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Fitting a pickup to a resonator guitar

Background: my musical life started in folk clubs. Yes, back then! Whether to amplify wasn’t even a question – amplification wasn’t even thought of let alone heard of. In any case, the only electricity in the room was probably that for the single bare lightbulb hanging in the centre, casting its pallid light on the peeling yellow paint and into the coal-less fireplace. So my understanding of “acoustic” has been simple and puritan: no amplification.

More recently, I have had to wrestle with, and accept, that “acoustic” sessions may take place with microphones and guitars with pickups. Fair enough – that kind of music does have more in common with my puritan meaning of the word than it does with an electric rock band. And doing a few gigs in restaurants, bars and cafes, as I do, I’ve come to realise a couple of things. One is that the delicate, shimmering complexity of the sound from a conventional wooden, acoustic guitar, or the rather different but equally subtle complexity of the sound from a resonator WILL NOT BE HEARD in a place that, quite rightly, is filled with hubbub. The beauty of purely acoustic sound production CAN only be heard in three circumstances: a small space with perhaps a dozen attentive listeners; a professionally but minimally produced recording; or, let’s allow for this, in a concert setting with professional microphones and high-quality, professional amplification.

So I came to realise that wrestling, as I have, with a microphone for voice and harmonica and another microphone for the guitar, struggling to keep the guitar in exactly the right position for sound to come through with adequate but balanced volume and without boom or screeching feedback was really not the way to do it.

My conventional wooden acoustic had a pickup fitted when it was built, and when I finally started to use it a few weeks ago, it was a joy. It needs a preamp, but suddenly I was free to let the sound of the guitar look after itself, leaving me to think about playing the damned thing and singing. But I usually play both that and a resonator. Not that I’m one of those novelty acts where people play with two guitars at the same time! I just change between. Resonators are of course not normally fitted with pickups when they are made. In the first place, they are much louder, which is part of what they were invented for, and there are those who say that you can use a resonator with a microphone much more easily than you can use a conventional guitar, because of its loud, forward projection. That might be okay for somebody who is just the “resonator player” in the band, but I was attracted to the idea of playing it with the same freedom that I now felt when playing the wooden six-string. It was time for a pickup.

I looked around on the net, and settled on a “K&K Pure Resonator BB”. Not the very most expensive, but has a good reputation, and I certainly didn’t want to go for one of the “quasi-electric” ones that use the magnetic effect of the steel strings like an electric guitar. I was a bit nervous about fitting it, although the reality was largely problem-free, so for anybody else contemplating this possibility, a description of the fitting process follows. The “BB” refers to “biscuit bridge” – resonator owners will know whether they have a single-cone biscuit bridge or a triple-cone spider bridge. I had also decided to use the “external mounting” system, as it is less invasive and quicker.

First obtain your pickup. The K&K site did not show me any dealers anywhere near me, so I shot them an email. Full marks – they shot one back saying, “Oh, but we do have,” and gave me the details. Ordered online on Saturday morning, processed on Monday morning, arrived on Tuesday morning.

The box:

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Sarzana Jazz and Blues Festival 2016

I’m a bit late mentioning this, but I did go down to the Sarzana Jazz and Blues Festival 2016 a couple of times. Some great little venues there, and a great range of music. This short video is not a proper report, but a couple of video snapshots that might make you consider going next year!

(PS if you aren’t on facebook, or not logged in, you have to click “Not now” on the splash panel that might come up to obscure the view.)

Here are some pictures, to keep the post bright:
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A bit of history, a death, and a red guitar

Sparky Hill and the Red Itches formed in 1958, playing and recording for some 10 years. “Sparky” didn’t get his nickname for being an electrician, but because he lived in Sparkhill, Birmingham. (Trivia: his day job was tyre fitter.) The Red Itches took their name from the town of Redditch, the home town of Dave – that’s the Dave whose second name nobody could remember. Dave had a van, and acted as the group’s roadie, also playing bass whenever Roger “Longface” Parsons, the usual bassist, had one of his funny turns.

Death and red guitar below the fold…

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Looking for my image

All due respect to these two (Brad Whitford and Derek St. Holmes), who have been very successful blues/rock players for a long time. So, yes, respect.

And it’s true that I’m groping for a performing image, and I’m not in principle opposed to a gimmick. Should I wear a hat? A sparkly bandana? Tibetan boots? A crow’s feather in my hair?

But.

Is this the image I should cultivate?

You may comment if you feel so inclined.

Italian Blues Challenge semifinalist – not quite!

I promised that I would declare how I got on, and here it is. No, I did not get selected for the semifinals but, that said, I wasn’t a huge way off. A “work in progress”, perhaps, but the progress is real.

North-central and south-central regions had the same set of judges. Of the 26 entrants in these regions, five were selected for semifinals, and the score they gave me was the eighth. Read more