This entry by: Katie and Clayton 31 May 2017 12:36 am

I broke a nail…!

One of my big guitar influences is the late, great Chet Atkins.  Chet was an amazing guitarist, and predominately played finger style guitar, which is also my preference.

When you play finger style, you need to maintain your nails, on your right hand at least (I still trim my left hand down to the quick as nails + fingerboard = not a good mix).  And there’s nothing worse than losing a nail, or even getting a crack in one.  It can take months to get your nails to the right length for good playing, and if you lose one your sound goes out the window (eg if Index and Ring have perfect length, but you’ve lost the Middle, every note hit with the middle won’t have the same “attack” as you’re playing with nothing but finger pad).

Thankfully Chet had a solution.  Ping pong balls.  If you’ve got a cracked or broken nail, you can do a makeshift repair using a ping pong ball.  Not quite as fancy as an acrylic from a nail place, but as a bloke I don’t really care about how it looks, and it also means I don’t have to visit a nail place.  They also cost about $2 for a pack of six from a discount store, rather than whatever a nail place charges.

There are two approaches, over-nail and under-nail.  Under-nail seems to be more prevalent, but in general I’ve found the over-nail approach better, as it’s much more stable (more surface area), and less painful (you’re not trying to jam something under your nail).

My lovely got a split in her thumbnail on the weekend, and I appear to have developed a sympathy split today, so thought it would be worth doing a walk through of “Ping Pong Ball Nail Repair 101”.  Note I’m only going to talk about the “over-nail” method as it’s the one that works for me.  I’ve already done the repair on my thumb, so the photos will be from my index finger instead.


  • Ping pong ball
  • Manicure scissors
  • Superglue
  • Nail file
  • Nail buffer
  • Rimmel Nail Base & Top Coat (or equivalent)
  1. Get yourself some ping pong balls from your local $2 shop.  Then head to the chemist or the cosmetic aisle of the supermarket at pick up some manicure scissors (preferably with a curve)
    Manicure Scissors
  2. Cut out a piece of the ball.  The top should roughly match the profile of your existing nail.  The bottom shape doesn’t need to be exact, but should be at least a third of the nail long.  Try to shape it so there are no sharp edges, as these will tend to catch on things and rip it off.
    Cut Nail
  3. The next part depends on the curvature of your nail.  If you’ve got curved nails, the profile of the ball should be a good match.  If you’re got flat nails, it can be a two step process.  My thumb and index are flat, but my middle, ring and pinky are almost a perfect match for the ball, but as I’m doing my thumb I’ll describe the two step method.  If you’ve got a matching curve you can hopefully work out the one step approach.
  4. Get your superglue and put some on the left hand side of the damaged nail.  Get your ball lined up, then press it down on the left hand side, being careful not to stick your fingers together (learned that one the hard way).
    Gluing the left side
  5. Wait for the glue to set.  Depending on the superglue this will probably take a couple of minutes.
  6. Put the tip of the superglue under the now stuck ball, and coat the rest of the nail.  Hold it down again, and once again be careful not to get stuck.
  7. Wait for the glue to set.
  8. Now that the ball is stuck, it’s time to get onto sanding.  The ball is less than a millimetre thick, but it’s enough to be noticeable and easy to catch on things.
  9. I normally start with a standard diamond nail file.  The scissors did a “rough cut” I use the file to refine the shape.  I then use it to take the bulk of the ball from where it meets the nail to make the join as smooth as possible.
    Diamond file
  10. After refining with the file, I move onto the buffer.  I only use this on the surface of the nail to further smooth out the join – you can also use it to shape and refine the nail further, but I don’t really see any benefit in my experience.  You’re really just trying to get rid of anything that could catch and pull the ball off.
  11. Finally I put on a coat of nail base.  It’s low sheen and clear, and I normally put on two-three coats.  If there are any remaining bits that could catch, three coats will pretty much guarantee that they’ve been “defused” by a few coats of lacquer.

Final product on my split thumb below.  Now I know it’s not going to win any “nail of the year” award, but I don’t do this for fashion, I do it for function, and being able to play with nails (even if they’re artificial) beats plastic/metal fingerpicks every time.
Final repaired nail

So… (double entendre time…)

Get your balls and your fingers together, you won’t regret it.

This entry by: Clayton 27 Oct 2016 12:35 am

Tuning guitar – old school method

So I use an app on my phone called Flipboard, which is essentially a news aggregation service which allows you to pick topics you’re interested in. One of the posts which was highly rated was “tuning your guitar by ear”.

I was shocked that this was even newsworthy, let alone getting a “high” rating – don’t all guitarists know how to do this?

But then I thought about it further – these days, when I go into a music shop to test drive a guitar (not to buy mind you – apparently I have enough guitars, despite the collection not including a Tele, 12 string acoustic, Les Paul, or Rickenbaker electric 12.  But I digress…), the first thing the shop staff do is clip on a headstock tuner to make sure the guitar is in tune. They don’t even attempt to strum a E chord beforehand, just clamp on the tuner and wait for the little green light to resolve.

With the risk of sounding like an old fart, while having a technological solution is pretty awesome, being able to tune a guitar properly by ear is a skill not to be lost. This comes down to four things in my view – accessibility of power, intonation, compounding errors, and physics.  I’ll talk about the first one (as the other three are inter-related).

Accessibility of power

This one is pretty obvious.  You’ve taken your guitar to a mates house for a bbq, and their two year old has decided to fiddle with your pegs without you noticing.  I’ll just plug in my trusty tuner, and… uh-oh, out of batteries.  If you know how to tune by ear, you can establish which strings the two year old has fiddled with and correct them.  If they’ve had a crack at all six, you’ll still be able to make you’re guitar in tune with itself, even if not strictly “in tune”.  As long as you’re in tune with yourself, you’ll sound okay.  If you’re playing with others though, you’ll sound terrible, but one of the others (who was smart enough to keep their instrument away from the two year old) should be able to provide you with one or more reference notes to tune to.  In any case, knowing how to tune by ear should be a basic skill taught to all new guitarists.

The basic method

Get your low E in tune.  Fret the low E on the fifth fret, and tune your A string to it.  Fret the A on the fifth and tune you D to it.  Fret your D on the fifth and tune your G to it.  Tune your G on the forth and tune your B to it.  Fret your B on the fifth and tune your high E to it.  Job done.

Intonation, compounding errors, and physics

I’ve put these together as they are all related.

Lets start with compounding errors.  While I consider myself to have a fairly good ear, if you’re a bit off, then your E to A tuning will be a little bit out.  Your A to D tuning will also be a little bit out, plus the amount your E to A tuning was out.  By the time you get to your B to E tuning, the whole guitar is basically a trainwreck.  Think about a ship off-course by 1 degree – the further you go, the further you are from your destination.

Next is intonation.  You can do a basic check on your intonation by fretting a string at the twelfth fret, then by hitting the harmonic on the twelfth fret (don’t press the string, just lightly touch it directly above the 12th fret and pluck the string).  If the fretted tone matches the harmonic tone, your intonation is good.  But if the fretted note is either sharp or flat of the harmonic (normally sharp), it indicates an intonation issue.  This comes down to the bridge and the action.  Bridge adjustment is an entire topic by itself, but if your action is poor, you’re more likely to have intonation issues – when you press the string down to the fret, it adds more tension to the string.  The higher your action, the more tension is added, resulting in intonation issue in tuning.

Next to the physics.  If you double the frequency, you go up an octave.  So take an standard tuning A, at 440Mhz.  The A an octave above will therefore be 880Mhz.  You also have the fifth note, which should be 1.5 the original frequency.  So for A 440, the fifth is E.  Which should have a frequency of 660.  So far so good.


So lets cycle through the fifths.  A-E, E-B, B-F#, F#-C#, C#-G#, G#-D#, D#-A#, A#-F, F-C, C-G, G-D, D-A.  Working on the 1.5 frequency method, the final A frequency should be 57,088.39Mhz.  But if you work through the “double the frequency” method, the final A should be 56,320Mhz.  That a gap of 768.39Mtz, which can make you guitar sound out of tune.

So it’s not an exact science.  Instruments which work on a “continuous” basis (think fretless string instruments like violin, viola, cello, etc) can generally get every note perfectly in tune, but discrete instruments (guitar, piano) can’t – they can try to get them as close as possible, but there is always a small difference.  This minor difference can result in your instrument sounding out of tune.

How I tune by ear

I don’t tune off the bottom E.  I tune off the fifth string, A.  A is the standard “tuning note” for orchestras, so it seems like a good thing to tune to.  It’s also the pitch of the most easily accessible tuning device, the tuning fork.  When I first started playing I used to tune to the low E off the piano.

These days, I use a tuning fork.  It’s an A fork, and looks like this.

Image result for tuning fork

Unlike a piano, this fits in your pocket.

You tap the end of the prongs against a hard surface (I normally use my kneecap, as it avoids damaging furniture), then put the end with the ball against your guitar.  It’s amazing on acoustics as it takes full advantage of the open body, but even on a solid body guitar you’ll be able to get the pitch.  This will help you get your A string in tune (if you struggle with octaves, hit the 12th fret harmonic on the A string just before you tap the tuning key as a comparison).

I then use the basic method to get everything as close as I can (tuning the low E to the A rather than the other way round), knowing that all the moving parts will be working against me.

Once I’ve got everything in tune using the basic method, I’ll re-tune the A string to the tuning fork.  The reason I do this is that by tuning the guitar, the tension on the neck changes – if the guitar was very out of tune to begin with, the change in tension can be significant.  I then re-tune the low E to the A.

Then I go rogue, by doing an octave G scale.

By that I mean that having tuned A to the fork, and E to the A, with the other strings being close to “in-tune” (except for tension), they are a reliable couple of strings.

From this point I do a scale.  I fret the bottom E on the third, and play the G sting open.  This will compensate to a degree for both intonation and compounding errors.  If there is a compounding error, I should be able to spot it as the two notes are an octave apart.  Given that my E string is now fretted on the third, it won’t give the same intonation difference as at the 12th, but it at least drops intonation into the equation.  Then I move to open A and 2nd fret G.  If fretted G and open G were okay, then the open A must be at fault.  So I tune my open A to the fretted G.

Then I move to the A string on the 2nd fret, and the open B string.  As I’ve already got the A string in tune with the G string, anything out of tune will relate to the B string.

Keep going note at a time through the G scale, adjusting the string that “must” be wrong.

Once open G and third fret High E match up, re-check your A using the tuning fork, and adjust every other string, aligning E with A then adjusting the other strings as necessary using the octave method.

As a final check, do a harmonic on the fifth fret on the low E string – it will be much quieter than the harmonic on the twelfth fret, but should match the open high E string.  Similarly the seventh fret harmonic on the low E should match the B, and should the seventh fret harmonic on the A stringshould match the high E.

After all these checks, if you still sound bad… um… maybe you’re just not cut out for guitar?

This entry by: Clayton 17 Oct 2016 11:53 pm

The gates come down!

When Chloe was born, we purchased a baby gate. Not that she was mobile at the time, but more to allow us to leave the family room door open so we could hear if she was crying, but stop the dog wandering through the house.

Once Chloe started crawling it stopped her wondering off. The same with Isla.

Once they were mobile we got an additional two gates – one to prevent access to the kitchen (too many hot and sharp things), and another between the playroom and the formal lounge.

All three are now ineffective, as both girls have worked out how to open them. So we took them down on the weekend.

And it has been very weird. Having lived with the gates for the best part of five years, every time I try to leave the living room my hand instinctively goes to open the gate, only to find… thin air.

So they have been donated to one of my work colleagues, John. John was married earlier this year and wasted no time, if you know what I mean. I’m just happy that the gates have found a good home.

And to Chloe and Isla? Well done on mastering the gates!

This entry by: Katie and Clayton 23 Jan 2016 10:37 pm

Commitment Not Met

So in the previous post I committed to putting up a post before I turned 40.  Yep, a big fail right there.  I’m more than half-way to 41, so it’s not like I missed it by a whisker…

But such is the life in AD (After Descendants) vs BC (Before Children).  And I’ve been informed and also witnessed that we’re still facing the thin end of the wedge – as the girls get older, time to update the blog will deteriorate even further.  So I’ll make a soft commitment to do another blog post before 2020.

We’ve recently returned from a visit to Scotland for John and Sasha’s nuptials.  It was a great day, not just for the happy union of two wonderful people, but also the family contributions including Ben on the ‘pipes and Lion on the chanter.

As well as McKenzie clan family get-togethers, we were also fortunate to catch up with the Strangs and the McIntyres.  Cullen was the MC for the evening and taught us all a few cracking jokes as well as belting out a few tunes on the piano, while I tried to come to terms with how much he, Mack, Amber and Astrid had grown.  Little people becoming big people.

And of course, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  We flew into Edinburgh just a couple of days before it’s release.  In the past I haven’t had too much of a problem with jet lag – just force myself to be awake or try to get to sleep in the local time ASAP and it’s normally a quick adjustment.  Not so much when there are two children under five, who don’t really understand the concept of time, let alone time zones, and trying to explain it to Chloe at 2:30am when she’s adamant that she’s not tired doesn’t really work.

As a result, our sleep patterns didn’t settle down for a few days, so I got to thinking that if I was going to be awake at, ahem, sparrow fart, I might as well take advantage of the fact and go see an early morning screening.  So I saw it on the first day of release, in 3D IMAX, at the 7am showing.  Noice.

Ben, Harry and Max saw it a few days later, after which there was a big McKenzie family do to celebrate Jenny’s birthday.  Eddie was keen to see it, and there was some concerns that there may be some spoilers at the family do in the evening, so I was tasked to taking him to see it.

And then Cullen needed to see it, so I met him and Gordon to see it for the third time.

So I think I’m done.  Spoiler alert:  Mark Hamill, I spend a lot of the day looking concerned and confused.  You probably made more in under 5 minutes than I do over, well, my LIFE, for doing the same thing.  I need to become a Jedi… “I’ll be in the movie, but I kinda don’t want to talk, and I’m a tad busy so if you could keep it brief?”.  Wave of the hand, the weak willed agree with you, deed done.

Hats off to you sir.  Looking forward to seeing a bit more of you in VIII.

This entry by: Katie and Clayton 21 Nov 2014 12:17 am

Hello again (again)…


So re: Last Post, not doing so well.  It’s been over a year since the last update, and while I’ve set a monthly alarm to remind me to update, time is always the enemy.  We’re all still here though, as you can see:Family inc Toby


WILL  try to make an effort to get updates more regular (the photo above is almost 12 months old, Chloe has her hair in pig tails these days and Isla is walking and a backyard commando.  The girl has no fear whatsoever).

I commit to putting up another update before I turn 40.  The in-laws (or Ken and Joan, as I like to call them) are coming for a visit early next year, may try to get something up then.



This entry by: Clayton 21 Jun 2013 11:49 pm

Hello again…

To say we’ve been a bit slack in putting up new content would be something of an understatement. Our little puppy has grown up into a proper dog. Unfortunately for him, he’s also dropped from position three to position five in the pecking order, due to the fact that between the last blog post and now, we’ve been blessed with two beautiful daughters!

Chloe joined us in October 2011, and is just a lovely little girl. Little sister Isla came into the world in March 2013, and has spent her time reminding us of what sleep deprivation is like. She was the spitting image of Chloe when she was born, almost like twins. Now that she’s a couple of months old, she’s starting to be a bit interactive, and is very smiley.

They’re both just wonderful, and I love them to bits.

Isla is still young enough that she can’t really fend for herself, but Chloe is very active, so last weekend we purchased an iPad, partially to act as a pseudo babysitter for Chloe. But it’s also made it easier to do blog updates (I’m on it right now!). Hopefully will mean updates are a bit more timely than what history shows…


This entry by: Clayton 02 Aug 2010 12:58 am

Welcome Tobermory!

So we’ve been thinking about getting a dog for a while.

We were in the pet store over the weekend, and they had a couple of Cavoodles.  At least, they call it a Cavoodle, I call it a “Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Poodle Cross”, the former being a fad/designer dog/yuppie/Paris Hilton description, and the latter being a reflection of reality, which, in times past, would have been referred to politely as a cross, but more accurately as a mongrel or a bitsa.  Great excuse to charge exorbitant amounts for a mongrel dog with a fancy name.

Had a think about it over the rest of the weekend, and on Monday morning I went out to pick him up.  He’s a lovely little lad, and after discussing it with the better half, we’ve given him the name “Tobermory”.

Tobermory is a little town on the Isle of Mull off the west coast of Scotland.  Katie and I did a trip to Mull – it was our first trip together as a couple and so has some significance.  Plus it makes a decent single malt…

So we now have a new addition to the McGuire family, Tobermory (Toby) McGuire.  And he’s just lovely.  Except for not knowing where the toilet is.  It’s a bit of a free for all.  So house training is the flavour of the day!

Sleepy Bo Bos

This entry by: Katie 29 Dec 2009 05:42 pm

3,000km of rain…

Ok, so perhaps a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea.
At the end of November, Clayton and I headed up to Sydney for the night so that we could arrive at the airport in plenty of time to pick up my parents.   We were lucky enough to be playing tour guide for Mum and Dad for a month – I was very excited about all the things we would do…  Here are some of my highlights:

Ok, so perhaps a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. At the end of November, Clayton and I headed up to Sydney for the night so that we could arrive at the airport in plenty of time to pick up my parents.   We were lucky enough to be playing tour guide for Mum and Dad for a month – I was very excited about all the things we would do…

Here are some of my highlights:
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This entry by: Clayton 12 Oct 2009 01:16 am

Workshop up and running

I love working with wood.

I did a fair bit of woodwork in high school, and actually took out the woodworking prize in year 10, for a bedside table project I put together.  Still have the table, although it’s now looking a bit tired and battered in our hallway, but still intact.

After highschool, I started focusing on studies for a career.  Still did a bit of woodwork – during Uni I made a Backgammon board which I still have and very fond of. But then I started “life”.  Moved to Sydney and got a full time job. As part of the life change, I went from living in a house with a dedicated workshop, to a one bedroom flat, with, well, one bedroom.  And I spent pretty much the next ten years in similar digs. Opportunities for working with wood were very limited.  We had an office reshuffle while I was living in Manly and I built a shelf on the balcony for my new desk, but other than that, I didn’t have many opportunities or facilities to do anything creative with wood for the best part of 10 years.

It’s something I’ve really missed.  I spend my days at work staring at a screen most of the day.  The bulk of my work is spent with minor wrist and finger movements, as I try to develop solutions in the software we use, without using the mouse.  Most of my output from a work perspective is by its nature electronic.  You can’t pick it up and inspect it.  No-one is ever going to say “the corner between cell C6 and C7 is a bit rough”, as Excel has perfect corners.

Which is why I love the fact that we’re now living in a house, and I have a workshop.  It wasn’t a workshop when we moved in, it was a teenager’s bedroom.  The garage had a stud wall installed at the 3/4 mark, with the larger area being carpeted and having a bed and football posters (during the inspection). Thankfully, the love of my life was kind enough to not (a) not convert the garage back into a garage, and (b) allow me to convert the teen bedroom into a workshop.

And today, I can finally say that I have a workshop. Up until now, I’ve had workshop space, but it was always a bit of a “work in progress”. But today, I have all the bits and bobs that I can see me needing in the foreseeable future, they’ve all got a good home in the workshop, I’ve got vacuum systems in place to protect me from dust hazards, and have started my first “proper project” (first “project” was to build a workbench so I could then build something “useful”.  Apparently the bench doesn’t fall into that category…)!

Main workbench

Main workbench

My main workbench, built the bulk of it outside, moved inside for final assembly with the worktop.  Still need to fit the quick release vice, and the “bench dog”, but otherwise my first completed woodworking job in the last 10 years.

P1010524 Main workbench is on the left, with my secondary workbench ahead.  It’s a cheap and nasty thing from the local hardware store, but it was so cheap it was a good deal, despite the low quality.  Still populating the peg-board.



A member of the ACT Woodworkers Guild was downsizing, and needed to get rid of a few things from his workshop as he didn’t have room at the new digs.  One of the things on the “get rid of” list were these lumps of flooring.  Weren’t always flooring, and in fact aren’t sold as flooring.  They’re actually conveyor belts from mining sites which are past their prime – they get carved up into manageable bits and sold off.  Rubber outsides, with a compressed cotton inside, makes for a pretty robust and also tool-friendly floor surface.


Purchased this table saw off Dad when he upgraded to some VERY fancy gear.  For what I’m doing though, this is a great bit of kit.  Used it for the first time today, and very pleased with the results. P1010526

This is the router table, based on a Triton Mk3 table with a router top that Dad put together – the Triton top was Ok, but wasn’t great.  I managed to get my hands on a Triton router on Ebay (very limited availability due to multiple takeovers), and after only a couple of hours use, I’m a big fan. P1010527

And then there’s the drill press.  Another hand-me-down, I’ve mounted this onto the old frame of our first BBQ when we move to Aus. P1010531

The ACT Working With Wood show was on at Exhibition Park In Canberra (EPIC) about a month ago, I purchased a Givkin dovetail jig, despite not owning a router which is kind of a requirement for using the jig.  Picked up a router via  eBay a couple of weeks later, which is now fitted to the router table shown above.  This is my first crack at it.  There is room from improvement (on my part – I was a bit stingy on the depth setting, resulting in joints a bit shy instead of a touch proud – I also managed to create dovetails about 1/2 mm thick, which are a touch flimsy…  .These are the sort of things you gain through experience…), but other than the measurement errors, the joints are fantastic.

This entry by: Katie 18 Aug 2009 08:49 pm

Ski, Snow and stacking it…

We’ve just returned from a long weekend in Perisher, and once again discovered (in my case anyway), that ability affects execution!

A fantastic weekend, only marred slightly by the rain on Sunday.  On the whole, I think our ability has improved since last year.  We even managed to conquour a blue run on Saturday morning.  Although it has to be said, I only made it once without stacking it – so props to Clayton for being braver than me!

A few unplanned trophies must be awarded for the weekend:

1. Most co-ordinated ski-wear

Nominations: Cil and Clayton

Winner: Cil (based on the fact that she owns, and therefore has control over her outfits!)

2. Most improved

Nominations: Clayton

Winner: Clayton (based on his outfit!)

3.Worst helmet

Nominations: Katie, Clayton

Winner: Katie (difficult to go past a light blue helmet with white flowers)

All in all, the weekend was another winnner, and thanks must go to Tim and Cil for organising, and making sure that we returned with no more than just a few bruises!

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