Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Banjo, iterated.

Well, I managed to get the fingerboard insert glued down on the kit banjo. A mixed bag, at least on first analysis. I should reserve judgment and continue tinkering before drawing too many permanent conclusions.

I do believe the neck is straighter and flatter than it was. The trouble is that the rim of the resonator still intrudes on practical action height, and I still get buzzing up the neck.

There are things I can try, both in the realm of the minor tweak and the substantial change, to remedy this. One thing I might try is tightening the drum head more significantly, and/or substituting a taller bridge. (I suppose it's also possible to reduce the neck angle and go for a shorter bridge, and see if that works.) I could also simply relieve wood from the resonator rim, which seems like a gruesome change, but would be worth it if it works.

On the plus side, the action (at least below the octave) is better than it was, and I got the chance to restring the fifth string so that the cut end is not at substantial risk of putting a hole in my thumb during normal playing. I did end up going with a fifths tuning this time, to wit:
  • 5th: 09p, tuned G4
  • 4th: 32w, tuned G2
  • 3rd: 26w, tuned D3
  • 2nd: 18p, tuned A3
  • 1st: 12p, tuned E4
The strings are still a bit Frankensteined (4th is nickel-wound, 3rd bronze) but I am already much happier with the 5ths tuning, appreciating both the expanded range (std G tuning on a banjo is D3-D4, where here I'm G2-E4) and regular shapes and scales.

Next steps: play this a little bit, mostly below the octave to stay away from the buzzing, and contemplate this "steeper neck, taller bridge, shallower nut" or "shallower neck, shorter bridge, deeper nut" question. Learn more about the right hand.

It's a tinkerer's project anyway. So, tinker.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Possible tunings for a 4-string...

The brain is chewing on things. In this case, the next instrument project, which is an absolute jumble of ideas at the moment, but with some starting to gel. I'm after a fretless, solid-body instrument with lots of sustain, and with some Michael Manring-esque instant detuning options. Pretty much every moving part is being considered, but that's the overarching goal.

Today's chewing is over the actual string tuning options. How can I get the most flexibility out of the simplest system? With a theoretical detuner for each string at both the bridge and nut end, yielding three possible "open" notes per string, permutations get daunting. But hell, let's take a stab, right?

I set an arbitrary box: could I get a tuning that would allow me to use both open fifths and open fourths? How about an additional option of the Guitar Craft intervals?

I pretty quickly came up with two possible options--there may be others, but the current exercise is: what might be possible with these?

Option 1:

StringLow noteMiddleHigh note

Option 2:

StringLow noteMiddleHigh note

Well now, these two options present quite a few obvious possibles. They both permit open 5ths (GDAE), open 4ths (BEAD), Guitar Craft intervals (AEBD), multiple power chord voicings (interestingly, rooted on G, D, A, and E), multiple major triad voicings, even more minor triad voicings, multiple sus4 voicings, at least one major seventh voicing, and a couple of minor seventh/major sixth voicings. Option #2 also has an obvious available dominant 7th voicing which does not seem available in #1. (I haven't ventured past seventh forms yet, but there's obviously other things there too.) Melodically, something might be significant about the first option's consistency; within each string's tuning profile, the only "intervals" that are not major seconds are the upper intervals on the top two strings, which are minor thirds. On the other hand, the second option has the two interior strings featuring a whole and a half-step. I'm thinking about the possibilities of chasing harmonics around, melodically, and it seems to me that a variety of possible intervals just might be too fun to pass up.

So, at least initially, it seems that either of these options would keep me busy for quite a while, and the latter option may prove to be slightly more flexible than the first. Now that it's documented, I can mull on it for a while, and see if it might be worth the effort of trying to get a detuner on both ends of each string.

I suppose it would be much simpler if I didn't keep trying to take every fixed point I can see and cast off its moorings. I can hear ya: isn't fretless enough? Well, sure it is. Hell, just listen to the available corpus of great music: twelve-tone, standard tuning is enough.

But it's not the point. Face it, I'm just a pain in the ass. :-)