Dunlop Ultex Picks

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Dunlop Primetone Sculpted Plectra

dunlop-primetone-on-collingsTHE SEARING HEAT OF molten lead.  Wintertime ditch digging with frigid blasts from Arctic Artie.  All SOP.  Decades of plumberly fun have shaped my hands.  The finger tips, they are hardened sheets of callus.

Lately, my biggest worry has been picks slipping out of my fingers when playing for popes and presidents.  These frequent occasions were marred by callused fingers which can’t seem to get decent pick grip.  Grumpy Biker customized a few .88mm Dunlop Tortex picks, but while working out the kinks, I discovered a new product – the Dunlop Primetone pick with raised grip surface.

Primetones are large, textured, and sculpted.  Yes, they sometimes rotate in my fingers like other picks, but with three picking surfaces, I’m good.  Dunlop’s Tortex is still a great choice.  But this larger pick with a grip surface?  Until a sticky pick comes out, I’m adding Ultex to my pocket full of Dunlop.

Behlen Fingerboard Oil

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behlen-fingerboard-oilAll good things come to an end.  The 18 month loan of Hugh’s mandolin reached an inevitable conclusion.  Lavish attention restored his battered and worn mandolin to a memory of factory gleam.  Even more hours, summer picking under the old oak tree in Hockessin, returned some dirt and dullness to its finish.  Time for spa treatment.

Strings into the rubbish bin.  Gentle wipe-down with a hot damp slightly soapy cloth, first the body, then the neck.  Extra attention to the fret board.  Looking  a little dry, methinks.  Time for Behlen!

When Mohawk sponsored a banner ad in July 2016, they sent me a box of product to try out (actually, I sent a list of stuff I wanted).  Included?  Their fancy Behlen Fingerboard Oil.  Not just a step up from mineral or boiled linseed oil.  Far beyond, it turns out.  A crisp hard finish.  A Zamboni treatment for my fretboard, without the ice.

First I used it on the ’70s Conrad banjo.  Then the Framus cello.  And now, full circle, we have arrived at Hugh’s mandolin.  The product has proven itself.  A professional-quality sealer applied on instruments I own, use, and sell.  

An Indonesian-made 1990s Hohner guitar and a 1970s Japanese-made Madeira (by Guild) guitar both received this magic elixir.  Fan-TAS-tic results.  One’s finger’s literally glide along the fingerboard.  Moments ago, my newly returned and beloved 1996 Guild D4 fingerboard was refinished.  Tomorrow, with D’Addario Bluegrass Mediums carefully wound, we’ll be flat-picking a lively homecoming!  

Luthiers discuss the best treatment to an instruments’ fingerboard with cantankerous zeal.  Only among cat food debates will you find more acrimonious opinions.  There are generally two old-school options:  mineral oil and boiled linseed oil (“BLO”).  Almond oil is another, which I classify similar to BLO.

Turning to National Finishes Expert Phillip Pritchard, I ask, “What makes Behlen’s product so good?”  Our Fingerboard Oil contains a resin binder that hardens in the wood to give a more permanent finish than a non-curing mineral oil or boiled linseed oil alone. Our product applies and looks like an oil finish but has a crisper feel and doesn’t require the maintenance of a non-drying oil.  “What is its base?  How does it smell to you?”  It contains mineral spirits and has an oily hydrocarbon smell.

Fast curing, crisp finish.  Odor?  Not really.  –editor

Ridgid Plumbers Tools

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ridgid-logoIt was a dark and stormy night.  We had been digging for two days.  The water main was exposed, its pit shored and braced.  A lovely, plumber-friendly trench ran from our customer’s foundation wall to the pit.  Shiny heavy-walled copper had been rolled along the trench floor in two directions from the curb cock: into the basement and to the municipal water main.  All that was lacking?  City water department employees to make our final connection.  A little background, we give you …

philadelphia-water-service-mainThe crew of American Toolbox last week enjoyed their favorite hobby, plumbing.  We chose a cold autumn day with constant  drizzle and wind.  For further enjoyment, a 3:30pm water main tap time was chosen.  Knowing these things run late, a dark muddy trench awaited us when the work got hard.

Hard it did get!  City employees arrived predictably behind schedule.  Everyone was hungry, tired, chilled to the bone.  Wrestling K-copper in a narrow muddy trench?  Not my idea of a relaxing evening.  But one constant, the one thing I can depend will go right?

Ridgid hand tools.  We had between us five Ridgid pipe wrenches, six tubing cutters, and the all-important pipe flaring tool.  When it was time to cut, ream, flare, and wrench tight, Ridgid was there.  Nearly indestructible, Ridgid tools may wear out, but they seem not to break.

The cold #15 cutter was familiar in my hand as I tightened and sliced copper in semi-darkness.  After reaming my fresh cuts, the E-47 Hammer Tool created flared ends one uses in underground water piping.  Tightening the flared copper to the water main tap and the curb cock, Ridgid pipe wrenches.  Even one of the shovels was Ridgid.  This was a Ridgid job start to finish.  Everything except my aching back.


Five Guys Burgers

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fiveguys-burger-charlotteobserverTwice a year or possibly a dozen times more, a hamburger and fries are necessary to balance the universe.  Make everything right.  American Comfort Food at its prime, protein and starch.

No one does it better or more consistently than Five Guys, even hobbled as they are by the All-Powerful FDA.  Most impressive, the fries are burningly fresh.  If I’m going to subject my body to fried food, it better be well-prepared fried food.  That’s why I save up my fat-intake points for a Five Guys visit.  The potatoes are labeled with the grower’s name – Five Guys makes a big deal out of that, the kitchen is wide-open, and the manager is constantly circulating, cleaning, adjusting the work flow.

After visiting a few franchisees across the country, I’ve yet to find one with lower standards than perfect, a great testament to Jerry Murrell’s philosophy. Keep It Simple, Simon.

If we could get the FDA out of our business, I’d like my burger medium-rare.  Condiments?  Salt and pepper only, please.five-guys-potatoes-thedailymeal

Most health reviews place this restaurant chain’s food as among the most unhealthy on the planet, which means even the experts acknowledge it must be good!  Everything in moderation.  I’ve moderated to a small fries with my burger . . . 

Rule of thumb? For each visit to Five Guys, I visit Agno or Pure Fare thirty times.


The American Road Trip • Part IV

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Labor day brings  burgers and corn on the grill.  Kids straining for school’s resumption.  Perhaps commencement of well-laid vacation plans.  A favorable time of year.  Crowds are subdued, winter beckons, leaves begin to change.

hop-valley-kolob-canyonsIf piloting a 30′ box mounted on Ford’s E-450 chassis along narrow State highways does not sound vacationary, careful what you promise.  Years after your words are spoken you’ll be parking in spaces meant for vehicles a third shorter, braving hand-dug tunnels driving a vehicle twice your height, squeezing past oncoming traffic through scenic rocky gorges.  Expecting the RV to peel open upon an outcropping at any moment.

It was not that bad.  A flat $1,000 deductible on full-coverage insurance, included with every rental, eases my mind.  Fuel economy was predictably in high single digits.  The toilet worked.  Our RV experience was a success.

7am, the perfect start time for our trek towards the Colorado Plateau.  Driving from Phoenix allows one to detour through Sedona, famous for its red rocks – the Schnebly Hill Formation –  valleys, and shopping.  Continuing north along US-89 to Flagstaff, a super-hip college and observatory town close to the Grand Canyon. Through pine, Douglas fir, and spruce.  We rejuvenate souls and lungs.

From Williams AZ the North Rim is visible twenty miles away.  A couple of days in Grand Canyon, famous for exceptional dining at El Tovar, more shopping, unparalleled views.  Back on the road to desert, rock, and scenery.  The mellow peace of driving your home ensues.  Kanab, then Zion.  Zion National Park, of the narrow tunnels and inspirational rock formations.  RV parking and an excellent shuttle system.

We visit Cedar Breaks National Monument.  “Great choice”, a Zion ranger insists.  More beautiful driving, Duck Lake surrounded by aspen, more canyons.  It was in the 50˚s at this elevation near sundown.  Windburned, sunburned, layered in nearly all the clothes I brought, our road trip approaches conclusion.  From the furthest point we turn and head for home.

13-i-89-alternateThrough Iron County along SR-14 we come upon dense aspen with bright yellow leaves, autumn reaching this forest a little early.  Onward to an excellent Comfort Suites in Cedar City UT.  Tap water cleaner than the bottled water stowed on the RV.  South to my favorite spot, Kolob Canyons, Zion’s western edge.  Back through Zion, and a day of pleasant driving along US-89 Alternate.  The San Francisco Peaks appear closer for over an hour as we approach Flagstaff.

A few miles west, along Rt-66, the second highlight of my trip (after the aspens).  The Arboretum At Flagstaff.  Parked beneath towering ponderosa pine, my cousins take to their trails.  I put on the kettle, set up a camp chair, and relax under the morning silence and majesty of this forest.  After 1,200 miles in six days, everything stops.  I could live here forever, with trips into town for books, beans, and beer.

In the end, it is all about people.  Vacationing with friends.  Sammy, an Allentown transplant keeping a B&B running in Williams AZ.  That colorful beef jerky guy beside the highway miles from any town.  Professional waitstaff within a dozen restaurants and cafes.  Fellow tourists.  Artists selling their wares, sharing their dreams.  We all wanted the same thing.  Everyone got it.

Although I packed my lucky tee shirt and grass-stained mitt, looking for the perfect small town diamond, this trip did not see any baseball.   Jerry and Fred must have been grabbing one last game in the next town over.  Before the dinner bell rings.

L.S. Starrett Company

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starrett-tools-athol-maL. S. Starrett Company is an American manufacturer of tools and instruments used by machinists and tool and die makers. The company was founded when businessman and inventor Laroy Sunderland Starrett bought the Athol Machine Company in 1905. –wiki

Wait, what about luthiers?  Machinists, tool and die makers, and luthiers, they mean to say.  This particular Starrett tool is the only one I found of domestic manufacture which has end graduations in metric.  Metric, because that is the language of violin luthiers when expressing measurements.

Where the C635E-150 is exceptionally helpful is in measuring violin bridge height above an imaginary line projected from the fingerboard – the projected height.  Especially important, I can measure projected height while the instrument strings are under tension, and pencil corrections directly onto its bridge.

violin-projected-bridge-height-with-starrett-rulerEqually useful, when shaping a bridge from scratch, I can get a fairly accurate idea of how much material to remove before initial fitting.

Previous to this tool, I first set up each violin and measured string height at the fingerboard end.  The bridge was then removed, carved or filed lower, new string slots cut, reinstalled, and re-tensioned with strings.  Whew!  A lotta work!  Measure again and likely repeat!

With this Starrett ruler, I can quickly do more accurate setups, and get the strings right where Steve wants them. And he likes them low when he goes ripping into Floppy Eared Mule on Stinger, his favorite fiddle!

Money is always tight running this USA-products online resource.  Yes, this is an appeal for you to hit the SPONSORSHIP button and zip us a few bucks.  There are also other ways to help.  After a few years of amateur luthier work, it became apparent this Starrett ruler would be handy.  While inquiring upon Starrett manufacturing locations (my C635E was made in Athol Massachusetts) and methods ∆, a Starrett representative offered to donate this ruler “to the cause”, without promise of review or compensation on our part.  It has helped our luthier work (100% of the proceeds are used to support the blog). It’s also a fantastic product and has made a worthy article. Six Thumbs Up!

∆ Markings on the steel rules are produced through photo engraving. As a last step in the manufacturing process, there is a light-sensitive coating placed on the rules. A mask is applied to protect the surface that should not be marked. Light exposure removes the coating where the markings should appear. Then they go through an acid etching process. One of our long-term employees believes that we took country of origin off the design, because the photo-engraving process is the highest risk for imperfections in the manufacturing process, so limiting the markings should help minimize scrap. – Starrett