Guitar Comparison: Gibson Hummingbird versus Epiphone Hummingbird Artist

The Gibson Hummingbird has always been my dream guitar. It had that rock and roll pedigree, mellow mahogany tone, and just enough flamboyance to make it a legendary instrument. There’s just one catch, it’s really expensive.

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I fell in love with the Gibson back in my teens, and more than 20 years later, I finally have one (used, of course, I’m not crazy). However, needing another guitar for boating and camping, I was very curious as to the real differences between the Gibson and the very affordable Epiphone Hummingbird Artists. In fact, I found a blueburst B-stock Epiphone Hummingbird Artist for only $169.

Aside from the headstock you’d think the Epiphone would be a spitting image of the Gibson, but it’s definitely not. First off, their bodies, while both mahogany, are not quite the same size. The Gibson is slightly wider and deeper than the Epiphone with a more pronounced curve to the back.

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Both guitars have a 24.75″ scale neck, which is probably my favorite aspect of the guitar. It really helps me reach some of those chords with wide spreads. While the Gibson neck does feel more refined, when switching back and forth between the two guitars, you essentially feel like you’re playing the same instrument.

The Epiphone has a synthetic bone nut and a truss rod cover with three screws while the Gibson has a real bone nut and a truss rod cover with only two screws.

The rosewood bridges are similar, but once again, the Epiphone has a synthetic saddle while the Gibson has a real bone saddle. However, the Gibson still has cheap plastic pegs to hold in the strings. Being outside of the saddle, I know they don’t affect tone, but for the price, you’d think Gibson would spend $1 for real bone there as well.

There’s a HUGE difference in the tuners. My Hummingbird has sealed grover tuners, and the newer Gibson models have sealed Gotoh tuners. Epiphone doesn’t even mention the brand of their cheapo tuners in any of their collateral. They’re pretty terrible. I had some serious trouble keeping the Epiphone in tune for the first few weeks I owned it, although it has gotten better. With the Gibson, it’s usually in tune when I open the case, and it never goes out. With the Epiphone, I have to make sure and tune it before I start playing, and I might need to readjust it once or twice throughout the course of a three-hour jam. (This is about on par with every sub-$400 guitar I’ve ever owned.)

Of course, the real signature of a guitar is it’s tone, so I made a short video comparing the Gibson Hummingbird to the Epiphone Hummingbird Pro. Both guitars have Elixir Custom Light strings, and the audio was recorded on a Zoom H2n set to 4 channel mode. If you’re reading/watching this on a phone or laptop, you’ll probably have to plug in some headphones to really hear the difference.

So there you have it, a detailed look at the differences between a Gibson Hummingbird and an Epiphone Hummingbird Artist.

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The cheapest way to add Wi-Fi to any camera (or your boat)

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When you’re boating or backpacking, it’s not so easy to just pull out your camera’s memory card and dump the photos onto a computer. Half the time I have the camera sealed in a dive case or wrapped up in plastic to protect it from the elements, and most of the time I don’t even have a computer with me.

When we were in the Spanish Virgin Islands I really appreciated the fact that my Sony had built-in Wi-Fi. I could climb back on the boat, towel off, then turn on the Wi-Fi to send all my snorkeling photos to my iPad for review without ever having to take the camera out of the dive case. I could then Instagram a good one and hop right back in the water to dive some more. I didn’t have to worry about unsealing and resealing the dive case, defogging the lens again, or any of that rigmarole.

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Unfortunately, not all cameras come with Wi-Fi. However, Wi-Fi SD cards have been around for a few years now and are getting better all the time. You might have heard of Eye-Fi. They were the pioneers of Wi-Fi SD cards, but an Eyefi Mobi Pro card still runs about $99. There’s also the Transcend Wi-Fi option.

I was almost ready to spend the money on an Eye-Fi when I came across the Toshiba Flashair. Apparently, the FlashAir has never been too popular, and the iPhone and Android apps were downright terrible when it first came out. However, a 32GB FlashAir SD card is now only $30 (I ordered mine on eBay). At that price, I decided to give it a try.

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Setup of the card was easy. You just pop it in the camera and download the free FlashAir app to your phone. Each time you launch it after the card has been formatted, it gives you the option to change the Wi-Fi name and password. This is a nice feature if you were shooting a professional event where lots of people might be using Wi-Fi, however, it has one major flaw. Every time you format the SD card in the camera, it resets the SSID and Password to the factory default. I might format the card three times a day when I’m working, so I gave up on setting a custom Wi-Fi name.

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Once the app is launched, your phone or tablet will automatically connect to the Wi-Fi generated by the SD card and allow you to browse the photos on the card. (I found Android devices are much faster at connecting than iOS devices, which sometimes need help finding the network.)

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Just select the photos you want to download to your phone, and it beams them right over. But here’s the cool part, the FlashAir app doesn’t just work for photos. It also does music and movie files, so you can use it in other devices like a Zoom recorder or a video camera.

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Perhaps you do have a computer, but you don’t have an SD card reader available, or maybe you just hate installing apps on your phone. If you connect the computer or a phone to the FlashAir Wi-Fi and then open the web browser, it reads the card in the web browser and lets you browse and download the photos that way as well.

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But wait, that’s not all! If you stick the FlashAir in an SD card reader, it still generates Wi-Fi. That means, if you need Wi-Fi on your boat, you could grab one of these FlashAir cards and a card reader, stick it in an SD slot on your chartplotter or even a 12 volt DC plug and suddenly have a portable Wi-Fi network for all the devices on your boat.

Now don’t get too excited. It won’t give you Internet, just a Wi-Fi network that allows all of your devices to connect to each other. For instance, if you have an AIS system that needs Wi-Fi to send info to your chartplotter, this $30 SD card will allow that. It can connect up to six devices. (However, if you do have an Internet connection, it also allows Internet pass through.)

So what’s the downside to a Wi-Fi SD card you ask? Well, although the transmitter has a very low power draw, it still drains the battery faster. Cameras with built-in Wi-Fi like the Sony are able to turn it on and off to conserve battery, but with the FlashAir, from what I can tell the Wi-Fi is on all the time. However, in use I can’t say I’ve seen a noticeable change in battery life.

Yes, the FlashAir app does transfer RAW files. I shoot everything in RAW, but I honestly don’t know why anyone would want to transfer a 45 MB file over Wi-Fi. I shoot RAW + 1.2 MB JPG Small. The RAW is for my photo archives and for making prints. I download those files when I get home. The JPG small file saves space on the SD card and my phone or tablet but has plenty of resolution for social media. Here’s a few examples straight out of the camera via the FlashAir card.

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So there you have it, the Toshiba Flashair 3 Wi-Fi SD card, the $30 solution to adding Wi-Fi to any camera.

The Misadventures of Mounting a Masthead Meter

Excited to get our new Garmin GWS 10 wind instrument mounted atop the mast and feeding info back to our chartplotter, I started Sunday afternoon by removing the mainsail and rigging the MastMate. I had four items on my checklist, run a new halyard, mount the new wind instrument, drop the NMEA 2000 cable down the mast, and change the bulb in my steaming light.

It should have been a straight-forward project … emphasis on should have.

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For my first run up the mast, I packed a stubby phillips-head screwdriver, a stubby flathead screwdriver, a tiny phillips-head screwdriver, and a pair of pliers.

The steaming light, which I’d never serviced before, had phillips-head screws. Unfortunately, one of my screwdrivers was too large. The other was too small. No worries, I’d get it on the second trip.

I climbed upwards to the masthead.

I needed to unscrew the anchor light that I’d just installed a few months ago to then remove the top plate of the mast. This time my screwdriver was the correct size, but because I’d brought the stubby one, the handle wouldn’t let me get the tip on the head of the screw.

On my old boat I had many extra halyards, so it was easy to hang a bag on one and run tools up and down. We don’t have that luxury on Gimme Shelter, which is why I was planning to run a new halyard.

I climbed back down and reshuffled my selection of tools. Then I made my second climb.

This time I opened the steaming light and pulled the bulb, although it didn’t look burned out.

I got back up to the top, removed the anchor light, and opened the top of the mast.

As I moved the new sheave into place at the front of the mast, I realized that the new halyard would have to be run inside the mast, but I had no holes for it to run back out of the mast. No worries, I’d move that job to the end of the list, and if I had time I’d go grab a padeye and drill a new hole for it.

I came back down the mast and set to work drilling and mounting the Garmin GWS 10 wind instrument.

Within a few minutes I had the wind instrument mounted and found a replacement light bulb for the steaming light.

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The day was getting better.

I made my third climb up the mast with wind instrument in my backpack and the NMEA cable tied to my belt. I started running the cable down the mast and then sent Mary to go pull it out the bottom.

We ran into a small problem — there were no openings in the bottom of the mast.

I just assumed that since there were other cables running out of the foot of the mast that we’d be able to fish the new cable out as well. I assumed wrong. I came down from the mast and drilled a new hole.

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That’s when I ran into an even bigger problem — our mast was full of foam. And it wasn’t just a little bit of foam, it was 6′ of foam all the way from the foot of the mast to the cabin top. There was no way to poke a cable through.

I climbed up the mast for the fourth time and pulled all of the cable back out of the mast, then dropped it back down the side of the mast to Mary. I screwed the mast light back on and secured everything at the masthead and made my way back down to the steaming light.

This trip I’d packed a multimeter, so I checked the fixture only to find I was getting plenty of current. I then jiggled the bulb and found that if it was in the fixture cockeyed, it would come on, but when it was properly seated, it didn’t work at all.

I spent a few minutes cleaning it with a wire brush but got not improvement, so I left the steaming light as an unsolved mystery and climbed back down.

At this point my legs were toast, I had a new hole in the mast, but not in the place where I needed it, and the steaming light still didn’t work. However, the wind instrument is now mounted.

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Next weekend we start again securing the NMEA cable to the outside of the mast and take another shot at getting the steaming light working again.

Lessons learned

I wish I’d connected the anchor light with a waterproof plug instead of splicing the wires together. If I had used a plug I could just leave the light fixture connected when I remove the top of the mast. It would have made this project much easier.

I should have done more research on my mast. I should have checked to see if it was open at the bottom for the wiring, although I don’t know how I could have known it was full of foam. I also assumed I could run the new halyard externally, but that proved impossible without a spinnaker crane.

Installing a NMEA 2000 backbone

One of the things we liked about our new Garmin chartplotter that we installed in December was its connectivity.

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The chartplotter was our first electronic device with a NMEA 2000 plug.

NMEA stands for National Marine Electronics Association, and 2000 is the standard set for communication between devices. Garmin sticks with a NMEA 2000 nomenclature, but Raymarine SeaTalk, Simrad Simnet, and Furuno CAN are all rebranded NMEA 2000 systems that only need a plug adapter to be compatible.

Theoretically, any two NMEA 2000 devices will connect and communicate with each other no matter the brand. However, since we’re starting from scratch when it comes to the electronics on Gimme Shelter, we decided to stick with Garmin as much as possible.

The first step to setting up any NMEA 2000 system is to install the backbone. We went with this Garmin NMEA 2000 Starter Kit that cost about $60 through eBay.

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The only directions that came with this kit was the diagram on the label. That’s it. It’s THAT simple. However, I chose to hook the yellow cable, which is the 12 volt power cable, to the chartplotter circuit on the back of my breaker panel instead of directly to the battery.

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Once it was tied into the power system, I started adding T connectors. (Note that there was terminator plugged into the open end of the backbone when I finally took the photo.)

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The starter kit came with two T connectors and two terminators. I ran a cable from one T to my chartplotter. I ran the other cable to my GWS 10 Wind Instrument.

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I switched the chartplotter to the “gauges” setting, chose wind, and … nothing.

Nothing happened at all. It didn’t work.

I stared at the diagram. I retraced my wiring. I pulled the breaker panel off again and re-checked my power connection. It just wasn’t doing anything.

I finally resorted to Google and almost immediately I found out the most important detail of this system.

NMEA 2000 doesn’t work unless there is a terminator on every open T plug!

The starter kit had come with two terminators, and I hadn’t bothered to put them on. I figured they were just to keep the dust out or something. Wrong. It turns out there’s a resistor in those terminators, and unless they’re on the open plugs, no signal gets sent anywhere.

So after plugging a terminator onto the end of the backbone, I turned on the chartplotter again. This time I had success!

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Now all it takes to add new devices to my system is another T and a NMEA 2000 cable.

Of course, setting up the backbone was the easy part. The real fun starts this weekend when I climb the mast to drop a new cable and mount the wind instrument.

Catching up on projects

It rained all weekend here, but just because we couldn’t be out on the boat didn’t mean we couldn’t catch up on some long-running projects we’d been putting off.

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About a year ago a friend snagged us a free sail for some unknown boat off craigslist because we had seen bags made from sail material at the boat show, and Mary was going to try to make us one. She got it started, but you know how it goes, things get busy, you forget what you were doing, etc. After some weekend work, prototype bag #1 is finally coming together. Hopefully it won’t be another year until it’s finished, but don’t hold your breath waiting on a line of hand-made Gimme Shelter boat bags to be available any time soon.

But Mary isn’t the only one with long-running projects. I started laminating together oak and poplar for a new table many months ago. Then about halfway through the job, I got distracted.

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I’m catching up. Just one more plank to glue on before I start planing it down. Then there’s the sanding. Then there’s the routing. Then there’s the staining and varnish — yeah, it may be another month or two before I finish this one.

Meanwhile the garden is growing like crazy. We have so many greens we can hardly eat them all, the cauliflower is ready to eat, and we will have squash very soon.

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Mary is doing her best to come up with new ideas for all this garden food. She also just purchased The Boat Galley Cookbook, so hopefully we’ll learn some new recipes for when we’re afloat.

And then there’s the new projects we’re starting together even though we haven’t actually finished these old projects.

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After our trip to Laguna Harbor we decided we wanted to know wind speed and direction, so I’ve got to get our NMEA2000 backbone installed and mount the new Garmin GWS 10 wind instrument at the top of the mast.

When I look at the list of projects, sometimes I wonder when we ever have time to go sailing.