Sunday, June 25, 2017

Wooden, collapsible guitar stand (copyright Harmen Hielkema)

Almost at the end of my custom guitar stand project which I have been constructing for an old guitarist friend of mine. There's only a final sand and varnish followed by padding after which I can hand it over.

This stand, just like the other 4 I've built features a monogram, in this case "BF". I enjoy using my old graphic design skills to create a monogram and then carving it into the timber surface. It's a quality gift for life made from recycled New Zealand native timber, in this case, Kauri.

If you'd like one or would like to make a gift of one leave me a message. I'd be pleased to customise my design to suit you.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Harmen Jazz Bass. Some improvements.

New and improved. Seymour Duncan Vintage pick ups, new pots and tone capacitor, fresh paint, new logo and head stock colour.
It's been a while.

Over time I've been watching and feeling my jazz bass mature. As a novice player, slowly accumulating knowledge experience and muscle memory, I'm began to realise that I could make some improvements to my home made instrument. Aside from cosmetics which I have addressed during the upgrade, I decided to improve the electronics. I did a great deal of reading on the subject and there is much to learn. The potentiometers that came with the basic parts kit for my bass build were of the cheapest quality. They are 250k mini pots marked with the letters CF. I eventually settled on Bourn branded pots. These are logarithmic, good quality, 25 mm diameter, carbon disc units which are of a medium price range at $6.80 each from RS Electronics. The other upgrade I decided on was the replacement of the tone capacitor. It seems that this capacitor is a very important item when it comes to sound quality from your electric bass guitar. It has something to do with the way in which the signal frequency from the pickups gets carried to earth as the tone pot is rotated. The capacitor that I chose is a Russian made, bipolar, .047uf, 100 volt, paper in oil which are manufactured for military use. These are supplied by The Tone Lounge an online guitar spares company at $12.99.

The last two weeks of spare time was spent repainting and upgrading my instrument. I favour the 1960's look Fender Jazz which featured a painted headstock. Mine is painted in Sea foam green, a classic '50's and 60's colour, popular on cars and decore from that era, when I was an impressionable child, it's still my favourite colour. the NZ colour equivalent is Vista Blue by Resene Paints. I chose a semigloss acrylic enamel which I rolled on and then sanded back with 1200 wet and dry abrasive paper. lastly I applied 2 coats of Dulux, rattle can, semigloss clear.
I've designed a new logo transfer as well which has gone on to the headstock. It has received the same coat of clear before I fitted the machine heads, restrung and then lastly, the final set up, string height and intonation. Fun project!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Jews Brothers Band

The Jews Brothers Band - a History Lesson

It was a rainy, dull, grey Sunday in the the middle of the winter in 1994 and we were sitting around Gerhard's Cafe in Auckland, New Zealand. Nigel Gavin, Linn Lorkin and Kelvin Roy myself were there. We were all moaning about the lack of gigs in Auckland in those days. All of us played with various groups around town.
Gerhard was into all sorts of odd music, which was one of the charms of his cafe, and had just put on the CD player what sounded like some very weird music to the others, but for me, it made me feel right at home. It was some old Jewish (or Yiddish) music from New York, where I come from, and I immediately recognized the tune. The others wanted to know more about it so I pulled out my accordion (which I just happened to have with me in my pocket) and played a sample of this old music on it as taught to me by my grandfather and Mom. Harry was a fiddle player in the old days and played with the Epstein Brothers and many other of what are now called Klezmer Musicians, around New York City in the early part of the 20th century.
Well, the others joined as best they could in and we had a jam ... a guy picked up a jar of coffee beans and started playing along (John Radford ...see below) and people's heads turned in the cafe and right then and there I said to them, "Let's call ourselves the Jews Brothers and do this every week here at the cafe". So we had one or two get to-gethers at home, and every Sunday did our Yiddish jamming at the cafe, thinking that it would not last very long. But people started coming back to the cafe every Sunday asking for more. and before you knew it, the place would be squashed with people all wanting to hear this "new music". Even the local rabbi showed up a couple weeks later since apparently no one had every played Jewish music anywhere in New Zealand (with the exception of goyisher versions of Hava NaGila which just about everybody in New Zealand knows). The rabbi didn't stay very long so I thought he didn't like it, but later, at one of the many Jewish weddings we ended up playing in Auckland, he confided in me that the reason he couldn't stay long was that since the cafe was not kosher, he couldn't really be seen there. So we were not only a hit with the local Grey Lynn music lovers (world music was just starting to catch on in those days) but we started to get jobs playing Jewish weddings and bar mitzvahs and even gentile weddings.
Now in those days, the band consisted of some very interesting players: there was Kelvin Roy, who played the very rare bass trumpet, (which sounds something like a trombone). Kelvin is a Yank and helped shape the odd sound of the band in those early days. His background was everything from marching brass bands to jazz and pop and so with the big brassy sound of his bass trumpet it really lent a powerful and classy style to the band.

Then there was John Radford with Croation roots that link back to the Babich family (New Zealand winemakers).
who not only played a jar full of coffee beans as a percussion instrument, but sang along with our 5 part harmonies with an amazingly gorgeous voice ranging from bouncy baritone to a strong falsetto (you can hear him at his best on the top vocal harmony of Bei Mir Bist du Shein ... our first "hit" from the Live at Gerhard's Cafe album and on some of the vocal bass-lines on that album). John could only perform with us for the first few months because he was getting busy with the installation of his fabulous Western Park TIP sculptures (off Ponsonby Rd, Auckland), which is now a landmark of the city. Having recently returned from a stint away in Europe, he is now based in Auckland again and mainly practices as a sculptor. Musically, he is a regular player in the vitamin S free improv movement at K Road's St Kevin's Arcade Wine Cellar. You can check out John's artwork at

Within a few weeks we recruited another extraordinary and eccentric musician ... Harmen Hielkema (dubbed by Linn, the "Dutch clutch" and sometimes the "Friesian 'nesian"), who played the most amazing instrument of all, known Down Under as the tea-chest bass, a variant of the wash-tub bass often heard with jug bands. I didn't want a normal bass in the band (though eventually when Harmen left the band we did go that route). But the sounds Harmen created on his tea-chest were just amazing and he often stole the show! People would just sit there dumbfounded at both the sound and the look of this monstrous looking instrument. Harmen was also a visual artist who did music as a hobby (for financial reasons) and eventually had to leave the band to become a teacher at AUT, teaching Spatial Design (at which point he was replaced by Peter Scott on the double bass ... see our artist page).

Harmen's bass and vocals feature on all the JBB albums except the Braeburn Sessions. As I write today, Harmen is now living with his wife Julie in the Hokianga region of Northland, New Zealand. 
Well ... as I said, world music was just starting to happen in New Zealand and we had our first big break when we got into the very first WOMAD Auckland Festival. They must have liked us because I believe we were just about the only local band to get asked back 2 years later to the second (and what was to be the last) Auckland WOMAD. It is now held in New Plymouth in Taranaki, on the central west coast of the north island of New Zealand, and we were also invited to play the first one there, in 2003.

Some time after that we recruited Neill Duncan into the band when Kelvin Roy decided to get married and moved to Aussie.
Neill brought a new idea into the band ... he not only could play the saxophones brilliantly, but was a whiz on percussion ... a rare combination. And I don't mean just what are called "toy" percussion instruments (or handheld) but a full percussion kit. We never wanted a full traps drum set in the band and that tends to dominate the direction in my view and then you start to sound like all the other bands, but the odd mix of percussion that Neill brougth to the band added a whole new dimension for us.

After several years Neill and national tours of New Zealand Neill followed in Kelvin's footsteps and also married and moved to Aussie (no, he didn't marry Kelvin .a.. I mean, he met a girl at a Bar Mitsvah in Sydney and that was that! Neill still does all our Aussie tours and has done one of our trips to Europe.
We have since done three tours to Europe including the grand-daddy of all WOMADS, at Reading, England in 2002 and The North Sea Jazz Festival, which is one of the most humongyest of all festivals in the world. On that trip we took with us another new-comer to the group, Carmel Courtney, as Neill could not make it that year. Talk about your odd musicians .... Carmel, or Carmelita as she was soon to become known, could play two saxophones simultaneously and completely stopped the show at Reading. She lives in Lyttleton in the South Island and often plays with us when we have South Island gigs. Currently in Auckland we have John Ellis playing saxophones and percussion with us. Like Neill Duncan, John is a whiz on several horns AND percussion, which is great for us as we do not use a drummer in the Jews Brothers Band.
Well that's about it in a nutshell. As you can see from our artist page, the band's core still consists of Nigel Gavin on plucked strings, Linn Lorkin on vocals and melodica (another odd instrument being a toy plastic keyboard which is played like a piano keyboard but you blow into it.) I'm on piano-accordion and Peter Scott is on the double bass. But we want to thank all of those mentioned above who have played with us in the past and helped to create our unique sound.
Hope you found our history intertaining.
Herschel Herscher
All content copyright © 2000-2005 The Jews Brothers Band

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Jews Brothers Band 20th Anniversary New Zealand National Tour. Riverside Theatre Whangarei.

 From left to right: Harmen Hielkema,one string bass and vocals, Linn Lorkin, melodica and vocals, Neill Duncan,one hand saxophone, drums and vocals, Nigel Gavin, guitar and vocals.

From left: Peter Scott, double bass, Harmen Hielkema,one string bass and vocals, Hershal, accordion, vocals, Linn Lorkin, melodica and vocals, Neill Duncan,one hand saxophone, drums and vocals, Nigel Gavin, guitar and vocals.

This band is the musical love of my life. Magic is real.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Hofner Archtop F-hole Acoustic 1961 repair.

I've gone some way toward repairing a 1961 Hofner Archtop F-hole acoustic guitar.

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This guitar belongs to a friend who's brother owned it from new in the early 1960s.
He died prematurely of leukaemia in 1962.

The guitar remains original and largely unplayed. As expected the neck was bowed forward and the heel of the neck joint had separated.

I released the truss rod nut which was seized. Once lubricated I refitted the nut and attempted to adjust the curve out of the neck. Adjusting to he truss rod does not have an effect on the neck curvature which leads me to believe that this was never intended by the manufacturer.

I have glued the neck heel joint and repaired this major fault which has improved the string hight issue.

Generall the guitar is in surprisingly good condition in every other respect. Saddle height adjustment has been corrected, a new set of strings fitted, intonation set up and the old Hofner is OK to play.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

New hard case for my Taylor AB1

I've just completed a new hard case for my Taylor AB1. Taylor made a canvas gig bag which came standard with their AB1 acoustic bass. The bag is good quality but it will never be a substitute for a hard case when it comes to protection when travelling.
I retained the red velvet interior from the original bag which meant carefully unpicking the stitching.

I built the case with good quality 4mm 5 ply. I decided to refine the original case proportions by cutting a pattern close to the body of the bass but retaining a relatively simple design. A radius curve around the bout and head stock end.

Once constructed I covered the case in open mesh fibre glass cloth set in PVA Glue. Once that was cured I applied 3 coats of Duratek acrylic paint. This is a high build self priming acrylic top coat used for protecting speaker cabinets. I obtained this imported American product from Livesound in Auckland. I bought the case hardware from a variety of online and retail store outlets.

I found a recycled, black polyethelene plastic strip, sold as garden edging which I cut to my chosen width on a table saw. I then routed a shallow v grove along its length and perforated the length of the grove with hundreds of small holes at 10mm spacings using a drill. once cut to length I fitted the strip around the lid and stitched it into place by drilling through my guide holes through the plastic strip into the case lid. I was then able to sew the strip into place using light nylon braided line with a large packing needle. The effect is very satisfactory visually and structurally. I'm a fan of sewing things together, something I learned from studying ancient artifacts of the pacific.

I added two bulkheads and a hinged plywood lid near the waist to create an enclosure for my tuner and lead

the bulge is an additional ply panel covering a cutaway which accommodates the bass at its deepest point, the saddle bridge. It also adds strength to the lid.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"The Man and his Machine: Neill Duncan, Saxophonist" on National Australian Radio ABC

Neill Duncan. Photo by Joe Glaysher
Please follow this link to listen to Neill Duncan as he talks to Gina McKeon about his Beautiful apocalypse.