Category Archives: Kids

Converting a Kid’s Electric Guitar into an Amp

Today’s fun little project was converting a kid’s electric guitar into an amplifier.  My daughter’s friend got an electric guitar for his birthday, but didn’t have an amp.  He did have  his old First Act electric guitar which he wanted to trade me for one of the little amps I have sitting around to put into cigar boxes or other containers.  It was one of those little electric guitars that have a speaker built into the front of the guitar.  It was pretty beat up.  4 of the 6 tuning knobs were missing, and the machines were pretty crapped out too.  A couple adjusting screws for the bridge/tailpiece were missing.  I said, “You know how your guitar has a speaker?  That means it has a built-in amp.  So we can use the pieces from your guitar and build an amp.”

At first I was thinking we would take the pieces out and put them in a cigar box or something.  When we started looking at it I said “Why don’t we just take the neck and tailpiece off, and then the guitar body can be your amp.”  So that’s what we did.  They grabbed screw drivers and started removing the neck (while I went and grabbed a camera to document their progress)

Removing the neck
Removing the neck

Then they removed the tailpiece/bridge.

Removing the tailpiece
Removing the tailpiece

They we started uncovering the electronics.

Unpacking the electronics
Unpacking the electronics

Here’s where you can kind of start to see the plan coming together.  On this guitar you have a magnetic pickup, but instead of just going through a volume pot to the output jack, it also goes to a little amp which is connected to the speaker.  If you plug in a cord, a switch in the jack cuts the signal to the on-board amp and sends it to the external amp instead.  So our plan was to just switch things around.  We wanted to turn the output jack into an input jack.  It seemed like the simplest way was just to cut off the magnetic pickup and hook the wires to the jack.  So here they are removing the pickup.

Removing the pickup
Removing the pickup

Next we stripped the wires, and then hooked up a battery and plugged in a guitar.  Esther played her guitar while I touched the stripped wires to the tabs on the jack to make sure we got things hooked up right.  I would have originally figured white wire to white wire, and black to black.  But I wasn’t taking that switch into account.  So once we started hearing Esther’s guitar through the speaker we knew we had it right.  Once we had things in the right place, I soldered them up.  I usually like to let the kids do pretty much everything.  Esther has done soldering on a cigar box guitar she built, but her friend had never soldered before and it was kind of a tricky job for someone who’s never done it before, so he helped hold wires in place while I soldered them.

Soldering the wires
Soldering the wires

From that point on, I let them finish it up themselves.  They screwed the back plates back on and tightened up the strap knobs.  (We realized that because the amp is battery-powered, if we left the strap knobs on, you could wear the amp.)  Below is a quick video of Esther demonstrating the finished product.  It’s not the best amp ever, but it will make a nice practice amp for him to use while he’s learning to play his first real decent guitar. (He got a Fender StarCaster) His parents will probably appreciate that it doesn’t  get very loud.

I got to keep the extra parts.  I’ll probably put the neck on a cigar box, after I dress the frets ends (which are sticking out on both sides of the neck and are rather sharp.)


Gardening with kids

Homemade Tomato Cages

Today I finally got around to getting some plants in the garden.  Earlier today I was writing about how I did a terrible job getting seeds started this “spring” (if you can call it that when it’s still snowing in MAY!)  So we went to the Friends School Plant Sale and bought some plants.  I also had a few tomato plants I’d picked up at the farmers market downtown.  Yesterday I came home from work with grand intentions of getting most of them planted.  After dinner I grabbed the box of plants and went out to the garden.  I got about 4 tomato plants in the ground before the sky got dark and Rachael came out to tell me severe storms were on the way, and there was a chance of hail.  I searched through the yard and garage and found a couple buckets, a large pot and a recycle bin to cover up the tomatoes I had just planted.  I put a log on top of each to keep them from blowing away and I packed everything up for the next day.

We ended up getting some rain and a bit of wind, but no hail.  I don’t think those plants would have had any trouble weathering the storm.  As it stands, I’m a bit hesitant to put plants in the ground since it was still snowing just over a week ago.

So yesterday’s plans were shifted to today.  Esther had to be somewhere, and Rachael had to bring her, so they were both gone.  Jed stayed home with me.  Once I got all the plants out, I asked him and his friend Lily if they wanted to help me.  Involving children is a sure-fire way to make sure things take longer, but I like to include my kids.  I especially like to include them if neighbor kids come along.  It’s not that I’m looking for help, since I can’t think of a time that this “help” actually sped things up.  I just like so share knowledge.  I had my own little garden when I was growing up, so I learned a bit about gardening.  Most of these kids don’t have a garden in their yard, let alone their own garden, so I try to include them when they’re interested.  In past years they’ve planted seeds, shoveled dirt, spread compost, helped build raised beds and a greenhouse, and of course helped harvest.  Today it was transplanting tomatoes.

I have a tendency to overcrowd my tomatoes every year.  Years back I read Square Foot Gardening, and got the idea to plant everything close together.  Problem is that now I tend to plant things too close.  Last year was hot and wet and with the overcrowding I had some trouble with diseased tomatoes.  Last year they were so close it looked like a tomato hedge 8 foot long and 3 feet wide.  So this year to aid me AND the children,  I got out the tape measure.  We stretched the tape measure across the garden and set plants where we would put them.  Then the kids grabbed their spades and each worked on their own hole for planting the tomatoes.

I showed them how to pinch off the bottom leaves so the plants can be set deeper and grow a better root system.  They also tossed a shovel-full of compost in the bottom of each hole before the plant went in.  I showed them how to get the plants out of the plastic pots without damaging the plants.  Then they set them in the hole and pushed the dirt back in.  I helped with the first couple, and they pretty much took over from there.  When they were done with the first bed, we moved to another one and they did pretty much that hole thing by themselves.  At one point Lily said, “My dad never goes to this much trouble to plant his garden.”
To which my son of course replied, “Your vegetables must not do as good then.”
“No, but they sure are delicious.” She said.

After the second bed of tomatoes they decided to go back to jumping on the trampoline.  I grabbed some decorative wire fencing that I dumpstered last year and proceeded to make it into tomato cages.  I usually use “stakes” for my tomatoes because they’re taller than cages and free-er than cages.  (My stakes are old tiki-torches, pieces of dumpstered metal tubing, large fallen branches and occasionally store-bought furring strips that I cut into stakes on the bandsaw.)  However, it’s sometimes difficult to keep the tomato plants from sprawling all over, so as long as I had the materials I made up some cages.  It was mostly a matter of opening up some hooks, folding 3 fence sections into a triangle and then retightening the hooks.  We’ll see how they do.

After Lily went home, Jed helped me plant some cucumbers.  I generally like to have plants, but I didn’t get them started, so this year we planted seeds.  I often have pretty bad luck with cucumbers.  The first year I planted them, I got a ton.  We even made pickles.  In the decade following, I don’t think I ever got that many cukes.  So I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong.  I decided that perhaps (since they’re a cool weather crop) I was getting them started too late, and they were getting too hot.  That first year I grew them in a patch of yard that wouldn’t grow grass because it didn’t get enough sunlight because of an overhanging tree.  So I decided that maybe I should give my cukes some shade.  I planted them behind a row of tomatoes (the row that turned into a tomato hedge).  Last year we got so many cukes that we couldn’t pickle them or give them away fast enough.  We ate SO many cucumbers! It was amazing! And I never even really liked cucumbers until I started growing them myself.  I’m not sure if my theory about shade is correct.  I suppose cukes and tomatoes could be companion plants, though I’ve never seen them listed as such (and I did a lot of research for my book.)  Whatever the reason, this year I’m doing the same thing and hoping for similar results.  We planted two rows of cucumbers behind two rows of (better spaced) tomatoes.

As it was getting dark I got a few pepper plants in the ground and then brought all my remaining plants back inside.  I think the plan for tomorrow is to try out a “3 sisters” planting in the small bed that served as my tomato overflow last year.  The kids are also working on putting together their own bed (from salvaged lumber) so they can have their own test gardens.