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The Last Grand Chorus

Cover Final Web

The Last Grand Chorus is a new book of music that was published in July 2016 by Greg Bacon and John Ciaglia. Greg is the author of all the melodies, while John is the master behind all of the harmony arrangements. There are over seventy-five original melodies that are drawn from the traditions of early American martial music, inspired by Celtic jigs, reels, hornpipes, and salted with sounds that hint at the great sea chanties from the past. Each melody is beautifully accompanied with harmonies that are crafted in a style reminiscent of the Baroque era. Each of the 130 pages of music is arranged in four voices.

Listen to a few of the charts that will be included in the book!

Also, Here is an example from the book:
Tally On!

If you are interested in purchasing a copy, please contact me and I will reserve a copy for you. The price is $30.


Howard’s Lesson – Let the Good Times Ring

With all the focus on ALS and the Ice Bucket Challenge in the last couple of weeks, I thought it would be appropriate to share an article I wrote back in 2007 on the topic. To set some context, my music group, The Ancient Mariners, spent the week in Switzerland with our brother organization, The Swiss Mariners, playing music, performing, and all around general merriment. After that trip I wrote a series of reflective articles about our experiences. This article focused on and payed tribute to my good friend, fellow Mariner, and ALS victim, Howard Hornstein.

Music is many things to many people. For some it is relaxing, others energizing. For some it is therapy, and some healing.

I know of one man where music was his lifeline. It was the strand that connected him to the living. Though it may sound like hyperbole, it is not. Music was the needle that wove together a tapestry of friendship and love that buoyed him and actually kept him alive. This man, this Mariner, was diagnosed with ALS and given only a short period to live.
ALS is a horrible disease where if you don’t die quickly, you gradually lose the ability to move. You notice that your arms are shaky when you pour a glass of milk. You get tired walking to the mailbox. Putting on your own cloths becomes difficult . Tasks like brushing your own teeth become impossible. Eventually you find yourself entirely paralyzed, unable to talk and locked inside your own body. The sick irony is that you are entirely aware of your demise. ALS does not affect your brain, it affects your neuromuscular system, leaving you to contemplate all the things you would like to do but can’t.

My friend, Howard, upon being diagnosed with ALS and well aware of his fate, realized he had a decision to make. Before he would lose his ability to take matters in his own hands he had to decide if he wanted to live through the torture. So, one evening, when no one was home, he went out to the barn. Locked all the doors. He got into the car. He put the key into the ignition. He sat there. Thinking. What will I have to live for? How will I find any happiness? How much of a burden will I be to the people I love?

As he sat there contemplating his options his mind wandered back to an old friend. He heard this friend say to him, ‘You have two choices. You can choose to live, or you can choose to die. If I had half your ability and determination, I’d choose to live. This could be the greatest adventure of your life!’ Howard then took the keys and removed them from the ignition. He got out of the car. Unlocked the doors, went back into his home and lived happily ever after.

There were no medical miracles. His body ultimately failed him and he lived entirely paralyzed for years, physically paralyzed that is. But, the part about living happily I believe to be true. He found happiness in his friends. He found happiness in his children, and he found happiness in his music.

Howard was a fifer, a chanteyman and was learning to play the concertina. When he could no longer play the fife, he sang. When he could no longer sing he wrote. He wrote harmony parts for the Ancient Mariner Chanteymen. He wrote songs. He wrote poetry. He wrote a book. He did not write using his hands, they had long since failed him. He wrote by using a computer that read his eye movements, the only muscle control he had.

In doing so, all of us who new him, learned so much about living life with all you’ve got, and making the choice to be happy.

You may ask, ‘what does any of this have to do with Switzerland?’ It has to do with the lessons we learned from Howard, who was, years ago, freed from his shackles. It has to do with how we share those lessons with new Mariners everywhere. It has to do with the music he left for us in hopes that we would always sing it together. When we play and sing, we are sharing our love for music, brotherhood and the celebration of life with all those who care to listen or dare to join us. In Switzerland, audiences came to listen, which reaffirms for us all the lessons we’ve been taught by men like Howard. We all have to make choices. Our choice, as Mariners, is to do our best to celebrate while we can.

Howard’s lesson was put into words in a song he wrote called Let the Good Times Ring:

So before our time is nigh
Teach our children how to sing
So they may raise their glasses high
And let the good times ring
~Dr. Howard Hornstein


When I look back over this article today, I think there is a simple lesson for everyone, which is to work damn hard to celebrate what you have and find a way to bring light to the world. Howard was living proof of the human ability to do just this, even in the face of a terrible disease. The Ice Bucket Challenge has brought some light to a very dark room. I wish Howard were here to see it.

Take a listen to some of the words and music that Howard left for us, recorded back in 2007 in Switzerland by Kevin Brown and Sam Moor.

Guitar Building: Templates and Molds

One of the first steps in building a guitar is to build a mold, which the guitar will be built in. This is an important step in guitar building, and what I’ve read is:

If you can’t build the mold, you can’t build the guitar

The mold helps set the bent sides, and provides a stable place to build the guitar. Here is an example of what I’m looking to build. In this example you can see that they have the sides of their guitar braced into the mold.


There are many ways to build this mold. I’ve settled on trying to build one out of layers of MDF, mostly because I can imagine building this with the tools I have. Before building a mold, however, one builds a master template, usually from some sort of plexiglass-like material. The template is the master shape of the guitar. But, unfortunately, before you can build a template, you need to decide what guitar you’re building. So, 1 – decide on guitar shape, 2 – make plexiglass template, 3 – build mold. So far this project feels like three steps backwards, one step forward.

After much angst, I’ve settled on a design based on Martin’s classic 000-28VS, and I was able to get detailed plans for the 000-28VS from


Once I had the plans, which are life size, I used an exacto knife to cut out the shape of the guitar from the paper plans. I picked up a piece of Lexan, which is sort of like plexiglass, but was a bit more flexible and thinner, at Home Depot. I bought a piece that was bigger than I needed, assuming I might have some false starts. The first step was cutting a piece off the sheet that I could work with. I was very excited, because this was the first real step towards the building of the guitar. Quickly, however, I ran into the challenge of making a clean cut through the Lexan. First I tried using a Japanese Hand Saw. This caused hairline cracks as I sawed. Damn. I switched to a jig saw. This mutilated the Lexan. Suck. I looked around the shop for other options, but none seemed like they would work. I thought of trying to use a rotozip, which may have worked, but I did not have a good bit. So, I decided to go back to the Japanese Hand saw and work slowly and gave myself room for error. Not great, but I was able to make an ugly, but acceptable cut. So much for building confidence.


Once I had the paper template and the Lexan cut, I affixed the paper template to the Lexan with spray adhesive, which also made the hair on my arms feel staticy/sticky. I’m never fond of having to use sprayable chemicals, but it did work great. Incidentally, the Lexan has a thin film of protective plastic on each side when you buy it. I left this on and stuck the paper template to this film.


I then went over to the band saw to cut 1/4 inch to the edge of the paper. I have to say, after the trouble I had rough cutting the Lexan, I was fairly nervous about running the Lexan through the band saw. I tested with a small piece. To my surprise, it cut cleanly and without fracturing or splintering. Still, I was nervous. Once the entire shape was cut out, I needed to sand the final 1/4 inch down to the edge of the paper template. For this I used a drum sander attachment in my drill press. I bought the drum sander in a four pack from Harbor Freight tools for about $25. I actually tried to make one first, thinking I’d save about $24, but that attempt failed and I didn’t want to waste more time.


Here is the cut and sanded template.


I then tested the template to see how accurate it looked. What I found was that it looked great, but when I flipped it over and retraced, there was error, which I expected. So, I’ve decided that I will only trace from one side, flip, trace the other side. This guarantees a perfectly symmetrical shape.


The lines on the template are where the bracing goes for the guitar top. Next step is to drill holes that mark the end of the braces. This will help when I need to layout the bracing. I also drilled a hole to mark the center of the sound hole.


Lastly, I used an exacto knife and scratched lines for the bracing and sound hole. I also labeled the template with ‘000-28VS’, though you can’t really see much of those details in this photo. Lastly, I lightly sanded the edges to remove sharp or rough spots.


I was able to get all of this work done in one evening, and I am really happy with how it turned out. I share my joy with the kids and wife. Tepid response. I sort of expected that. This master template is now used to make the guitar mold.

About a week later the winter weather broke and Saturday was a nice warm day. I used this as an opportunity to begin cutting up the 4×8 MDF I bought for the guitar mold. I cut pieces into 10 1/2 x 24 1/2 pieces with a skill saw.


Here are the twelve pieces that I cut. I’d have to say that cutting this stuff was really dusty. I’m glad I did this outside, and I’m not looking forward to the sanding and routering of this material in the shop later.


Ok, back in the shop, I trace half of the guitar shape onto a piece of MDF using my awesomely perfect Lexan template. I used a pen because I was afraid pencil would be harder to see when I was sanding.


Here it is. Looks good.


Next I cut to within 1/4 inch of the line on the band saw.


Here is the rough cut.


Ok, now I wanted to go back to the drum sander and sand down to the line. But first I needed to make a table for my drill press so that the drum sander could be ‘below grade’ so that I could sand the entire edge evenly. For this I used a scrap piece of plywood, and cut a hole with my jig saw that was slightly bigger in diameter than my drum sander.


With the plywood attached to my drill press table, and the drum sander set up so that it was slightly recessed into the table, I spent about a half hour sanding precisely to the line.


Once the sanding was complete, I tested it with the Lexan template. It fit perfect. Me happy. I then cut off some excess MDF to make it lighter. I suspect this will also make it easier to clamp guitar sides later.


Next I need to make eleven more that look exactly like this one, six for the left side, six for the right. For that I will be using this piece as the template and using a router, a tool I’ve never used, to shape the others. They will all be glued together, and when I’m done the mold will be about 4 1/2 thick. Stay tuned.

Guitar Building: The Journey, Not the Destination


I like to make things. When I was young, I would ride my bike to the library to pursue the shelves, looking for a seed of inspiration that might lead to some new project. However, like most people, I never followed through on many of my most brilliant plans. Like the time I was inspired by a book about scientists who were studying the rainforest by creating a network of zip-lines high above the forest floor. I tried to raise money within my network of friends so that we could build our own network of zip-lines in the woods behind my house. Would have been so cool. Failed at the funding stage. Or the time I was inspired by a Popular Science article about how to build a personal hovercraft. Just imagine the adulation from your peers pulling into Jr. High on one of those babies. Oh, the glory that could have been.

There are many things that have been dreamt, but never made. But, that doesn’t change this fact: I like to make things. It is the reason I went to art school; It is the reason I became a software developer; It’s the reason I play music. Some people call it creative, but I think of it more as being interested in producing versus consuming.

Most of the things I make these days are accomplished with small increments of time. Music is good for this. You can do it for a couple of hours, and there’s no mess to clean up…that is, unless you’ve had too many drinks. Pinewood derby cars. They’re small. They take a couple of evenings. Your kid can win a trophy. How great.

But I still dream of those grand rainforest zipline projects. The excuse for not starting is always time and money, and maybe skill.

Recently I got an email from, which is Luthiers Mercantile International Inc, for those not in the know, offering me a deal on a build-your-own-guitar kit. I got this email because years back I was going to build a banjo and ordered some supplies. Banjo never got built. Ran into funding issues…or was it skills issues, anyhow, I don’t want to dwell on that failure. The point is that I have since been on lmii’s mailing list, and for years, week after week, I’ve been receiving emails on all sorts of instrument building supplies. I’ve ignored every single one except the build-your-own-guitar email.

Guitar making has always held a special place in my I-like-to-make-things-heart. Guitars are made of cool woods. Their craftsmanship can be phenomenal. They make noise. What more could you want? Plus, I play guitar, and was recently inspired by this fellow I met over the summer that had recently finished building his eighth guitar.

So, maybe the timing of the email was just right, because it rekindled a dormant interest.

This time I plan to take action.

Where to start? Where else: Google. I spent a couple of evenings reading about the materials, the tools, and the process. Then I spent a couple more evenings reading about alternative woods, alternative tools, and, you guessed it, alternative processes. Enough to make your head spin. Building a zip-line network in Brazil would probably be easier.

Undeterred, I called the fellow I met over the summer and had a chat about my insanity. He didn’t think I was so insane. So, I bought a book on how to build a guitar. Now, the first time you outlay any real cash is an important hurdle that should be recognized. That is the moment at which you’ve convinced yourself that the dream is possible. If it weren’t possible, you’d never dole out cash for it.

The first important thing I learned was that in order to build a musical instrument, you need to make sure that your environment is conducive to building musical instruments. Huh? So, that means that if your room is too humid, your guitar will crack and fall apart when the dry air of winter sets in. So, the sage advice is, ‘get a room’.

the second thing I learned was that the first thing you build is not the guitar. The first thing you build are tools for building a guitar. Many tools. We’re not talking about screw drivers and pliers. Instead, strange contraptions like Go-Bar decks, and more common things like molds, templates and shooting boards.

Gobar deck

The third thing I learned was that tools are freak’n expensive. One way to cut cost is to buy old tools and refurbish. Hand planes are a good example of this. Old Stanley hand planes from the early 1900’s can be refurbished into great tools.

Which leads me to the fourth thing I learned…how to refurbish old hand planes.
All this learning reminds me of why I like to make things. It’s about the process, the learning, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and all the stories you get to tell at the end of your experience.

I recently told a friend about my endeavor. I confided that I can’t really honestly say if I’ll complete the project or be successful. He reminded me that it doesn’t matter. “You’ve already done something good, you’ve already learned something you didn’t know before.” And I thought, yeah, right, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

So, I’m gonna do my best – no promises – to make a journal of my progress. I want to do this for a few reasons. One, I want to remember all the things I did. Two, I’ve been inspired and have learned from the stories that others have told about their journeys. Three, I like to make things. But I guess I’ve already covered that.

So, let’s begin…

My workspace before I decided to build a guitar…


I drew up a rough plan for how to improve my workspace. The basic ideas was to partition my basement so that I could create more usable wall space, shut out the noisy boiler, and control the humidity and temperature so that my guitar won’t explode six months after I build it.


The actual results strayed a bit from the plan, but they were close. This is a composite picture made from a bunch of pictures, showing 360 degrees of the room…


Here is a detail. You can see the boiler behind the door. Also, there is a window to the right to let natural light into the rest of the basement. Also to the right is a storage cabinets, clamp racks and shelving for storing wood.

Here is a detail of the cabinet, clamp racks, shelf and window. The clamp racks were made with old copper pipe I found laying around. Oh, and lots of clamps from Harbor Freight Tools. Cheapest I could find. If one breaks, I’ll buy another.


I also had this great idea that I could use my old shop vac for a basic dust collection system. The plan was to put an outlet on the outside of the room that my shop vac would plug into. The plug is controlled by a switch on the inside of the new room. Then I could leave my shop vac, which is noisy, outside the room and pipe it through the wall. I found a 25 foot piece of sump pump hose at home depot, went to the plumbing department, found some fittings, and connected the fittings to the wall and the hoses to the fittings.


The problem with this plan, and I found out at the very moment that I was prepared to relish victory of my achievements, is that this twenty-five foot length of hose caused standing sound waves the moment I flicked on the switch. It made the loudest piercing sound I have ever heard. And remember, I’m a fifer, I am accustomed to loud piercing sounds. This was excruciatingly unbearable. I was crushed. Dreams dashed. Agony of defeat.


A week later, I found a piece of 2 inch plumbing pipe nestled in my rafters. After determining that it was not attached to anything important, I decided to ditch the sump pump hose and replace it with the pipe, and extend that with a shorter hose that was designed for shop vacs.

Here is a final picture, of the other side of the room, showing this new hose that is curled up and attached to the band saw. the other end of the hose, which you can’t see, is attached to the 2 inch pipe, which essentially runs through the wall to my shop vac. Flick on the switch … dust collection heaven.


And just for the record, here are some other key things I did:

  • Insulated
  • Wallboarded
  • moved some existing heating ducts
  • added a heating duct
  • resurfaced one of my benches
  • put casters on that same bench because I had to move it a million times.
  • Put in two doors. One to get into the room. And one to access my HVAC.
  • New lighting
  • Two new electrical circuits

Next on the agenda is to see if I can get the whole house humidifier working. Once the humidity and temperature are stable at 65-70 degrees and 45% relative humidity I will begin ordering wood and building molds. Yay!

Vivaldi in Chiesa San Vidal

There is nothing better than hearing live music performed where it was intended to be heard. Fife & Drum is best on an open field, traditional Celtic music is best in a dark, small pub over a few pints, ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ is best with peanuts at the park, root’n on the hometown boys, and Vivaldi is best in Venice with the sound of the un-amplified strings reverberating off stone statues within a charming church just a few meters from the Grand Canal.

Here’s the first movement from a concerto in d minor.

Vivaldi – Concerto in dm by baconworks



Flute & Guitar in Dorsodoro

Today, walking through Dorsoduro, just around the corner from the Santa Maria della Salute, we happened upon a couple playing on my two favorite instruments, flute and guitar. They were really superb and they chose a courtyard with perfect acoustics, which you can hear nicely in the recording. I would have recorded more, but my phone was almost dead. Uhg. Here is the bit I did record and posted to soundcloud:

Flute & Guitar by baconworks



La Basilica di San Marco

Diane and I went to church this morning…in Venice! It was the best way to experience the Basilica of San Marco, a gem of Byzantine architecture. I’ve never been in a more grand building, that is, until just shortly after we left church and went to the Doge Palace.

Words, pictures and sounds won’t do the Basilica justice, but I can tell you that the inside glistened as light poured in and reflected of the gold lined domes in the basilica. And when the service started we were treated with a earth moving pipe organ, and a angelic choir, singing in Italian, of course. Now why don’t we do church music like this at home? Very inspiring indeed.

I did my best to discretely record the service and take some pictures, although neither were allowed. But, I did ask for forgiveness while I was there.

You can hear the recording at

Or here:
Basilica San Marco by baconworks




Mic Reviews

I’ve been in search of a new microphone for the purposes of recording my guitar. I had been using a Rode NT1-A but felt that it might be interesting to try a few others. So, I got in touch with Parsons Audio, my local audio guys. After some helpful conversation Chris, my man at Parsons, set me up with microphones from four different companies.
There they all are, stacked on my table. Here they are up close; a Charter Oak M900, Neumann KM184, Shure KSM141 and a Beyerdynamic MC 930.
Before I go much further, I should mention what I’m recording and some of the equipment that I’m using to make the recordings. First, I’m playing a Lowden O25 with a cedar top and rosewood back/sides. I’m also playing on a set of John Pearse Slack Key strings, which I’ve tuned to DADGAD.
In addition, I am running my mic through a PreSonus FireBox and into a PC. Now, before I get flack, I know what you’re thinking, all those nice mics running through a less-than-optimal pre amps. Well, yeah. It’s what I got, and I imagine that most everyone’s road to audio nirvana passes over a few bumpy roads. Having said that, the firebox has served me very well and I have thoroughly enjoyed that road.

So, onto the mics. First a brief description of what I found in the case.

First up, the Charter Oak M900. The case, while attractive and functional, seemed a bit weak in places, such as the handle.
When I opened the case I found a rugged looking mic with two switches. One for bass roll offs at 150Hz and 75Hz. Another for a -10dB and -20dB pad. In addition there were capsules for cardioid, omni and hyper-cardioid. Lastly there was a nice shock mount for the mic.
Next up, the Shure KSM 141. The case on the Shure is obviously not as flashy as the Charter Oak, but it still served its purpose.
Inside the case were a couple of funky looking mics. One cool part of their funkyness was that with a twist of the capsule, you can change it from a cardioid pattern to an omni pattern. Neat. These mics also have a three position bass roll off switch as well as a -15dB and -25dB pad. Lastly, there were the typical mic holders.
The Beyer mics came in a plastic case as well. Once inside the case I found a shock mount similar to that of the Charter Oak mics, but a bit bulkier. The mics also had a two position switch for both bass roll off and a -15dB pad.
Finally, the Neumann KM184’s. First, the case. The Neumann’s come in an attractive case, which does make them feel a bit special. Inside the case the mics are found with a cleaner and simpler design than the others. They also do not include any switches for roll offs or pads. Also, if your looking for a different pattern you have to pick up the 183’s or the 185’s. The mics also have a very sturdy and compact feel to them.
I tested these mics, as well as my Rode NT1-A mic in the following manner: First I set up a single mic at ten inches away from the 12th fret of the guitar. I then proceeded to play a few short pieces. I varied capo positions as well as style. I repeated this process for each mic as carefully as I could.

My first reaction was that all four of the mics were noticeably better sounding than the Rode. I always felt the Rode had an artificial sound on the mid ranges of my guitar, which was not the case with the other mics. My other observations were that the Charter Oak seemed to have places in the frequency range that were slightly hyped and others that were not. The Shure felt more even but sort of thin and not a lot of character. The Beyerdynamic had the most bass response of any of the mics, which has garnered a lot of praise from others. At first I was impressed, but the more I listened, the more I felt it might be too much for my instrument. The cedar topped Lowden is a warm, full bassed sounding guitar to begin with. The Neumann’s seemed very even, maybe a bit light on the bass response, but overall a very consistent sound throughout the entire frequency range. At first I thought the Neumann’s and the Shure sounded similar, but then came to the conclusion that the Neumann’s seemed to capture more of the nuances of the strings and I ultimately felt they were more well rounded with a nice character. These are just my impressions.

I should note that I also did not really have too much time to try different mic placements, which might have compensated for some of the above mentioned characteristics.

After this first test, I narrowed my choice down to the Neumann’s and the Beyerdynamics.

Next I decided to try them in a mix that I have been working on, which includes a bouzouki, bass, hurdy gurdy and a bodhran. As I suspected, the Beyerdynamic was a bit too bassy without EQ, whereas the Neumann seemed to fit easier into the mix.

Lastly, before I had to return all the mics to Parsons, I decided to try setting up they pair of Neumann for a stereo recording. I had not really planned on buying two mics, so this was sort of a last minute experiment. I shouldn’t have conducted that last experiment, because the results were so impressive to me that I ended up buying the set of Neumann’s. To me they were the mics, without getting real technical, that were able to best reproduce how my guitar really sounds, which none of the others were really able to do.

So, there you have it. I’m the proud owner of two Neumann KM184’s. Along with this post I’ve included one set of my audio tests. Each recording was essentially left as is. In other words, I did not add any EQ, compression or reverb. I did, however, adjust the volume slightly on the tracks so that they would be close to even in terms of loudness, so as to not be swayed by the louder track. Also, I labeled each recording with a nondescript label so that you can do your own blind taste test, so to speak. If you download the files you can get the mic name from the properties of the mp3. Also, I will post which mics go with which files in a couple of days.

I would love to hear what others think as they listen to these samples.