Using MIDI files as an aide to learn a guitar part

Over the past week or so I’ve been trying to learn to play Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”.

I trawled my usual tab and sheet music sources and didn’t find anything very usable and thought I was stumped. In passing I found an uncredited MIDI file and downloaded it on the off chance it might be useful. It feels like I hit paydirt.

First I loaded the MIDI file into TuxGuitar and was able to produce tab for the piece. I had already confirmed by listening to the MIDI file that it was accurate enough for my needs. The tab that TuxGuitar turns out does need further work. For example it places the melody line down at the bottom of the neck on the higher strings, I prefer to play this melody higher on the neck on lower strings, but crucially, it gives me the right notes and I can sort the rest out myself.

I then loaded the midi file into Reaper and was able to replace the usual ropey MIDI sounds with something a bit more to my taste. Here’s the end result.

And of course, whilst it is playing in Reaper I can speed it up or slow it down, transpose, selectively mute instruments. It is the perfect backing track for my practice sessions.

If you’re interested, the drums are done using EZ Drummer. The flute/melody is Redtron’s excellent free VSTi Mellotron emulator. Bass, piano and organ are using Camel Audio’s free Alchemy VSTi.

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Bass “partscaster” finished

This weekend I finished work on the bass for my son. It is a white acrylic paint finish, with a red vinyl decal for the “Rising Sun” motif that he had wanted.

I had considered masking up and painting the red on top of the white but decided to try the vinyl because, should he ever want to return it to plain white it is very easy to do – just warm it up, peel it off and give it a wipe down with naphtha.

As an added bonus I’ve got plenty of the red vinyl left over so if he ever wants to go for a different design (racing stripes, flames, skull and crossbones or anything else that takes a young man’s fancy) it’ll be relatively easy to achieve.

And here’s a quick clip of it in action:

The full spec is:

  • Fender Jazz bass shaped alder body;
  • Generic maple neck with rosewood fretboard, headstock reshaped to mimic the 1951 Fender Precision bass. 34″ scale. It came complete with pre-installed nut and open back tulip tuners;
  • Set/glued neck with the heel carved to improve upper fret access;
  • Heavy Kahler-style chrome top-loader brass bridge with lock down saddles. It can be used as a string-thru bridge but we went for the easier configuration;
  • Pre-assembed Jazz bass control plate with chrome knurled knobs. Neck pickup volume, bridge pickup volume, master tone;
  • Generic jazz bass pickups;

    All parts were sourced from eBay. With the exception of the body and neck, from Papa D’s eBay store. Total cost £129 (which also included an unused pickguard and two spare sets of strings).

Next stages of the bass partscaster

This one has been on the back-burner for a while and my son has a new girlfriend and so it isn’t perhaps top of his priorities. Quite understandable I reckon! Now that the Voodoo Tele is just sitting there with the finish curing I needed to occupy myself so I dusted this one off.

There were a few things to correct with the body. We had already fixed the badly cut neck pocket. The bridge pickup rout was incorrect, with the bulges slightly too far apart to all the pickup to fit. I taped some MDF over the neck pickup, which was the correct shape, and, using the bottom bearing cutter, transferred the shape to the MDF, which I then used to correct the bridge pickup rout.

I roughly carved the neck heel to the shape we were going for, masked up the body, and spread Titebond Original in the neck pocket.

Here’s the rough carve of the neck heel.

Now that the neck is securely glued in we can finish carving that to the final shape, getting rid of the corner and feathering the edge of the neck into the body.

We were undecided about whether to go for the control plate on its own (my preference)

Or with the pickguard on too (Calum’s preference)

For now I’ve marked up and drilled the pilot holes for just the control plate. If, once it has been finished and assembled, we agree that it would look better with the pickguard too, we can add that then.

One final job today was to add a hole for the earth strap to run from bridge to control cavity, which was also missing from the body blank. I drilled across from the control cavity and then, in the area that will be covered by the bridge base plate drilled a larger hole down to meet it.

And here she is, finished sanded to 220 grit and ready for the primer to go on.

It is going to get finished in white primer, followed by a white gloss top coat and a red vinyl “Rising Sun” graphic.

Building a bass from parts

As if I haven’t got enough on at the moment, despite living a temporary life of leisure, I’m also helping my son, Calum, to build a bass. The bass is going to be a hybrid between a Jazz Bass body with a 1951 style Precision Bass neck and headstock (not dissimilar to a Telecaster headstock shape).

The neck we bought had a fairly non-descript modern-ish shape which we decided to make more “Fender-ish”. We marked up the shape, leaving the G tuner in place to make sure we didn’t cut too deep.

Calum trimmed it close to the line with the jigsaw.

And after finishing on the spindle sander in the drill press, this is what he’s got.

The body we bought on eBay was not exactly perfect and needs a few areas corrected, particularly the neck pocket rout. You can see the gap here.

To correct this I first made a template of the current neck pocket shape using a cutter with a bottom bearing.

Calum corrected the template with files and sandpaper and it was reattached to the body.

A quick skim round with the top bearing cutter and we’ve got a neck pocket that fits perfectly.

Calum then got on with sanding the body.

Next step was to “fettle” the pickguard which was cut too narrow for the neck. It was attached to the body with double sided tape, making sure the it aligned correctly with the neck pickup and control plate.

A pass with the bottom bearing cutter and we’ve got a neck, neck pocket and pickguard that all fit together neatly.

And this as as far as we got yesterday.

Next jobs are to correct the bridge pickup rout (the mounting lobe bulges on the pickup and body don’t exactly match), reshape the neck heel and back edge of the lower horn, glue the neck in and then get weaving on finishing the body and headstock face in white overlaid with a red “rising sun” motif. The neck will be getting a Danish Oil finish.