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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.

These are the mahogany blanks I bought to build my Highwayman Banjo. I promise you now that I will finish this build this year. While I wait for the warm weather to return, I've been using off-cuts for all sorts of other little projects. I'm reading that any dense hardwood is ideal for making Wood Blocks, so this might be a good place for me to start?

I don't know who Robin Thicke is, but I have heard of Marvin Gaye. Back in 2013, Marvin Gaye's family sued Thicke for copyright infringement claiming that Thicke's song "Blurred Lines" was a blatant a rip-off of Gaye's "Got to give it up". Listening to the video above, I have to agree.

Earlier this week, a Californian jury also agreed, ruling Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams pay Gaye's family US$7.4m in compensation.

The case actually hinged on song composition similarities rather than sampling as you might expect (The Gaye family holds copyright of the sheet music, not the recording). While the world panics over the repercussions of this weeks's decision on Music in general, I'm just going to call out that the main difference between the two recorded versions was in fact the humble Wood Block.

Yes! This obviously makes Gaye's song better than Thicke's... to the tune of US$7.4m. Just saying ;-)

"Good job!"

If you've been following me on Google+ then you'll already know that I have aspirations to become a washboard wizard. I've bought one! That's how serious I am! Ha ha.

The video above was a bit of an eye-opener for me. See how Whit Whitfield has customised his washboard with a cowbell and wood block arrangement. He's also done away with thimbles and is scraping out a rhythm with spoons. Brilliant!

I would love to learn a little more about the design of Whit's wood block. From the video it looks like it could simply be a hollow box with a couple of soundholes cut out. If you're reading this post Whit... please drop me a line.

Photo courtesy of Ron Vaugn

I'll do a post on washboards another time, but what I wanted to call out here is that wood blocks are generally known for being unpitched instruments. That means that they produce notes of an indeterminate pitch... which should make them super-easy to make.

I remember many years ago me and my bassist tuning our drummer's drum-kit when he wasn't looking. We tuned each drum to whatever note was closest and it sounded... terrible! Ha ha... we were soooo unpopular after that! But there-in lies a lesson... you don't have to tune all instruments.

See the beautiful Ascend Wood Blocks manufactured by Ron Vaugn. I love the rounded shape, and see that the smallest have a cut-out that goes the whole way through the block. These blocks are tuned and come in 8 pitches. Lay the Ascend blocks side-by-side and you've effectively got a xylophone, which is a different beast altogether.

I have no aspirations to make tuned wood blocks like Ron's, but I do like the ergonomics of his design. They just beg to be held!

Before I go, I want to thank Demi from Manchester for reviewing my comics earlier this week. You know that I love getting feedback, good or bad. Demi was very kind. My favourite quote is:

"I am so confused, and to be honest I'm not sure what the story is about" ~ Demi on The Lost Man

It turns out that she was reading the comics in the wrong order! Ha ha.

Thank you Demi for your feedback. Reading what you wrote I was almost inspired to start part 5 in the saga... almost... ;-)

Right, that's your lot for today. I won't be making a wood block for Mrs Uke, or in fact any of the Ukes today as I have a date with my mum... and she drives a Harley...

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