Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Books Read - 2015


It was a good year for reading, many of my favorite authors published books and I discovered some new friends thanks to GoodReads suggestions. I'm pretty sure no one reads my blog but if you are interested in my favorite books, they are in green.

  1. The Ares Decision - Robert Ludlum
  2. The Janus Reprisal - Robert Ludlum
  3. Without You, There is no Us - Suki Kimm
  4. My Promised Land:The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel - Ari Shavit
  5. Ghost Ship - Clive Cussler
  6. The Thief - Clive Cussler
  7. A Disruptive Invention - Peter Shackle
  8. Insatiable Appetites - Stuart Woods
  9. Jacob's Oath - Martin Fletcher
  10. The Girl on The Train - Paula Hawkins
  11. White Jade - Alex Lukeman
  12. The Good Girl - Mary Kubica
  13. The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah
  14. Twelve Days - Alex Berenson
  15. Leaving Berlin - Joseph Kanon
  16. Red Moth - Sam Eastland
  17. Bridge of Sighs - Olen     Steinhauer
  18. The Farm - Tom Rob Smith
  19. Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith
  20. The Breach - Patrick Lee
  21. Hot Pursuit - Stuart Woods
  22. The Atlantis Gene (The Origin Mystery, #1) - A.G. Riddle
  23. Red Tide - Larry Niven
  24. Gathering Prey - John Sandford
  25. The Last Flight of Poxl West - Daniel Torday
  26. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour - Joshua Ferris
  27. All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
  28. The Beast in the Red Forest - Sam Eastland
  29. Red Icon - Sam Eastland
  30. Havana Storm - Clive Cussler
  31. Radiant Angel - Nelson DeMille
  32. The Secret Speech - Tom Rob Smith
  33. The Fourth Man - Kjel Ola Dahl
  34. The English Spy - Daniel Silva
  35. Naked Greed - Stuart Woods
  36. Uncaged - John Sandford
  37. Outrage - John Sandford
  38. Pretty Baby -Mary Kubica
  39. The Family Tree - Sheri S. Tepper
  40. Make Me - Lee Child
  41. The Ways of the World - Robert Goddard
  42. The Corners of the Globe - Robert Goddard
  43. The Ends of the Earth - Robert Goddard
  44. Foreign Affairs - Stuart Woods
  45. Lights Out:A Cyber Attack, a Nation Unprepared - Ted Kopple
  46. Zoo Station (John Russell #1) - David Downing
  47. Silesian Station (John Russell #2) - David Downing
  48. Stettin Station (John Russell #3) - David Downing
  49. Potsdam Station (John Russell #3) - David Downing
  50. Lehrter Station (John Russell, #5) - David Downing
  51. Masaryk Station (John Russell #6) - David Downing
  52. The Einstein Prophecy - Robert Masello

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Custom Made Guitar

I've always wanted a guitar with my name at the top. I've also been partial to guitars that are spruce top and rosewood sides and back. Ebony is my favorite fingerboard material because its dark and has a very solid feel when you play. I

The headstock design I supplied
knew that it would be very expensive to have this kind of guitar made but... There are several Chinese guitar makers will make you one, to your specifications for very little money. I took a chance and ordered one from a Chinese guitar maker. I used Ali-express to place the order because they guarantee delivery or your money back. They escrow the money until you receive the guitar. Only when you agree that it has been delivered to your satisfaction do they release the money to the seller. 

Mid August I designed a head stock and asked the owner, Kevin Shi, if he could do
The actual headstock on my guitar
The design I sent Kevin Shi
t. He said yes and I proceeded to order the guitar. On October 3rd it arrived in a big styrofoam box covered in packing tape and with stickers in Chinese and English attesting to its tour of American customs. Opening the box was simple enough and out came a beautiful guitar. Shiny and well finished with my name on the top. No labels, numbers or anything else on the guitar. Abalone rosette around the soundhole, beautiful fingerboard markings and even a pretty scallop at the bottom of the ebony fingerboard. The machine heads are gold Grovers and the neck is nice and slim with nice grain and figuring. It is straight and true with perfect intonation. The neck has a visible scarf joint but that is common on Chinese guitars. The frets needed a little dressing and the guitar needed a strap button but other than that is ready to play. I love it.

This is the Guitar. I had to put new strings on it and add a strap button but all in all its pretty nice!

The obvious question is how does it sound? Pretty much like a new, inexpensive guitar. As good as most, not spectacular. I believe it needs about twenty years of age to be really great. I'll not be quite 90 by then. (I plan to be here!) All in all this was a fun experience. Finally a guitar I actually can't sell, who would want a guitar with my name on the head stock? Oops, I guess my son might have an interest in this guitar.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Is it a Les Paul?

This guitar is called an ES=Les Paul. That usually would stand for electric spanish but in this case it refers to a a guitar that is semi-hollow. The guitar weighs about two and a half pounds less than a solid Les Paul. That is because the solid part is a block that runs down the middle of the guitar. Both the top and bottom sections are actually hollow. Hence the name semi-hollow.

Les Paul's have a great sound but are often too heavy for me. In 2014 Gibson released a semi-hollow Les Paul made in its Memphis USA plant. In 2015 they upgraded some of the features and I could not resist.

This guitar is in the lemon burst finish but the darkness at the edges is very muted. Its almost a lemon colored guitar. The finish is beautiful even down to the soft F hole design in the truss rod cover. The guitar is fully bound and has a very smooth and thin neck with low wide frets. Its fun to play and even has a bit of "woody-ness" that would be expected from a semi-hollow body guitar.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

What's a Stratocaster?

The Strat is probably the most iconic electric guitar. If you see a rock band, there is likely to be a Strat or a Strat clone. They sell from $50 or sixty dollars up to tens of thousands for a custom made or classic model.

Basically the Fender Stratocaster features three pickups and a floating spring tension tremelo system. It was the first guitar in this configuration. It was the first Fender with a contoured body. The  "Comfort Contour Body" is less slab like than the tele.

Starting in 1954, the Stratocaster was offered with a solid, deeply contoured ash body, a 21-fret one-piece maple neck with black dot inlays and Kluson tuning heads.

Strats come in a variety of finishes and colors. I bought mine because I fell in love with the color, agave blue. It has a great neck and I've replaced the pickguard from plain white to a pearlized white like my thinline tele. Mine has a maple neck and maple fingerboard. I love these fender maple fingerboards. They are hard and smooth to the touch.

The Stratocaster features three single coil pickups, with the output originally selected by a 3-way switch. Guitarists soon discovered that by jamming the switch in between the 1st and 2nd position, both the bridge and middle pickups could be selected, and similarly, the middle and neck pickups could be selected between the 2nd and 3rd position. Mine has a more modern 5 position switch.

I love the sound and the feel but I've made three "mods" I added a spring to the floating tremolo so that it is not a floating tremolo anymore. Its what is often called a "hardtail" I don't use wammy's and this stabilized the tuning an feel. I added a new pickguard as mentioned above and finally, I replaced the stamped metal bridge pieces with solid chrome. This was to improve sustain but I noticed little difference.

What's a Thinline?

I have a Fender Thinline guitar. Its one of my favorites. It is actually a regular Telecaster that has been hollowed out at the top bout and has an "F" hole signifying that it is partially acoustic. 

The guitar has a wonderfully thin neck with a hard maple fingerboard and very wide low frets. It is a joy to play and has a very woody tone. It also has a tele "twang" when using the bridge pickup and that balances well with the sweet sounds of the neck pickup. Alone the neck pickup is very mellow and downright jazzy.

Designed by luthier Roger Rossmeisl in 1968 and  introduced in 1969 with humbucking pickups.My 1969 version has two standard Telecaster pickups and a mahogany body. Mike was made in Mexico while a more expensive USA made model is still available. I like the color of my Mexican model. 

I originally bought a Squire version of this guitar. Squire is Fender's lower priced line. I liked it so much that I traded up to the Mexican Fender. I like the color too. 

The guitar is remarkably light and easy to play.

(Paraphrased below from Wikipedia)

The Fender Telecaster was developed by Leo Fender in California in 1950. Solid body guitars had been around for about two decades but did not make much of an impact on the industry.
Fender had an electronics repair shop called Fender's Radio Service where he first repaired, then designed, amps and pickups for musicians. 
Leo built a prototype, a white guitar that had most of the features of what would become the Telecaster. It was a wooden guitar with a bolt-on neck.
The initial single-pickup production model appeared in 1950, and was called the Esquire. Fewer than fifty guitars were originally produced under that name, and most were replaced under warranty because of early manufacturing problems.  Later in 1950 a two-pickup model was renamed the Broadcaster. From this point onwards all Fender necks incorporated truss rods.
The so-called Nocaster was a short-lived variant of Telecaster. Produced in early to mid-1951, it was the result of legal action from the Gretsch company over the guitar's previous name, the Broadcaster (Gretsch already had the "Broadkaster" name registered for a line of drums). In the interim, before Fender had come up with an alternate name and printed appropriately revised headstock decals, factory workers simply snipped the "Broadcaster" name from its existing stock of decals, so guitars with these decals are identified simply as "Fender", without any model name.
In 1951 the guitar was officially renamed as the Telecaster and has been known as such ever since.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Counting the Omer Again....

As a child, holidays came and went. Each had its own rituals and foods. Some I didn't even notice, others were pretty much good for a day off from school. Now that I am older, and have time to think about these things, I spend a little more time wondering what it is all about.

When my dear daughter asked me to write her an Omer counter I had to look it up to find out what it was. I find the idea interesting for many reasons. Most of which it makes the counter, if you choose to be one, congnizant of the passage of time and the season more than ever. It gives us a chance to prepare for the holiday that celebrates G-d giving us the Torah.

The Torah, everything you need to know about life in one easy to handle scroll, is an amazing gift and however you believe it came to be, it certainly has had a profound impact on Jews and non-Jews alike.

I found a couple of interesting articles on Counting the Omer. The first is from the blog PunkTorah regarding the counting:

So, what does this all mean to us now? Well, it can mean many things. Counting the Omer can be used as a tool of self reflection. We can take this time to recognize the miracle of the Exodus from Egypt, from the gift of our freedom. The Sages tell us that G-d freed us from slavery in order to give us the Torah on Shavu’ot, so this should be a time of preparation. Counting the Omer gives us the time to learn from the gift of freedom G-d has given us and incorporate it into our lives, to grow one day at a time, taking a spiritual accounting, to make sure that we are heading in the right direction, to look at what we are doing that is right or wrong and to try to make ourselves ready to receive the honor of the Torah.
Counting the days is another way of directing our mindfulness to the passage of time. Be aware of the days as they pass, count them, give them meaning. We have been freed from slavery, rejecting the confusion and idolatry (philosophically, literally, and spiritually) of our own Egypt’s and are being made ready to re-focus our lives.
I guess a good take-away from all of this is that one must make each day count. Make each day worth living for you and the people you love. 

(This is a repeat of a post from a few years ago)