Steam Powered Studio
March 31, 2010

Among the singles I discovered in my collection was this one-

thomas lable

Many years ago I met Paul Thomas. He was doing guitar repair in Lancaster, and he refretted my strat. When I picked up the guitar, he took me and my band mate down into his basement studio to show it off. Sadly, I don't remember anything about the place, except that it was dark.

Half the Time Lonely.mp3

I'm not sure when or where I acquired this single, but for a long time I thought it was pretty corny. Nowadays, I can begin to appreciate it. It's a good solid lyric, and the singing is heartfelt- cryin' in your beer sort of stuff, with just a bit of an edge to it. But what really shines here is the leslie'd steel guitar.

Paul Thomas. If you have any information about this guy, please let me know!

March 21, 2010

Studio gear. For many years I recorded with whatever I could afford or borrow. I'm no gear snob. It's possible to make an interesting recording with just about anything, but there are features and performance issues that make some recorders more useful than others. When the Yamaha AW4416 came out around the turn of the century I finally threw down the big bucks and bought one, because the feature set was amazing. This was 16 track digital recording with automated faders, scene recall, dynamics on every channel and onboard effects, with a CD burner. And a primitive (but usable) waveform editor. I was in heaven.

I've used this machine fairly heavily for the past 9 years or so. I've worn the paint off of it in places. Yet I've never had a serious mechanical breakdown, and can count on one hand the number of times it has frozen up on me. I've never lost a song through fault of the equipment. That is an amazing record for anything with a computer in it, I think. But the bloom is off the rose... or is it?

AW4416 x2

Kids these days like to record their songs on computers. I admit that I've never worked on a finely-tuned computer based system, so I am biased- but that's just the thing. I would rather not spend my time searching for the correct driver for my video card so that my recorder will work. I'd rather not have a system crash while I'm tracking a song, or mix using a mouse and some virtual faders. And I'd rather hear what I'm playing exactly in time with what I've already recorded. Call me a curmudgeon, but I went and bought another Yamaha.

This one came with a bunch of extras. There is an 8-channel input card installed so I can run external effects straight in. There's a Waves Y56K card, which has some high-end reverb and dynamic effects to help me with mastering. And the deal included several extra hard drives and a hardshell case. Now I can throw away that cardboard box I'd been using for remote recording gigs! All for about a third of what the base unit cost when new.

I should be good for the next ten years here. By then the kids will be recording directly to the net, and then maybe I'll switch over...
March 15, 2010

Here's something I'm pretty sure you don't see everyday...


Over the weekend Bev, Doug and I plotted and executed its construction. Expect it to make an appearance at the St. Patty's Day show at McCleary's.

We still don't have a name for it, nor has it been officially consecrated. New rituals will be required.

music catalogue
March 05, 2010

Let's see what Ronnie Cook has been up to. You have to go back to November 11, 2009 to see how this series began. We've been releasing the home-made recordings of this bluegrass fiddler, and so far we've heard from him and a bunch of his friends cuttin' up and acting like they's on a radio show. Today the featured song is by a different group of guys, probably hanging out in somebody's kitchen- Ronnie on fiddle, a guitar picker and a banjo, playing a song called Flop Eared Mule.

Mighty fine.

studio swag
March 24, 2010

Here's that obscure object of desire now.

blame 45

I was just contacted by a second collector seeking a copy of this record by the Blame. That's twice in about two months. Boy, I wish I had some extra copies! Maybe if you do, and wouldn't mind parting with them, drop me a line at steampowered (at) and I'll hook you up. It wasn't a bad side...

Little Girls sample.mp3

What's really cool about this was that when I went looking for my copy of the single I found this-


A Ralph Toro 45. I wonder how many of these things there are out there?

March 22, 2010

Had a busy weekend. First of all, check out the new featured song by Ralph Toro, called Heart. It's the eighth in the series we've been posting by Ralph and his bands, a piano ballad with some killer lead guitar work. I believe I may have assisted on the engineering for this one, minding the board at The Wizard's studio.

blues box

Here I am holding the prototype Blues Box accordion next to its inventor Tom Tonon. He and his friend Becky drove out here from New Jersey with it- it was a good day for a drive. So I've finally gotten to play this thing, but it will take some practice before I'll be recording with it. Let me just say for now that it really, really works!


I've begun work building the next variation of the thing like a pole that makes noises. I am looking for some very small pebbles for it- more like large grains of sand...

Sooner or later I will get to writing the Spring 2010 Steam Powered Newsletter in among all this other stuff.

About the Studio
March 13, 2010


Yesterday I found out something about this new(ish) musical system called Bohlen-Pierce. Unlike most experimental systems, it sounds good, at least to me. That there is Elaine Walker demonstrating the re-mapping of an Axis keyboard to take advantage of the BP scale, which I believe has 13 notes. At last I will be able to write songs in the key of J!

Elaine is very entertaining and wicked smart. She has a couple of modes in BP named for her. The scale is new enough that people are still figuring out how to play in it. I was delighted to discover that someone had figured out how to tune a Kurzweil like mine to BP.

It helps that I don't know anything about music theory, and can ignore the fact that the standard keyboard isn't mapped to BP. I just try stuff and see if it fits. I like the sound of the chords this scale makes- they sound like chords that certain jazzers were going for in the 70's. This is my very first effort in the BP scale, so don't expect much. I verge into something vaguely like Peter Gunn at the end...

BP001a.mp3 by Jack O'Diamonds

March 06, 2010

Am I building a robot?


No, it is the Master Room spring reverb with the cover removed. It has been making some odd noises lately and I thought I had better check it out. Here's a look inside its head...


Those yellow circles indicate some integrated circuits- op-amps, I suppose. To the left there are four silver plugs that are sends and returns from the two spring tanks, which are the robot's legs. One is shorter than the other. I imagine that the long one is either tuned lower or rings longer.

This robot is exclusively made for walking along hills.

Anyway, at first I removed the plugs to check their condition. They were bright and shiny, but I cleaned them anyway and plugged them back in. This didn't make any difference in the noise level. The noise was a buzzing, humming sound that was cutting in and out randomly. I stared for a while and then I remembered something Brian Phall the console doctor always says- tin connectors! Anytime there are tin-plated connectors in an audio circuit they have the potential to go wonky when oxides build up on them. These integrated circuits are sitting there in tin-plated sockets. After I found my zircon encrusted IC puller and removed and re-inserted the ICs (thus "wiping" away the built-up oxide layer) the noise went away! Hopefully it will stay away for another ten years or so.

sponsometer Bob is our latest sponsor- you rock sir.
March 01, 2010

Exciting news! I will be leasing Tom Tonon's amazing note bending accordion for a trial period!

blues box

I'm looking forward to recording with it.

March 27, 2010

I got a new drive belt for my turntable today. I can play records again. This might be no big deal, except that I moved the thing down to the studio, and I'm recording some records to my computer, so I can listen to them whenever and wherever.

Well, observation number one is that vinyl sounds better than digital. It's just a fact. My hazy memories of how these records used to sound has been updated by the newer, better equipment I have in my studio- and by the fact that I listen more critically now than I used to. There is something wrong with the top end of digital recordings that has become more annoying as I get older. Also, the bass sounds better on these records. But I'm not really complaining.

the band

Here's a shot of the thing in progress. Take The Band, say the Basement Tapes album. Put it on a turntable. Send it to the computer, and record it to a .wav file. While doing this, drink some ale. You will soon find that your friends are there with you- or you are there with them.

Featured Song
March 18, 2010

That thing got a workout last night. Here's an example of what went down.

Young Ned of the Hills

by the Sporting Hill Ramblers

March 11, 2010

I think I just discovered the real Liv Pooleside

scott matthews

No- not British... Good interview, though, and some insights on making records.

March 04, 2010


St. Patty's day is coming.
Be afraid.