The Luddite Bass is an obvious next step for this growing family of Specimens. It enjoys all of the same attributes as our other Luddites: non adjustable steel truss rod; slotted headstock; 12th fret body join; no cutaway; simple control circuitry. It has a 32″ scale length and Gibson EB-style bass pickups with an additive Jazz bass-style circuit with no tone control.
Lately I have gotten away from plastic binding and begun to use wood. Believe it or not it is actually easier and less stressful to steam bend the wood and glue it to the body than it is to race the solvent-based cement as it melts the plastic binding. Aesthetically it is beautiful as well.
Click on our slideshow below for some ‘under construction’ photos taken of this newest Specimen. By the way, I am looking for a band to equip with all Luddite instruments. I think it would make an excellent stage presence.
The Gimbal Horn is Specimen’s newest horn speaker. This speaker will be mounted on the ceiling and suspended using a yoke so that it can ‘gimbal’ (or rotate up and down and side to side). It seemed to me that the space near the ceiling is underutilized real estate in many architectural interiors. The Specimen Gimbal horn will bring beauty and utility to a part of the room that is often overlooked.
This horn speaker is front loaded and therefore will project in a more direct way than the more spacial sound stage of our Specimen rear-loaded horns like the Little Horn Speakers and Liederhorns. This makes these Gimbal Horn Speakers aptly suited to front of house or PA applications.
The horn will be mounted to an aluminum yoke that suspends the cylindrical compression chamber from the ceiling. The horn can be positioned at any angle or rotated to suit the application of the room. We decided to utilize the wonderful and recently rejuvenated foundry facility at the Memphis Metals Museum. Located right on the Mississippi river bluff, it is the perfect setting for creating something using the age old technology of sand casting.
After making a wooden pattern to mount on either side of a backing board, runners and gates are added to allow the metal to flow and shrink. Sand is then packed into both sides of a two-part flask to prepare the mold for casting. Metal is then melted in a crucible inside a furnace and poured into the mold. Voila! Beautiful aluminum yokes for the newest Specimen Horns.
Below are some photos taken while I was at the Foundry casting the first yokes. Thanks to Doug Barton and Holly Fisher and everyone at the Metals Museum for all their help taking on this special project.
At the beginning of April, I spent a week at the Penland School of Crafts, where I was invited to be a visiting artist. I have hung out in many foundries and ‘smithees’ in my time, but I have never been a teacher in an iron-working class before. The class was an 8-week concentration, and when I arrived the students were at the mid-way point in an assignment involving gears and a lever—this is why I was brought in.
Even though I am not an iron worker, many of the geometries and design processes of iron work overlap with the discipline of luthiery and kinetic sculpture. Much of the time I spent with the students involved a good deal of mechanical problem-solving and the bringing of wild concepts into the physical world. For example, we logged a few hours pouring over McMaster Carr’s web site shopping for collars and shafts, springs, gears, and other raw materials. And throughout each day, we dove rather deeply into topics such as axles, rotation, spring action, turns ratios, transfer of power, and the animation of sculpted objects. We conjured up shapes and mechanisms together and it was quite gratifying to see the student’s projects begin to take flight. We also found time to make Hornlets which allowed for demonstrations of my processes and work methods.
Immediately upon my arrival, I presented a slide show of my work to an attentive audience, trying to connect the dots between my past and present. In preparation for this, I scanned 38 sketch journals and 800 slides from the last 30 years of my work. This was cathartic, to say the least. As I looked into the past, it seemed so easy to identify the recurrence of themes and shapes that I am still using today. My fascination with the octagon, for instance, began 30 years ago when I was an undergrad at the Memphis Art Academy.
The campus at Penland is like an oasis of so many different mediums: books and paper, clay, drawing and painting, glass, iron, metals, photography, printmaking, textiles, wood, and other media. The collective efforts of the entire community at Penland creates an amazing energy. This was especially evident during mealtimes when everyone stops working and gathers to eat splendid dishes prepared by the students. In the evenings after diner, we would all convene again for a slide presentation of work from various departments and teachers.
Penland is truly a magical place, and on a mountain top to boot! I think I will need to visit again.
This gorgeous instrument is an early one (1940s). It needed a neck reset and a re-fret. There was enough break angle over the bridge and the neck pitch was fine. The problem was that the stock pickup was too tall and non-adjustable. I tried to remove it to sneak a little material off the bottom, but this pickup is a juxtaposition of separate parts sandwiched together by the cover. Age has shrunken some parts together while others are still loose. This created a scenario that severely endangered the bobbin. Because I did not want to destroy this great sounding pickup, I slowly retraced my steps and reassembled the unit. The only solution was a neck reset.
The dovetail was very close fitting and there was hardly room for my steam needle in the joint. It came out well enough after a bit of persistence. I changed the neck angle by re-carving the cheeks and dovetail and re-glued the neck. A complete re-fret was then carried out. The instrument gained even more volume from the enhanced pitch and played beautifully
Specimen was fortunate enough to be selected by the kind and talented people at Fruit Bonus films to be featured in a series of short doc videos about our work.
We met with Mark Pallman and his crew last September right at the time Ian was finishing the Upside Down Ceiling Janus. After nearly a year in development, this Specimen was due to be delivered to its new owner in a couple weeks. It seemed the perfect opportunity to document this one-of-a-kind horn speaker.
On the day of the shoot we invited a musician and good friend, the amazing Jim Elkington, to demonstrate the magic made possible with this unique speaker. After months of editing hours and hours of footage, the video is now complete. We couldn’t be prouder.
Check it out!
Filmed in September 2012 at Specimen Products in Chicago IL.
This video features owner/engineer Ian Schneller detailing the internal structures and functionality of his first ever upside down spinning double horn speaker.
Musical demonstration by Jim Elkington
Directed by Fruit Bonus
Director of Photography – Drew Wehde
Camera Operator – Amanda Speva
Camera Operator – Mark Pallman
Camera Assist – Gary Maloof
Production Audio – Erik Rasmussen
Data Management – Abbie Hamilton
Editor – Mark Pallman
Assistant Editor – Tim Cahill
Animation/Design – Tyler Nelson
Titles – Jason Oberg
Color – Jeff Greco
Audio Mix – Marina Bacci
This Tele-style instrument is a commission for a local guitar player. It has an alder body with a book-matched flame-maple cap. We wanted to take this traditional instrument in a special direction so the guitar will feature custom-made checkerboard binding, square fretboard inlays, orange-into-walnut sunburst, and Lindy Fralin pickups with a 4-way circuit.
To create the binding, I first made up checkerboard tiles from rosette sticks. I ripped two different sized slots in a solid chunk of Teflon (even super glue is reluctant to stick to this material). After staging my sticks strategically in the Teflon slots, I impregnated the bundles with super glue. After it set, I managed to remove the logs. Then after sanding them, four quarter logs are placed in the larger slot and the process repeated.
I used a small mitre box to cut 2.5mm tiles from the logs. These are then individually tapered in order to negotiate the guitar’s curves. There is actually a hidden inner rivulet of alternating cubes inside the checkerboard.
Below is a slideshow of images detailing the binding process.
For an entomological bent on this very special commission for Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, I created a pickguard using 600 emerald beetle wings infused with urethane resin. The process is very involved and required making many test samples before embarking on the final form.
To begin with, the wings are glued down in a pattern resembling ceramic roofing tiles. Once in place, a perimeter mold is cut out and screwed down onto a Formica platter with mold release compound on it to ensure separation at the end of the process. Cup by cup, resin is catalyzed and put in a vacuum chamber to de-gas it and remove all the tiny bubbles. It is then carefully poured over the wings. This is done in small increments to avoid thermal runaway which would cause separation ‘silvering’ and ruin the casting. The resulting slab is about 1/2″ thick. It will be recessed into the guitar body with the standard pick guard thickness of 1/8″ protruding above the surface.
My next step is designing proboscis like patterns for the fretboard inlays.
Below is a slideshow of images showing the pickguard making process.
Specimen’s Hornling Audio Speakers are now adorning the corporate headquarters of Instagram. Designed by the uber-talented interior design firm, Geremia Design, the Hornlings look right at home in this beautifully natural and minimalisticly designed space. Instagram, recently purchased by Facebook, now resides in the old Twitter offices in San Francisco.
Below is one picture from the Instagram office, to see more pictures of our horn speakers in their various homes around the world, visit our Horn Speakers: Customer Photos page.
Specimen exhibited for the first time at the SOFA Art Expo in Chicago. The SOFA (Sculptural Objects and Functional Art & Design) exhibit has been presented in Chicago for the past 19 years and provides an opportunity to galleries from across the globe to present artists whose media includes wood, glass, metal, plastic, and other materials. Ever since attending the show back when I was in art school, I have always thought of it as “the non-painting show.”
Chicago’s Packer Schopf gallery invited Specimen to participate. Aron Packer, the gallery’s owner/curator is known for representing artists who create idiosyncratic work, usually with exceptional craft or some obsessive quality. We’ve known Aron for years, and have always admired his singular vision. Specimen was honored to exhibit in Packer Schopf’s booth alongside artists such as Ellen Greene, Casey Gunschel, Brian Dettmer, Matthew Cox, and Jim Dingilian.
Apart from exhibiting our horn speakers and hi-fi stereo tube amps in the Packer Schopf booth, Specimen’s Aerosel Horn Sculptures could also be seen in the cafe suspended from the ceiling of the Exhibition Hall. The show’s presenters (The Art Fair Co.) created custom walls that curved behind each Aerosel. Under the spotlights, the Aerosels cast shadows on these curved walls creating mysterious, undulating forms. The effect was amazing!
We were also an integral part of another space at the show – the Audi Conversation Space. In this space our XL Horn Speakers were exhibited and used when various lecturers gave presentations throughout the show.
SOFA opened on the evening of Thursday, Nov. 1., to massive crowds who perused the booths, enjoyed cocktails, and exhibited their personal style. My favorite visitor was a tall, thin, elderly woman with cropped white hair dressed in full equestrian attire: black velvet riding hat; jodhpurs; and riding boots!
The exhibit was opened to the public Friday, Nov. 2 – Sunday, Nov. 4. Below is a slideshow of pictures from the show. Thanks go to Scott Shigley for his amazing photos of the Aerosels.
- Nadine Schneller
Our first ukulele building seminar was a great success! Students came from as far away as Hawaii to build their instrument during this three day inaugural run.
In preparation for the seminar, we built many custom jigs and fixtures to make the whole process go more smoothly and quickly. Each student received a kit that contained most of the needed parts and hardware.
Over the course of three days, students learned how to glue in braces, shape their neck, glue in the neck, locate and install the bridge, cut and create their soundhole rosette, and more.
The process to build one of these kits is very similar to building an acoustic guitar, just in a smaller and more manageable scale. Taking this seminar is a great way to embark upon acoustic guitar building.
One day about a year ago I received a call from Jack White. He inquired about a Janus spinning double horn speaker. He said that he wanted me to turn it upside down and hang it from the ceiling. After a long pause, I said it would take a little engineering. He suggested I embark on the project.
Below is more detailed information about the building of this newest Specimen including photos and a slide show of images taken during the building process. You can see more images of the finished Specimen here.
Well it did take a little engineering, quite a bit actually. I quickly realized that not only was I grappling with the typical rotational forces, I was now defying gravity right above people’s heads. The prospect of a sharp-edged spinning projectile hurtling through space and chopping off someone’s head was terrifying to say the least.
To ease my conscience, I decided to fabricate all the support structures from half-inch steel plate instead of the aluminum I used on my other models.
Posing another engineering challenge was the diameter of the shaft. The Janus Horn Speaker features a half-inch shaft which is appropriate for the horn throat diameter, but I needed to drill through it and install a cotter pin of some description in order to hang it safely. My other Janus Spinning Horn Speakers rely on gravity to seat the bearings, instead of having to defy it and hang. Half-inch was the maximum diameter I could use for the shaft. Any larger than would obstruct the sound passing through the horn’s throat diameter. What to do?
After quite a bit of research I decided that key-less bushings were the way to go. One of them properly torqued is good for eight hundred pounds of thrust. If I added a backup bushing in case of failure, I felt reassured enough to go with it. With this stumbling block out of the way it was time to solve some aesthetic issues.
I was having a fundamental difficulty with the idea of simply inverting the Original Janus Horn because mounting a box on the ceiling just didn’t seem right. Coincidentally, I had started doing research on ceiling fans for my living room. After looking at scads of nasty designer fans I settled on the Hunter Original— a heavy industrial-looking fan with oil bath bearings. Very impressive. Then it hit me. Of course! The enclosure for the Specimen Ceiling Horn would be cylindrical. I made a cylindrical form out of laminated MDF and used 1/8″ thick bending plywood to create a custom 3/4″-thick cylinder. Once this was done I was on a roll.
At one point, I had mentioned to Jack that a cable controller might be a little awkward coming down from the ceiling and that I could look into a wireless system with a handheld controller. Careful what you wish for! Luckily, Blaise Barton from Joyride Recording Studio has expertise in such matters and made me a custom transmitter and controller. In spite of its ultra modern, etched board, surface mount, micro processor technology (essentially the opposite of the Specimen ethos), the unit has worked flawlessly and is a wonder to behold. I am very happy to have it on board (pun intended).
After installing the transmitter, circuit board, motor, fittings, and silver-foil backed sound-deadening material, the inside of the Ceiling Janus was really starting to look a little like the lunar module.
Instead of relying on wood screws alone to attach hanging components, I used long, 1/2″-13 stainless steel bolts running up through the whole assembly. This ensures that the unit will continue to defy gravity.
The threaded rod and clevis used to mount the unit to the ceiling was not visually inspiring, so I embarked on a modular carapace to enclose the whole upper unit. A bit of whimsy here resulted in a rather interesting onion dome. Following the format of the octagon, I created a single section of the carapace carved out of wood. I then made a mold of this and layed up epoxy into it. Repeating this process seven more times produced all the sections for the carapace. These eight sections were glued together and lacquered in alternating black and white colors.
One of the last steps was to install portholes around the cylindrical main body. I decided to use screens normally found on National/Dobro guitars and swaged them to hug the radius of the cylinder. This allowed for ventilation and I thought it might assist with the telemetry.
Last week, we delivered the Ceiling-Mounted Janus and successfully installed it in its new home. For having just a six-inch speaker, the Ceiling Janus sounds like a psychedelic Twin Reverb! It is a wonder to listen to.
The quest for an acoustic-electric instrument that sounds great and is useful on stage without troublesome feedback has puzzled luthiers since the PA system was invented.
The focus of this newest Specimen instrument is on electric output while still yearning for lovely acoustic tone. The instrument will join Specimen’s Luddite line as “The Amontillado.” It is made with bent sides and traditional bracing, but with NO sound hole whatsoever. Once the guitar’s chamber is sealed off, no one will ever again see the splendor within. Only the electric signal will escape to see the light of day.
The guitar is being created using Flame-maple back and sides and Sitka spruce top. It will feature a slotted headstock, bolt-on neck, and a new “vertebral” neck block made of Linden wood. It’s shaped like a neck vertebrae in order to accommodate the large heel of the bolt-on neck. Below is a slideshow of photos taken so far during the building of this guitar. We’ll keep posting photos all throughout the process. Stay tuned!
You can see photos of the completed instrument here.