Some of you may already know my connection with Dopapod, but for those that don't, I got hooked up with the Brooklyn-based band last summer through my camera. You can check out Kevin Chubbuck Photography and search "dopapod" to see all of the shows I have up (many, many more shows waiting to be edited / posted when I find time). I jumped into concert photography last year in an effort to get out of the workshop and get to know some musicians. I try to shoot as many shows as my schedule permits and feel I can give a little back to the live music community that has given me so much inspiration.
Last week, guitarist Rob Compa called me up and asked me if I could stop in on a recording session to work on his PRS McCarty semi-hollowbody. I am a huge fan of Rob's playing and immediately jumped at the opportunity to help him out. The band had booked 10 days to record their 3rd studio album at the beautiful Tyrone Farm in Pomfret, CT. The farm is only 90 miles from my shop, so I gathered up my kit and headed down to north east Connecticut.
I thought Rob might like my modified 1962 Guild M-20 to use in the studio, so I brought that along. It doesn't have the access to the upper frets that his PRS does, but he really enjoyed the notes he could grab.
Above are a few guitars that Rob used on the session. The guitar on the left is Rob's circa 2005 PRS McCarty that has been his main guitar for the past 7 years. The middle guitar is a Japanese Tele that Rob makes sound killer in the studio. It had a worn out nut, so I ended up shimming the A, D, and G strings to lessen the open string buzzes. It was not a huge concern to him but I wanted to fix it since I was there. I also put a little more relief in the neck, which is a pain in the ass on these Fender's as you need to remove the neck to gain access to the truss rod. No problem though. The guitar on the right is my Guild M-20. Not pictured is a Strat that Rob has been using quite a bit on tour lately.
Fun fact: the Strat is actually Luke Stratton's guitar - the band's soundman and lighting designer.
Here is Rob's #1 that he called me about. The frets were heavily worn and he was having troubles with bending and sliding cleanly.
Above is my makeshift workspace that the farm's owner, Ian MacLaren, let me set up. The farmhouse's sunroom is right across from the barn where the band was recording so I could make all the noise I wanted to without distracting the band. A huge shout out goes out to Ian. Ian is the nicest guy you are ever going to meet and he knows how to take care of his guests. He took all of us out later that night to a local Thai restaurant that was absolutely amazing. You are the man Ian!
So back to the repair. The strings were removed and the frets leveled with a piece of glass and sandpaper. The glass pictured above is my short block that I use to spot level and have another longer one for the initial level. Also pictured is my Rocket air blower that I use to clean off my camera lenses. It makes a great little air compressor when you are away from the shop.
I removed the nut because I needed to shim it up from the bottom so I could increase the string heights above the first fret.
This nut happened come out in four clean pieces, which is a new one for me. There was a shim underneath the original nut and then two wings glued to the edges to widen nut to make it flush with the edges of the fingerboard. I took all of my usual percautions when removing a nut and this one still surprised me. Nothing a little superglue can't fix though. Another concern was that there was a thick paper shim in the D string nut slot. I was going to have to shim the bottom of the nut even more to account for removing the paper. The rest of the slots were fairly deep too, so I was going to end up shimming the nut up approximately 0.025" (about 5 sheets of paper to give you an idea). I only had clear self-adhesive pickguard material with me that I have used in the past for quick temporary shims in a pinch. This nut however was going to need a substantial lift and stacking 5 layers of this pickguard material provided an unstable base for the nut to sit on. You can usually get away with a couple shims, but not more than that unless you have a something like a Martin or Gibson nut slot. The Martin / Gibson nut is inset into the peghead with three contact surfaces. PRS nut slots only have two contact surfaces since the headplate runs under the nut. The shims were far from an ideal solution in this situation and I had to come back later in the week with some bone (which I forgot to bring initially) to make a new nut from scratch.
Here is Rob's guitar all cleaned up with freshly dressed frets. Note that this photo has the original repaired / shimmed nut. I came back later and cut Rob a nice new bone nut.
And Rob really dug the new setup. His bends were much cleaner to execute and the bone nut helped brighten the open strings and stabilize any tuning issues.
While I was there at the farm, Dopapod's bass player Chuck Jones wanted me to check out his Fender Jaguar bass that he has had for the past 6 years. He was having issues with the open E string rattling and buzzing on all of the strings when he played up past the 12th fret.
To solve the upper fret buzzes, I leveled, crowned and polished the frets from the 12 fret and above.
His original nut was fairly worn and causing the buzzing on the open E string, so I cut him a new bone nut since I remembered to bring extra on my second trip.
And here is the finished repair and all cleaned up. Dopapod fans will notice that the bass looks a little different than it usually does up on stage. The white pickguard was covered with black duct tape for aesthetics. I had to remove the tape to be able to get the pickguard off to do a quick check on the electronics. Also Chuck wanted to raise the neck pickup slightly but it would not come up when you loosened the pickup screws. I found that the foam under the pickup had fully compressed, so I put some more padding under the neck pickup to allow it to be adjusted closer to the strings.
And here is Chuck testing out the new setup on a take. Good to hear that planing the upper frets made his buzzing issues up the neck go away. There is a slight ramp at the end of the fingerboard that was causing the buzzing, so I minimized that hump my focusing my sanding on those last few frets. In more extreme cases, new frets are usually required as you have to sand the fingerboard itself quite a bit to flatten this transition to the body.
Now that my "work" was finished, I brought out my camera to photograph the band while they recorded.
Here's Eli Winderman, who plays organ, synth, clavinet, piano and a mean accordion.
Fro is an absolute beast behind the kit.
Above is Chuck's dog Sandwich. Everyone loves this dog and this dog had a blast at the farm for sure.
The man. The myth. Luke Stratton.
If you have been to a Dopapod show, Luke is the one making sure the band sounds and looks incredible running both sound and an inspiring light show. Think Kuroda in a club environment. He's good.
And above is Trevor Meyer. Currently he is a Brooklyn-based recording engineer who does incredible music videography. Here's one of his videos from Dopapod's tour rehearsal back in February. Vol. 3 #86 ...
Below is a shot from the loft of the main entrance to the barn. What an incredible space to make music in.
I loved this place so much that I had to come back for a third time. This time I brought my wife Sarah and daughter Molly to hang out with the band and enjoy the farm.
Below is my 2 year old daughter Molly hearing music pouring out of the barn. She had to go check it out. Maybe she is Dopapod's youngest fan?
So there you have it. The guys were so on their game and all of their hard work is really paying off. I can't wait to hear the album when it comes out. What an incredible few days at an amazing place with some of my favorite people to be around. I want to thank the guys for welcoming me in to be a small part of their world. It's musicians like this that really get me fired up to do what I do.
I love my job.
You can pickup up the Redivider album here.