Saturday, November 27, 2021

Basement Expansion Part 9

This gestation period for this post has set a new record, even for this blog, and I'm only writing it now because I'm on vacation from work/real life for a few days over Thanksgiving. I had planned to make the basement project Video Only, but for now that format has suffered a Twickenham Studios-style abandonment due to the following:

1. Setting up the camera and keeping on top of batteries, memory cards and decent camera angles slows down the project.
2. Editing the videos takes a lot of time.
3. A lot of the content is the same...
4. The time lag between doing the work and editing the videos means I'm bored with the content by the time I'm watching it back.
5. Surely that's enough...

Therefore, the next few sections probably the rest of this story will be told with stills which have been pilfered from unpublished videos, or snapped with my trusty canon powershot.

So, with all that out of the way, what's been happenin' with the basement? This is the scene at the end of the last video; in real time this was the end of March 2021. We are usually done with wet weather by this point in a typical year, but we know the basement will flood when it does rain. So, the smart thing to do at this point is make a proper pit for the sump pump. 

I started off by digging an eighteen (18) inch deep pit in the far corner of the basement.

Then I knocked up a topless and bottomless (!) box that is about sixteen inches square. The box is made from 2" x 12" pressure treated lumber. 

In the next photo you can just about see the box in situ. I had to fiddle about (!) a bit to get it level:

This is the view after a second identical box has been placed on top. The plan is that the concrete floor will be flush with the top of the second box, so for now it protrudes about six (6) inches above the dirt. I will be installing the sump pump and the discharge pipe at the first hint of rain...

So, with that done, on with the show! In the next photo you can see the first section of the concrete we installed at the left, and the most recent section at the right, with a gap between them.  The obvious difference is the more recent section extends much further up the original foundation. This is based on advice I received from a contractor friend who came by to check on my progress. The extra concrete means I can make twice as many attachment points with the rebar. Basically, when in doubt, make it stronger.

This is best illustrated in the next photo where two (2) rows of rebar protrude from the original concrete: 

This later after the forms have been constructed...

Later still and the mixing/pouring operation is in full swing...

tune in again next week soon for another scintillating installment!

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Guitars part three

More guitars? Really? Well, yes, just one more. For now, anyway. I wrote in part two about how I spent a while looking for the perfect Stratocaster, and ended up with a '52 Telecaster reissue instead. The Tele is a beautiful guitar that has seen a lot of playing time over the last few years, but I have still been on the lookout for the right Stratocaster. My dream guitar would have been David Gilmour's legendary Black Strat, but I was outbid by just under USD 3,975,000 when it came up for sale in 2019. The Fender Custom Shop made replicas of this guitar which even included the wear marks, but even these instruments are outside of my price bracket. Fortunately a resolution presented itself...

(14) Fender Stratocaster 1982

The solution was the 1982 Tuxedo Black Stratocaster I found online in September this year. After Leo Fender sold his company to CBS in 1965, there was a gradual decline in the quality of guitars produced. It's well documented that the upswing began with the 1981 hiring of several key staff from Yamaha, including director of marketing Dan Smith.

The revamp that followed these appointments led in late 1981 to a new model named the Standard Stratocaster. While retaining the CBS-era larger headstock logo, the guitar reverted to four neck bolts from three, introduced a new “hotter” X-1 pickup in the bridge position and returned to body end truss rod adjustment (no more bullet). In 1983 the guitar was revised again by moving the jack plug onto the pickguard and removing one of the tone controls; the CBS 70s style headstock logo was also dropped in favor of a smaller, silver design which was used until 19871.

The 1981-83 version of the Standard Stratocaster has come to be known on the interwebs as the “Dan Smith Stratocaster”, even though Smith wasn't involved in the design and his name does not appear anywhere on the guitar. Unlike the earlier Stratocasters, guitars from this era are still affordable, and can only appreciate in value.

This particular Stratocaster has a tuxedo black finish which is in excellent shape. The vintage neck is VERY comfortable to play, and the guitar sounds fantastic through my Orange amp. It also came with the original hard shell logo-embossed case, shop tags and owner’s manual. Still, as you may notice from the photo on the left, it has one minor detail which is not ideal.

Samuel Sheep and I had a plan to fix the "imperfection" which started off with pulling off the strings, disconnecting all the electronics and getting rid of the white (elephant) pickguard:

Then we reassembled the electronics with a brand new black pickguard instead, and I had Sam put on new strings and tune it up. It's actually quite tricky to get this guitar in tune.

Sounds mega!

Still wanted:

Gibson Les Paul standard (cherry sunburst)

Rickenbacker 4000 bass (blue, maybe red)

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Guitars part two

As I mentioned in part one, the Washburn acoustic was my main guitar for almost twenty years, and it was the only guitar I played regularly after I brought it over to the States in 2006. It remains the guitar I've played the most in my collection. The blue Strat, the Charvel and the Maison bass followed the Washburn in dribs and drabs when relatives visited, and eventually the Rickenbacker also made the trip. However, in spite of the availability of instruments, this was prolonged fallow period as far as playing guitar was concerned. 

By 2014, for reasons not relevant to this post, I was finding little bits of time to play the guitar again. I decided it was time to replace the Washburn with a really top quality instrument. The thing is, it took me forever to decide what to buy. 

Fast forward to the middle of 2015 and I know that I want a Gibson Hummingbird. I spent a lot of time looking for the right vintage model, but I never found one I liked enough. I looked at getting a brand new model instead. As it happened, in 2015 Gibson produced a limited run of Hummingbirds with book-matched maple back and sides instead of the usual mahogany. That these guitars received an extra-deep red sunburst finish only added to the must-have factor.

Still, one problem remained: by the time I had decided to part with my $$$, the 2015 production run was sold out. Darn! I waited to see what the 2016 version would look like, and it was worse than the standard guitar: the mahogany back and sides were restored, and a naff "2016" badge had been imposed on the truss rod cover. Yuk! I briefly went back to looking for a vintage example, but my heart wasn't in it...

(8) Fender Jazz bass 1997

With the Hummingbird off the table, I temporarily lost interest in acoustic guitars, and decided to go back to playing bass. The USA-made Fender Jazz bass was purchased used to succeed the Maison in Spring 2016 not long after Sam and I moved back to Berkeley. I had picked up a small 15 watt Orange Amplifiers practice amp from Guitar Center a few months earlier which made the Jazz bass sound awesome. At the time I had a huge office upstairs at the back of the house where I could plunk around on the bass after the bread snappers were tucked up in bed.

The Jazz bass was my go-to instrument for over a year. I even took it on vacation to San Diego. There was a period when I couldn't put it down. The Jazz bass is a really nice, professional quality instrument that makes you want to pick it up and play it.

(9) Fernandes JS-100 1987

The Fernandes was bought as a collection piece in September 2016. I don't intend to play this guitar very much. It is actually an incredibly rare guitar - just a handful were made in red, although a lot of white ones are out there and quite a few black ones also exist. This guitar will be getting a full blog post soon, so I'm going to skip over it here.

(10) Gibson Hummingbird 2015

The key to this guitar really is never give up!  After my initial disappointment waned, I went back to looking for a used 2015 Hummingbird, and I found one at the end of 2016 that was essentially mint. It arrived on December 24, 2016, so not a bad Christmas gift really. Funny thing is, I got the Hummingbird for less than 60% of the retail price, so in the end I got the guitar I really wanted AND the Jazz bass out of my original budget.

The Gibson has a sitka spruce top with quilted maple back and sides and multi-ply top and back abalone binding. The neck is mahogany with an inlaid rosewood fretboard and a bone nut. As well as the classic hummingbird pickguard and red sunburst finish, the guitar also has gold plated grover tuning pegs. Truly a beautiful instrument that has seen a lot of playing time. 

(11) Fender Telecaster 1952 (reissue)

We moved house in the Summer of 2017 and for some reason my office ended up too close to the rest of the house to play acoustic guitar in the evenings. I dealt with this problem initially by breaking out the blue Strat, but there was a problem: that particular guitar never sounded right. I've always assumed it was because the instrument was made in Japan. A few months before I bought the blue Strat (so sometime in 1987) my Father and I were in Soho Square Music browsing through guitars when I struck up a brief conversation with one of the cooler-looking-than-me guys who worked there. I asked him, you know, really, what is the difference between an American Strat, and one that was made in Japan? I was informed it boiled down to "About three hundred quid, mate!" My own research over 30 odd years tells me it is actually more like this: one of them sounds great, and the other one doesn't. 

All of which, is a roundabout way of saying that in the beginning of 2018 I was on the lookout for a nice American-made Stratocaster that I could play in my office in the evenings and through my practice amp at other times. I never did find one that I liked enough to buy or that I could actually afford. Ultimately I ended up with an American-made Telecaster. I think I must have been listening to a lot of Status Quo at the time.

This particular instrument is Fender's attempt to re-make the classic original 1952 butterscotch Telecaster (or No Caster as it is better known). The guitar has the single-ply black pickguard, original style no caster pickups and wiring, the "Pat Pending" stamp on the bridge plate and slotted screws instead of philips. This particular guitar has also been "relic'd" to enhance the original look. 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Guitars part one

I wrote last Summer the Summer before the one that just finished (!) about how Sam got his first proper bike, and how that reminded me of the day I got my first proper guitar. That post developed into a history lesson on the first three (3) guitars I owned. At the time I thought it might be interesting to write about some of the other guitars (and basses) in my collection. This idea got as far as having Samuel Sheep take photos of each guitar with his flashy XLR camera....and no further. Well, until now!

So, first a recap: the first guitar I got my hands on was my father's Levin. This was followed by the all-white low-budget Marlin Slammer at the beginning of 1987, and then the Japan-built metallic-blue Fender Stratocaster almost a year later. Two of these guitars remain in my family today, and all three were documented here.

(4) Rickenbacker 1997PT 1987/88

The next guitar probably deserves its own blog entry. I'll post a link here if it ever gets one. So, let me start off by saying that I loved the blue Strat, but the guitar I really wanted was a Rickenbacker. I was a Beatles fanatic at the time, and I wanted the Beatle guitar sound. 

In 1987, Rickenbacker released a Pete Townshend Limited Edition Rickenbacker model 1997PT guitar, based on the six-string Rose Morris Co., LTD, Rickenbacker 1998 model Pete used extensively in 1965 and 1966. This reissue was limited to 250 guitars. The guitar has a red sunburst finish, three "toaster" pickups, two-piece staggered "Pete Townshend" pickguard, one original style f-hole and original style knobs and tuners. The fretboard is dot-inlaid rosewood over a double truss-rod through-body neck. The serial# is stamped on the input jack plate. One thing about this guitar that's not ideal is the replica "R" tailpiece, which makes it difficult to get the guitar in tune.

It took me over a year to save enough $$$ to buy this guitar - my first professional instrument - and I had two gardening jobs and a paper round at the time. I was lucky that Rockbottom in Croydon still had two of these guitars to choose from at the end of 1988. The grain pattern ont'  tother 'un was somewhat inferior as my Grandfather would not have said. The retail price was UKP 895, and I had to find another 65 quid for a custom Rickenbacker case. If you're still reading this, you might be wondering why I didn't get a Lennon-style Rickenbacker. The answer is that those ones didn't come out until 1990, and I was in recovery from my Beatles obsession by then. Not to mention broke!

(5) Charvel Model 2 1986/87

Charvel began in the early 80's as a California based company that, through a link-up with Jackson, produced guitars in Japan from 1986 to 1996. It is only the first six years of that production run that are remembered with any fondness however. 

This guitar is a Model 2 (basswood body, maple bolt-on neck, rosewood fretboard, 1x bridge pickup and 1x volume control) and was built in either late 1986 or early 1987.  The serial number (248xxx) falls on the borderline, and the guitar has features of both model years: the Kahler 2500 series bridge indicates '86, while the combination of "R" on the headstock logo and "TM" on the neck plate is more typical of '87. 

I acquired this guitar used in (I think) early 1993 from a friend for 200 quid. He let me pay in installments. I was going to use it to learn how to play like EVH. I didn't get very far, which is a shame because this guitar has the perfect low-action set up and ultra-flat neck for double tapping.  

I've always looked down on this guitar as a poor man's Jackson, even though it plays really well. I've recently discovered that Charvels from this era are actually quite sought after. Maybe not as much as the American Charvels from the very early 80's, but still worth a few $$$ to the right people. In truth, this guitar has hardly even been out of its case since I brought it to the States (see below).

(6) Maison TB-380 bass 1990s

Maison was a relatively short-lived South Korean company which made budget copies of well-known guitars and basses. Very little is known about production dates and numbers, and I am not even 100% sure I have the model number correct.  

I bought this bass used from Rockbottom in Croydon one lunchtime in late '93 or early '94. I wanted to learn bass, and maybe get into a punk band. I basically asked one of the guys at Rockbottom what they had that was cheap and the Maison was what they came up with. I think I paid about 150 quid for it. I played it through my Fender Reverb 35 watt guitar amp. This is a really good beginners instrument, a lot better than the price tag implies. This bass had a rebirth in 2007 after I brought it to America, as shown in the third photo, but it has rarely seen the light of day since then.

(7) Washburn D11-N acoustic 1996

I moved to Manchester in spring 1995. It seemed like a long way from the old homestead back then. Only the blue Strat made the trip. The Charvel, the Rickenbacker and the Maison bass, all of which I still own, were consigned to a South London closet. After playing the Strat without an amp for over a year, I decided I needed a decent, but still affordable acoustic guitar. After a false start with a cheap Fender acoustic, I found the Washburn at A1 Music one Saturday morning in 1996. (A1 Music used to be at 88 Oxford Road in Manchester next to the Salisbury pub and across the street from Jilly's Rockworld, all of which was emitting an agonizing death rattle at the time).

This guitar remains the most played instrument in my collection. It was my main instrument since it was bought until it was essentially retired in 2016. I think it cost around UKP 250, and for that I got a really nice and very playable guitar. The D11-N has a beautiful natural-finished book matched mountain ash top, back and sides for an exceptional tone and unusual appearance. The neck is mahogany with a rosewood fretboard. One of the original chrome grover tuners broke, and for years I had a mismatched tuning peg. A couple of year ago I forked out for a replacement set of gold plated grovers. They are very similar, but I had to drill some extra holes in the back of the peghead.

(7a) Ovation acoustic

When I moved to America at the end of 2004, I took two bags and no guitars. I planned to pick up a suitable instrument somewhere along the way, but it was over a year before I got around to it. At the time I had a sort-of friend of convenience called Chairman Tinfoil who happened to own a teeny-tiny guitar shop. The shop was in a strip mall in the Tri Valley Area and was called something bland like Tri Valley Music. They used to advertise in the Yellow Pages in all three nearby cities long after most businesses abandoned print media. For all I know, they still do.

Anyway, I talked to the Tinfoil Man about buying a guitar that would bridge the gap between nothing and whenever I could import the Washburn. He fended off my attempts to actually buy a guitar, and instead lent me a rather nice Ovation acoustic. The Ovation was a beautifully crafted guitar, but the tone was nothing like the Washburn, and I didn't really like it. I've always thought the molded plastic Ovation body looked like something Argos would sell. I kept looking for the "Made in Taiwan" sticker! I actually only had possession of this guitar for a few weeks before it was recalled. I only have a few pics to prove it existed, none of which show the full guitar, so I'm not sure what model or year it is.

(7b) Fender Telecaster 2000s

I forget why exactly I had to return the Ovation - maybe it was too nice to be out on loan - but in its place Chairmen Tinfoil lent me an almost-new USA-made Telecaster. The Tele was made in about 2002; it was actually owned by Mrs. Chairman Tinfoil, although she didn't play guitar. The Tele, in spite of being a nice instrument, wasn't really what I was looking for - I was a confirmed acoustic player at this point, with little interest in leaning new riffs or strumming on an solid body electric guitar without an amp (again...). The Tele spent most of its time in my possession in its case.  

(7c) Washburn D11-N acoustic 1996

In the Spring of 2006, I made a trip to the mother land and returned with the Washburn which instantaneously re-established its position as my primary instrument. The Telecaster was shunted back to Tinfoil land, never to be spoken of again. 

Stay tuned for "part two - the USA years"

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Front Yard part eleven

Sometimes I wonder if this project will ever be finished! As I mentioned in part nine, we have a steep drop adjacent to the house which we have need to deal with. There were timber stairs in this area at one time, but we demolished those way back. We ended up making the slope into several tiers thanks to repurposing some irregular paving slabs and moss rock from the unfinished part of our front yard.

We built a level area at the top of the slope from which we can access the irrigation boxes and the newly-painted gas meter, if we need to.

Below that we built a retaining wall from moss rock and another walkway which leads to the hose shutoff valve. The gaps were filled with ye olde topsoil. 

The slope below this was gentle enough that the new topsoil can be retained with just one row of moss rocks:

With this all buttoned up, we turned out attention to the waste land in front of the lower retaining wall and between the fence and the raised beds:

We gave all the long grasses and whatnot 30 seconds to leave, and those that didn't do one were treated to the fine twine in Amy Sheep's brand new weed whacker.

This is the after the weeds had been whacked and we'd made a pitstop for landscaping fabric, tent pegs and some mulch:

We laid the fabric all the way along the fence and past the gate:

This is later on, after several inches of mulch were spread on top of the fabric. We will be planting in these areas in the Spring, but for now we are hoping this effort will keep everything looking tidy.

We'll be planting ground cover in the area that we didn't mulch in the next few weeks.

Fast-forward to the Friday before Labor Day, and we had a couple of yards of Decomposed Granite (DG) delivered for the walkways and steps - these areas have been a work-in-progress for many months.

The next couple of hours and the first bit of Saturday morning were spent spreading the new DG on the walkways and steps - some of these areas were part-filled some time ago. This process consists of dumping piles from the wheelbarrow and spreading it out with a mixture of the rake and one's plates of meat. 

We did some screeding until the DG was about 80% of how we wanted it. 

By now the pile was looking considerably smaller....

Time for a cold diet coke and 15 minutes sitting on my arris.

While I was enjoying the above noted rest period, I had Amy Sheep run a plate compactor over the walkways - the compactor was too big for her to use on the stairs unfortunately.... I had Amy compact those in the more traditional way:

After all that, it was time for hosing down the DG and re-screeding to get the level perfect - we had to add small amounts of DG to the low spots, remove if from the high spots, and rinse and repeat. This is the result after many sun-drenched hours of intense hard labor. 

The next day Amy Sheep planted ground cover between the paving slabs and at the lower slope.

This is later on. The patch of bare earth in the upper right of the next photo will be covered with topsoil and planted in the Spring. We already have an irrigation line to this area (white pipe at right).

Delilah cam out to help me pack up.

I explained to her that we will be getting rid of the rest of the brick pad in front of the house eventually and extending the DG walkway beyond the gate. The black trash bags you can see in the background are filled with the DG we has left over.

To be continued.....