Gye Greene's Thoughts

Gye Greene's Thoughts (w/ apologies to The Smithereens and their similarly-titled album!)

Saturday, June 29, 2019

In order to know

I've heard that in Mongolia, the traditional nomads burn dried horse poop for fuel.  Horses eat grass -- but don't digest it as thoroughly as cows do, so there's still some fuel left in the poop.

Modern dry dog food is largely cereal. Cereal is a grain, and thus related to grass.  Dogs have a single stomach, like horses -- and thus don't digest their food as thoroughly as cows.

Does dog poop burn?

I placed some "naturally dried" dog poop on an old metal tray, in the back yard (it's been rainy the last week, so there's little danger of starting a grass fire).  Tried lighting it with one of those butane fire-lighting wands.  Nope.

Next, i squirted it with methyl alcohol, then lit it.  It burned pretty well -- but it was obvious that it was the alcohol burning, not the poop.  Also, it smelled bad:  like -- well, burning dog poop, with a hint of singed hair.

The dried turds burned for a surprisingly long time -- but once the alcohol burned off, the poop stopped burning.  This leads me to believe that the poop absorbed the alcohol, much like a wick -- but that the poop itself does not tend towards burning.

This implies -- among other things -- that one should not bother carrying dried dog poop for emergency fire-starting purposes -- e.g. on wilderness excursions. 


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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Guitar hack

Today is Saturday.  Last night I applied a hack to an electric guitar.  I'd been pondering this modification for a few weeks.

Here's the timeline:

-About 30-35 years ago, my dad showed me how to do electronics-style soldering.

-In February 2015 or before, I bought a used, Frankenstein-y electric guitar for AU$30 (negotiated down from AU$39) -- so, about US$24.  The previous owner had converted it from a H-S-H configuration (Humbucker - Single-coil - Humbucker -- i.e. a wide pickup in the neck and bridge position, and a narrow pickup in the middle) to a S-S-S configuration (i.e. three single-coils).

That's a little weird, given that "three single-coil" guitars are widely available, and it didn't look like the pickups had been upgraded to fancier versions -- so why bother modifying this guitar, rather than just trading?  Also, the previous owner had left gaps around the new, smaller pickups -- through which you could see the wiring underneath.

Kinda ugly -- but also interesting.  I bought the guitar with the intent to do some sort of experimenting with, sometime in the future.

-Feb 28, 2015 -- Tested the guitar.  According to my notes (a piece of paper I put in the guitar case), the tone knob didn't work, the neck pickup had an oddly weak output, and the mid + bridge setting didn't do anything at all (but the other pickup combinations worked fine).

-A year or two ago -- Read a band interview where the guitarist said that even though a lot of hard rock/metal guitarists like "hot" pickups (i.e. many windings, to provide a higher output), using high-powered pickups actually kills the tone by reducing the treble.  Therefore, he and the other guitarist in the band actually use relatively low-output pickups.

-About a year ago, started to appreciate single-pickup guitars.  Les Paul Juniors (with P-90s), Fender Esquires, and Fender Musicmasters, in particular:  straightforward; they get in and get the job done; forces you do to more, with less.

-A month or two ago -- Watched a YouTube video where the presenter demonstrated that if there are (electromagnetic) pickups on your guitar that you never use, then you're well served to remove them:  the magnets on the extraneous pickups subtly dampen your sustain, and damage your tone a little.  No benefits (because you're not using them), yet they impart a cost.

-About two weeks ago -- Watched a YouTube video about guitar pickups, where the presenter said that the middle pickup on Stratocaster-style guitars are often overlooked:  they actually give a good Mark Knopfler tone (guitarist/singer from Dire Straits).

-Wednesday night, June 19 (three nights ago) -- Played my fake Stratocaster (had been using another (also inexpensive) guitar for the last year or so), and actually paid attention to the pickup sounds.  Sunovvagun:  yep!  the middle pickup has my preferred sound.  But, don't want to mess with that guitar:  it's good as it is.

Decided to create a stripped down, ultimate no-frills guitar:  a pickup, an output jack -- and that's it.  No volume knob, no tone knob, no pickup selector. Kind of like tearing out the passenger seats from a hot rod, to remove excess weight.

Some guitarists use the volume knob for "volume swell" effects, or to adjust the amount of amp distortion by how hard they're driving the amp -- but I don't.

And some guitarists use the tone knob for wah-wah types of effects -- or to roll of the treble to darken the sound, for a jazzier tone -- but I don't.

And with only one pickup -- no need for a pickup selector.

The pickup would be placed in the middle position, as per the above-stated reasons.

-Thursday night, June 20 (two nights ago) -- Retrieved from storage another fake Stratocaster guitar (blue) that I'd bought years ago for AU$45 (stickered at AU$49) -- so about US$36 -- that I'd been planning on selling online, as well as the above-mentioned "Frankenstein-y" guitar.  Oneo f these would become the stripped-down guitar.

Played the blue guitar, and actually liked the sounds enough that I decided to not alter it:  the middle pickup was oddly trebly, almost as much as the bridge pickup -- but in the right situation it would be a useful sound.

Also tried to play the Frankenstein-y guitar, but it no longer passed a signal -- which was even more reason to use this one for my experimenting:  non-functioning, so little to lose, if I messed up.

-Friday, June 21 (last night) -- Dug out my shoebox of guitar pickups that I've accumulated over the years:  used my Ohm-meter to test their resistance, with the reasoning that the lowest-resistance pickups would be the most under-wound, and thus the one that I wanted.  Since I was testing them all, anyhow, I labeled the ones that were not already labelled; also started an inventory list on a scrap of paper (including the resistance values), which I then put in the box.

Also took the pickguard off the "Frankenstein-y" guitar and de-soldered the components (i.e. separated them).  The insides of the guitar was indeed Frankenstein-y:  quite the hodgepodge of wires -- and unnecessary amounts of electrician's tape bundling things together -- which I had to unwrap before de-soldering.

For the moment, left the three pickups in place, mounted on the pickguard -- but tested their resistance as well.  Removed all the other components from the pickguard (volume and tone knob and pots; pickup selector).

I tend to do my soldering on the (turned off!) kitchen stove:  the fan in the range hood whisks away the smoke and fumes from the soldering.

The humbuckers ranged from 6kOhms to 16 kOhms -- too hot for my purposes (but I knew they would be).

The single-coils ranged from 3.8kOhms to 6.5kOhms.  Conveniently, the lowest-resistance pickup (3.8kOhms) was the pickup already mounted in the center position on the Frankenstein-y guitar -- so, I wouldn't have to move it. 

Soldered the pickup directly to the wires leading to the output jack-- and also soldered the ground wire (which connects to the bridge of the guitar, and therefore also the strings).  Hat-tip to my dad for teaching me how to solder.

Reinstalled the pickguard (with the lone pickup mounted in the middle). Plugged the guitar into my amp, and -- nothing.  Huh.

Tested the conductivity, and the resistance between the soldering lugs of the jack was 3.8kOhms -- as expected (i.e. passing through the guitar pickup).  Removed the jack from the guitar body, put in a guitar cable, and spent about fifteen minutes being confused by the contradictory readings -- mostly that the "ground" lug wasn't conducting to the outside of the metal jack mounting (which should also be "ground").

Eventually figured out that it had once been a stereo plug, so the "ring" contact had been broken off from the plug, but (apparently) the wrong "soldering lug" had been broken off.  Thus, the "sleeve" soldering lug and the physical "ground" were independent. (Why had it worked when I tried it right after buying it?  Miracle?)

Un-soldered the plug, threw it away, found a replacement plug from my "electronics parts" box, and soldered that in.  Plugged a guitar cable into the instrument jack and tested the resistance:  3.8kOhms; promising!

Screwed in a few of the screws, to tack the pickguard in place, and tried the guitar on the amp.  Success!!!  Sound.

Decided I didn't like the open gaps in the pickguard: crud could get in there, insects building nests, etc.  Decided to cover the holes from the underside, with yellow duct tape:  decorative; the color would contrast nicely with the red guitar and black pickguard; and the yellow would emphasize the missing components.

Intentionally -- and out of laziness -- let the ends of the tape artistically protrude from beyond the pickguard.

Installed all the screws in the pickguard.

Was missing the high-E string.  Re-strung the guitar with new strings (but didn't bother to re-intonate; getting late, will do some other time).  Discovered that the holes in the back plate don't properly align with the string access holes:  gah; had to remove the screws for the back plate.  From this, also discovered that someone had used a tube of lipstick (in a heavy-duty plastic case) as a shim to wedge the tremolo bridge into the "down" position -- which I prefer.  Shrugged, and left the lipstick there, put the back plate on again. 

Tuned the guitar (using a free cell phone app:  modern technology...).

Played the guitar "clean" -- no effects, no distortion:  yep -- a good sound.  A successful experiment.  Will keep it this way:  straightfoward and simple.


P.S. I have a co-worker who sat across from me for the last seven years, but is now in a nursing home:  a stroke-like incident (he was 60-ish).  We'd discuss guitars and rock music -- but now he doesn't discuss anything.  If he was his old self, I'd have forwarded this blog entry to him.  I miss him.  

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