Electric Kali: Progress. Also, Tim Knight is a Great Guy.

Making progress, slowly but surely. I’ve spent less time with this painting lately because I’m working on a new webcomic project, and Portal 2 came out. Seriously, buy this game. It’s excellent. More on the webcomic later, once the project is a little farther along.

Here’s the final sketch for the painting. You can see that the background and some supporting details are missing or not fully realized. These will come as I paint. Mostly the sketch is to work out the basics. It was important to me that I choose the right guitar and amp combo for this image– it will matter little to most people, but I wanted to avoid just painting a generic “guitar.” I want to render something that a guitar fan will recognize and drool over.

After much hemming and hawing, I finally decided on a 50’s Gibson Les Paul Junior, and a 70’s red Marshall half-stack. The guitar is simple, pared-down to the essentials, but one with a very powerful voice. A true rock guitar. Marshall amps are of course the defacto symbol of rock; big, loud, screaming distortion. The red models they made in the 70’s are gorgeous, and I prefer to paint a big red amp than a boring black one. This guitar and amp combo represents power, aggression and fury quite well, I think.

It’s fairly easy to draw a generic guitar. But to draw a specific model recognizably is particularly difficult, at least for me. I was resigned to using a google image search for reference, but was discussing my choice of equipment with the inestimable Tim Knight, who had something much better in mind. Tim doesn’t have much of a web presence, which is a shame; he’s a cultural asset here in Salem, Oregon. Tim owns and operates Guitar Castle, a vintage guitar store downtown, and co-founded (but is no longer a partner of) Ranch Records, Salem’s best record store. Tim is a great musician; he played and recorded with John Fahey, is a member of the Hundred Dollar Jayhawks, the Nettles, and the Bohemian Enclave, which is his latest project. He helps organize local shows with local talent, and records and advises young up-and-comers. He’s friends with and sold guitars to many great musicians, and has countless great stories to tell.

I love Guitar Castle because there’s always a little bit of history on the racks there. While it is a vintage guitar store, Tim stocks guitars and amps for players, not collectors. For example, I bought a wonderful 1962 Fender Jaguar from him last year. It’s all original, but for one thing: a previous owner had stripped off the sunburst finish and sprayed it with clear nitro. This destroys its value as a collector’s item, but drops it neatly into my price range. A pre-CBS guitar that I can afford and sounds like a dream! (I’ll post more about this guitar some other time.) These kinds of deals make the store unique, and a great place to browse. Tim is also a painter, and his art is on the walls there. He paints scenes and portraits in a “naive” style, and his abstracts (my favorites) are colorful, thoughtful and emotive. (He also has a couple of my paintings hanging in the store. Thanks, Tim!)

When I told Tim the guitar and amp I had decided would be in Electric Kali, he laughed. “You mean like the ones in my basement?” he said. “Why don’t you shoot them for reference?” Tim Knight is a great guy. I came back a week later with my camera.

Tim poses the Les Paul Junior for me in front of Guitar Castle. Here’s Tim with the Les Paul Junior. It’s no longer in the basement, it’s behind the counter, for sale at a bargain price.

Tim's red Marshall.  The racing stripes make it go faster. Tim’s red Marshall. Alas, this one is not for sale.

With the reference shot at just the angles I wanted, the sketch came together much faster than cobbling together images from the web. With the drawing done (more or less), I transferred it to a panel, and painted in the basic values using burnt umber and ultramarine. Now I’m roughing color in over the values, using glazes of varying opaqueness. The drawing is still visible a bit under the color, which will allow me to tighten up the detail once I’ve got the overall composition and color where I like it.

rough color going in

I like to work this way rather than make a color rough, because when I change my mind about a color and paint over it, the previous layers all build up to make a richer finish with more depth than if I just started with the right color first. More images to come as I continue to paint!

The Blue Bomber

A couple of months ago I leveled up and worked enough hours for Normandy Guitars to earn my own. I chose a Blue Anodized Hardtail. The blue finish has been discontinued due to its difficulty to consistently apply, so mine is one of only 4 blue Normandy archtops out there. It’s a great axe, with a booming voice with a wide range– it sounds like a bassy Les Paul at the neck pickup, and has a drawling twang like a Tele at the bridge. Maple neck with rosewood top, with a profile that’s slightly on the heavy side of average thickness. It feels fast and comfortable. I’m thrilled with this thing, and decided to continue billing Normandy for credit– Jim’s working on another design that I’m really excited about, and he has a V that’s beautiful and balanced. Here are some pictures.

The guitars come with a custom case made by TKL. They’re very well made.

That’s my 30W Peavey Windsor. I love this amp.

My guitar teacher calls the badge on the headstock a “belt buckle.”

Pure Voodoo: Normandy Guitars

Guitarists are a notoriously conservative lot. Innovative ideas in guitar design generally don’t meet a warm reception. The most popular guitars are styled after 40-year old designs, and materials haven’t changed much. So a new company like Normandy Guitars has an uphill battle. Normandy’s necks are still wood, but the bodies are made from aircraft-grade aluminum. That’s kind of a big deal in the guitar market. But so far, Normandy Guitars is doing well, selling around the world, and online at Amazon and Musician’s Friend. Their guitars sound great in their own right, a very classic well rounded warm sound, nothing as outlandish as one might expect given the materials. And they are absolutely gorgeous. You can see that they’re going with classic styling, in part to keep their foot in the door with the conservative majority of the guitar-buying market.

Jim Normandy, the founder, lives in my town, and I managed to talk my way into helping out with some of the company’s design needs. I’ve done some ads for them, and a poster, which I’m quite proud of.

You can download a high quality pdf from Normandy here. Mine’s the one on the right.

Sooner or later…

…I’ll get around to some of the things I’ve promised. Last year I built a ‘partscaster’: a telecaster-style guitar assembled from parts that I bought or ordered online. A local luthier helped me with the finish, and it sounds amazing. I’ll post a more in-depth look at the process– probably not step-by-step, since most of my photos of the progress are crap.

Lately I’ve been tinkering with other stuff– tiny guitar amplifiers, effects pedals, and a speaker cabinet. I’ll post more info as I deal with this procrastination problem.

“Every day, and in every way, I’m getting better, and better!”


I took the 11s off the Artcore. They sound amazing, but my weak little fingers can’t bend ’em more than a half-step. I gots some working out to do. They don’t make ribbon- or flat-wound in lighter than 11s, so I’ve got some GHS ‘boomers’ 10s on now. Nice. $5 a pack, and the g-string (3rd from the thinnest) isn’t wound– so it bends mightily. Fresh outta the pack, they’re a little bright for me– I like a definite ‘clunk’ thus my taste for flats, but when they get old they sound a lot like flats. When flats get old they just sound like shit.

My harem has increased by one recently. I added a 12-string acoustic to my collection. A gift to me to use as a ‘sacrificial lamb’ to gain finish repair experience, it came to me unstrung with tuners uninstalled and sans bushings, and with a monster crack in one of the X supports just below the soundhole. It’s a 70’s “Orlando”– a Japanese factory-built brand I’m told– I’ve yet to find any more information about it yet. Someone had tried to repair this crack– about 2 inches long, passing completely through the support at the intersection of the ‘X’– with gauze and some sort of white adhesive.

The thing about 12-string guitars is that they’ve got, well, 12 strings. 12 steel strings. At standard tuning they exert a huge amount of pressure on the guitar. The fate of all 12-strings, sooner or later is to develop a ‘pot belly’, where the bridge is glued to the body, the face of the guitar ‘bowls out’– pulled out by these strings. This guitar had cracked probably because of this exact problem.

I was surprised that someone had thought gauze would fix the problem. They were probably thinking of that method of fiberglass building, using gauze and resin, where in the resin provides the strength, and the gauze is only there as a matrix to support the resin before it cures. If so, they didn’t use resin. They didn’t use enough adhesive, whatever it was. That left the gauze, like a sling. The whole point of gauze is flexibility, which is exactly what you don’t want in this situation– the guitar has flexed too far, and needs to be restrained.

I peeled off the gauze, and ran some superglue into the crack– at rest, it had about a 1/16″ gap, so that part was easy. Then I clamped the crack shut– had a moment of panic as the glue oozed out and almost glued my caul to the guitar– cleaned up and let it sit overnight. I had to order new bushings for the tuners, which didn’t exactly fit– a fair gap between peg and bushing, and new screws to mount the machines to the headstock.

Another oddity about this guitar’s condition was the saddle– the bit of bone or (in this case) plastic that fits in the bridge, and supports the strings. It was completely smooth– no notches for the strings to fit into. A 12-string is strung to play 6 notes, just like a normal guitar, except each note gets two strings, strung approx 1/16-1/8″ apart, tuned to an octave apart, or in unison. This pair of strings is called a course. They should be close enough together that they are easy to strike and fret at the same time, and far enough from each other that they do not collide while ringing. Since this saddle was smoothly curved (we calls it radiused) with no notches, the courses were all over the place, so that for the most part each of the twelve strings was equally placed– this is nearly impossible to play. How long had this saddle been this way? Dunno, but it was useless to me as is. I notched it by eye, guessing at the spacing between and within courses. I did okay, except I got the 4th course too close together. It rattles if I hit it too hard. I’ll get a proper saddle blank and do it right next time.

So this unplayable junker is playable again! Even with the crack repaired, it can’t withstand the tension of standard tuning without bellying out an alarming amount– so I have it in Open G tuning, which requires less tension, and I’ve been meaning to learn anyway. I can also tune it to standard, only a half-step back, and put a capo on the first fret if I absolutely have to have it in standard tuning. But I’ve already got 2 great guitars in standard, so I won’t be doing that anytime soon.