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31 March 2015

Highwayman Banjo - Coming Together

Day 2 of my holiday banjo building and there's lots to show you! With no further ado...


This is where I left it yesterday. I'd glued the fretboard onto the neck and here I am admiring my handiwork. What a beauty! I had all sorts of unanswered questions about the neck joint, but I realised that there was no point worrying about that until I could get the instrument playable. But what should I do next?

30 March 2015

How to set up a Xiaomi Mi Band

I have absolutely no interest in fitness bands... well, that was until I got myself one. It was all +Michael J King's fault. He posted a link to a site in America that was selling them off cheap. After a quick chat with Michael, I was convinced to give one a go. And since Mrs Uke was poking her nose in, I got her one too!

Although I bought the bands from America, the goods were shipped direct from China and took about 3 weeks to arrive. You can get the bands in all sorts of colours... yep... I got two black ones.

I've been using mine for a couple of weeks. I set up Mrs Uke's tonight. Because I can... here's a run through of what I did...


Mi Band

"Unlock your phone without a password
Monitor Fitness Level
Track Sleeping Quality
Smart Alarm
30 Days Standby
Industry's most power-efficient Bluetooth chip and accelerometer
Water Resistant IP67
Always On"

I was asked by +Jake Tolbert why I should get a Mi Band over say a standard pedometer? I've never had a pedometer, but I'm guessing the difference lies in the additional features mentioned above. The sleep feature is pretty interesting (I still haven't figured out how it's doing what it does). I haven't figured out how to do the automatic unlocking or alarms yet. I thought I'd also read somewhere that it could be set up to alert you when you receive a phone call and your phone is on silent. Again, I haven't found out how to do this, so who knows whether it is possible or not.

Highwayman Banjo - Stand and Deliver

I can't believe it! I've actually done some work on my Highwayman Banjo build! I woke up at stupid-o'clock this morning with banjos spinning around my head. I must have laid in bed for hours scheming up ways to get back into the project before I could fight it no more.

For those who might have forgotten, the Highwayman Banjo is my first attempt at building a 5-string banjo. I did a lot of work on it over the Summer and had to shut up shop for Winter. Now Spring's here, I've been itching to get back out in the garage to create more sawdust.

Today's challenge has been to fit the neck to the head. I've had many sleepless nights wondering how I'm going to do it. It seems I just needed to take the plunge...


Here was the plan I put together this morning.

I'd already cut an 88 degree slope-back on the neck and curved it to fit flush with the head. What I intended to do was to drill a hole for a barrel nut to hold a long bolt that is going to act as the dowel stick.

You'll see above I mention a block to hold the neck vertically aligned. I haven't done this in the end, but more on this later...

29 March 2015

How to cure colour-blindness

Call me an old cynic, but I couldn't believe my eyes (pun intended) when I saw the following video earlier this week. A paint company has apparently manufactured some glasses that help the colour-blind to see the world differently. Is it a cure to the affliction that has been with me since birth? There's only one way to find out...


This video brought a tear to my eye (pun intended). A big thanks to +Kryptyk Physh for bringing it to my attention.

I personally am very sceptical of what this video is showing, but despite my misgivings over the glasses themselves and the sickly "pull-at-your-heartstrings" sentimentality of the directing, I applaud Valspar for raising awareness of colour-blindness. Well done Valspar!

I write this post with that same aim. Colour-blindness affects 8% of males and 0.4% of females. There is no known cure. Please give generously.

28 March 2015

Brian Carver Unboxing

No, no, no, this is not an unboxing of Brian Carver; This is an unboxing of the Brian Carver Banjo Kit that recently arrived in the post.


Here's the parcel that cost me a small fortune to have shipped over from the States. What a bloody customs and excise minefield! Never mind... I'm sure I've learnt my lesson. Inside is a Banjo Kit supplied by Brian Carver. Brian's made a plywood box to ship his kit in. Brilliant!

You can find more about the kit and Brian on his blog.

When I got chatting with Brian he told me that he's been building for about 10 years, selling his 99th banjo last month. His kits have been a runaway success; He sold 30 of them in 30 days! That's a lot of banjos! Brian says that he usually only makes about 10 a year. That's only about 10 more than me. ;-)

27 March 2015

Pahulele Kickstarter Project

I don't have a great deal of time, so I'll try to keep this quick. I discovered a fantastic Kickstarter earlier in the week and only now do I realise that we're on the final countdown. If I'm going to tell you about it and encourage you to support the project... I'd better do it right now!

Before we go any further, I'll give you a link to the Kickstarter itself. It has a lot more detail. Go offer Reid Shigemura your support now. At the time of writing you have 9 days to do it! Tick tock...

Pahulele - Unique Backpacker Travel Ukulele - Made in Hawaii


Here's a basic shot of what all the fuss is about.

You know that I'm a big fan of travel ukuleles. I love the challenge they present in designing something that is small, but playable. There are many different takes on the problem and the Pahulele is no different, presenting us with something fresh.

I'm told that Pahulele translates as "jumping box". It's a reference to the cigar-box-like baltic birch plywood body. A neat idea. The real twist though comes in the removable neck. BTW, I love the "smokey" neck wood-grain in the picture above - Hawaiian luthiers have access to some lovely wood.

The neck comes off and can be stored inside the body for travel. It's an interesting idea. I remember seeing a folding ukulele design a long time ago, but I can't recall seeing a completely removable neck before. I'm not sure how easy it is to disassemble/reassemble a Pahulele, but I bet you could fit more than just the neck inside that box. I'm thinking maybe a tuner and if you've got one of the limited edition versions with a pickup fitted, maybe you could use it to hold some sort of practice amp?

23 March 2015

The Conquest of Science

With all of my projects, I set out to give you all the highs and the lows. Unfortunately, I feel that I've reached a bit of an impasse with my latest Piezo Buffer circuit and I'm not sure what to try next. If you have any hints to offer me then please offer them now. Let me try and explain what I've been up to...


I got this package earlier in the week from China and immediately started to wonder what was inside... Something musical perhaps?

When we last spoke I told you about this low buzzing sound being produced by my piezo buffer. In an uncharacteristic moment of optimism I told you that everything would be okay... I'd convinced myself that I could handle it by tweaking the pull-down resistor. What a fool! Ha ha

What followed next was lots of internet research and trial and error.

17 March 2015

The Don Valley Casebook

Today I'm going to post you a little bit of history. A long, long time ago I used to quite like a bit of country and western banjo music. One of my favourite bands of the time were an outfit from Sheffield called Don Valley and the Rotherhides. I regained an EP I owned by them a couple of months back and was bemoaning the fact that I couldn't find the single. Quite by chance, this weekend it just turned up. I was handed a box and in it was this mysterious looking book... "The Don Valley Casebook". Hmmm. Round about page 27 I only bloody found the missing single! Wahay!

Now, I seem to remember putting all these sheets in this case for safe-keeping, but I can't remember a great deal more than that. I do remember catching the boys live at least twice and maybe both of those times was at the Adelphi Club in Hull, but I can't be 100% sure of that.

I see that there is a Don Valley and the Rotherhides website... so you can check that out for more information. No more words... I present to you the Don Valley Casebook:


15 March 2015

Dreaming of making a Wood Block

If you're here looking for ideas for Mother's Day, then you need look no further!

In the week that my daughter has been fitted with blocks for her teeth (poor thing) I too have been captivated by blocks... only my ones are made of wood and used to make music. Surely even I can make a percussion wood block? First I needed to do a little bit of research into the subject. Here's what I've uncovered...


Here's a run-down of the basics of Wood Block design. Above is a hand-held wood block that can be used to generate two tones by flipping it over.

You generate the note by hitting the top and the sound is shaped and amplified by a small hollowed cut-out.

Although you could mount this as a fixed arrangement by drilling holes at either end, I think that generally you'd only mount a single-tone block (i.e. only one cut-out) and this would allow you to drill your mounting hole(s) at the centre-back of the block (opposite side to the cut-out).

As musical concepts go. this all seems pretty straight-forward.

13 March 2015

A discourse on Power

Today's post is one giant step in my ongoing mission to build a Piezo Buffer. I've got a Mark 2 circuit on a perfboard and sort of half fitted in an enclosure. I'm getting close to being able to explain the circuit to you, but first, I talk about disaster...


This was how I left things in my last post where I was talking about my problems with circuit noise. Can you spot a schoolboy error in the picture above? No? I never spotted it either.

I plugged everything in and switched it on. The background hum appeared and then it disappeared... and then it was back... and then it was gone for good. What? Had I magically fixed the noise problem? Wahay!

Seconds later my elation turned to despair as I realised that I'd only gone and blown the power supply. Damn, damn, damn! That's why there was no noise... there was no power! Oh dear! What an idiot!!!

While I waited for another supply to arrive in the post, I still couldn't figure out what I'd done wrong. It was only when I plugged in the new one many days later that the penny dropped and I scrambled to unplug it as quick as I could.

8 March 2015

The colour of noise

I'm not sure really what today's post is going to be about. I'm going to do some free-writing and let's just see where we end up...


Events have put a break on my project-work. Just as well really, because look at the state of my cave! I've been forced into some long-overdue tidying up.

7 March 2015

How to build an audio probe

Yeah, I know it's only a matter of hours since my last post, but it seemed like a good idea to split this mini project out into its own post. The topic is debugging...


You already know that I'm building a Piezo Buffer circuit. It's a simple pre-amplifier and my circuit has a single 2n5457 n-JFET at its core. The journey has been long and painful and I haven't reached the end yet.

In my last post I talked about some challenges I'm having with audio "noise". I managed to eliminate most of it by tuning the DC supply voltage (you can see the extra resistors I've added top left to do this), but I'm still left with a sort of hum that is driving me mad.

My challenge is to come up with ideas for how to figure out what's causing it with a view to fixing it. I'll capture my thoughts as I go...

Perfboarding the Piezo Buffer

Time for another update in my Piezo Buffer project. If you've only just stumbled across this blog then you might want to backtrack for a little background:

Dreaming of building a Piezo Buffer
Breadingboarding the Piezo Buffer
How to test a JFET


Having got my circuit prototype working on a breadboard I began to wonder how representative it really was of how the end buffer was going to perform. You may remember me commenting on how noisy the circuit sounded when fed into an amp. Was this noise the result of the breadboard or something else? There was only one way to find out and this involved building another prototype. This time I pulled out some perfboard.

Above is what I used. I see that there are various types of perfboard available, but I chose this one specifically because it doesn't contain any conductive strips. Each hole stands on its own and as such I felt that I could be as freeform as I liked. My hope was/is that if I can get the circuit working to my satisfaction then I will simply box it and project done.

4 March 2015

How to test a JFET

For the past couple of days I've been battling a problem with my latest project to build a Piezo Buffer. When we last spoke I'd got the prototype working on a breadboard and I was on the verge of experimenting. It went downhill pretty quickly from there...


Do you remember my impromptu experiment on Sunday where I tried to get an LED to light up without exploding? I only managed it once, but that was all the encouragement I needed to begin wondering whether I could add an LED to my Piezo Buffer circuit.

My biggest fear was that I would break my Piezo Buffer circuit in the process. With shaking fingers I made the required adjustments and what do you know, the bloody thing worked! Ha ha. I was bouncing off the walls with happiness!

That was until I started experimenting with different resistors and everything went dead on me. DAMN! What on earth had I done?

What happened next was hour after hour of debugging. Try as I might I couldn't find a fault. Eventually the penny dropped... perhaps one of my components was broken. I'd destroyed the JFET on earlier attempts. Surely this was the most likely one to have been broken. But how could I test it? Read on...

1 March 2015

How to blow up an LED

I had no intention of doing any projects today, but somehow I've been lured in. It all started with me wondering if I could add a light emitting diode (LED) to my Piezo Buffer circuit. Wouldn't it be cool if it lit up when the circuit had power? Hmmm...


You'll see here that I just happen to own a box of LED bulbs. It was only as I was taking a look at them just now that I realised that don't know anything about them. How would I get them to work if I don't know what voltage or current they need. The answer was only a Google away.

Breadboarding the Piezo Buffer

I'm back! Today I'm going to reveal a few more of my adventures in building my piezo buffer circuit. Let's get to it!


My new challenge of becoming an electronics wizard is full of firsts. Everything I do requires research and learning. I'm finding that I can't take anything for granted and often the simplest things are the hardest to get right.

The picture above shows a new skill I've been working on: "Breadboarding".

Breadboarding is a means of prototyping a circuit without actually having to solder anything. Because everything is temporary, you're free to move things about and experiment. Ideal! ...or so you'd think...