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Music by Nick 

Studio build diary

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STUDIO BUILD DIARY                                             CopenhagenDJP Avatar.jpg (8987 bytes)


For a quick look at the finished studio, these photos, taken February 4, 2007, will give you an idea. The whole story follows.

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Janet and I moved into this house in July 2004, and besides money, the new place cost me a room in which to record music. We have a far nicer place to eat and sleep now, but no studio. So House in snow.jpg (153664 bytes)after several months of reading about studio construction and deliberating over where to build it, I've finally got the ball rolling. The house sits on 10 acres, most of which is quite steep — and covered in snow at the moment. It has a two-car garage with a 10-foot ceiling in which I've decided after a lot of consideration to build my studio.

Once construction on the studio has wrapped, I'll be starting on a new garage, because life without a garage is hardly a life at all.


I want a comfortable, soundproof room that I can outfit for a home recording studio, but I don't want it to be so geared towards recording that it could not be used for other purposes if we ever go to sell. Certainly a home theater could be one of those purposes. In any case, I will not be plumbing the studio since we already have three full bathrooms and the whole forest. How many toilets does a person need?

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JUNE 2006

I drafted my own plans, based on the sample provided by Wes Lachot that accompanied Ethan Winer's article for EQ Magazine in September 2005. It floored me when the El Dorado County Building Department accepted them. Here is the plan I drafted and submitted.

Studio Design Plan

I didn't receive my building permit until May 2006, and even then, the construction work didn't start until June 28th. But we've made a lot of progress in a short period of time. The studio will be a free-standing room inside my existing finished garage with a 9-foot ceiling. I wanted as much headroom as I could get. The floor area will be 12 feet x 21 feet x 14 feet x 21 feet, being slightly conical rather than a perfect rectangle. This should obviate some of the acoustical problems associated with parallel walls that you find in  square and rectangular rooms. Since I am not a carpenter by trade, I hired a local general contractor, Jim Orbas of Miracle Contracting, to handle the bulk of the work. 

JUNE 28:
One of the first things to do was to add some mass to the existing sheetrock of the garage ceiling. So Isaac and Justin installed a second layer of -inch sheetrock below the ceiling. If I really wanted or needed to go all out, soundproofing-wise, I would have had them cut out the existing ceiling in strips and shove it up between the joists against the floorboard in two layers. We talked about it.  But that would have been a royal pain in the neck and I don't honestly need absolute soundproofing. Just enough to keep Jan from going nuts when I crank up my amps and (future) drum kit.

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The shot below shows some of the footing for the framework anchored into the cement. There will be some dead space between the studio wall and the existing wall on the left side of the photo. The water heater will be outside the studio! However, the stairs in the upper right will require that the studio be framed around them. We placed an extra layer of sheetrock for added mass to the underside of the stairs, just like the ceiling. There isn't any living space behind the remaining walls in the garage, so I'm not attempting to add any mass to those walls. Will I regret that? Time will tell.
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JUNE 29:
The framing took up most of the second day of work. It's all 2x6 construction. Pictures say a thousand words, so here they are.

2nd day 1.jpg (191046 bytes)  This is looking in from the outside where my new garage will be placed. The old garage door was stashed in a safe place and hopefully we'll be able to reinstall it in the new garage instead of having to buy another garage door. The studs will form the studio walls.

Below are some shots of the framing from inside the studio space. The ceiling joists are not in yet, nor is the framing done around the stairs and the window.
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JUNE 30:

The framing is now virtually complete. The stairs have been framed in, and the studs for the studio walls are completely decoupled from the existing garage walls. Nearly so, anyway. If the studio were attached to the main structure of the house, my efforts at soundproofing would all be for naught.
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Below will be the entrance to the studio. The County of El Dorado gave me an option: either have two doors, or one door and a window large enough to escape through in the event of a fire. I chose the door/window combo.
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These shots show the double row of studs, the interior row to form the studio wall and the exterior to form the rear wall of the new garage. Again, the two rows of studs are separated by two inches of air space. We'll place insulation in the gaps, but there won't be any sheetrock between the two rows of studs.
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We're going to have a corridor in the remaining portion of our existing garage when the studio is finished. I'll probably finish it off with linoleum or something. Maybe even carpet. Not too worried about it at the moment. The doorway here will open into the new garage and at the far end (to the right of the water heater) is the door into the house.
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Window shot. This is a fairly large window, 4 feet x 6 feet. Frankly, it's a soundproofing challenge. I'm going to have to build a dense shutter with a seal to fit over the entire window frame for those times when soundproofing is the most important. But the ventilation will be welcome. Everything is a trade off.
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The ceiling joists in the studio do not leave any crawl space, unless you're only 6 inches thick. I wanted room volume. So if I ever need to do electrical work on the room later on, I'll have to cut an access panel. Here's to hoping I never have to do that!
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JULY 2006

This is the corner door that originally led into the garage. We had decided to frame in the studio and leave it as a faux door, just in case somebody wanted to install a door into the studio there later on. But heavy rains in winter have occasionally led to water seeping under the door and into the garage — which could conceivably compromise the studio walls, or worse, lead to my electrocution. So I've abandoned any concern for what somebody else may want the day we sell this place. If they want a door, that'll be their problem. I removed the door jam and I'm framing it in myself. Unless Jim Orbas and crew agree to just do it. It shouldn't take them as much time to frame it in as it took me to remove the jam. I don't know why I allowed myself to be talked out of just removing the door and framing it in in the first place. There is the matter of the raised foundation to address. I'm currently looking at my options before deciding how best to handle it.
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Wiring was a job and a half. Literally. Steve Fogal, aka Azap Electric, Ione, CA, arrived between 10:30 and 11 a.m., and we went right to work on it. I did whatever Steve told me to do, drilling, stapling, and running wire, and we were at it pretty much non-stop all day. We only took one break — for some hamburgers that Janet barbecued. But then we went right back to it. We finished working around 10 p.m., and Steve didn't get on the road for another 20 or 30 minutes.

5th day 6.jpg (128701 bytes)    5th day 7.jpg (198616 bytes)  Stapling wire to the studs. The eyes say it all. I'm tired.

5th day 11.jpg (199017 bytes)  Mr. Fogal at work on the panel. He ran several separate circuits to keep my computer and amps apart. He knows his business, too. If you're looking for an electrician in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento-Stockton, he's your man. Cool logo, Steve.

5th day 14.jpg (163726 bytes)  Steve had to cut several holes in the original wall to get access to the preexisting wiring. Every time he had to cut another hole, my heart sunk lower. But it had to be done. No getting around it. So we finished up around 10 and after Steve left, I was in there sweeping and cleaning until midnight. Good thing I didn't have to get up until 7 a.m. I was so exhausted from standing all day (and lack of beer) that I couldn't get to sleep.


The County sent their inspector out to look at the work and he nitpicked the works. So I'm on hold now until we: 1) draft stop the walls and ceiling at 10-foot (or less) intervals; 2) separate the grounds and neutrals in the subpanel and bond the cabinet to the ground bar; and 3) put cover plates on the electrical boxes that will be buried in the wall. He also said the cement floor would have to be sealed with some form of epoxy sealer to prevent moisture from seeping up, since this would be living space. But that wasn't on his notes. He just told me that the County wouldn't final the project until that was done. Hmmph.

When I got home from work, I applied patches to the holes in the wall from some scrap sheetrock and calked the dickens out of them, both around the hole, and around the edge of the patch. It's not terribly pretty, but it'll be concealed behind the studio walls, anyway.

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6th day 6.jpg (151542 bytes)  The hole in the ceiling in this shot is a 6-sided switch box that Steve disconnected. I haven't found a cover plate for it yet in any of the hardware and home stores I've visited. The other boxes were turned around to face the opposite side of the wall.

At this point, I'm not certain where it's going to go. Jim Orbas needs to install the draft stops in the walls and ceiling and I have to locate a 6-sided cover plate somewhere to cover the electrical box in the ceiling — even though Steve disconnected the wires. The box is dead. I'm not clear what the problem with the panel is, either. Steve says he doesn't think the inspector knows what he's talking about, and I'm inclined to agree. I'm hoping that we can get all the issues resolved before too many days pass. Tomorrow's a new day. We'll see...

JULY 6 - 8:

I made a trip to the electric supply store and was shown the only possible covers that could possibly fit the exposed box in my ceiling. But whatd'ya know? Not one of them matched. So I went over to the hardware store and said I needed some foam, some caulk, and a couple of screws for the mismatched cover I just bought at the electric store. I found the foam. I got the caulk. But how puzzling. The only flukken screws they had that fit into electric boxes are all shorties. God, was I unsurprised. So I bought two of what they had and went home, but they didn't reach far enough. However, in my wife's dad's nail & screw box, I later found two screws that would both reach and fit the threads. Why I didn't see them yesterday will forever haunt me.

7th Day 9.jpg (93520 bytes)  Welp. Something covers that box now.

Two hours later, Steve calls me while I'm pushing five 80-lb bags of cement around Home de Pot and says I need to stop bitching about sizes and shapes, ha ha, and make something work, because they only make a couple of box shapes. Period. He didn't actually say that, but I hung up the phone and had to laugh because the reality of it suddenly hit me. They only make a couple of box shapes. Like it or lump it. The stores all confirm that. But I swear, God and a photograph to come as witnesses, this box isn't shaped like anything else in this area.

I bought some rebar, five sacks of cement, a hammer drill and a pale ale. Some other stuff. Now I'm ready. I drilled a couple of holes in the stem foundation. Or attempted to. Then my good neighbor, Sam Woo, came over and took over operations. Thanks to the Smilin' Goddess of the Universe who looks down and has pity on us bastards from Rancho once in awhile. He made it happen.

I'm in debt to Sam. He's the neighbor everyone hopes for. He cleaned up my drilling efforts and set the rebar in place, then we formed up the doorway and poured the cement, seating the mudsill in the wet cement in the process. It almost seems like more work than necessary, since the only weight that will be on it is the framing and siding for a portion of a doorway. But without Sam, I would probably still be contemplating the bags of cement as I write this, ha ha. Thanks, Sam!

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Since I was hung up until we could meet the building inspectors requirements, I spent the next couple of days cleaning the site and letting the cement cure that Sam and I had just poured.

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JULY 11:
For about the cost of a "prosumer" preamp, Quiet Solutions shipped me some of their "Quiet Putty" product for covering electrical boxes. The stuff smells like acetone or some such solvent, but it works just like the clay or Playdoh you had as a kid. So I went around and covered all the boxes, including the light fixtures overhead.

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9th Day 9.jpg (144786 bytes) This is looking down at the area that will become dead space between the exterior and interior walls just below the window. (I didn't shoot the photograph until the next day.) I ran foam along the entire bottom seam of the exterior sheetrock since there was about a half-inch gap there. In the process, I learned never to get careless and touch that shit! It's been 24 hours, and I still haven't been able to get it all off my hands.

JULY 12 - 13:
Okay! I passed inspection finally and have the county's approval to close up the walls. At last! The pics show some standard R13 insulation and Quiet Solutions Quietrock 525 sheetrock. This isn't their most expensive wallboard, but factoring in the shipping charges and the caulking, it's costing me about $107 a sheet. They say it is substantially better at soundproofing than standard sheetrock, and thus I don't have to sacrifice a whole lot of interior room using multiple layers of sheetrock to get the amount of soundproofing I need. But their claim that one sheet of 5/8-inch QR525 is equivalent to eight (8) sheets of standard sheetrock seems improbable. Anyway, we'll see how true it is. I'm also having it sealed it with a caulk supplied by the same company, called QuietSeal. This stuff is very sticky, and according to the Quiet Solutions website, it never hardens. I'm sure a trusting sort!

 10th Day 12.jpg (185888 bytes) Insulation around the stairs.  10th Day 19.jpg (199239 bytes)  On the outer side of the stairs, here's Steve Fogal's fine electrical work ensconced in R13. Truthfully, I did not fully discuss with Jim O. the type of insulation to be used when he bid on the project. I was conscious of the matter and did consider getting some acoustically superior 403 or something, but I didn't really act on it. But I'm going to be fine. Hell, I'm down in the woods here with only one neighbor.

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10th Day 18.jpg (187240 bytes) The old doorway will soon be a doorway no more, eh?

JULY 14:
The installation of the Quietrock is nearly complete. Some of the gaps are larger than I would have liked. But it's not finished, so we'll see.

July 15th 5.jpg (181771 bytes)  New corridor /  hallway outside the studio. And looking out: July 16th 4.jpg (179618 bytes)

July 15th 2.jpg (149733 bytes)   July 15th 13.jpg (125943 bytes)   The QuietSeal has only been placed in one corner. With all the gaps and spaces between the sheets of Quietrock, I can only hope that massive quantities of the stuff will work wonders. Especially given the kind of cutting that was done around the overhead lights. For example:

July 15th front light fixture.jpg (213418 bytes)  Utterly lame. This is the front overhead light, and frankly, the whole damned sheet should be completely replaced. This kind of shoddy work will completely defeat every attempt at soundproofing I've made.

July 16th 1.jpg (142840 bytes)   July 16th 2.jpg (158836 bytes)   July 16th 3.jpg (162559 bytes)  Some shots from the interior. Obviously, sealing the gaps is going to be critical. A soundproof room is an airtight room. And I'm still a long ways away from that.

JULY 18:
It's all down to filling the holes with QuietSeal and taping up the walls for the texturing at this point.

July 18th 7.jpg (190948 bytes)   July 18th 1.jpg (155901 bytes)  July 18th 2.jpg (139636 bytes)   July 18th 4.jpg (156670 bytes) Lot of QuietSeal around that fixture!


JULY 20:
Now with all the sealing completed and the Quietrock all in place, the texturing went without a hitch.

July 20th 2.jpg (146085 bytes)   July 20th 3.jpg (136077 bytes)   July 20th 6.jpg (164305 bytes)   July 20th 7.jpg (145254 bytes)  I will be able to start painting Saturday, which is the day after tomorrow. I definitely have to prime the walls first. The door is supposed to arrive tomorrow (Friday). I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

JULY 23:

The door did arrive on Friday, and was installed. Before I could start painting anything, I had a large chore to perform. I didn't shoot any photographs, but it took me five hours of sweeping, scraping, scrubbing, washing, and cleaning to remove all the dust, caulk, and drywall texturing that covered the floor. At first, breathing the dust was unbearable until I put some water on the job. Once I had washed over the whole 254.5 square feet of floor space two or three times, the dust problem settled down, and I could breathe well enough to start scraping the floor, inch by inch. The texturing came off comparatively easily using a wet towel and a healthy dose of elbow grease. But the QuietSeal that had fallen was a pain in the ass to remove. I used a putty knife and it came up, but not without a fight. When I was done, the floor looked like a clean slab garage floor. Definitely in need of a finishing coat of paint or the floating floor that I'm planning for later, but clean nonetheless. And that's a start.


JULY 24 - 25:
It took two days to get the studio primed, sealed and delivered. Painting with just a brush for the corners and a roller for the walls and ceiling isn't terribly hard, but it's tedious. Nothing's as tedious as cleaning the floor, though. Here are a few shots of the studio, now completely primed and waiting for Nick La Salle to show up tomorrow with his sprayer. Unfortunately, I still haven't decided on the color yet.
July 25th 2.jpg (152297 bytes) I shoulda smiled.
July 25th 3.jpg (111078 bytes) Front wall, 12 feet across.   July 25th 8.jpg (115193 bytes)  Rear wall, 14 feet across.

July 25th 7.jpg (119797 bytes)   View of the unfinished solid-core door and a portion of the rear wall. The long wall with the door measures 19' 7" from corner to corner. I don't know the metric conversion, but I'll figure it out.

July 25th 10.jpg (135420 bytes)   Window and portion of the rear wall. The window  wall measures 19' 6", which is " shorter than the opposite wall. Do I care? Hell no. Life's too short to hassle over that sort of detail.


JULY 26-27:
The world famous Nick La Salle showed up to jam and paint, not necessarily in that order. Thanks for making the drive, dude. We painted the ceiling and the two short end walls. The long sides will have to wait until the red paint cures. There's a certain instant gratification to painting, but when you realize that you have to apply not one, not two, but three or four or maybe even five %$@!$#! coats to get an even color across the wall, it becomes a royal pain in the ass.
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JULY 31:
Have now placed four coats of red paint on the ceiling and three coats on the walls in an effort to get the color even. Success is measured in degrees of satisfaction, but it's to the point where I don't care to continue painting. It's plenty even enough for me, and if anybody comes in and gets critical, I'll just show 'em the door!

July 31st 3.jpg (140114 bytes)   July 31st 4.jpg (129339 bytes) Look at that gorgeous ceiling. Painting is tedious. I don't know what I'd do if not for the music of Kate Bush, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Crosby, Stills & Nash. And mine.

AUGUST 11 - 13:
Finally, all the painting is done except for some minor touch ups.  Steve Fogal came by on Friday (which fell on the 11th this month) and connected all the electrical boxes. Then Saturday, I went down to the local home store labyrinth and bought foam insulation for all the electrical plates and installed them all. Unfortunately, the circuits aren't hot yet due to some trouble connecting to the main. Steve said he may have to open up the wall to access it. I'd like to hope it doesn't come to that, but if so, so be it.

August 13th 14.jpg (163210 bytes)   August 13th 5.jpg (157918 bytes)    August 13th 7.jpg (162145 bytes)   Sadly, my digital camera is giving me grief. These are only current shots I have worth publishing at the moment. I'll see if I can get new pictures later of the electrical work and the rest of the interior. The door still needs to be finished. I filled the entire door jam with QuietSeal and construction foam. Once I install the moulding around the frame, the door will be done.

AUGUST 21 - 23:
At last! The studio has been zapped with electricity! Below is a shot of Steve Fogal checking out his handiwork.
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 August 23rd 3.jpg (138898 bytes)  The door is almost done. It's taken a lot more work than I thought it would.


Put in the new hickory floor today. I think it's beautiful. I went in talking about a floating floor, and they said they could do that, but their definition of a floating floor differed from mine. I was talking about floating a stage area, whereas they simply meant the hardwood would sit on a moisture barrier pad. I still need to install the base board, which I'll get around to this fall sometime. Gee. Maybe I can start moving in my amps, guitars and gear finally!
September 11th 1.jpg (46440 bytes)  September 11th 3.jpg (34122 bytes)   September 11th 8.jpg (36748 bytes) I still need to put up my bass traps. The room is so ambient at the moment, I've clocked the reverb decay at 4 seconds. That's 4 seconds until the sound of the clap has completely died out. Also flutter echoes abound. The room obviously needs a little taming. But since nothing is in it, and since it's twice the size of a normal bedroom, there's noplace for the the sound waves to go except back into the space. You should hear what it sounds like singing and playing an acoustic guitar in there! No amplifier is needed. The sound is HUGE.

This window is nice for ventilation, but I'm getting sound leakage, too. I'm probably going to have to build shutters.
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The furniture is lacking still, but I've got a healthy portion of my studio gear moved in. I couldn't stand it a day longer. There are still a few minor construction projects ahead, but I've been dying to play some music. Construction really zaps your inspiration, let me tell you.

Sept 24th 1.jpg (68744 bytes)    Sept 24th 2.jpg (67980 bytes)   Here are a couple of different angles looking toward the short end of the studio. From left to right, more or less in the pictures, are a Gibson Songwriter Deluxe acoustic guitar (in its case); Yamaha DX27S synth; Ampeg B2RE bass head atop an Ampeg 212 cabinet; a pair of Mackie HR824 monitors; in the rack: an RME Fireface 800, Roland JV1010 sound module, Boss CL-50 compressor and my DAW — a dual-core Pentium D computer by Sonica; two control units — Tascam US-428 and Mackie Control Universal; Crate DXJ112 amp; Fender Hotrod  DeVille 212 amp; and a Gibson Les Paul.

In the large end of the room, my enormously generous brother-in-law, Ray, just loaned me a complete Roland TD20 electronic drum kit, which by itself cost over half as much as all the rest of the gear combined. How many people have family like that?
Sept 24th 4.jpg (216900 bytes)    Sept 24th 5.jpg (64750 bytes)   I plan on getting an acoustic drum kit next year, but will these do for now? Umm. I think so!  

Next up: installing bass traps and finishing off the floor with base moulding.

Okay, I was wrong. Next up, on our 19th anniversary, no less, Janet sailed in with the curtains she made for me back at our old place and installed them here. They barely fit, but I'm thrilled. I love those curtains and didn't really like the idea of having an exposed window anyway.
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I do hope to have the base moulding and the bass traps installed this weekend. Construction has been dashing cold water on every spark of creativity in my blood. It's been three months since I've written a single song, and while the studio development has been a thrill, if you aren't making music there, what was the point?

Installing the base molding was a snap, although not everyone has been overjoyed with my color scheme. Personally, I think it looks fine.

Also, I got the bass traps up that I purchased from Ethan Winer's company,  Real Traps. I'll probably need another four   Minitraps at least, but at the moment the four I have will have to do. So far, for sound clarity and acoustics, as well as soundproofing, I'm thrilled with the results I've gotten with this room design and the acoustic and soundproofing treatments I've done. From hammering away on an acoustic drum kit to cranking up the bass and guitar amps as loudly as I will ever care to have them (my ears were ringing afterwards!), nothing has resulted in an obnxious level of sound throughout the rest of my house. The sound leakage I get from the window still hasn't been finished, but it's not been a big problem yet, either. Mostly, I can say, "Mission accomplished."

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If I could just get off my lazy butt and finish off the hallway outside the studio, I would consider myself finished. It's been a long process. But I'm going to finish it all up in one day. I just installed the Recording light over the studio entrance, which is operated by a switch from inside. all I need to do is apply some paint to the walls and put up the molding around the doors. I'll finish the hallway floor with lino, probably. And then: DONE!

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FEBRUARY 4, 2007:
A few touchups aside, my studio is finished and fully operational. The doors in the hallway have been finished off with molding and other than the floor, I'm done with construction! And I've got a Marshall amplifier on loan from Steve Fogal to complement the drums on loan from Ray Kanter. Amazing.

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