A touch of grey

As always, this recording session began with tuning. I took the dulcimer to the studio yesterday and did an hour’s worth of tuning, then finished this morning. It took a long time again, but was relatively straightforward and nonproblematic. Whew.

Speaking of tuning, I’m anticipating the arrival of a new tool that I hope will help reduce my tuning time: I won an Ebay auction for a Conn Strobotuner ST-11. Its grey face sports a spinning patterned disc with flashing lights behind it… when the note I’m plucking is in tune, the pattern will appear to be stationary; when it’s sharp the pattern will seem to be moving to the right, and when it’s flat the pattern will look like it’s going left.

I’d tried a Peterson VSAM virtual strobe in a store, and found it confusing to read. At another store I got to see how a mechanical strobe works with a guitar, and to me it seemed easier to read, so when I saw the Conn on Ebay I decided to bid on it. I’m hoping that its continuous reading will cut the time I usually lose to my needle tuner’s sometimes delayed and inconsistent responses. I’m also hoping that it’s in working condition when it gets here!

Tomorrow evening, the Hanshaw Trio will be recording two medleys, so today I recorded my parts. We started with “Easter Thursday / O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” a medley I’m including on this album as a reminder of what the babe in the manger accomplished when he’d grown up.

“Easter Thursday” has two especially tricky parts: one separated hands moment where I kept hitting the note just above the one I was aiming for, and several places where, reaching for the Bb on my extra bass bridge, I instead hit the wrong side of a course coming off the regular bass bridge. It’s like the sound you’d get if you plucked a guitar string between the top of the fretboard and the tuning pins. So it took a while to get it right.

“Hewlett / Silent Night” went more smoothly, probably because it’s in D, one of the most playable keys on the dulcimer. We did it in just four takes. Because this one starts with the guitar alone, I first recorded a count and then plucked the notes the guitar will play, then on another track I recorded the dulcimer parts. Likewise, where there’s a pause near the end, I recorded another count so that all three of us will come back in at the same time.

After listening to the “Three Ships Medley” I’d recorded last time, I’d decided I should fix two little errors. To do that, I figured I’d have to record the two larger sections containing the errors. It turned out I had to re-record the entire thing because the mic placement today was a little different than it was last time. However, it wasn’t that bad… only four takes; and just five edits, compared to fifteen last time.

We also recorded the dulcimer harmony parts for “Three Ships.” One of the harmony sections had three notes that weren’t timed exactly right, leading to a technique that, for me, falls in a grey area between what’s too artificial and what’s acceptable: Matt moved those three notes slightly to correct the timing. I said in an earlier entry that I draw the line at looping or recycling — that I want to really play every note each time. Well, I did play those three notes… but not with exactly the right timing. Hmmm.

The end is in sight. I’ve scheduled the rest of the sessions, at least what I think I’ll need, and if all goes well I should be done by mid-October. That should mean I’ll have the CDs by mid-November. So, this year I expect I’ll make my anniversary concert a release party, although it’ll probably be a few weeks late.

What’s left? Finishing the trio medleys, finishing three other pieces in progress, and three new pieces, plus, if time allows, a few fix-its. (Hopefully these other fix-its won’t require as much re-recording as “Three Ships” did!) I’m starting to work on the liner notes and graphics, too. This time I’ll make sure the web address is correct! (On No Loose Threads, I missed a typo in the URL, and I also didn’t realize that you can’t include the usual “www.” with addresses at Tripod, my former hosting service.)

2 thoughts on “A touch of grey

  1. I love it!

    Because it’s so precise, I can be happy with the tuning even if the pattern is still moving a bit. When my ears get oversensitive, I can relax and not second-guess the tuner.

    By itself, it hasn’t reduced my tuning time. However, having a baby has — I’m down from about two hours plus to about an hour and fifteen or so.

    And the continuous reading does cut down on frustration.

    The one I won on Ebay was not in working condition, but my recording engineer happened to know someone who was fixing one, so I traded mine and some cash for the one the guy was fixing.

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