Photo of the week - December 31, 2013


So true...

(this actually isn't too far off...see here)


F-Stop Micro ICU + Fuji X system

In a previous post I showed my F-Stop Small Pro ICU filled with Nikon gear in a Loka pack. I've been travelling more with my Fuji X-Pro1 kit recently, and the Small Pro ICU is overkill for my needs with that gear, so I picked up the Micro ICU (8/8/14 update...this is not the same as the Micro Tiny that is currently available. It looks like the version of the Micro that I have isn't currently available.). The Micro is the same width and height as the Small Pro, but it's a full 3" less deep (i.e., there's more room behind the ICU for other gear in the pack). Here's a shot of the Micro ICU loaded up in the Loka with the following Fuji X gear: 

  1. 55-200 lens + reversed hood
  2. 14mm lens + reversed hood
  3. X-Pro1 with mounted 35mm lens + hood
  4. 18mm lens + hood
  5. 60mm lens (no hood)


Photo of the week - December 3, 2013

A woman from the audience joins Rosanne Cash on stage at WXPN (Free at Noon concert; November 29, 2013). Fuji X-Pro1 w/ 60mm lens @ f/2.4. Converted to black and white with Snapseed on a Mac. A few more shots from this show are posted here.


Cool, but I'd never use them...

I'm generally interested in the intersection of technology, academics, and productivity. Here are a couple of things that have caught my attention, but that I'd probably never use them since I'm lucky enough not to have to take a lot of notes at this point in my life. But if I were a student again, I'd probably give one of these a shot:

1. Livescribe 3 - The newest pen from Livescribe is really groovy in that it connects via bluetooth to an iOS device like an iPad or iPhone and brings in hand-written notes in real time. I've read that the app isn't quite up to snuff yet, but the general idea of it is pretty cool.

2. Evernote/Moleskine Smart Notebook - Here's the "low-tech" approach to getting your handwritten notes onto your device that doesn't require any expensive hardware (if you already have a smartphone). As an Evernote user, anything that pipes content into their awesome app is welcomed.


Photo of the week - November 19, 2013

At the C.F. Martin factory in Nazareth, PA. Fuj1 X-Pro1 with 18mm lens @f/2.8. Processed with Snapseed on a Mac. See more (in black and white) here.


The environmental politics of Sitka spruce

I recently visited the Martin guitar factory; it was my 5th time taking the tour, but my first time on the 2-hour "behind the scenes" tour. I first visited Martin when I first moved to the east coast 12 years ago. At some point I'll write more about the transformations that I've seen there over the last decade. But for now, one thing that is clear: things in the tonewood world are changing. I recommended checking out the documentary previewed above, Musicwood (see my previous thoughts on environmentalism and guitars here). While this film focuses on future of Sitka spruce, this is something industry has confronted in the past (e.g., rosewoods from Brazil and Madagascar), with increasing frequency manufacturers and consumers will have to adjust their expectations.


Photo of the week - November 12, 2013

At the C.F. Martin factory in Nazareth, PA. Fuj1 X-Pro1 with 18mm lens @f/2.8. Processed with Snapseed on a Mac. See more (in black and white) here.


If you wait long enough, sometimes you can stop waiting

A little more than 6 months ago, I posted about some things I was waiting for. Here's an update, as things have started to fall into place:

1. & 2. Summer vacation and a trip to Europe. We had a nice summer, but didn't get out of the country. I don't want to jinx things, but things are starting to come together for summer 2014 that might satisfy both of these.

3. The Fuji 10-24mm f/4 lens. This still hasn't been officially announced, let alone released. Although it's on Fuji's lens roadmap, at this point there's nothing solid on its arrival. Rumors say it is going to be big and expensive. For now, the excellent 14mm f/2.8 will "have to do." Update: At $1000, I haven't pulled the trigger, although it looks like an awesome lens. I'm also interested in the recently announced 56mm f/1.2. That will be great for my concert photography, but it's another $1000. Sigh...Update #2: It's not a heavy as I feared.

4. My F-Stop Gatekeepers finally arrived, but until today there was no word on the final piece from my order from the spring: the rain cover for my Loka. Heard today that it was finally shipping. I'll believe it when it arrives. Update: the rain cover arrived. After about 8 months, my order is now complete.

5. And on the same day #4 shipped, the iPad Air was released. I have my hands on one, and am looking forward to putting it through its paces. I just purchased my first movie on iTunes (I have downloaded TV shows and music before), and will be posting about that in the future.

So, what "stuff" is still on my list? That's a good question. I'd like to get a Hiscox guitar case at some point, and an octave mandolin would be fun. But for now, I'm pretty satiated (and I need to start saving for #1-2)!


Photo of the week - October 29, 2013

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA. October 25th, 2013. Fuji X-Pro1 with 60mm lens @ f/2.4. Processed with Silver Efex in Aperture. See a few more pictures from this show here.


Bob Taylor on environmentalism, guitars, and food

I've cycled through a lot of different brands of guitars across the years. Although I currently have only one Taylor (a 355 that I bought in 1998), I really respect their history, designs and technologies, philosophy, and environmental positions. Here's an interesting conversation between Bob Taylor and foodie/author Alton Brown that moves from the history of Taylor Guitars to conservation, lutherie, and marketing, to vegan cooking and eating. If you've been reading my blog, you can see why these topics resonate with me right now. If you have 75 minutes, it's definitely worth a listen.


Streaming thoughts

I had a really large CD collection but went digital a few years back (yes, I know that CD are "digital", but you know what I mean; someday I'll reflect on the massive ripping project that consumed my life for a few months). With so many music files, it took me a while to embrace streaming music services. But the convenience of being able to listen most anywhere drew me in.

The service I like most is Concert Vault. It's relatively cheap at under $4 a month, and gives access to a ton of classic rock concerts. Sure, you're not going to find any studio albums here, but if you want to check out Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers from Madison Square Gardens circa 1979 on your phone, you got it. Jimi Hendrix at the Fillmore in 1968 on your office computer? Done. In addition to streaming, some shows are available for download, and there are concert videos to watch as well. If you like classic rock, this is a must.

I'm also into Spotify. There are several levels, but to get ad-free music on your computer(s) and mobile devices, it cost about $10 a month. What I like about Spotify is that I can check out music that I might not be ready/willing to purchase. Admittedly, I like old music, and there's not a ton of new stuff I want to buy. But for $10 a month I can check out anything I want. The off-line feature is nice, so that one can save songs for a set amount of time on your phone, and then you don't need a pervasive internet collection (i.e., for travel). One thing that is maddening about Spotify, though, is that sometimes only some of the songs on a particular album are available to stream. The mobile app is a bit flakey and prone to crashing too. But overall, it's a nice way to satisfy my musical curiosity.

Although it's not a subscription service, the Amazon Cloud Player is mightly convenient. I haven't purchased a ton of MP3s from Amazon, but those are there to stream. The better part is the "autorip" feature; many of the CDs I've purchased from them also show up automatically in the app, ready to stream. No additional costs, and some of my music collection is there, ready to go.

Most of my music is in Apple lossless format, and it used to be the case that you couldn't upload files in that format to the Amazon Cloud Player. But it looks like now it will attempt to match those files (i.e., you wouldn't be listening to "your" file, but you stream from Amazon's music collection instead). For $25 a year, you can upload/match up to 250k songs, which would easily accommodate my music library (as opposed to the Apple iTunes match, which is limited to 25k songs and wouldn't "hold" all my tracks). I might have to look into this more as a way to have streaming acccess to the vast majority of my music...

Update 1 (Wednesday night): I just signed-up for Cloud Player Premium and am scanning my music library now. Wonder how long that will take? And once that's done, how long it will take to match/upload?

Update 2 (Thursday morning): I left it scanning and went to bed...By morning it had found 68k songs and was ready to import. We'll see how long that takes. It seems to be importing at a rate of about 1000-1200 an hour, so this will likely take 2-3 days. Hopefully my computer doesn't crash in the meantime.

Update 3 (Thursday night): It's been importing for about 16 hours, and has done about 18k songs (out of 58k). 40k to go...Check back in on Sunday and maybe we'll be done! I did play songs via my iPhone on the Cloud Player app today (from what had already been uploaded) and it worked fine.

Update 4 (Friday morning): 29k down (of 53K). Not sure why the total number of songs keeps dropping. More than halfway there.

Update 5 (Friday late-afternoon): 36k down (of 45k). Hopefully will be done by tomorrow morning.

Update 6 (Saturday morning): Progress bar says 42k of 43k songs imported, but that the time estimated to completion is "0 hours and 0 mintues". It also notes that 32k were 'matched and imported" but 25K songs "couldn't be imported." Note sure why there's a discrepancy between 43k and 34k songs to import, and clearly the importer is buggy, but even if a ton of stuff wasn't available/imported, having streaming access to 35k+ songs is worth the $25 a year. The clould player notes 44k songs available to play, so that seems better than what the import tool is reporting.

Update 7 (August 2014...about 10 months later): I'm finding I never use this service because the upload was so spotty. Some albums are completely there, others only have a few tracks (yes, I still think in terms of albums). This is pretty maddening, so I'm not going to renew. I should still have access to my autoripped and downloaded music for free, so that's good enough for me.

Although it's not streaming music, we also have a Netflix streaming account. Other than binging on a particular show (e.g., Arrested Development, House of Cards, MI5, etc.), this doesn't get used much. The selection of movies is relatively weak. I'm definitely not getting my money's worth with Netflix.



Photo of the week - October 22, 2013

Fuji X-Pro1 with 35mm lens @ f/5.6. Processed on Snapseed on a Mac.


Taking stock at 6 months

I'm now 6 months + 1 week into the great vegetarian experiment. A couple of thoughts:

  • Stock/broth is maybe the hardest part. Chicken stock is in lots of good stuff. And apparently "veggie stock sucks". :-)
  • Although the goal of this experiment wasn't about health, and I'm not into measurements, my size 3X pants are definitely fitting more loosely now. I might even be at 3X-2 at this point. My guess this that this isn't explicitly caused by not eating meat, but is instead indirectly a function of the limited access to french fries that typically accompany hamburgers.

Photo of the week - October 15, 2013

Detail of a sculpture at Haverford College. Fuji X-Pro1 with 35mm lens @ f/4, processed in Snapseed on a Mac.


The down-low low-down: Thoughts on baritone guitars

The band I play in (as in we've had 3 gigs in 18 months!) is currently configured with three acoustic guitar players, a mandolin player and vocalist, and a multi-instrumentalist (mandolin, banjo, slide guitar, acoustic guitar); sometimes we have a bass player as well. I count as one of the acoustic guitar players, and with three of us it can be too much of the "same thing" if we're all playing in the same position. So last week I decided to change things up and brought out my Santa Cruz Bob Brozman baritone (BBB). I got a great deal on this guitar a few years back, and have primarily kept tuned down to C# (i.e., three half-steps below standard tuning) or D (two half-steps) with standard medium strings. Mine is the standard model with the back and sides made from mahogany and a sitka spruce top, rather than the pricier koa and German spruce models. Unlike the one pictured below, mine came with a factory pickguard.

To compliment the band, I decided to throw heavier "baritone"-gauged strings on the BBB and tuned down to B. I figured that this would work best in terms of being able to play along with most of our songs while staying in common chord shapes. B is pretty low for an instrument with a 27" scale; most baritones that go down that low are 28-29". Before I got the BBB, I had a maple-bodied Tacoma baritone with a 29" scale, and I found it to be more than I could handle, both on the left hand and also in terms of the large body. So when I had the opportunity to get the BBB (at a great price), I jumped at it because it's a much more manageable instrument.

I was suprised that the BBB took the B tuning pretty well. The low B string wasn't too floppy and actually had more punch than I was expecting. It certainly doesn't blow the roof off or rumble the house's foundation, but it is satisfying and mixed in with the other instruments in the band well. So I'm well on my way to becoming my band's baritone guitar player...

Although the BBB works well, given my bouts with G.A.S., I started thinking about the other baritones out there. As well as the BBB fits the bill, I like it in C# or D tuning, and wondered if I should leave it there and find another baritone to take down to B. Since B and C#/D need different string gauges, it's not easy to go between them. Maybe I need two baritones...One for B and another for C#/D?

The Taylor Baritone is an interesting model in that it is 27" scale, designed to go down to B. There are also two models, a standard 6-string and a 8-string that includes octave strings for the 3rd and 4th strings (akin to a 12-string guitar). The idea is that the two octave strings add some "sparkle. So, in theory it would make a great second baritone since it would give a different tuning (B...so I could return the BBB to C#), has the octave strings for variety, and has a pickup (i.e., good for playing out).

I tracked an 8-string Taylor Baritone down at a local shop. I've had a few Taylors in the past, but haven't really been into them in about 10 years. I was shocked to see how much the Taylor line has expanded since I got my 355 12-string in 1998; it was overwhelming. The number of Martin models has similarly grown, although though I have (mostly) kept up with those lines. The 8-string Taylor is a really elegant guitar; it seems similarly appointed to the 800-series (i.e., rosewood, abolone rosette). At one point I was enamoured with a Taylor 814 (although I never did get one); this guitar seems like a slightly oversized version of that guitar, although it's surprisingly comfortable to play. It certainly not as cumbersome as the Tacoma baritone.

Overall, it's a nice sounding guitar. I really like the octave strings; I don't play my 355 much anymore, but this seemed to have just enough of that 12-string sound to be interesting without being overwhelming. Surprisingly (or maybe not, given the physics of such things), the low B wasn't particularly strong. My BBB hits that low note better. Other than that I enjoyed the tone of the guitar and the weak bass wouldn't be a total dealbreaker since that could be boosted when playing amplified (I assume...I didn't play with the ES pickup system that comes standard on the Baritone).

So, why didn't the Taylor Baritone come home with me? It came down to playability. First, the octave string that was paired with the 4th string buzzed whenever/however I put a capo in it. Still not a dealbreaker; I assume that could be addressed with a set up or minor adjustment. The surprising thing that made this a no-go for me was the neck width. The Taylor comes standard with 1.75" width at the nut, which is typically my preference (note: the BBB is 1-7/8"). But with those extra octave strings in squeezed in there, it just feels too cramped. With a slightly wider neck, it might have pulled the trigger. Yes, I know that Taylor has a "build to order" custom shop and probably would do a wide-necked 8-string, but I'm not quite ready to commit to that...

So, the bottom line: 

  • The Santa Cruz Brozman is an awsome baritone guitar. It works for my down to B with baritone gauge strings, but it really shines at C# or D with medium gauge strings.
  • I like the tonal variety offered by the Taylor 8-string, although it's acoustically not as good as the SCGC BBB (but it is about half the price!). If it came with a wider neck, I'd be temped to get one and maybe let my 12-string go.

Update: 11/6/15

When I was in London last month I played a Lowden baritone guitar at No.Tom Vintage & Classic Guitars. What a fabulous instument! In particular, I found to the bass (tuned down to B) to be more defined and punchy than my Santa Cruz. I came close to pulling the trigger but ulitmately didn't do it; someone picked up a killer guitar. If you are looking for a baritone, definitely check out the offering from Lowden.

image from: http://notomguitars.com/products/2011-lowden-barritone


Photo of the week - September 24, 2013

Eric Bazilian of the Hooters, when they played at the Ardmore Music Hall on September 21, 2013. Fuji X-Pro1 with a 60mm @ f/2.4 at 1/140 sec. Processed with Silver Efex in Aperture. See full album here.


1995 Martin D-18 Golden Era information and tracker

I have recently become interested in the Martin D-18 Golden Era from 1995. This was a limited edition guitar from 1995 and is not the same guitar as the "D-18GE" that has been a popular model in the Martin line-up since its introduction in 1999 (I wrote about my 2002 D-18GE previously). The 1995 Golden Era is roughly based on a 1937 D-18 and was the first Martin to bear the "Golden Era" name; it was followed the next year by the 12-fret 000-28 Golden Era and in 1998 with the 00-21 Golden Era. See an advertisement for the 1995 D-18 Golden era here (along with the 000-42 Eric Clapton model and D-35 30th anniversary edition). In addition, the good people at Martin supplied me with the spec sheet for this model. They noted the guitar was known as the "D18VGE," which is name I haven't heard before for this instrument.


According to the Johnson, Boak, & Longworth (2009) reference book, the 1995 D-18 Golden Era was produced with a natural sitka spruce top (272 instruments) or sunburst top (48 instruments) and listed for $3100 ($3320 for the sunburst model). They note that:

Many features were copied directly from at 1937 D-18, including: original mahogany stain color, black binding, small abalones dot pattern on neck, Brazilian rosewood headplate with old-style decal, hot stamp burned in reinforcing center strip, cloth strips on sides, 1 3/4" V-neck, 2-5/16" spacing at bridge, long bone saddle, bone nut, chrome vintage-style tuners; other features simialr to later D-18V. This first version of the D-18GE did not have an Adirondack spruce top like the later GE Series model. (pg. 139)

Click on the image above to see a PDF of the spec sheetAnother notable feature is that the 1995 model lacks a tongue brace (a.k.a., popsicle brace), similar to early D-18s. The sitka spruce top and lack of a tongue brace are two of the key differences with the later D-18GE (1999 to current; based on a 1934 model), which has an adirondack spuce top and includes a tongue brace.

I find this guitar particularly interesting because 1995 is right at the up-turn in Martin production; it was among the first vintage-inspired models that have now become a staple for Martin and other manufacturers. For example, the 1985 D-18V sold 56 units, the (non-traditional) HD-18LE sold 51 in 1987, 15 1989 D-18 Specials, and 215 D-18 Vintage in 1992. In 1995, Martin built 589 "regular" D-18s and 320 of these limited edition guitars, so relatively speaking the Golden Era was a success. Maybe this showed Martin that the "lowly" D-18 could still be popular on the market and justified the development of the later "GE" series.


Click here to check out some 1995 D-18 Golden Era videos >>

Based on some sleuthing around on the internet and tracking of various guitars on ebay and guitar shop websites, and contributions from folks who have stumbled upon this page, I have started a registry of serial numbers and prices, when available, of 1995 D-18 Golden Eras:

Serial numbers known:

Serial numbers unknown (i.e., some of these could be the same instruments and/or listed above):

*For sale, at least the last time I checked...

If you have a 1995 D-18 Golden Era (or have information about one), please contact me here; I'd love to hear from you and add your guitar to the list above.


Launching my concert ticket archive

#1 - Michael Hedges in 1990Because I'm a compulsive hoarder of such things, I have most of the ticket stubs for concerts that I've been to in my "adult life" (i.e., those shows I chose to attend...I don't think my parents saved the one from when we saw Joan Baez when I was really little). I have been wanting to do something with them, other than just leave them in a shoe box, and our "new" scanner allowed me to get this going. I have them all scanned and over time I'll be posting them here.


Einstein explains the science behind why I need another guitar