homebrewers have been fighting to legalize homebrewing.  Unfortunately, the bill that would have legalized homebrewing in Alabama did not make it through the senate.  I guess there is always next year.  I am not going to rewrite what I have already posted, but if you think that homebrewing is risky or contributes to social degradation, read my post about brewing rights.

Collecting at Telogia Creek

This may not look like much at first glance, but if you look closely you will notice that what looks like dirt or algae is actually a pair of eyes.  They belong to a flatfish called the hogchoker (Trinectes maculates)
      I had only been in Auburn for 6 days before the sunshine state lured me back home.  On Tuesday, however, I wasn't going home for a visit.  My lab mates and I went down south to Telogia Creek to collect some banner fin shiners (Cyprinella leedsi).  For me personally, the trip was a little ironic.  After anxiously waiting to start school at Auburn, I ended up going to a site less than an hour from Florida State, where I recently spent four years as an undergrad.  Fortunately, the panhandle of Florida has a special charm so I didn't mind being back.  There is something alluring about the mix of tannic and spring fed streams, lush deciduous trees and towering pines, and sandy slopes and moist floodplains that I just can't resist.  The live oaks (Quercus virginiana) covered in resurrection fern and spanish moss conjure up images of the deep south while the sabal palms (Sabal palmetto) and sea breezes remind one that the bountiful Gulf of Mexico is not out of reach.  However, on Tuesday I learned that not everyone feels that way.  Apparently some Alabamians view the Florida panhandle the same way that the panhandlers view Alabama (while people from the rest of Florida jokingly refer to the panhandle as southern Alabama).  I insisted that if everyone tried smoked mullet, a local delicacy, their opinions would instantly change.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

On to Auburn (and other updates)

A scene from Auburn University.
      Many of you have probably noticed that I haven't posted in a while.  Well, I was actually living in a tent while I looked for a place in Auburn.  In some ways it was nice.  I caught my first Alabama fish (a largemouth bass from a deep pool in a woodland stream), found three species of edible chanterelles (more on them in a future post), and explored around the cool, mesic forests that were a welcome change from the xeric pine communities of Navarre, Florida.  In other ways it was not so nice.  The frontal system that moved through on Saturday and Sunday literally dampened my spirits.  I spent the night in my gore-tex rain gear because my tent seems were all leaking.  However, I did get to rough the worst of the storm with two random guys who were also living at the campground, Cody and Hootie.  They construct large, concrete holding tanks around the country and were proud of their work.  That seems pretty rare these days.  They sometimes stay at campgrounds to save cash and, like me, they had to face the storm.  So, we had a couple beers, some homemade loquat mead, played banjo, and listened to the sound of the rain resonate as it forcefully collided with the tin roof of the picnic pavilion.  It was great having some friends to weather the storm with.  Although I probably won't see them again, it was one of many encounters I've had with complete strangers that I won't forget.  It's something you can't understand if you live your life secluded in an apartment or locked up in a hotel room.

I caught my first AL fish here at Chewacla Creek.
Some smooth chanterelles are breaking through the moss and leaf litter.
Some cinnabar red chanterelles.

      So why did I come to Auburn in the first place?  Well, I'm starting grad school!  I'll be working with Dr. Johnston in the Fisheries Department.  My main focus will be conservation of the pygmy sculpin (Cottus paulus), but I'll have two years to write about that, so I won't go into detail today.  I've already met some cool people, went on a fish collecting trip (more on that later), found chanterelles and blueberries, and found some local jams, all in less than a week.  I think I'll like it here.

Other updates:

      The daylilly had a spectacular bloom this year.  There were some typical six tepaled (they are technically not all petals...see earlier post) flowers and some with extra tepals as I hoped for.

The daylillies in bloom.
Mountain Banjo
      I got to put a little time in on the mountain banjo project.  I laminated three pieces of wood together so I had a large block that I roughed the neck out of.  I have not done the final shaping yet.  I'll write a more detailed post on the banjo soon.

Friday, May 4, 2012

More Mushroom Mysteries

These huge boletes popped up over night.  If only I could have identified them to species.
      About 2 weeks ago, my area was hit by a pretty intense rainstorm.  While my friends were starting to worry about the hot and humid weather that would follow, I began to hope for one more crop of edible pinewood king boletes (Boletus pinophilus).  Sure enough, as I drove down my street I noticed three huge boletes growing on the side of the road amongst some old and decaying pinewood king boletes I had seen earlier in the season.  These mushrooms were huge, and they weren't there the night before.  I quickly pulled off the road and harvested them.  The mushrooms surprised me because they had popped up so quickly and late in the year, but the real surprise would come later.