Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kodakaster Take 3

My third version of the Kodakaster Film Can 3-String Canjo has taken shape. This time I used an oak neck, gold machine/tuners, gold ferules, with gold bolts for the bridge and nut. I've also installed another piezo electric pickup attached inside the can with a guitar cord jack and volume control. I keep thinking that I will become faster at making these but I learn something building each new version and try to make each new model better than the last. So, as my Dad used to say, slow and steady wins the race.

The next Kodakaster I will build (#4) will feature a sapele neck (a beautiful dark-red African hardwood similar to mahogany), gold fixtures and two new elements. Instead of the shiny silver metal 35mm film cans that I recycled from my collection for the first three Kodakasters, I will be using a gold colored, matte finished film can that I purchased on eBay for $1.90 (shipping was $8). In addition, another new variation will be the addition of a guitar-style pickup, called a Flatpup, that I found online that I think will be a perfect addition to the next variant of the Kodakaster.

Hand crafted by Elmar Zeilhofer of Vienna, Austria, these beautiful humbucker pickups are only 4mm thick so, unlike conventional humbuckers which are much thicker and would necessitate being installed through a hole cut into the top of my canjo, Flatpups can be glued to the top of my film can on the outside with the small wires entering the body of the canjo through a small hole underneath it.

As I have found out, there is a perceptive difference in the sound gathering properties between piezo and magnetic guitar pickups. Piezo pickups can sound more harsh in the mid and higher frequencies while magnetic pickups like the Flatpup Humbuckers made by Elmar Zeilhofer generally produce a more aggressive, pleasant, full spectrum sound than a piezo pickup without equalization.
So, now the waiting begins until a small package arrives from Europe with my shiny new humbucker. I can't wait to glue it onto Kodakaster #4, plug it into the closest amplifier and crank 'er up!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Dymaxion Film Can Combo Amp/Speaker

“Do More with Less” was an admonition from the late, great educator, philosopher, architect, and design scientist/futurist R. Buckminster Fuller who, among his various inventions in the last century, included practical applications of the geodesic dome.

The word Dymaxion, a brand name that Fuller used for several of his inventions, is a portmanteau (a combination of two or more words and their definitions, into one new word) from the words dynamic, maximum, and tension.
This brand name was needed for Fuller's first architectural model of a synergistically designed single family dwelling, later known as the Dymaxion house. He also used the word for many of his other futuristic inventions including the Dymaxion house, the Dymaxion car, and the Dymaxion World Map.
As a very-much lesser inventor myself, and having a need for a inexpensive, simple,  portable, battery-powered combo speaker/amplifier to use with my other “invention”, the 3-string film electric canjo I call the Kodakaster, I decided to try to use another larger film can similar to one I used for the canjo (this one 14 inched in diameter) in the spirit of  the modern mantra, “recycle - reuse”.
My thinking was that I might find some way to turn the empty metal film can to my purposes by applying a so-called tactile transducer inside the can. I had to look no further for such a devise than the wonderful online store, Parts Express. The Dayton Audio QEX19 Quadpod Self-Amplified Sound Exciter fit my purposes perfectly since it is small and relatively inexpensive at $18.90. As the Parts Express site proudly declares, “the QEX19 Self-Amplified Sound Exciter turns virtually any solid object into a speaker by vibrating it at speeds of up to 20,000 cycles per second. Built-in amplifier allows you to put sound virtually anywhere!”
After consulting with a knowledgeable tech expert at Parts Express via email, I also purchased a Behringer PB100 Preamp / Volume Booster Stomp Box ($24.99) to boost the piezo pickup output from my Kodacaster canjo to match regular amplifier input of the Dayton Audio exciter.
My order from Parts Express arrived a few days later in the mail and I assembled my new canjo amp, which only took about 20 minutes since each electronic component was a self-contained module and the film can only needed a small hole to run the exciter’s wire through from the inside.
I inserted batteries into the two components, fired up my newest musical tool and, golly-bob-howdy, the sucker worked. 
Next, I built a short triangular stand from some spare wood sticks and hardware on-hand, plugged the canjo, going through the pre-amp, into the film can combo speaker and began evaluating the intensely funky sound of sliding open chords up and down the strings of my canjo’s neck.
But, I also noticed that the can produced a more pleasing tone if the bottom of it, where I had attached the exciter in the center of the inside, was facing forward toward where an audience would be. The only problem was that the bottom was completely clean without the old film laboratory label that was affixed to the top.
Then, it hit me. 
I had a decal/sticker that I'd gotten at a R. Buckminster Fuller exhibition at the Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center in Asheville last year. It fit the bottom of the can, now facing forward, as if made for that purpose, and that’s when I thought of calling it the Dymaxion Film Can Combo Amp/Speaker.
Since I’m not planning to reproduce and market my canjo speaker, I don’t think The Fuller Foundation will bother to come after me for using the brand name, Dymaxion.
And, somehow I don’t think Bucky would mind either.