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DIY iPod/iPhone Microphone and Headphone Breakout Cable

A few days ago a friend of mine asked me if I could put together an adapter for him. He sent me a link to this image.

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The image clearly describe what needs to be done but I thought I could come up with a more elegant solution. Fortunately I have the habit of picking up curbside electronics and whenever I have time I take them apart and hoard various components for future projects. I had a bin filled with audio jacks.

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I found what I needed. Next I had to make a simple circuit board. I mounted the two components on a piece of paper, which I later used to transfer the holes to the blank circuit board.

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The easiest way to transfer the holes was with a punch.

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Next I drilled the holes for the leads.

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Etching is quite involved and time consuming for a simple one-off circuit board. So, I used a dentist’s drill bit to create the traces for the wiring connections.

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Next, I had to mount the two components. One 1/4 inch mono jack for mike input and one 3.5mm mini jack for headphones.

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To connect to the iPod I used a salvaged Apple mini jack. This turned out to the quite tedious and I actually ended up messing up the first mini jack so I had to use another salvaged one.

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I also had to come up with an enclosure. I used a scrap piece of aluminum for the “chassis” of the little device.

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I trimmed it to size and bent two of the sides on my home made metal brake.

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I drilled out the mounting holes.

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The components fit nicely inside the chassis.

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Since this is in fact made in USA I stamped this statement on the rear of the chassis.

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It took quite a while to figure out which wires to connect, from the salvaged Apple cable. The problem, as I found out the hard way, was that these miniature stranded wires have mixed strands, that are somehow connected to different parts at the jack end (which is factory sealed). I actually had to separate individual strands of each stranded wire and tests them separately. This is why I had to trash the first salvaged cable, because that one was not even color coded within each stranded wire. But the second cable I used was easier to work with and I finally got it all connected.

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I also made a wooden base for the little device and then put it all together.

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This thing turned out nice and I think it should stand the test of time.

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Fixing a Crack on a Student Viola

This is a 1/2 size viola from a school orchestra. The damage is obvious from the photo. Basically there is a crack on the treble side lower bout and also some chewed up wood. This happened because the frog of the bow was rubbing against the instrument, inside the case, when the lid was closed. The retainer that secures the bow to the lid of the case was broken, so the bow was loose inside the case. The explains the chewed up wood, but at some point the soundboard also cracked along the grain, which is possibly due to impact or due to the wood drying up.

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When the music teacher gave me this viola to repair the top was still glued to the body. I removed the top and then took the photo you see above.

This is not an expensive violin and there is no budget for cosmetic repair work. In fact, I do this work for the school as a parent volunteer, so there is no budget. The teacher only wanted me to fix the crack and not bother with any cosmetic repair work. All that matters is to make the instrument playable.

To glue the two pieces together the soundboard must be secured to a flat surface. However, the soundboard cannot just be made to lay flat on a surface because there is a bass bar under the soundboard.

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One way to approach this repair is to make a flat surface with a space for the bass bar to sink in. I did that by simply screwing two pieces of plywood onto a larger piece of plywood and leaving a gap between the two pieces.

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Next, there needs to be a way to clamp the pieces together. I made twist clamps by chopping up a wooden dowel into a bunch of flat pucks and drilling a hole off center. Those twist clamps can produce adequate pressure for this job.

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However, there also has to be pressure from above, so I simply cut thin strips of hard maple and mounted screws at critical points where I needed to produce downward pressure. The next photo shows the soundboard glued up (you can see the glue squeeze out) right before clamping.

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The next photo shows all the clamps at full tension. The glue squeeze out was cleaned up with a damp sponge.

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The following photo gives a better view of the overhead clamps pressing downwards onto the soundboard.

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For this glue job I used fish glue and I had to leave it clamped for 24 hours before proceeding to the next phase.

After 24 hours I released the clamps. Now was time to work on the inside of the soundboard.

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First I had to scrape off the glue squeeze out from the bottom of the soundboard. There are specialized tools for this job, called scrapers, but there’s always a way to improvise. I made my own scraper from a repurposed washer. I simply grounded off the edge on the disc sander to make a sharp edge.

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Then I used the makeshift scraper to scrape of the glue squeeze-out. This is a necessary step to prep the surface for gluing the cleats.

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The cleats are made from spruce wood, with the grain going at a 90 degree angle from the grain on the soundboard. To match the bottom of the cleat to the curve of the soundboard I placed a piece of sand paper on the gluing surface and made a few passes over the sand paper with the cleat.

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Then the cleats are glued and clamped. Again, this is left clamped for 24 hours.

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Once the clamps are removed the cleats are shaped with a sharp chisel or a carpenter’s knife.

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Next step is gluing the soundboard to the body. Again, I used fish glue and as you can see Rusty could smell fish. As with all previous gluing steps, this is also left clamped for 24 hours.

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The next step is to roughly fit the sound-post inside the body. A specialized tool is used to insert the sound-post through the f-hole. In this case I did not have to make a new sound-post, so it as just a matter of placing it into the viola.

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At this point you can remove the end pin from the instrument and look into the body of the viola through the end pin hole. This allows you to see if the sound-post is vertical and you can use the other side of the sound-post fitting tool to move the sound-post into a better position. But at this point the placement of the sound-post is still a rough placement.

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The next step is to fit the bridge and install the strings. This viola already had a bridge but it wasn’t sitting right. So, I had to sand off a tad from the bottom to make is fit onto the body without an gaps.

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After stringing the viola I made a few more adjustments on the sound post. There’s a whole science behind this and there are people who are far better at this job than I am. But in short, this is a very important part of setting up any orchestral string instrument. A small movement of the sound post will change the sound and how the instrument performs. This is not a job for a handyman. It takes a great deal of skill and knowledge to do this job right. Plus, there is always a risk that one might damage the edge of the f-hole.

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Again, this was a structural repair to make the instrument playable again and the music teacher did not want me to do any cosmetic repair work. So, this viola has a big war scar at the lower bout. All that matters is that this instrument is now playable and has a decent set-up.

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It should also be noted that this viola got a new case. The old case was the cause of this damage because the bow could not be securely fastened to the lid.

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DIY Goose Neck Camera for Remote Music Lessons

It is important to keep up with music lessons during the COVID-19 quarantine. Not only to maintain a sense of normalcy, it is also a way to keep the economy going.

My kid takes music lessons for piano and double bass and I also teach students on the guitar (I also do some basic piano lessons as part of my guitar lessons). Thanks to various conferencing options the whole world quickly switched to remote learning, which is a good thing.

After a few lessons it became apparent that there are things that can be done to make remote learning as good as possible. In the case of piano lessons, it is important to show a good view of the keyboard.

Years ago I used to do live lectures that would involve showing close ups of my hands on a screen. I rigged up my own camera system for that purpose and I in fact still have those cameras. But those cameras are now outdated and not compatible with computers. So, I decided to rig up a USB camera.

Fortunately I already had some supplies, but I did have to buy a cheap USB camera on Amazon. The idea is to convert an audio console goose neck light (the kind used by DJ’s) into a goose neck camera. A goose neck gives you a lot of flexibility and you can easily place it in different situations without the need to figure out how to mount a camera. Of course, you also need a base to plug the goose neck into. So, there are two parts of the project, one is building the goose neck camera and the other is building the base for the camera.

Here are the supplies for building the goose neck camera. The USB camera was a $30 Amazon purchase and the goose neck DJ light was something I already had.

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The goose neck light has a 3 pin XLR connector. For the USB camera I need a 4 pin connector. So I simply removed the old 3 pin connector from the XLR socket and I installed a 4 pin connector in its place, and soldered the wires from the camera USB cable.

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For the base I used an old Radio Shack project enclosure that I had laying around.

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I also salvaged a USB connector from an old hard drive.

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And to plug in the goose neck camera I had to solder connections to a 4 pin XLR socket.

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I had to figure out a way to mount the USB connector. So, I built a mounting bracket by soldering pieces of a blank PCB board.

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I also made a small board to solder all the connections onto. I did not want to bother with etching, so I just used dentist’s drill bit with my Dremel tool, to remove some of the copper layer.

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This is the prepped USB connector with mounting brackets.

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It fit nicely into the enclosure.

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The USB connector needs a square hole at the rear of the enclosure. Since I don’t have a drill bit that can drill out square holes I used my dentist’s drill bit to cut a rough square hole and used a triangle file to finish it off.

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I connected all the wires, added some insulating tape to all the solder joints and filled the box to add some weight.

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The base turned out well and the USB connection works as expected.

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This is a Zoom screen shot through the new camera.

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Fixing a 16th Century Praying Stand

This is a 16th Century paying stand that’s been damaged in shipping, about a year ago. It’s been sitting in the south/east corner of my living room, waiting to be fixed. I never have enough time. But now that we’re all locked up during the COVID-19 quarantine I finally find some time to take care of all the projects that I kept on the back burner for too long.

This looks like a nasty damage, but it’s not. It’s a clean break and it can be glued back together so no one will even know anything had happened to it.

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For this job I used my favorite glue – fish glue. It is very similar to hide glue and has a really long working time. A long working time means I don’t have to work under stress.

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There were actually two fractures. I glued the first piece separately and after 24 hours I also clamped the remaining corner piece. And after another 24 hours I released the clamps and the thing looks like it did on the day when it came out of the factory… well, you know what I mean.

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Another thing that I am doing to keep me sane during this quarantine period is rearranging my house. So, I found a better place for it and I’m happy how it looks.

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Removing Glue Residue from a Violin

Here is a violin that has seen better days. It is a violin that was donated to a school orchestra, but some previous owner had used some heavy duty adhesive to put markers on the fingerboard and to secure a bowing aid to the top. It looks like the violin had been forgotten for years and the glue residue dried rock solid. I’m guessing that in that state it didn’t have much of a resale value so the proud owners of this fine instrument decided to donate it to a school orchestra.

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The school was happy to take a donation and although you can’t really look a gift horse in the mouth the music teacher still asked me if there was anything that could be done about it. Of course, acetone would remove the glue residue, but it would also remove the finish. Sand paper would also not work. But there is a medium, well known to luthiers and repair techs, that will remove just about anything without leaving any traces on the finish. The results speak for themselves.

IMG_1900The medium is called naphta, or also known by it’s household name, lighter fluid. It can work like magic.

If you need to do a job like that make sure to do it outdoors.

 

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Ukulele from a Kit

Three or four years ago I wanted to build a ukulele for my kid and I decided to go the easy route and order a kit, instead of building from scratch. So, I ordered the kit online and to my disappointment the neck joint was so crooked that you couldn’t even install the neck straight onto the body. If were to just put it together as it, the neck would have ended up in a slightly rotated position. So, I complained and they sent a replacement. The replacement had the identical problem. Now I had two kits with the same problem.

It is impossible for anyone without a proper workshop and experience building instruments to assemble these kits, as is, into actual playable instruments.

A couple of years later I decided to finally put this thing together and I did some major work to reshape the neck and the dovetail joint. The neck finally fit properly to the body and I thought I was good to go. Then I discovered that the fingerboard was twisted and that the dot inlays were off center.

So, I decided to cut two new fingerboards, one for each kit, and thought I’d finally go ahead with the project. But then I got busy with other things and I just put the project on the back burner. Now we’re all in quarantine and I have some time to go over such projects.

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I decided to just finish one of the instrument for now, because I still have to reshape the neck joint on the other one.

Next was to glue the bridge. First was to find the position for the bridge, also properly centered. I did the centering with the aid of a string wrapped around the bridge. Then I masked off the position with tape, to catch the glue squeeze-out.

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I did not have proper clamps that would fit into this tiny sound hole and have the clamp reach the exact distance to the bridge. So, I made two clamps for the purpose.

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I used fish glue and clamped the bride, then left it for 24 hours.

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The body actually had a blemish on the upper bout and no amount of red wood stain would hide it. I could paint the instrument with opaque paint, but I really wanted to use red stain.

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To hide the blemish, I thought I could just draw a black stripe around the perimeter of the body, using a Sharpie marker. But to to do that I needed a jig that would securely hold the marker at an even distance from the edge.

I used a wood dowel to make that jig. I simply cut a concave channel into the dowel, on my milling machine.

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I secured the marker to the jig with tape.

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I tested the jig on a scrap. It did the job.

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I could keep the jig flipped around on the marker, for any future use.

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Then I used the marker jig to draw the stripe around the body and I did the same around the sound hole. The stripe did in fact hide the blemish.

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I use the Rookie brand for all the junior guitars I build. A ukulele is not exactly a child’s guitar, but I decided to put my Rookie logo on the headstock, anyway. After all, I did so much work on the neck joint that I can easily consider this to be my product and not just an instrument assembled from a ready made kit.

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The instrument got about 4 layers of lacquer, straight from a spray can. I am not going to spend too much time perfecting the finish on this kind of instrument.

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And finally the ukulele was finished.

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This one was completed in April Fools Day. Now it just needs a proper setup and it should be a decent little instrument.

 

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Making a Stand for a Double Bass

When my kid was about three years old he requested a pipe organ. We tried to explain that pipe organs were too big to have in the house and that perhaps he should consider a smaller instrument. After some negotiating he settled on having a piano and a double bass.

Although the double bass is in fact considerably smaller than a pipe organ, it’s still been taking up valuable space in the living room. We’ve been keeping it laying on the floor and it really takes up a lot of space.

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So, I decided to make a stand, using a large piece of scrap plywood that’s also been taking up space in the basement.

First I cut a piece of cardboard to the same size as my scrap plywood sheet. I placed the bass on the cardboard and started plotting the outline for the stand.

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I cut out the pattern and flipped it, to make sure it was not overlapping into the space on the opposite side.

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Then in traced the outline onto the plywood.

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The best tool for cutting a shape like this is a band saw. But I used the jigsaw first, to do some initial cuts.

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I also had to make one straight cross cut with the circular saw.

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The best way to cut two identical shapes on the band saw is to cut both together, at once. So, I screwed together the two pieces.

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Then I started cutting on the band saw.

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I used the hand held belt sander to smooth out the edges. I did that between cuts so that I would still have the two pieces held together by the remaining screws.

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Eventually I had to use clamps to hold the two pieces together for the remaining edge to be sanded.

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A quick pass with the router rounded off the edges.

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I know what you’re thinking… Orange? Well, I use this orange wood stain for some junior guitar builds and my kid really likes the color. So, this stand is for him and that’s what he made me use.

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The stand turned out just fine, structurally, but once now that we see how it looks orange color, my kid also agreed that it was a bad choice of color. Once this corona quarantine is over we’ll have to buy some very dark stain (possibly black) and go over it.

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Regardless of the color, the bass ow looks much better in the room. Once we stain the stand black it will probably go nicely with the black details on the bass and the whole thing will look much nicer in the living room.

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Fixing a Student Cello Bow

I do some volunteer work at a public school. The school has a very good music program and all the kids have the opportunity to learn to play in a string orchestra. However, since this is a public school there’s never enough funds to pay for the maintenance of all the orchestral instruments so as a result many instruments are in dire need of repairs. Some people donate money, but since I happen to be a luthier I choose to donate my time. Over the past two years I managed to bring many of their instruments back to life.

This is a student cello bow that had a small accident. I was told the student dropped the bow, which landed on its tip, which somehow cause the hair to come out of its tip end. This is the kind of repair that looks easy, but in reality it takes skilled work to be able to do the job right.

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In the world of orchestral instrument makers there are actually some people that specialize in making bows. They are called bow makers. And the last part of making a bow is installing the hair. From start to finish it’s a complicated process and it’s easy to make mistakes.

Bows also need to be re-haired, periodically. Again, that’s not something that one can just do at home, like changing the strings on a violin. It’s a job best left for the professionals. It has to be done right or it won’t work. In fact, that’s why a good bow job will cost you at least $75 these days.

Luckily I didn’t have to do a complete re-hair. This is actually a brand new bow and the hair was in good shape. The knot did not come apart, so all I had to do was to make a new plug and reinstall the hair at the tip.

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The plug is hand carved from a scrap piece of maple.

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You start by carving the rough shape and keep checking to see if it fits.

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Once you have a snug fit you have to carve the channel for the hair.

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Then you cut it off, do some more carving and fit it in.

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I had to remove the frog from the bow so that I could push the plug snugly.

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Then I reinstalled the frog and gave the bow a test.

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The bow is now ready for the next student to give it a go.

 

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Resurrection of a $20 Alesis Mixer

A couple of months ago I found a broken Alesis mixer on Craig’s List. The unit was listed as not working, sold as is, and the seller wanted $20. It was also missing the power supply. This unit sells new for $149.

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I figured there’s a lot more than $20 worth of parts on this unit, so even if I couldn’t fix it I could salvage the parts. Since the unit was completely dead. I had a pretty good idea that the problem was on the internal power supply board. I opened the unit and there it was.

The first thing I noticed was a swollen electrolytic capacitor. You can see the bulging top on the green electrolytic cap in the center of the image. That had to be replaced for sure.

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I looked around the board some more and also discovered a burned out diode. It is visible in the middle of the image.

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I replaced both faulty components. I found nothing else burned inside the unit.

The unit was also missing the external power supply, which you can buy separately for as low as $15 on eBay. But I was hoping not to spend any more money. So I Goggled the specs and found out that the power supply is just a transformer. No surprise there since the rectifier is on the internal board and the power input terminal at the back of the unit is labeled 18V AC x 2. So, all I needed was a transformer with a center tap, 2x 18V output.

I have a couple of bins full of salvaged transformers that my wife complains about (among other salvaged goodies that she complains about). I was able to find a transformer with matching specs.

At this point all I needed was a way to safely test the unit, so I didn’t bother making an enclosure. For now I just secured the transformer to a scrap board and connected teh wires.

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The mixer now works just fine. I’ve tested it for several hours over the course of 3 days and nothing seems to be heating up, melting or smoking up.

When I have some time I’ll make a proper enclosure for the transformer and start using the mixer for its intended purpose.

This time the $20 gamble paid off.

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More Work on the $10 Violin

After cleaning up the fingerboard I did some more work on the $10 violin. It was in pretty bad shape when I got it and my intention is to give this instrument a second life and flip it on eBay or Craig’s List.

The next step was re-gluing the fingerboard. Traditionally, hide glue is used, but I did not want to bother heating up a glue pot just for one board. So, I used fish glue, which has very similar properties. The important thing is not ti use Titebond or any other type of glue. Fingerboards should never be glued on permanently. Protein glues, such as hide glue and fish glue, can be heated up and reactivated, so that it is easy to take apart glue joints. That’s because protein glues never cure, they only dry. By comparison, Titebond is a curing glue and one should generally never use it for glue joints that have a high likelihood of being serviced in the future.

To give me a longer working time I always heat up my fish glue. This is my makeshift glue pot, for this purpose.

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There a many ways to glue a fingerboard. I generally don’t spread the glue across the entire surface. Instead, I leave a stripe without any glue in the middle. Whey I clamp the fingerboard the glue will squeeze out at the sides and on the inside some squeeze-out will spread towards the center.

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There are also many ways to clamp. Since I am using fish glue I just use a few simple spring clamp. The reason is because fish glue does not make the two parts slip, like most other glues, do, so I don’t need to worry about slippage. Also, The squeeze-out is easily cleaned up with a wet rag after the job is done. Again, that’s because fish glue does not cure, it only dries.

Having said that, you might have noticed that the label on the squeeze bottle says, Cure Time, 12 hours. This is a misnomer. It only means that glue joints should stay clamped for 12 hours, for the glue to be completely stable, i.e. dry.

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The next step of the project is the installation of the bridge. This violin did no have a bridge when I bought it and here you will see what it takes to install a violin bridge, a job that can cost around $125.

When you buy a replacement violin bridge it is actually a bridge blank. This means that it needs to be carved and sanded to be properly fitted on your violin. The bridge blank is oversized and fitting a bridge can only be done with proper tools.

Like all other jobs on violins, there are many ways of doing this. This is how I’ve been doing it (although I have used other methods in the past).

First step is to properly carve the feet of the bridge, so that the bridge fits properly on the soundboard, without any gaps. If you have a violin you can easily check if the bridge stands right on the soundboard. Just take a thin piece of paper and try to insert it around the feet of the bridge. You should not be able to insert the corner of the paper anywhere under the feet of the bridge.

The violin soundboard is carved and no two violins are identical, so each bridge needs to be hand carved for each violin individually.

The bridge is a critical part, not only because it transfers the vibrations from the strings to the soundboard, but also because a properly set up bridge can turn an unplayable instrument into a violin that’s easy to play.

To carve the feet of the bridge to the exact contour of the soundboard, I use the sanding method. Basically, I place a piece of sand paper on the belly of the violin, then place the bridge on the sand paper and sand the bottom in small motions. This can only properly be done with a bridge fitting jig, which hold it steady, so it doesn’t tilt during sanding. Also, to monitor how much I am sanding off, I draw a few lines at the bottom of hte bridge, with a pencil.

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I place the sandpaper on the violin and I place the bridge in the exact place where it will be after assembly. Sanding has to be done with only small motions.

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I frequently check the bottom to see how much I’ve sanded off. The cross hatched pencil lines make it easier to see the spots that the sand paper did not touch.

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Once the bridge bottom is finished I have to work on the top. Bridge blanks are oversized, so the strings will be way too high, if we don’t carve the top. This straight edge shows how high the strings would end up, if we leave it as is.

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To mark the proper string height I use another jig. This is also a shop made jig. It is basically a straight edge with a pencil lead. The pencil lead sits in a groove, so that the point is in the same line as the measuring edge.

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At the nut side I place a shim (not seen in picture) under the straight edge and at the bridge side I place a spacer for the string height. What I like to use as a spacer is a drill bit. I know the string height for the height string and I use that diameter drill bit as a shim. I used a larger diameter drill bit for the bass side. At this point I mark two spots on the bridge.

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Next, I use any available method to trace the contour of the fingerboard. It is also possible to just place a piece of card stock at the end of the fingerboard and trace with a pencil, but I have a tool that I use.

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In the next step I transfer the curve to the bridge.

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Next step is to sand the bridge. As you can see, quite a bit needs to be taken off.

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At this point the bridge is too thick, so I’ll have to carve and/or sand off from the top, so that it goes down to proper thickness.

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The disc sander makes the job quick, but I always finish off by hand. At this point, this bridge is still slightly oversized. I will fine tune once I do the finishing work. This part of the job is still the rough phase. But, as I’m sure you’ve concluded, installing a violin bridge is not exactly the type of work that you should take to your local handyman.

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I can’t really finish the job at this point because I need to buy new strings. But I just put the old strings on to take a photo.

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This is a fraction size violin for kids, a 1/8 size, to be precise. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I am actually missing one tuning peg and I need a new end-pin. But I will also have to do some voicing of the instrument. This is done by properly fitting the sound post, which is inside the violin and only accessible through the sound hole.

You can buy cheap violins on Amazon, for as low as $35, but also in the price range $59, $75, $99, $129 or even as much as $199 for the more pricey cheapo brands. None of those violins have properly fitted bridges. Then there’s the nut, the sound post and other details that differentiate real violins from starter pack violins. Cheap violins are hard to play, that’s because they are not properly set-up. Here you get to see part of the process that should be done for every violin, but is never done for the cheapo brands. How could they? If it costs about $125 to have a bridge properly fitted, it can’t be possible to sell a violin for $75, retail price. And they probably sell those for $15 to $80, to wholesale distributors, including the case, bow, packaging and shipped from China.

When I am done with this one I might sell it for about $100. Since actual luthier work went into this one the $100 is a bargain. I can’t really get more for it because at the end of the day it’s still a cheap unbranded violin. But for me it’s worth my time. If I were to build a violin from scratch I would have to spend more than $10 for raw materials. Unless I have an established name it is hard to get the right price for an instrument built from scratch. But this is an easy job. Any competent luthier can take any cheap violin, as long as it is structurally sound, and turn it into a better instrument than it ever was.

Also, flipping cheap instruments is actually a very common way for builders and repair techs to get some practice.