Friday, November 30, 2012

Finally - the Mountain Banjo

      I finally finished my mountain banjo.  It really wasn't that difficult, but it took a while because I didn't have access to tools.  Here you can see me playing an old song called "Sweet Sunny South."  It is fretless, so I'm still training my fingers to fall exactly where the notes are, but considering I've only been doing it for a few days, I'd say I'm doing alright.  I still have to write about constructing the banjo. Those posts will be up soon.
      As you can tell, it's not the best instrument, but it sounds alright.  It's also only my first banjo.  It does have a nice authentic old time, mountain sound.  This particular banjo is modeled after the Stanley Hicks and Frank Proffit style banjos.  These old banjos were typically tuned lower (perhaps to reduce string tension that could warp necks) and had gut strings (I substituted nylon for gut strings).  I usually play this particular tune in G modal tuning (gDGCD) but for this banjo it is tuned down a few half steps (eBEAB).  The combination of the nylon strings, lower tuning, and goat skin head give the banjo a nice plunky sound.
      If you are interested in making one of these, click here to see how I built the banjo.  Finally I would like to thank everyone who contributed to this project by providing insight, tools or materials.  Randy Cordle of Bluestem Strings provided free plans.  Steve Matechik provided tools and scrap material.  Mr. Syzdek happily let me use his bandsaw on two occasions and a nice, new workbench.  Carol loaned me her drill.  Thanks everyone.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgigging Report - 2012

      This year I continued my tradition of ending Thanksgiving with a flounder gigging trip.  Our hopes were high as we passed hordes of shoppers on our way to Destin.  Just the night before, our efforts had earned us five nice fish.  Being away at Auburn made it hard for me to know where the fish were and how they were behaving.  Normally I start following the flounder in the early fall, but this year I the only information I had was from the previous night.  The flounder run didn't seem to be as good as last year, but there were still fish to find... Or so I thought.
      Unfortunately, this year was a bust.  In 2 hours of wading we saw only a few beds and zero flounder.  The conditions were nearly identical to the night before, so I expected the night to be productive.  It wasn't.  There were some other giggers already out when we arrived and I thought maybe they got most of the fish.  After chatting with a few of them, I learned we weren't alone.  Some guys with a boat said they had been out for three hours and only got one fish.  Oh well, at least I had the fish from the night before.  This years run won't be lasting as long as last year', when I was still catching fish through December 6th.  I'm done for this year.

P.S. - Sorry, no pictures for now.  My camera isn't working.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Chicken of the Woods

The sulfur shelf (Laetiporus sulphurus) or chicken of the woods.  (Photo by Jenna Crovo)
      Back in late September, I was conducting some fish surveys in the smokies.  While wading down a stream, I noticed some fungi known as the sulfur shelf (Laetiporus sulphurus) or the chicken of the woods.  They are known by many to be edible* and quite tasty.  However, they can cause gastrointestinal upset in some people (upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea), so be careful if you eat them.  DO NOT eat them if they are growing on Hemlock.  Furthermore, if they are growing on dead wood, DO NOT eat them unless you are sure it is not hemlock.  This blog post is just a short description and should not be used to identify mushrooms.  Consult an expert and a field guide for proper identification.