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14 February 2014 @ 09:22 am
A little while ago I ordered a travel guitar from Charlie Hyde, a local craftsman who had built his own.  His progress was delayed by a "small" stroke -- as if any brain ailment is small! -- but he did finish it, and yesterday brought it by.

The new guitar is CUTE, and also musically sound.  Did I just write that?  Well, it makes a sound, and that sound is quite sound.  And musical.

It's better than the other two travel guitars I've had, by virtue of more sophisticated design.  Small guitars lack bass response because of the size of the resonating cavity, but the one Charlie made incorporates a small preamp built into the body to passively boost the low notes.  It draws very little power; it's run by a hearing-aid battery than has to be replaced every few years.


It has little microswitch controls for the volume and tone of the amplified bass strings.  I'll experiment with them today.

Playing on the metal strings did hurt my left hand a little – slightly more tension than the classical nylon strings – but this morning I think the hand feels a little better for the exercise.

(The hand has been bothering me since I hurt it packing to leave MIT in mid-December.  I went to the VA doctor a couple of days ago, and he said that I should ignore the pain and exercise it.)

It's Valentine's Day, which is also an anniversary for us; we met at a Valentine's Day dance in (gasp) 1961.  By improbable coincidence, I found a card that actually has 53 hearts in its design.

(I didn't count the hearts in the store.  Figured to add however many with a red pen.  But knock me down with a feather in space, as Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, will say some day in the future.  It already had exactly fifty-three.)

I also gave her an oriole/hummingbird feeder that features cups of jelly.  She gave me a hand-crafted camp knife she found at the Medieval Faire.

So happy V-day, everybody!  Take heart!


(If any guitar people are interested, here's the technical note about the guitar's wood from its designer -- )

John Calkin travel guitar (made from a kit by Charlie Hyde)

Butternut. Also called white walnut, butternut is softer and less likely to be figured than black walnut. It's not really white, but a creamy light brown. Flatsawn stock shows prominent lines from the growth rings. I've never come across a quartersawn board of butternut, nor a piece large enough to make into a full-size guitar, much to my regret. The trees do grow large enough, however. The wood bends nicely, but go easy on the water as it is more absorbent than walnut or mahogany. It's a fuzzy wood, easy to sand, but the fuzz won't stay down. A long series of whiskerings will deal with it, but I normally sand to 220 grit, shoot a sealer coat which raises the grain and locks it, then sand with 320 to remove the whiskers. I've only gloss-finished butternut with CrystaLac and found pore filling unnecessary. A lacquer job might go faster if filler was used. On my low-end travel guitars, I shoot a coat of lacquer, sand with 320, then shoot two more coats, polish quickly by hand to make the surface silky, and call it quits. It's an attractive look, but I would never do it on an expensive instrument.
Russell LetsonRussell Letson on February 14th, 2014 04:35 pm (UTC)
You're bringing it to ICFA, right? I'm now flying with the GS-Mini instead of the Baby Taylor. We can have a travel-guitar pick-off.

BTW, I'd view any advice (even from a non-hand-specialist doctor) about ignoring hand pain while exercising. Unless it's just fingertip soreness, which is unavoidable when you transition to a more resistant string gauge/material. My now-retired doc liked the old joke: "Doc, it hurts when I do this." "Then don't do that."
joe_haldemanjoe_haldeman on February 20th, 2014 12:51 pm (UTC)
hand pain
Russ, this pain is pretty persistent. It goes away when the hand is in a curled, relaxed state, but it hurts either to straighten it out or curl it past midway. I can play for about 45 minutes, but then the pain seems to signal "danger."

Of course I've been doing it long enough to ignore it and play through the pain. But I'd better take it slow. Especially the third "t" finger, which wants to get stuck in a curled-up position.

I didn't bring a softer guitar because I probably wouldn't play the new one if there were an easy alternative. I want to put enough time in it that it feels relatively easy.

I d think that when I restring it the first time, I'm going to try Super Slinkies. I've always liked the twangy bendable sound. It's sort of the opposite of subtle, but this is a pretty blunt instrument.