Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Just a short post to say a Merry Christmas to everyone. Thanks for visiting my blog. I'm still going strong with this stuff. The new cigarbox nation website that Shane Speal set up is brilliant. Go find it. Have a great holiday. Best wishes

David (aka smojo)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

some cigar box guitar news

There are a few things to tell you about today. I've had a number of people asking about how to build a c.b. amp. I've been putting a small booklet together for a while now and just about finished it. It's going to be available at a very reasonable price. I need to do some work on a new site first before I offer it out. The site is called Folksy and it's a UK site catering for all manner of craft items. It doesn't have an image that fits well with CBGs but it will allow me to put items up for sale and take payment via Paypal. I'll post here when it's up.

I'm having a go at selling a guitar on Ebay. I've gone off Ebay recently as they seem to have got greedy and the hefty fees they take when you sell along with Paypal fees, eats into your sales. I tried a couple of CBGs there before and although there were plenty of watchers, they didn't sell. I noticed there have been a few UK CBGs sold there lately, so it might be a good time to try again. I've put my Quality Street tin guitar on. It has a nice natural reverb sound to it. It has the usual piezo pickup so you can amp it up. I've started the price at £35 which is about half of what I normally sell CBGs for so if you're interested, have a look here and you might grab yourself a nice little bargain.
Sorry to say this though - I am only shipping to the UK at present. The complications, cost and risks of shipping abroad are still too much for my brain to cope with at present. I will get my head around it one day but too much to think about at the moment.

I have a few unfinished CBG projects that you have seen on here in the past. I really need to knuckle down and get them done. I seem to have difficulty in focussing my attention on them for some reason. Too many 'irons in the fire' is my problem but it niggles me that I have all these half-finished things. They'll all be really cool when I have them made so I'm going to concentrate on them this winter. I've started work again on the GPO tin amplifier. The screw-lid-used-as-a-volume control idea has been the stumbling block but I think I have it sussed now. I also restarted the big case that will hold two CBGs and a built-in amp. Lot's to do on that yet though.

Finally I just found out Shane Speal has set up a new Myspace/Facebook type of site called Cigarbox Nation. Had a brief look and it looks really cool. Lots of stuff to help the CBG builders and players. You may know Shane as the self proclaimed 'King of the Cigarbox Guitar' who set up the Yahoo CBG Forum some years ago. He made a sudden exit from the CBG scene earlier this year due to various pressures but seems to have bounced back now.

Monday, December 01, 2008

more cigar box guitar basics - slide playing

This is aimed at beginners who may have never played slide guitar or a three-stringed CBG. Now you have your guitar tuned up correctly you need to get the feel of playing slide.

It's amazing how many beginners think you have to press the strings down onto the fretboard with the slide. No no no, think about it. The slide is taking the place of the fret wires. The pitch or note played on a string gets higher as it gets shorter. The normal fret wires act in the same way as the nut at the top of the neck. They create a solid point on the string, along with the bridge, to allow the string to vibrate. The slide is simply a movable nut allowing you to shorten the string length in variable degrees rather than fixed ones like the fretwires. You only need to put enough pressure on the string to get a clear note when plucked. You also need to place the slide smack over the fret mark - not between frets or on the dots.

So first practise doing that on just the top (first) string. I prefer the slide on my little (pinky) finger as it leaves the best three fingers free. If you want to play slide on a conventional guitar, you'll appreciate having them free for occasional fretted notes. So just try placing the slide over the third fret position on the first string and pluck it. Does it rattle? Not enough pressure, put slightly more on until it rings out clear.

The most important thing you need to develop is hitting the note accurately when sliding up or down to it. You can only tell by using your ears. Unless you are tone-deaf you will know when it's right. So try putting your slide over the third fret, pluck the string and while it's still ringing, slide smoothly up to the fifth fret. Does it sound right? Yep - you just learned your first lick. Now try adding some vibrato when you reach the fifth fret. Using movement in the wrist, simply 'wobble' the slide back and forth slightly above and below the fret position. That sounds much better doesn't it. Try these exercises, sliding from frets 2-3, 3-5, 5-7, 7-10, 10-12 then try them in reverse. Don't forget to practise the vibrato on the targeted frets.

More tips to follow soon.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

some cigar box guitar basics - tuning

I Just thought it was time to go back to a few basics. I've probably said these things before in older posts but it's worth mentioning again for any newbie CBGers. All my guitars so far, have been made specifically for slide playing so they don't have fretwires. They just have markings as a guide, so all these comments relate specifiaclly to slide guitars and playing them.

First let's look at tuning. The bridges on most of my guitars are 'floating'. In other words they aren't glued or fixed to the body. That allows them to have fine adjustments made to the 'intonation', which is the first thing we need to check. Play a note on an open string (I usually start with the 1st). Listen to it carefully then place your slide directly over the 12th fret position and play that string again. It should be exactly an octave above the open note. You'll find it easier to get this accurate if you use a narrow metal rod such as the shaft of a screwdriver. If it's not correct, then move the bridge back or forward slightly until it is. De-tensioning the strings a little will take pressure off it and make it easier to move. If you have to change the strings, it's easier if you do one at a time. That way the bridge will stay where it is and avoid you having to do this each time.

Now to tune up - I normally tune to an open chord such as E, A or D. You can't change the tunings very far by winding the machine heads up or down so if it's currently in low open E and you want it in A, you need lighter strings. You need to make sure the tension on them is right. So how do you know what to use, this is how I do it and it works well. Think about standard tunings EADGBE. Now think about the popular open D tuning on a six-string - DADF#AD. Now if I wanted the guitar in low open E and only have three strings I would tune it to (low)EBE. Look at the standard tuning on the bottom three strings - its E(low)AD. So it makes sense to me that if I use the 6th, 5th and 4th strings from a standard set (I usually use 12s for CBGs), the tensions are going to about be right to give me my low open E chord. Tune the 6th as standard to E and the 5th and 4th can comfortably be tensioned up two semi tones to give me the B and higher E.

So using this principle I would use the 5th 4th and 3rd strings (ADG) from a 12 guage set to give me an open A which would be AEA. I just need to tune up two semi tones on the 4th(D) and 3rd(G) to get me there. This tuning up on some strings is the main reason I make my guitars with a short scale. Using standard strings on a short scale guitar means they need slightly lower tension to put them in true concert pitch, so that gives me some scope for over tensioning them slightly to get my open chords.

Lastly, a word about the necks. If you were buying a standard guitar, one of your main priorities would be making sure the neck was dead straight. These CBGs don't have anything as sophisticated as struss rods and so you will see there is often a substantial bend in the necks. Also that the action is incredibly high. This is perfectly fine for slide playing, in fact it's an advantage so don't be concerned about it. I use hard woods such as oak, mahogany, beech etc so there is no danger of them snapping under normal use.

Hope you found this helpful. Next post will be slide playing basics.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

another UK cigar box guitar builder

This is one of the rewarding bonuses I get from doing this stuff. A few weeks ago I had an email from a guy named Rich. He'd seen the blog and felt inspired to build a CBG himself and asked for some advice. Here's an extract of his email -

'Just found your website after trawling the net to buy a cbg. Could only come up with Hawaiian type guitars then I found your blog - wow that blew me away......... then I discovered seasick steve and decided I needed a cbg in my life'

He had a good look at my older posts about building, and set to straight away. He kept me informed of his progress and has sent me these two pictures of his first CBG. What a great job he's done. Look at the neat construction work - he's an engineer. He ends by saying he just needs to learn to play it now.
Nice to know he's in the England too - another CBG nut to add to our growing UK tribe. Keep at it Rich and we look forward to seeing you play this baby on Youtube one day.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

two new CBGs on the way

I've been busy building again. I've got two new ones half finished. I'm developing the distressed theme I started with the last one. One box (Sun Dried) has a lacquer which tends to chip easily. So I capitalised on it and rubbed down the edges and corners to give it that nice 'worn in' look. It has a dark stained neck with a red headstock to echo the colour of the label which is scarlet red. It's looking great and it will be hard to let this one go too. The other box is a white paper covered Hoyo de Monterrey. It has green ends so I'm painting the neck green with a white fretboard. I'll rub it down to give it the worn in look too. I'll post photos later when they are done.

Update - they're done and I'm pretty damn pleased with the. Photos soon

Monday, October 27, 2008

which one of us is crazy

The other day I called at an old fashioned tobacconist to see if they had any cigar boxes. I always feel slightly embarassed for some reason. The usual customers are often connoisseurs of fine tobacco. They are there to buy some of it, and me - I want empty boxes. I usually tell the assistant what I want them for. I think it gives me a bit more street cred and lessens the embarassment. On the other hand, I wonder if they think I'm some kind of crazy nut.

There was a customer already in there, closely examining some Monte Christos. He was taking each one out of it's aluminium tube and carefully squeezing and sniffing at it. The assistant was a friendly young man and started dealing with me whilst the other guy continued with his minute examination. These cigars were obviously something special.

I was looking at various empties and commented that I liked the Bolivar one because it had 'a nice design' on the front. This brought a reaction from the other customer that I could only describe as a snigger. Maybe he hadn't heard my first conversation and thought I was choosing cigars based on the box design. Either way it made me feel a little stupid. He closed the deal agreeing to buy four Montes, handed the assistant £60 and seemed very happy with his purchase. I bought five empty boxes for £5 and walked out of the shop, also happy.

Now the question is this. Which of us is the crazy one and who deserved the snigger? He spent £60 and will stick some rolled up leaves between his lips and set fire to them. I spent £5 and will make five guitars.

I want to add that I don't wish to offend cigar smokers, but you have to admit, it's a weird thing to be doing if you think about it. The young man who served me, was really friendly and helpful and I did promise to add the link to his shop so here it is

Thursday, October 02, 2008

distressed cigar box guitar

Here it is, the latest creation - my artificially distressed CBG. It's tuned to open A. The volume is low when played acoustically but when amplified it's a little belter! I used the bowl part of an old spoon to make a jack socket plate.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

smojo logo stamp

I've been trying to find a better way of adding my smojo logo to the headstocks. In the past I hand wrote it with a woodburning tool. Not easy to get it looking professional, not easy to control.

I'd been discussing it with my CBG buddy Mark and the idea of using some sort of stamp. So he has kindly made me a small rubber stamp, based on the new logo type I am using now. It's a little beauty. I tried it on my latest build using some white undercoat. I probably applied a little too much pressure and the paint bled out around the typeface - but I like it. Take a look.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

distressing a cigar box guitar

I've started building a new CBG and wanted to have a go at making a distressed one out of a new box. I stripped the labels of this plain looking Monte Christo box, then sanded all the corners and edges to round them off to look worn.

I added some marks by wacking the surfaces with various metal items to produce a random marked effect that would make it look like it had been used a while. Some coarse grit sandpaper scratched across the grain in a few places added to the effect. Lastly I gave it a couple of coats of stainer which gave it a mellow golden colour and picked out the distress marks.

Next stage is to make a neck to look equally old. Probably use some mahogany and paint the fretboard. I'm thinking of white, then dulling it down somehow. Compare the before and after photos - I think it worked quite well. I may add an old label or two later.

Monday, September 08, 2008

pinched harmonics on a cigar box guitar

You'll probably already know that if you pluck a string on a standard guitar and quickly touch it at the 12 fret, you get the harmonic and octave higher. You can also find harmonics on the 5th and 7th frets easily too. Well heavy metal players make use of this phenomena to get those high pitched squeals common to that genre using method know as "pinched harmonics". It's a bit of a dark art to me so excuse my ignorance on just exactly how they produce it. There is a definite techinique which I'm noy 100% sure on.

Anyway, I was just messing about with my CBG and found a way of getting an unusual harmonic which I think is similar to pinched harmonics. It sounds unusual because you can get it to sing out whilst sliding. It involved using thumb and forefinger at the same time to pluck the string. Sort of plucking it in two places with these digits but in opposite directions. I posted a short vid on my Youtube site using it. Have look and take note of what my right hand thumb and forefinger are doing when I'm getting the harmonics.

Friday, August 22, 2008

cigar box guitar playing - tabs or not

I've been asked a number of times where I got the tabs for my playing on Youtube. The answer is I don't use tabs. I find them hard to translate into real playing. I prefer to listen and find it for myself. I have never tried much to learn specific numbers and copy them in the way the masters played them. What's the point, they all do it better than me? Besides it's boring and requires too much discipline. I prefer to experiment, improvise and find my own music, maybe using some well known tracks as a basis but putting my own stamp on it. So basically I just listen to the originals, and try to play it till it sounds something like recognisable. In the process of getting there, you tend to pick up other ideas and learn something about your instrument. I guess that's what the old players did anyway before they got famous. If you think about it, the version we hear on an album and get very familiar with, is just one performance. In reality the player will play it slightly different every time anyway, improvising and changing licks and tempo. It's what keeps things fresh and exciting. So don't try to copy anything too much lick for lick. Get the basics down but then find your own music, your own style and your own way of doing things. Far more satisfying.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

major changes

I just quit my job today. It's been a total stress situation for a while and it made me feel like shit. So in a month now I will be free. Life will be a blank page. It feels kinda scary and liberating at the same time. I'm hoping that I can concentrate on this aspect of my life and get more productive. I've not done much CBG stuff for a few months now but want to finish some of these projects now and start some others.

Just bought a cracking book on guitar repair from Stewart McDonalds - "Guitar Player Repair Guide". Nothing in there about CBG's but a bit of everything on fixing and maintaining guitars. Real good stuff on three levels of experience which can only be helpful to any guitar building enthusiast. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 15, 2008

CBG buddy

Had a stimulating afternoon with my CBG buddy who we have now given the blues name of "Half Blind Clough" on account of his short sightedness :) We had a bit of a "show and tell" session and for me, the star of the show was his new creation. A really cool old box he bought on Ebay. He's fashioned the neck to reflect the nice jade colour of the original label and used his skills to distress it in keeping with the lovely time-worn box which dates from very early 1900's. Take a look :-

Monday, July 28, 2008

update on GPO tin

It's ground to a halt for now. I devised a method of using the screw-on lid as a volume control. I made a plate to mount the pot on and filed the shank down to be a slack fit D shape fit into a knob with a flat top. That was to allow the lid move up and down the pot shank as it will rise and fall as it is turned because of it's coarse thread. To fit it I needed to glue the knob to the inside of the lid. When set I screwed the lid on first, then introduced the pot and plate to the inside of the lid. The plate was drilled to accept two self tapping screws from the outside to hold it in place. It all seemed to be going OK except the knob must be slightly off centre in the lid and it won't turn all the way. So back to the drawing board on that.

I decided to fit a switched output jack so it will cut off the tiny internal speaker and allow it to connect to a cab. Most of the mechanical bits are done, mainly wiring up once I can get this volume lid thing sussed.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

GPO tin amplifier

Made a start on the amp. I've cut a plate out of the bottom for access, fitted a nice old switch on the top and a 1/4 inch socket on the side. I've drilled out a pattern of holes for the speaker grill and started working on how I'm going to fix a volume pot to the screw-on lid. Just not sure excatly what other controls to add. Maybe an output socket to connect to a big speaker cab. It's a question of what amp module type I fit. The smokey type amp I built has some weird distortion that I can't seem to cure. It's OK really but I'd like to be able to have a clean sound too. Might have to try a different circuitry. I'll post a photo soon.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Car boot sale finds

I was telling you to check out your local car boot sales for CBG building bargain stuff. Well here are my latest finds. I wanted some small speakers to fit in my plans to build small smokey type amps and look what I found. Four brand new mini speakers in plastic cabs for a huge outlay of 50 pence for the lot.

Next - not quite so cheap but still a bargain for some cigar box amplifiers, I found a pair of 4 inch Kenwood car speakers for £3.

Even more of a bargain was this little Gorilla practise amp absolutely free on my local Freecycle site. Ideal for testing new CBGs in the workshop. So get out there and start grabbing some bargains.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

I wanna do some cigar box guitars stuff

I'm getting withdrawal symptoms but still too busy with jobs around the house. I do have another project brewing up. It's a smokey type amp, going to put it in an old tin plated turpentine can. I'll cut a hole in the front for a small speaker but the real novelty of it is - I'm intending making the screw-on lid, the actual volume control. I'll drill a couple of holes in the top and fit an on/off switch and power-on LED. Probably put the jack socket in the side at the bottom so the guitar lead doesn't pull it over when connected. Should be really cool if it turns out as I see it in my head. I've already made the guts of a smokey amp and it seems to work fine. Just need to get busy.

Also in progress is a small booklet "How to build a ciagbox amplifier". It will be on sale eventually but I need to fine tune it and test drive it first. I'll post here when it's available.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

just checking in

Sorry guys, I've been a bit slack on the cbg front. Spring is here and I'm busy painting the house and doing the garden. haven't had time for any CBG building at all for a couple of months. I am working on a new smojomusic website. The present one is very basic and boring, uses a limited template and was my early attempt to get something up and running on the interweb. I'm trying to get a similar look to this new yeallow scheme here witha more distressed look using Frontpage but there's a big learning curve to overcome.

Car boot season is here in the UK so any CBG builders should be out there looking for cheap and interesting bits and pieces. I'm sure garage sales in the US will produce some good finds too. Here's a few ideas to look out for :-

  • cigar boxes (of course) but I have only ever found one at boot sales
  • old webbing or belts for guitar straps
  • sink drainers for soundholes
  • cheap screws, eyehooks and other small hardware
  • old battered guitars you can strip the machine heads, nuts and briges off
  • car speakers for cb amplifiers
  • old soild wood furniture that can be ripped down for necks
  • old volume pots, knobs
  • cheap guitar strings
  • other interesting old boxes for guitars or amps
  • specialist tools like forstner bits for cutting your soundholes, fret saws, soldering irons, smoothing planes, rasps and files, chisels etc

Don't forget to check out your local freecyle on Yahoo. I've had some good stuff for free here including a small gorilla practise amp, some velvet curtains for lining cases, a snare drum stand (need a drum to go on it now), computer speakers which I hope to turn into a cbg amp.

Hope to get back to some building soon.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

what's new in my CBG world

Well it's a bit quiet because I'm busy decorating the house. No new builds on the go at present but I have lots of ideas bubbling though. You'll have noticed the new look of the site and I'm continuing to develop that theme in my other CBG promotional stuff. I've redone my help sheet that I give away with guitars and some labels for the guitars and amps. I've bought photoshop elements to help me with artwork.

Also bought Cakewalk music creator 4 for recording and mixing down some music. I'd like to experiment with some more home grown music and have a few ideas simmering. Been brainstorming some cool track titles and written a few lyrics - that's a new direction though I doubt if I'll ever do any vocals myself. I'd love to create my own album eventually.

Working on a zine about CBGs and other stuff too. If it comes off it will be a mix of CBG building tips, blues facts, cool photos and artwork and generally stuff that's real and basic and wholesome and home made. Keep tuned in here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

tips for soldering

If you're attempting to make a CBG and install electrics, you will need a good soldering technique so here's a few tips for novice solderers.

Use the right tool for the job, a small electric soldering iron around 25 -35 watts should do. Make sure the tip of the iron is very clean and "tinned". That means applying a small amount of solder around the tip. If it's a bare copper tip, you will need to file the end clean to remove any oxidisation, heat the iron and apply some solder. Use resin cored solder, the resin removes the oxidisation and aids good adhesion.

Make a good mechanical connection first, i.e. if attaching wire to a volume pot then wrap the wire around the tag so it's held in place firmly before soldering. Now here's the big one where most novices go wrong. Apply the tip of the iron to the thing you are soldering and heat it up for a few seconds, then feed a small amount of solder to the joint, let it melt and run around then remove the iron. The wrong way is to add a big blob of solder to the end of the iron and try to transfer it to the joint like an eye dropper. Remember - heat the joint then add solder to it. It should be nice and clean and shiny. If it looks dull you might have a "dry joint" and a poor electrical connection. Reheat it and add a small amount more of solder.

Be careful on small electronic components like I.C. chips not to overheat it. Just add enough heat to melt the solder and remove it as soon as you have a good joint. Follow this technique and you should get good results. Remember the key to success is cleanliness. Make sure the soldering iron tip is clean and tags/wires are also clean first.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New look for SMOJO cigarbox guitars

You might have noticed something different here! I'm changing my "corporate" look (yikes did I say that word - wash my mouth out, that goes totally against the grain - but I can't think of an alternative word) to something more appropriate to the cigarbox guitar movement. That is a more basic hand made, distressed, retro type of look. It might change again before I'm done so bear with me. I have a whole lot of stuff to do to bring it all together but hey - it's fun. Feedback welcome.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

two string bass cigar box guitar

The two new CBGs are just about done now, pictures to follow soon. The two stringer has turned into a bass. I wasn't sure how that would turn out with a short scale neck and heavy strings but I'm well pleased and it's going to be a keeper for me.

Some lessons learned if I made another. Try a longer neck, heavier duty nut and bridge. The bridge would be best anchored as the tension of the strings tends to pull it forward. Space the strings out wider too. I just need to learn to play the thing now. I don't know anything about bass playing let alone using a slide too. I wonder if there are any professional bass players who use a slide on a standard bass. Must do some Googling and Youtubing.

Update - here's some pictures

Friday, April 04, 2008

low tech CBG

Since my first cbg I've gradually refined and improved the build quality but always cautious not to overdo it. The essence of a cbg is the home-made nature using cheap, recycled and found objects. Some builders take the quality thing to extremes and I can totally understand why. It's enthusiasm and the desire to make better and more attractive instruments but if it's really the desire for a top quality guitar that is the driving force, then why make cbg's? There are much better designs and materials for a professional instrument than a cigar box.

So I got to thinking I'd like to try make a really incredibly low-tech guitar. May not even use a cigar box. Just for the hell of it I have the idea of making a really quick, simple thing that looks as rough as hell (but with some cool mojo) but will actually play OK. It will be a 3 string slide of course. I was hoping to try find some well worn drift wood and knock together some sort of box and maybe make a neck from an old seasoned branch or something. It will probably end up as a pretty long project though, the main problem just finding the right materials. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, March 28, 2008

UK cigar box guitar revolution?

As mentioned in my last post I was meeting with another CBG nut - Mark C. Venue somewhat obscure - MacDonalds at Colne! Not the best location, a cold wet day and not much opportunity to play CBGs but nevertheless a very enjoyable one. We both brought some guitars, amps etc to show and it struck us how bizarre this whole thing is. Two middle aged blokes meeting up in Mac's car park surreptitiously examining goods out the back of the cars - like a couple of dodgy crack dealers! I think we talked non stop CBG for about two hours and it went in a flash.

Well, as Mark since said "Has it struck you that our meeting may have been historic and worthy of a blue plaque? It may well be that we are the first two UK cbg'ers to have ever met up...unless you know differently". Is this the start of the CBG revolution in the UK? If you've already started it with someone else here then drop me a line an tell us how it went. I have a few UK contacts now but haven't met any others yet. I certainly hope we can continue the friendship and look forward to the next time when we can explore our hobby/CBG passion some more and get to play some blues.

I'd like to feature some other UK/European CBG builders work on here so if you have a photo of a guitar you've built and want to share it with us, please email me with a photo and brief description.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Back to cigar box guitar building

Just had a relaxing week in Sunny Spain, (didn't find any nice cigar boxes) temperature was in the 70's F. Back home and it was freezing snowy Britain - yikes! So to cheer myself up I've had an afternoon CBG building. The two new ones are coming along great. I'm interested to see how the 2 stringer turns out and what I can do with it.

I've also got my Ebay orders for various electronic components through now so I can start experimenting with different amps.

I'm meeting up with a fellow UK CBGer on Thursday for the first time. We're bringing some stuff for a bit of "show and tell" over a coffee. Should be interesting.

I'm looking into doing a bit of music mixing and editing. It's a new direction for me and so there's another steep learning curve. I've downloaded some free software which seems pretty good. It's called Audacity. When I get some free time I'll try some simple multitrack stuff and see what comes of it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

2 new cigar box guitars started

I've started the next two CBGs but my plans have changed. Started with two pieces of timber for the necks. One oak one mahogany. They were already ripped down to size but the mahogany one was a bit on the narrow side so I decided this one would be a two-stringer, a first for me. I've rounded the back of the neck on this one and chosen a nice white and green Macanudo box. It's sort of narrow and quite deep, not the usual dimensions but I think it will work nice with the neck. I'll probably string it up in a fairly high tuning open D using unwound BE strings. The oak neck will get the green Ramon Allones box. Heading off to sunny Spain soon so CBG building will come to a halt while I do some serious research into chilling out, drinking beer and eating paella. Might even pick up the odd nice Spanish cigar box. Bummer eh?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

cigar box guitar bridges saddles

As requested here's some info on bridges/saddles. First some principles as I understand them. The bridge/saddle is the main component that transfers the vibrations of the strings to the soundboard, in our case the cigar box lid. The most efficient materials are dense ones. Having said that the traditional material for acoustic guitars is bone which is not as dense as metal but I don't know why it is favoured. A CBG is never going to compete with a Martin or Gibson on sound quality but we do want to try to get a decent volume and tone out of it, given its limited capability, so it's worth experimenting with different types. Personally I like to use as much recycled material for my CBGs as possible. I have mainly just used scraps of hardwood like oak and mahogany and shaped them into an upside down "T" cross-section shape. I made one out of aluminium for the Quality Street tin and that worked well too. My last CBG had a bridge made from bamboo and aluminium and that also worked.

I think the positioning of the bridge on the soundboard must also have some bearing on the sound. I have seen many CBGs with the bridge placed right down at the bottom of the guitar. I haven't tried placing it there myself as logic tells me that the most sensitive area of the lid must be near the middle. I opted for a position about 2/3 down the lid which is roughly where most acoustic guitars have them. The guys that build them must know a thing or two so who am I to argue.

Another issue that may be of interest to the builder is how to secure the ball end of the strings as most modern acoustic guitars have the plastic pin arrangement in the bridge. Well most CBG builders adopt the "straight through neck" design. This lends itself to fairly easy construction and the facility to leave a short "tail" at the bottom of the box to anchor the strings to. Simply drill small holes to pass the strings through from underneath. I have included a small metal plate to take the strain of the strings off the wood, which would otherwsie tend to cut into it. Hope this helps.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What's next?

I need to build up some more guitars for stock so I'll probably start two new ones soon. I've got a nice green Ramon Allones box I was going to use last time so that will be one. I'll choose a white box for the other one. It would be nice to carry on with the CBG case I started but that's still on hold. The suitcase drum is on hold too for a while.

I'd love to get the old extension speaker converted to an amp now. I'm buying up electronic components on Ebay at present to make up some new amps. I've been using kits from Maplin so far (quite expensive) but have found some plans to build low wattage amps and want to experiment with them once I get all the bits I need. I'm enjoying the electronics side of this hobby and have some ideas for some other cool ideas for housing small amps like interesting old tins, boxes and maybe a section of the big bamboo poles I have. That's a way down the road for now though.

I've had a request to put a blog on here about making bridges. I'm collecting material for that and will post soon Sammi.

I'm wondering if there would be any mileage in producing some sort of an Ebook for sale. Aimed at beginner cigar box guitar builders/players. Maybe take the meaty sections from this blog, expand on them and add more tips and photos etc. I've thought about even running one-to-one CBG building courses. I'm getting carried away I know but this stuff really lights my fire.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Partigas and Cuesta Rey cigar box guitars

Here's my latest CBG - it's a Partigas box. It's got the new experimental bamboo slice bridge which I like the look of and sounds good too. Probably make some more. The slotted headstock was tricky and this was the one that got the end of my finger sliced off when making it! The neck is the first I've made using pitch pine - a hard species of pine with a lovely grain pattern, and finished with tung oil. The fret marks are burnt in. I've used the three soundhole configuration like the last one too. You can see it played with the CB amp at

The previous new guitar was another Cuesta Rey box. I used the slotted headstock type and painted it yellow on the front to match the box. The neck is oak and stained dark brown and finished off with tung oil to feed the wood and give it a nice sheen. The strap was made from a nice old wooden bead belt. I particularly liked this guitar and it now has a new home in Ireland.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

new cigar box amplifier

Just finished a new cigar box amp. Powered by 9v battery, it has on/off switch, power on LED and volume control. Up to about half volume the sound is pretty clean. Turn it up and it gets progressively distorted providing a nice dirty sound ideal for some mean slide playing on a CBG. You can see/hear it here

Thursday, February 28, 2008

cigar box guitar building rules

I'm always looking for new angles on cigar box guitar building. I like to experiment, try new methods or materials in the hope of further improving the looks or playability and also for the fun of it. Sometimes they work - sometimes not. The last experiment was using classical guitar style machine heads requiring a slot to be cut out of the headstock. It resulted in me slicing a chunk out of my finger. Entirely my own stupid fault and I'm not sure it was worth it. I was hoping it would avoid the need for string trees giving me a steeper angle onto the tuner spindle from the nut. I found the angle was OK improving the pressure on the nut but due to the narrowness of the neck and straightness of headstock, there is a tendency for the outer strings to jump out of the threads of the bolts I use for nuts and therefor requiring some sort of string trees to guide the strings. My next experiment will be making nuts from aluminium bar with deeper slots to hold the strings more secure.

Another area for experiment is the bridge/saddle. So far I have tried using eye screws like many CBG builders but wasn't happy with the result. Most of my CBGs have saddles I make from hardwood like oak or mahogany, a sort of inverted T shape with shallow grooves for the strings. I was reading a posting on a forum about using banjo type saddles. They are narrow with feet at the ends which sit on the banjo skin and in fast look like the name suggests - a bridge. I got to the point on my latest build where I needed to make the saddle/bridge and rummaging through my scraps box, I found an odd thing which gave me inspiration. It was a broken slice of bamboo. Some time ago I bought some large diameter bamboo poles with the idea of making some percussion instruments. I had cut a slice off a piece but it had snapped in half forming a shape like half an onion ring. It struck me that the banjo type bridge could be made from a similar piece.
Using my bandsaw I cut a new slice about 6 mm wide then cut a piece about 1/3 of the diameter off it. I sliced a few mm off the outer curved edge to form a flat top. Then cut a narrow groove across that to hold a narrow aluminium saddle I made from some scrap. I think it looks and sounds good, I have fitted it to my latest CBG which you can see in another post.

My advice is, don't limit yourself to set ideas. By all means keep it in when when you find something that works well but try something new now and then, that's the fun of building these things, as someone said about CBG building "the rule is - there are no rules"

Monday, February 25, 2008

Great value drum kits

A drummer friend of mine is supplying great value drum kits and accessories. If you're interested in getting into some percussion and don't fancy the idea of a suitcase bass drum but prefer something more traditional, you might want to check out his site. Look at this "rhubarb" coloured kit, it's so yummy I could eat it! If you still want a beat up suitcase for a bass drum then he has some bargain priced quality pedals.

Click on the title of this blog to go there.

Friday, February 08, 2008

the weirdness of cigar box guitars

I had a weird experience. I was Googling CBG blogs and clicked on one of them to find "yours truly" embedded in someone elses blog. It was one of my Youtube vids and the guy was talking about it in very complimentary way. (Thanks whoever you are Chris). It set me off on a thought train about this whole CBG thing and how weird it is finding myself out there in cyberspace playing a guitar made from a cigar box for the world to see. I've never been one for wanting to attract attention but I got a weird sort of buzz from it. How did I get to that point and all the other stuff it's led me into. It's like one of those conversations you start off on one track and it goes here and there and ends up on another subject and you suddenly think "How did I get here What did we start out talking about"?

So back tracking to two years ago it all started for me when I was idly looking at old guitars on Ebay and I found a CBG for sale. Fell in love with it and had to have it. From there it was having a go at making my own which meant searching for boxes, machine heads, wood for necks etc. Then designing logos, writing up this blog, building a website, learning how to make short videos and putting them on Youtube. Now I'm making amplifiers from cigar boxes and a custom made case for the guitars. Making a bass drum from an old suitcase - it just gets weirder and more exciting all the time. I have people looking at my stuff from all over the world and e-mails from strangers who have become cbg buddies. Brilliant but bizarre when you stop and think about it and all this from a casual mooch on Ebay.

So how much weirder can this get. Well I had this bizarre thought today. How about a giant cigar box coffin? I can just see it now, a 6 foot long Monte Christo box with SMOJO written on the side and "Baby please don't go" playing on a CBG as it slowly disappears through the curtains and on to the incinerator. Talk about "smokin".

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

some lessons learnt

It was Saturday. I was making two necks for CBGs. This time I had bought the type of machine heads like you get on classical guitars - you need to make a slot in the headstock. I decided to rough drill them out on my big drill press then put a router bit in it to clean up the slot. I knew what I was doing was a bit dodgy to say the least but "I'll be careful" I thought. I had a really bad week at work stress wise and I reckon my brain wasn't running properly. The bit grabbed the wood and pulled my hand onto it in a split second. I felt a sharp pain in my finger end. There was that horrible realisation that I'd damaged my finger and it flashed through my mind "how bad is it"? So you have to look - it could have ben the whole tip of the finger. Well it wasn't as bad as I expected but it wasn't good.

So lessons learnt? Don't mess with machines when you are overtired. Follow safe practises - you know it going to go wrong don't you? Don't think you know better than that inner voice that's warning you. Lastly, don't buy those type of machine heads. It's taken three times as long to prepare the headstock and I'm not entirely happy with the results anyway.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Car boot sale booty

Had a fruitful afternoon at the local car boot sale. For our friends in the U.S. a car boot sale is a bit like your yard sales except sellers load up their car boots (trunks to you guys) and meet up in a field or large space that's been organised for the event. They pay a small fee to enter and usually set up a table of some kind and spread their junk or whatever on it and around the car. Buyers come and browse the stalls and buy your stuff if they like it. It's a very popular event here and is usually going on in most towns on Sundays throughout the UK. Now for a CBG builder they can be a good source of cheap materials for your projects. It's great fun rummageing through boxes for bits and bobs and haggling down the price. They are mostly held between Spring and Autumn but there was an early one today. So what did I find?

The suitcase. I saw an idea for using an old rigid case as a bass drum. I bought a battered old pedal on Ebay a while ago and needed a case. It's got a good "thump" to it. I'm going to make a wooden base to hold it upright and stop the pedal knocking it over. It's a yukky green colour and very scratched. Not sure yet but I might part spray it a better colour then paint a SMOJO cigar box guitar banner across the front.

Just when I was getting over the excitement of this little find, I found something even better. Check out this baby. It's an old (maybe 1940's) extension loudspeaker made for plugging into an old valve (tube) radio. Measures about 12x10 inches. Look at the fantastic retro design of it. Made from bent plywood it has a cool bakelite volume control knob with the makers name embossed on it. The speaker grill has a nice old patterned cloth behind it. So what's the big deal? Well how about fitting a 1/4 jack socket and wiring it to a small battery powered amp inside the cabinet. I can fit a new volume pot but use the original knob. What a cracking little retro amp it will make for playing my CBGs through and I imagine the sound quality will be pretty rich with the heavy ply construction. It will definitley bee a keeper for me when it's done.

Here's a screen rough graphic of a possible design for the case drum. What do you reckon?

Thursday, January 31, 2008

two new guitars and other CBG news

Loads of stuff to tell you tonight. Crap going on at work so I need a wholesome distraction and a glass or two of red. I Started work on two new guitars as per last post. The two boxes are both Cuban and one is the green Ramone Allones and the other is a Partagas, which is a sort of orange colour with wood grain pattern on the paper front. It'll go great with the reddy/orange grain of the pitch pine neck. The green one will get an oak neck and maybe stain it dark like the Cuesta Rey box I made last. I picked up some cheap stainless steel sink drain strainers from the Pound Shop. I thought they'd look good used in the sound hole of a guitar. Don't think I'll use them on these though, nice boxes as they are. I'll put some piccies on when they start taking shape.

The case I'm making is on hold for a while till I get some guitars done. Been collecting various pieces of foam packing material for the inside moulding so that's the next stage. I tried the lid for the stomp box idea but it didn't sound too good. I could put a pick-up in it but really wanted one to be useful on it's own. I might ditch that idea for the case and make a stand-alone stomper. I got the old bass drum pedal on Ebay which was meant to be used with an old suitcase as the drum. Haven't got a case yet but might work on that idea next. I tried the pedal on a plastic waste bin (which sounds good when used as a hand drum) but I had problems co-ordinating my foot with my guitar playing.

A few of other ideas. Photograph some of my boxes and put them on the smojomusic website for people to choose to have made into a guitar. Had a few requests for tabs for my tunes on Youtube. I might eventually try to write them down and maybe produce an Ebook with palying tips and some tabbed music but that's a long way off yet.

Over on Shane Speal's forum he's talking about a documentary coming up on tv in the USA about CBG's. He's anticipating it generating a lot of interest in the subject and advising others CBGers to get busy making guitars and sorting out their websites. Which reminds me that I want to improve my smojomusic site. It's free webspace hosted by my ISP. I've used their own template and it's a bit basic. It will take webs made on Frontpage which I'd like to try but as with any computer software, there's a steep learning curve to get it right and it all takes up time. If my plans for semi-retirement come off in Spring I can get stuck into some serious CBG work.

I went to a guitar fair last Summer. I made enquiries about having a stall. There was no-one else doing anything with CBG's or even slide guitar playing. If I can get a dozen guitars made my June I might try a stall there. I think they'd go well due to the brilliant and cool nature of these little buggers.

I've made the decision to try put a short Youtube clip of each guitar I make so potential buyers can see they actually sound good (despite my ropey playing). Youtube has surprised me, I've had a lot more visits than I expected and some good feedback. Well that's about it for now but I'll leave you with this. Clinton and Blair thought they were being cool playing sax and a Strat but what they should have done is got themselves a cigar box guitar. We might have forgiven them a little :)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What can I say about cigar box guitars?

I'm sitting wondering what I can say next. Well I was e-mailing another budding CBG builder and telling him what appealed to me about this business. It's so satisfying for me, I love being creative in general so what's nice about this is the whole process. I like recycling so it's cool when I can find stuff to make into an instrument and I like things that are a bit different and quirky. I enjoy the woodworking and being able to design something unique, then seeing my idea slowly emerge into reality. I love making music and playing guitars so I get a new toy to explore too. I like photography and writing about stuff so doing this blog is nice. Now I'm making some contacts with other CBGers and they are a great bunch to converse with. Lastly when someone gets one of my guitars and I see the excitement and enthusiasm that it generates, I get a huge buzz.

Three guitars have recently found new homes so I need to get busy making a few more. I have two necks in the first stage of preparation. One is a piece of pitch pine. It was varnished on one side so I've left that on and just planed up the other three sides. It's got some old character to it and nice grain. I can't decide yet whether to use that as the fretboard side or the back. The other is a piece of light oak and I might give it the dark stain treatment like the last one I made.

I have a good stock of nice boxes and can't decide which to use. I've a nice green Ramon Allones box which will be one of them. My first finished CBG was one and was meant for me but a work colleague fell in love with it at first sight and bought it of me. I'm a bit possessive when I find a real good one like the Indian Tabac box shown here. I am using one to keep my harmonicas in and another is reserved for a cracking CBG for myself one day. I'll post some pictures when they are taking shape.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A challenge to all you cigar box guitar builders

Not a cigar box guitar but a challenge to your instrument building skills. Check out this baby and see if you can make one for me :)

Intonation and saddle position on cigar box guitars

Intonation is the ability of the guitar to sound and play "in tune" at the correct fret positions and if it's wrong, a guitar won't play good at all. Not quite so critical on a fretless instrument as you play mainly "by ear" but you still want to get it right. Here's my method for setting the bridge/saddle position on my CBGs.

The neck will have already been marked out with the correct fret positions from a template which also includes the approximate position of the saddle. As you probably know, the 12th fret lies halfway between the nut and the saddle and gives you the first octave of the same note found on the open string. So that is the important position to get right.

I set the neck in the box to place the saddle about 1/3 from the tail. Don't know if that's the absolute best place for it but it seems right to me for aesthetic and playing purposes. When the neck is fixed and the lid fastened down, I string it up and place the saddle roughly where it should be. I keep the string tension low at this point so I can move the saddle easy. I use the shaft of a small screwdriver as a "slide" (easier to see the exact position over the frets due to it's narrow diameter). Next pluck a string open and either tune it to a set note with an electronic tuner or just listen to it if your pitch ear is good. Put the screwdriver slide over the 12th fret and pluck again. Is it the same note an octave higher exactly? If it is you were lucky and job done.

Assuming it's not spot on, keep plucking and move the slide up or down the string till you find the exact spot. Is it nearer or further from the saddle than the 12th fret position? If it's nearer the saddle (above the 12th) then move the saddle nearer to the nut thus shortening the nut-saddle distance until it's bang over the 12th. If the octave is below the 12th position then move the saddle nearer the tail of the guitar. Once you've got it in the right place you can either mark it's position, slacken the strings and glue it in place or just leave it unglued and tension up the strings to the pitch you want them. My preference now is not to glue because that gives me the option of fine tuning it in the future without ripping it off the box.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year to all you cigar box guitar nuts

Happy New Year to all you CBGers. Thought I’d be seasonal and take stock of the old year, CBG-wise. Haven’t done as much as I would have liked but still quite satisfied for a part time effort. I’ve built three or four guitars, started my buskers kit flight case, learnt how to use my digital camera for making videos and put three on YouTube (had a few hundred visits in the first month, much more than I expected). Had some nice comments and e-mails and made some good contacts through it.

My job and serious illness in the family caused a lot of stress and dampened my creativity somewhat but in some ways this CBG thing helped me through. It’s fun and it’s a passion I enjoy very much. It taps into my need for creativity on many levels. I love guitars and playing them. I love music, listening and making it - especially blues. I love making things and bringing my ideas into existence. I like writing and taking photos. This thing combines all those elements – wow how much more can you want. Yeah, ok sex and money might be contenders!

What I also love about this stuff is the simple low tech element. How you can take a few cheap materials and recycle them into something cool, fun, exciting and totally unique. You get a new toy and a terrific buzz because you made it. It has soul. You don’t get that with a 4000 dollar guitar bought from your music store. I think Shane Speal says it all in his post on his excellent Yahoo cigarboxguitar forum. Quote

“MODERN CONSUMERISM AND THE CBG Now think about this following question: How much consuming can we continue to endure as a civilized culture before we say "enough"? We've seen unparalleled growth in spending, the stock market and more. Now there seems to be a growing discontent with "stuff". Have you noticed it? I have, especially this last Christmas. In fact, I kept hearing from families who decided to spend less money on extra crap and became more thoughtful in their actions. People want something DEEPER...more meaningful. Have you noticed that the cigar box guitar seems to be, by it's very nature, a SYMBOL of that back-to-basics spirit? Even though guitarists can buy a fantastically made Chinese guitar for under $200, so many are turning to our CBG Revolution because we offer something that the modern companies can't: TRUE SOUL. A cigar boxguitar cries and growls in ways you cannot control. It offers unexpected adventures when you pick it up. What Stratocaster can give you that? And in the same way, what perfectly packaged "widget" can offer you deep meaning and a true connection with the past like the way a home made piece of folk art can? Let's face it, CIGAR BOX GUITARS MAKE PEOPLE SMILE. They make people stop what they're doing and pay attention. The instrument, in it's magical simplicity, has the ability to break thru modern convenience and plant the seed of meaningful soul.What I'm saying with this is this: RIGHT NOW, PEOPLE ARE GETTING DISCONTENTED WITH MODERN STUFF. There has never been a better time to show the world the cigar box guitar. It's a symbol as much as a fun instrument to build and play. The pump has been primed, the music industry has collapsed on itself and now a doorway to do-it-yourself music has opened...with ready made audiences just waiting.”