Thursday, December 31, 2009

cigar box guitar New Year

Shit! Where did the first decade go? If I'm gonna make it to be rich and famous and idolised by millions, I'm gonna have to get a move on! Well Seasick Steve has a few years on me and he managed it, so I guess he's a role model for us all. Realistically it ain't gonna happen but you know what? I'm blown over by how many hits I've had on this blog and some of my Youtube vids. That's my little piece of fame and thanks to you folks for checking out my stuff and coming back for more.

So what plans have I got for 2010? Generally, the old chestnuts - lose some weight, get fitter, use my time better, blah blah blah. But realistically - CBG/music-wise I want to take a bit of time out from building guitars for other people. I have a list of personal projects I want to complete. You'll have seen some of them I started here months/years ago. There's my super-duper two-guitar case with built-in amp I started way back. Well before that I want to make a simple, one-guitar case and that's near the top of the list. I never have a decent case to carry the odd guitar around. The other one was a bit too ambitious so never got finished. Next is what I call my JuJu special. It's a keeper for me, utilising the fabulous hand-wired magnetic pickup I won at the Birmingham CBG Fest, made by fellow cbg builder and Yorkshiremen, JuJu. It'll have frets and a volume control - two firsts for me. I want to finish my SMOJO RATOCASTER - the strat copy I am building from a box of parts I bought for £25. I want to make another batch of tobacco tin amps - had quite a few enquiries about those; a stabilised power supply for my electronic experimenting and lots more - maybe a CB uke, a dulcimer, diddley bo - the list is endless. That should take me to the end of the next decade!

But most of all - top of my list for 2010 is PLAY MORE. I've got some great gear now and should make better use out of it. Most of the creative challenges of CBG stuff have been explored, so the final chapter is to get some of my own music down on record and hopefully produce some kind of album. Not becuase I think my playing is particularly good or that anyone would want to listen to/buy it. Nope, it's a question of 'completing the journey'. How many conventional artists - painters etc get all the gear, learn the skills, make sketches etc then put them in a drawer somewhere, never to see the light of day. Surely the most satisfying aspect is to finish the work, frame it and hang it on a wall. Job done. Creativity should not be stiffled or bottled and stored away. Once you've created your masterpiece, whatever it is, it's so much more satisfying to let it go out into the world. Like setting a caged bird free! That's the thrill I get when I've built a guitar and someone wants it; or I write my blog and publish it. It's the release that makes you sort of go 'aaaghhh' inside. It's a bit like breaking wind, such a satisfying feeling when you let rip and release it! So that's what I want to do with the actual music. In the words of Frank Zappa 'blow it out your ass, motorcycle man' though I don't think he was referring to creative energy! (It's just a great line I wanted to use). Hopefully it'll be more like a John Lee Hooker line in boogie chillen - 'Let that boy boogie woogie, it's in him and it gotta come out. And I felt so goood'

Happy New Year folks and keep on doing what you makes you feel good.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy cigar box guitar Christmas

Hi folks. I'd just like to say Happy Christmas to you all. Thanks for visiting my site, I would never have thought I'd reach so many people and so many hits on a subject as "odd" as cigar box guitars. It's four years since I first heard of them and had one given for Christmas. I've had so much satisfaction from all this. Building, playing, writing about them etc. Please keep coming back here and leaving a comment if you feel inspired to. I love to hear from other CBGers and am always happy to respond to any emails.

Well the fret-fitting experiment was a bit of a flop. Lessons learnt - don't try to retro-fit frets to an existing guitar unless it has a decent low action height. The intonation is crap due to the excessive stretching of the strings when trying to hold them down. Also the fret marks I had made were done with shallow saw-cuts which were wider than the fretwire tang and so there was little for them to grip to when I made the correct sawcut. I tried super-glueing them in which was only partly successful. Apart from that, they looked cool and weren't too difficult to fit but the guitar is still only suitable for slide playing. I may try to refit the neck so that the action is lower but I reckon if you want a fretted cbg, then best to start out from scratch with the intention and plan them into your build.

Hope you all have a great Christmas and that there are no nasty surprises in store. Keep the lo-fi, cigar box flag flying!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

two latest cigar box guitars

Here's the promised photos of the two new builds. They didn't hang around long, gone to a new home already. The white one is a Cuaba box, one of the prettiest I've had so far. The bridge is made from an allan key, the soundhole cover is a mounting from a wardrobe rail. The Partagas guitar started out as a fairly boring and too-new looking box. I aged it by creating a few dings and scratches then rubbing it with stain which deepened the colour. I wanted it to remain fairly simple and primitive looking so I created the soundholes to look as though they were burnt through but in fact they were drilled and then burnt with a soldering iron. The bridge is a nice rusty old nut and bolt.

So what's my next plans? I'm hoping to have a break from building any new guitars in order to finish a few projects. I want to get into fretwork. I've got the wire and a special fret-saw. Nice to see the saw is made in Sheffield - good old English manufacturing. I'm going to practise on some guitars I've had for a while. The first attempt will be to convert a 3-string fretless guitar into a "dulcitar" - basically a cbg with frets at certain positions that produce a particular scale when played, rather than at every semi-tone position. When I'm happy with my technique I'll fit frets to my half-built "special" that'll contain JuJu's hand-wired magnetic pickup. Maybe build another batch of tobacco tin amps and what I really want to do soon is make a simple wooden case to carry a cbg. It will get the SMOJO treatment to make it a cool box. I started a case months ago but it was too ambitious, with built-in amp and velvet lining. It's half-way there but it'll have to wait a while longer yet.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

free - cigar box guitar xmas album

Yes folks - it's free, it's an album of Christmas songs performed with cigar box guitars and it's brilliant. I'm sick of hearing the same old Christmas songs year after year. This is a refreshing change. It's been put together by Shane Speal, the creator of the Cigarbox Nation networking site . There's over 20 tracks by different folks who populate the site and there's an interesting mix of styles. I love it. Look for the download link on the Nation's home page. Wait for the free version to appear after about 45 seconds - just ignore all the advertising crap and you might need to have two or three attempts to download it but belive me, it's worth the effort. Enjoy

Monday, December 14, 2009

this and that cigar box guitar stuff

Been busy with decorating the bedroom so the important stuff (CBGs) has had to take a back seat. The two new guitars are taking shape now, hopefully they'll be finished in a week or so.

There's a new forum-style website started up for handmade instruments. I can't give out the URL yet as it's not gone public at the moment. The creator is Ted Crocker who's claim to fame is the builder of the fabulous guitar in "The Honeydripper"film. It's shaping up to be an interesting site with sections on percussion, wind and other types of instrument building as well as CBGs. It was here that I saw some fabulous hand made slides made for bones. They are customised for the buyer with engraved designs and you can have your name etched into it too. I've ordered one and will show you it when I get it. I'll give you the URL to the craftsman who makes them, once I get the slide.

It's coming up to my 4th anniversary in cigar box guitar world. I saw one on Ebay, loved the look of it, my wife said she'd buy it for me for Christmas and I immediately fell in love with it and started making my own. I'm just as enthusiastic as ever about them and I'm pleased to say there is a growing number of builders and players in the UK now. This year marked out first UK cbg fest and I'm sure there'll be another next year. I've met some great folks, both in the flesh and online through this crazy stuff and I'd like to say a big thanks to all who have visited my site, here and on Youtube and the encouraging comments and emails that some of you have left.

I have a list of ideas and projects I'd like to complete in the future so plenty of material to write about here. Please keep dropping in to see what I'm doing occasionally. I'm intending getting further into my playing and some recording as well as continuing to build more handmade blues beasts.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

and another toy and two new CBGs

Yup, another cool toy to add to my armoury. It's a Tapco Blend 6 mixer. I needed a small mixer to be able to combine several souces into the Headrush. So now I can connect a guitar and mic into the Headrush which will be allow me to add vocals or acoustic instruments when using the looping facility. The Blend 6 is made by mackie and very well built. It's been discontinued now so you'll have trouble finding one but watch out on Ebay for a used bargain - that's where I bought mine.

I've got two new guitars on the bench, half built. One's a Partagas, plain wood box and will get the ageing treatment similar to the Monte 3 that I made. The other is a Cuban box, first one I've seen like this and it's really pretty. Watch out for photos of them in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile here's a link to me using the looping facility on the Headrush and a CBG.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

two new CBGs and a new "must have" toy to get

Just finished two of the batch of three cbgs. I've posted some photos of them on my Flickr site. If you want to see them they are here.

The last one should be finished in a few days. There's a bit more detail going into it including a sink drainer soundhole and a tailpiece made from an old hinge. It's looking cool already.

So what's the toy? It's an Akai E2 Headrush pedal. Just discovered them the other day and decided I have to have one. They are a delay and looping pedal. Designed to work like the old fashioned tape loop of the 60s. Should be fun to play around with. Here's a link to KT Tunstall demoing one.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

tuning lessons for cigar box guitar

Hi all. just uploaded some lessons to Youtube. Been thinking for a while that you may have built a cbg or maybe bought one and it's gone way out of tune. You've had difficulties getting it to sound right etc. So I thought it would be good to do a few vids for beginners, to get you back on track enjoying your guitars. OK they're a bit rough and ready and I tend to repeat myelf a bit but I did them more or less as first takes, unrehearsed and just as the ideas came into my head. I didn't want to spend too much time, just enough to get the information across. Take a look and if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or two. Hope you find them helpful. Check them out on my Youtuibe channel here.

Friday, November 06, 2009

3 New cigar box guitars on the bench

I've got three new guitars on the bench in various states of completion. First coming off is a lovely small Cuesta Rey box - bright yellow. I've used one of these boxes before and they are really pretty. Mahogany neck and piezo pup. It's strung up already and sounds great. Just a couple of finishing touches to add. Next off the line will be another pretty yellow box - a Partagas. Much bigger than the C.R. with an identical mahogany neck and pup. Just about ready to string it up. Thirdly and coming along nicely is another big box - a white Hoyo. Paler wood for the neck, not sure what it is, but similar to mahogany. I'm adding a few extra refinements to this one. A crackle-finish painted headstock, the nut will be made from an acrylic plastic bathtub sample, and I'm adding a tailpiece made from an old door hinge. It's looking good so far but still a lot of work to do.

I'll post photos shortly and if you ever want to see what I have available, check out my Flickr sets at this link. You can see a gallery of past guitars and amps too.

I've added a couple of new vids to youtube too. One of me playing the baccy tin amp and another demo of the mic. You can also check out my bowler hat! It is an acquired taste though and I'm not sure I've acquired it yet. It may be the only time I wear it! I'm also planning to make a few basci instruction videos. starting off with how to set up the bridge for correct intonation then tuning in open E, A, and G. Aimed at people making their first guitars or those who have bought one, lost the original tuning and don't know how to get it back. So keep checking into my Youtube channel for these here.

Thanks for all those who have visited my blog over the last few years and for those who have left comments. I always appreciate a bit of positive feedback.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

tobacco tin amp and mic

Thought you might like to see my latest projects - a tobacco tin amplifier (above) and microphone below. The amp has a small internal speaker with an output jack that can connect to a speaker cab, switching off the internal one. There's a gain control which at minimum setting has an almost clean sound but when cranked up has a wicked distortion. Only 1/2 watt but more than loud enough to pee off the wife whilst watching tv. There's an on/off swicth and LED indicator. Runs off a PP3 9 volt battery.

The microphone is a passive device and simply has a 1/4 inch jack plug to connect to an amp. has a slight distortion to it - great as a harmonica mic. I think both these items look real cool and go great with the whole CBG ethos.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

tins, suitcases, hats, carboot sales and cbgs

Five things I find hard to resist. There's something I really like about containers in general - particularly boxes and tins. They're just very useful for storing your treasures of one kind or another. Combine the elements of patina from age and maybe an attractive design and I have to have it. The prospect of finding them at knock down prices just adds spice to the recipe. I love hunting around boxes of junk at boot sales and charity shops and seeing what I can find. I have some lovely old tobacco tins whcih I started turning into small battery operated amps. I'll post some photos soon.

Suitcase - it's the old-fashioned brown cases I like. Pre-1970s I guess. Before zips and wheels were fitted. Leather ones are cool but so far I haven't found affordable ones but I do have a number of the hard cardboard type ones. Great for storing my junk in the basement and attic.

What about hats' then? I had to have a trilby didn't I? What self respecting bluesman hasn't got one. Yeah it's a cliche I know but I found one in Amsterdam for 5 Euros and it looked OK on me. That started the hat collection going. So what is my latest find at a boot-sale? A bowler. Yes I know they aren't particularly cool but they certainly aren't a cliche. It just gives me a giggle when I put it on and although I'll never step out of the house with it, you might see it on Youtube one day, accompanied by a CBG.

So what do these things have in common? I guess it's all about mojo. Most modern things don't have it. It comes with age, use and character. Look at packaging of food and goods these days. Plastic trays, polystyrene, cling wrap, etc. Look at what manufacturers used 50 years or more ago. Decorative printed tins, wooden packing cases, glass bottles etc. They just have so much character. It's about individuality, anti-technology, lo-fi, back to basics. That in a nutshell is the cbg ethos too.

Monday, October 05, 2009

more about the UK cbg fest

Two days on and I'm still buzzing about the event. Lot's of ideas rattling around my head. In fact I can't think of much else at present. Everyday subjects seem so mundane and boring when there's so much good stuff to recall, new builds to plan, newfound CBG friends to catch up with.

I have to say a big thanks again to Chickenbone John who organised the whole thing. He gave us a very entertaining and informative day and is a nice bloke too. Also thanks to his helpers who not only provided a band to play against but kept us well supplied with food and drinks. John explained the basics of making a cbg for those new to the subject explaining that in it's simplest form, it's just a box with a stick attached! He took us through the basics of playing and we all jammed along to a very noisy 'Walking Blues'.

One or two people talked about their specialities - pick-up winding for example, which is something I always intended to have a go at but have so far shyed away from. One of the guys has mastered the art and produces beautiful hand wired three string magnetic pick-ups. He generously donated one for the evening raffle. There was also a cbg, stomp box, hand made bottle-necks, and a few other items. My buddy Mark and I both agreed the pup was THE prize we were both longing for and bought a strip of tickets each. I couldn't believe my luck when they drew the prizes - I won it. After a great cbg day and evening this was the absolute icing on the cake for me. I intend to build a new guitar to do justice to this beautiful object. Got some ideas already but need to take my time and get every detail just right for my best guitar yet. It'll be a keeper of course.

If you're interested in getting your mits on one of these pick-ups, then keep looking in here. I'll be posting details of the makers name and email address when he's ready, he's just a bit busy at present to take orders. Hopefully I'll have my guitar made and make a short vid to show you. I'll take a photo of the pup and post that when I get time. Need to dip my head in a bucket of cold water now.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

First UK cigar box guitar fest

Yes folks it's happened at last. My dream of a UK cigar box festival finally came to reality thanks to Chickenbone John who hosted the event at the Tower of Song Blues Club Birmingham . He did a sterling job and gave us great day of blues and cigar box fun. A relatively small but enthusiastic gathering of about 25 attended for a day of pure cbg indulgence. I met a great bunch of folk and got the chance to examine their amazing creations. I'm still buzzing from the excitment and trying trying to take it all in. So much to see and people to meet. Cigar Box Nation forum has been the vehicle that initially brought us together when I started a UK discussion group in an attempt to identify other CBGers in the UK. Just to say it was a fantastic day with playing and building workshops, a 'show and tell' session on guitars, pickup winding, building small amps and open mike session for those with enough confidence. The evening gig featured Chickenbone John and his resident house band, open mike again and to top it off, the amazing Hollowbelly. I'll be telling you more in later posts. Here's some photos of the incredible guitars.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

some cigar box guitar photos

Photos of my latest batch in the last post. The brown wooden one is the loudest and best tone unplugged CBG I've made yet. It was a quickie - no electrics, but the box has a thin but solid wood lid (not ply) and I think that is why it's so loud.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

CBG lesson learnt

I started two new CBGs the other day. I like to try something new each time so I designed a headstock that was slightly larger to allow the machine heads to be positioned so that the strings would be parallel and in line with the slots in the nut. I also decided to offset it to give a steeper angle for the strings to cross the nut and hopefully avoid having to use some sort of string trees to keep the strings in place on the nut (which I normally have to do). Well it was probably a mistake because it took about 3 or 4 times longer to make the neck than usual. It won't sound any better and I'm not sure it will look any better (just different). I soon regretted this little experiment and the words of my CBG buddy came ringing back in my head. He advocates the KISS principle KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID.

It's all too easy to get carried away with new ideas and our tendency to want to improve things all the time. Sometimes though, it's better to stay with the tried and true. Innovation is healthy and desirable and you have to try new ideas to see if you can improve on old methods, but you have to find a balance between the benefit you might get and the extra work or hassle to get it. In this case I decided my CBGs will embrace the KISS principle in future. I love building these little instruments but I don't want a headache in the process and I don't want a project to go on for too long. I like my CBGs to be pretty but a little rough around the edges, so too many refinements work against my basic principles. Lesson learnt (I think)!

To offset the frustration of making these two complex necks I decided to try knock off a couple of real quickies. Back to my simple straight neck/headstock design I started two more necks. I have a nice varnished wooden Gran Corona box so I used that on one neck and ploughed ahead to complete a simple, no frills, no electrics guitar. I got it finished in about 4 hours and you know what. I think it's lovely and i got such a great buzz from creating a guitar in sucj short time. I'll post some photos soon.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Friday, August 07, 2009

new love

I have a new lady in my life that I've fallen in love with. She's was born in Chicago about 50 years ago but still a good looker. Heck I'm no Brad Pitt myself and at my time of life, I prefer a lady with some maturity. She's been around and I have to admit, when she was younger, she was cheap and available to any guy who had a few dollars to spare. She's on the small side with a short thick neck (doesn't sound all that attractive huh?) but her body is still in good shape apart from a few scars. She's not all that easy to please though, you have take her as you find her and not expect too much. She was a bit highly strung and smelled like an old ash tray when I first met her but I've worked my magic, given her a good rub down and she's starting to smell better, unwind and respond to my fingers. Her name - Stella. If you're reading this I guess you'll like her too. Next time I'll show you a photo of my new love.

Monday, August 03, 2009

finding cigar boxes

For us Brits, it's hard to source cigar boxes. Most builders here find it almost impossible to find them, smoking cigars is a minority occupation. I must say though that I have done pretty well finding plenty so far. The main source is from old fashioned, small tobacconists shops who specialise in cigars and pipe tobaccos. I have found them to be very willing to let me have empties at very reasonable prices. I usually pay no more than £1 per box.

I had a good experience this weekend when I found one of these places (location - top secret). When I entered the shop I could see a small storeroom with a pile of empties on the floor. I thought I'd pre-empt the deal by stating what I usually pay. He showed me the boxes and I chose 4 decent ones (couldn't carry any more). Now the crunch was coming.

"So they usually charge you £1 each", he said. I thought he was going to sting me for more. "My boss usually gives them away and just asks for small donation to the charity box", he said.

I willingly gave him the donation and came away with four bargain-priced boxes and a warm glow from the generosity of the man. Nice to know there is still some around in these hard times.

Monday, July 27, 2009

two new CBGs finished

Just finished the two new ones. Top is the Monte. I've used the tangs of a fork, cut off from it's handle and bent back through 180 degrees as a string anchor. Works well. Neck has had white paint rubbed into the grain to give it a limed oak effect. Frets marks were cut in and filled with paint then red paint rubbed into the main fret positions. I didn't like the smoking warning on the label so rubbed most of it off with wire wool then added my own smojo stamp three times to make it more interesting. Sound holesurrounds are brass grommets. It's tuned to low open E. Sounds and plays great.

Bottom one is a Romeo Y Juliet. Similar treatment on the neck but I stamped my thumbprint in green paint on the main fret psotiotions. I've used a piece of wire mesh glued inside the soundhole which is slighty bigger than I usually make them. It has a fantastic acoustic volume for a small box. Maybe the bigger hole helps. This one is tuned to open A. They both have piezo pups and sound great.

Friday, July 03, 2009

two more cigar box guitars in the pipeline

Been working on two new ones today. A nice bright yellow Monte Christo and a white Romeo Y Juliet boxes. Mahogany necks. I'm going to rub white paint into the grain of the necks to give them some character and charm. Paint the headstock with a sympathetic colour, might use a crackle finish. Not sure about the soundholes yet, might use brass grommets for the Monte but something else on the other one. I liked the 'key' bridge on the last one so might repeat that idea on one of them. I need to build up some stock fairly quickly so I'm not going to drag these out. Stay tuned in for the finished items in a week or so.

When these are done I want to build a real nasty 'rat rod' CBG. Not sure at all how it will turn out but thinking along the lines of rusty fittings and a well worn box. I'm going to have to experiment with various ageing processes. Should be a fun exercise.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

new Don Tomas cigar box guitar

Just dropping in to post a picture or two of my latest build. I'm using an old door key for the saddle on the bridge - works well. Sink drainer for sound hole and solid mahogany neck cut down from some old shelves. Nice warm tone from the smallish box and pretty good volume. I'm pleased with this one but it's been claimed already!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What now in smojo CBG world?

I haven't been doing much CBG stuff for a few weeks due to other commitments so I need to get busy again. Had an afternoon on the new Don Thomas today, should be finished in about a week. I'm figuring on using an old key for the bridge just for novelty. With the Birmingham UK CBG fest coming up in October, I'm hoping to get quite a few made before then. I even had to let one of my 'keepers' go last week so my stock is getting pretty low.

Mark C. - a good buddy of mine has suddenly got busy with his CBG stuff. He made a cracking guitar a while ago using a very old and beautiful box called Rough Havanas and has just sold it to one of the band members of The Paperboys. You can see them playing it on his Youtube vid here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

UK cigar box guitar meet

Exciting news for cigar box guitar fans in the UK! Plans are under way for a one day event at Birmingham later this year. It's hoped to include a day of workshops for players and builders followed by a Hollowbelly gig in the evening. Builders will be bringing some of their CBGs for swap/sale etc. The event is hosted by Chickenbone John to be held at the the Crossroads Blues Club on Sat 3rd October. If you are interested please contact me so I can pass on your details to John. Full details haven't been finalised yet but I'll keep you posted on it. If you are into CBGs then it looks like it's gonna be a gig not to miss.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

cigar box guitar documentary

Shane Speal announced - On Tuesday night at 11:59pm, Alabama Public Television will re-play "Songs Inside the Box," the Max Shores cigar box guitar documentary. It will be shown on no less than NINE tv stations throughout the state. The documentary is an hour long and covers everything from how-to-build & play CBGs to the magical music these things inspire. Most people who have seen it give the EXACTLY SAME REACTION: "I want to build one of these, myself."

Can't get it in the UK but all you guys out there in the USA should tune in to this. It should be fantastic.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

New cigar box guitars

Just started two new builds. One is going to be my first 4 stringer and it's going to have frets which will be a first as well. The box for it is a beautiful Indian Tabac Cigar Co. This one's going to be a keeper so I'm going to town on it a bit. I've rounded the back of neck for comfort and experimenting with creating a cracked paint finish to cover it with. I will definitley add a volume pot and might invest in a magnetic coil pup (another first). It's good to break the mould and try something different.

The other box will be for sale and is a three stringer. Mahogany neck again (I got several solid shelves from the local Freecycle). I've cut grooves for fret markers and filled them with white undercoat. The marker dots have been routed in and also filled with white paint. Not sure what else I'll put on it yet, maybe a drain cover for soundhole or maybe something completely different. I'm in the mood for innovation.

Had a go at making a stomp box too. The sound from the piezo I fitted was disappointing though - too harsh, so i need to experiment some more. Cushioning with a piece of carpet on top improves it and so does using a shoeless foot for stomping.

Nice to see we're getting a few Brits over on Cigar Box Nation. I started a discussion just for us, so if you're a Brit and into CBGs why not sign up and meet the other guys.

Friday, February 27, 2009

cigar box guitar soundholes

Had an interesting question from a reader and after spending a while replying, thought it would make a good post for others. Norm asked:

I've cut the neck for a 6 string acoustic CBG to learn on. Have a beautiful piece of leopard wood for the fret board. Trying to select the box. Going to go with kind of a plain Jane so I won't feel bad about cutting a sound hole in the middle. Since some of the art work on the CB's I have picked up is so beautiful I can't bring myself to put a big hole through it!!!

My question is this. I'm going with a 25 inch scale, how large of a diameter sound hole should I cut and how far from the bridge do you think I should place it. I'd like to get the biggest sound as possible. Would you suggest reinforcing the inside of the box? I am building with the neck and tailpiece as one unit going all the way through the box.... hmmm that right there would limit placement of a central sound hole. What would you suggest with that in mine? Maybe two smaller sound holes on each side of the neck/tail piece? If so what size diameter or radius?


There's been a lot of debate on CBG forums about soundhole sizes. I'm not an expert luthier, I reckon you probably know more than me on regular guitar building. I tend to like to keep things fairly quick and simple in the original spirit of CBGs being rough home-made instruments. I do like to know the science etc behind things though but don't actually apply it to my builds. Here's a link to one article just Google "helmholtz resonator" for more info.

As far as I understand, soundhole size has nothing to do with the scale length but is relative to the volume of air inside the box. I'm sure there are online calculators to give optimum sizes if you can work out the internal volume of your box. Theory suggests that size seems to affect the frequencies more than actual acoustic loudness - larger holes better treble but less bass. Some CBGers don't bother with holes at all and some put one in each corner. It seems that it doesn't make all that much difference what you do. I guess that's becuase the poor acoustic properties of a cigar box can't be altered enough to actually hear a big difference in audio quality. It's more a question of visual aesthetics where you place them.

My personal slant is usually to put one about an inch diameter in one corner. Sometimes two or three smaller ones. (I think the optimum worked out by someone was surprisingly small - only about 3/8 inch for the average size box). I built one with it in the centre but hid the neck by fitting a sink drain cover over it. Very little 'hole area' when you add it together but it sounds great and is one of my favourites. I also fit piezo pickups to all my guitars so if I want some volume and variety of tone I just run it through an amp.

I reinforce the box by simply running a bead of wood glue (PVA) around the inside of the corners. Some people use wooden beadings glued for extra strength. I think soundboard bracing would be overkill.

Theories seem to go right out the window with CBGs. Standard acoustic guitar builders consider the type and thickness of wood for the soundboard, type of internal bracing etc. Doesn't seem to make much difference to a cbg. Example I built one with a very thick lid. I thought it would sound dead but it has the best sustain of them all. In fact it's the thinner box lids that seem to be a little dead, I would have thought the opposite though perhaps they give more volume. A pal built one out of an all-cardboard box and it sounded great.

My advice would be not to get too caught up in all the technicalities or striving for the ulitmate sounding CBG. Just have fun, experiment, try a different approach each time you build one and see what works. You will be surprised what does. Every one I've built has sounded and felt different, some better than others but unless I use the exact same box and neck wood, I doubt I could repeat any one exactly but that's one of the things I like about it all - variety and the element of surprise. Don't get drawn into being too precious about them. It's a guitar made out of a cigar box after all! You're not competing with a Martin or a Gibson. Be guided by your imagination and whims and just enjoy the whole creative aspect.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Slack Key music

My last post on the Balalaika drew a very interesting comment from 'Wood Finery' about 'Slack Key music'. I love to go off in different musical directions so had to find out more. He sent me a link explaining it, so here's the starting point if you want to find out too.

So from there I just had to hear some and found this on Youtube

and this sweet little lady playing her own composition

So how does this possibly tie in with CBGs? There are several connections. Slack Key seems to be of Hawaiian origin and is basically played with a detuned guitar to an open chord - typically open G or D - same popular tunings that blues guitarists use for bottleneck or slide work. Same tunings as we tend to use for CBGs. The two styles, blues and hawaiian music, may seem miles apart in musical content but if you read up on the history of blues you'll find the connection. At the time that blues was gaining popularity in the early 1900's in the USA, so was Hawaiian music. Many blues players borrowed the styles of Hawaiian players, detuning guitars to open chords but playing them in their own bluesy styles. One of the main differences though, seems to be the use of a slide in blues (often attributed to the story of Charlie Paton hearing a guy playing slide with a knife on a railway station) whereas the Slack Key music I've seen on Youtube so far seems to be fingerstyle. I have also seen Hawaiian slide playing but not referred to as 'Slack Key'.

The small samples I've heard of Slack Key so far are beautiful and I shall be spending some time exploring it more. Many thanks to 'Wood Finery' for bringing this to my attention.

Monday, February 16, 2009

latest cigar box guitar

Here's a piccy of one of my latest cigarbox guitars. It's tuned to low open E. Neck is mahogany and it has a piezo pup. Bridge and nut are threaded bolts. Strap is hand made from some webbing with strong hessian twine to anchor each end.

I've had a go at a stompbox using a cool looking French butter box. I attached a piezo disk and amped it up but it sounded rubbish. Just a plain tapping sound. I want a deeper thump but as yet don't know how to get it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I just bought this at a charity shop for about £8 ($12) for my collection of cool instruments. It's a Russian folk instrument called a balalaika . I thought you might find it interesting. This one's not top quality and has some water damage to the bottom right but it's a nice little thing. I was interested to notice how much it has in common with my cbgs. Three strings, small soundhole, simple moveable bridge, no truss rod, string anchorage over the bottom.

Apparently it is normally tuned to EEA - the two Es in the same octave. At the moment it's only got one steel string but even so I've had a lot of fun with it. The string is under very low tension so I can get some really big note bends. I've tried it with a bottleneck too. I can get some really buesy sounds out of it, though that's not how they are normally played.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

february cbg update

Two new cbgs on the go, should be finished soon. A Ramon Allones green box and a Robaina white box, both with mahogany necks made from some solid shelves I acquired on Freecycle. There's some good stuff to be had from that site. The other day I got a Realistic megafone speaker. It's one of those metal horn shaped things for outdoor use. I'm thinking about building it into a rough old wooden box with one of my Smokey type amp modules as a sort of busker's amp.

I've finished the cigar box amp booklet (I think) and the first copy has gone out to a friend to test drive it. He's an electronics novice so he will be able to tell me if there's any tweaks needed. Once I'm happy with it, I'll put it up for sale for about a fiver (£££). I'll post details on it for anyone interested.

I bought an old 1970's USA license plate off Ebay. Mainly because I think they are cool items and partly because I have ideas of using it in some sort of CBG related item. I'm thinking of a stomp box using it as the footplate. I'm also trying to figure how I can add some beer bottle tops to it to rattle like a hi-hat when stomped.

Saw Seasick Steve live at Leeds alst week. Absolutely love that guy. He played a couple of cbgs in his act as well as his 'Trance Wonder' beat up old solid body electric. I can only say that if you get the chance to see him live - go go go.

The Cigar Box Nation site continues to get better. There are so many fantastic creations to be seen in the photos file and lots of advice in the classroom section. If you haven't had a peek at it yet it's well worth it.

I've been looking at steel resonator guitars and whipped myself into a frenzy over one. It's made by Republic Guitars and is called the 'Resolian'. I have a cheap wooden bodied reso which I like a lot. This type of guitar is very loud and has a lovely bluesy sound and just a cool looking a cbg. I'm hoping to sell a few more cbgs and some of my nondescript standard guitars to fund the reso.

Monday, January 05, 2009

what now

I've just about finished the GPO tin amp. It's such a cool little bugger - I love it. Mostly because it's a little beauty of an old tin, secondly it turned out better than I expected. It's the first amp I've made from scratch using the diagrams on the beavis audio site. Basically, it's like the guts of a Smokey amp. The tin lid is working great as a gain control. Whacking it up full gives some wicked distortion. I fitted a jack socket to allow it to be connected to a speaker cab but as I haven't got one I can't try it through a nice big speaker yet. I'm hoping to get time to record a short vid of it on Youtube soon.

Some new ideas I'd like to do this year.

Make a speaker cab from a rough old wooden box that had French butter in originally. Or it might become one of those box drums that you sit on and drum with your hands.

Make a solid electric dulcimer. There's a brilliant clip on Youtube of someone playing one.

Make some more Smokey amp units to fit in cool looking containers. I've got some nice old tobacco tins.

Someone gave me a massive voltmeter that came out of an electric sub station. I might put an amp in that and try to get the needle to move when it's playing. That'll be a challenge.

Have a go at winding my own magnetic pick-ups. That should keep me happy for a while.

Now don't laugh but I've just been given an old Shackleton high seat chair. Remember those corny ads in the 1970s of dear old ladies looking at the catalogs and ordering these tall-legged armchairs? Well I wanted something comfy and free to sit on when I'm working in the cellar and that fitted the bill. You know, sometimes something is so unfashionable and uncool that it's cool for that reason alone. Well this is so uncool that it goes beyond that and becomes uncool again. Ha! It's beige too - yikes. All I need now is a zimmer frame! Actually thinking about it, I might look out for one. I could cut it up and make hundreds of slides. I might pimp up the chair. Maybe turn it into a CBG players version of Jimmy Saville's multi-purpose chair. I bet there's a cable tv channel on called 'pimp that chair'. I'm heading over to Youtube now - bound to be something on there. :)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

A post to say Happy New Year to you all and thanks for visiting this site. I hope it’s given you some pleasure. I’ve enjoyed writing it and getting the occasional comment back from some of you. It has brought some new friendships and rekindled one or two old ones. Nowadays, more than any other time in my life, I am appreciating that gift of friendship. I don’t want this to sound like some sort of sermon or lecture but because I consider you all to be my friends to some degree or other, I’d like to offer you a little comfort if possible.

You know, there’s a lot of craziness going on in the world today, the likes of which we haven’t seen before. It can make us feel quite insecure and wonder where the hell it’s leading to. The trouble is, there’s virtually nothing we can do to avoid it or improve it. We can’t make changes on a global or national scale, we have to leave that to the madmen who are in charge. That’s the scary bit, and feeling powerless. But we can change our own little worlds. We do have the power to do that to some extent. So that’s my bit of advice to you all. We can try to make our immediate environment a place where we can feel more at ease. We can offer some comfort and support to those we meet during our daily lives.

I am constantly puzzled as to why anyone should want suffering of any kind to continue in the world. Why would anyone choose war, pain, fear and anguish over peace, love, comfort and happiness? We can have the latter just as easy as we can have the former. I had one of my moments of inspiration the other day. I was thinking about all the badness that goes on in the world and trying to understand where it comes from. I’d say it mostly comes from greed and selfishness. That’s why countries fight each other, why arguments start, why people steal from others. Then I tried to think of the solution. That’s when it came to me. It’s so simple and here it is. Just be nice. How difficult is that? We all have the choice of being nasty or nice. Nobody can force us to be mean, lying, violent or greedy. If everyone just behaved in the way that they would like others to treat them, we’d have it cracked in no time. There are enough resources in the world for everyone to have a decent life, if governments and world leaders co-operated and looked after each other.

OK I’m deluded if I think I’ve solved the world’s problems here but it really could be that simple if only everyone could embrace the principle. That’s the problem though. For some reason, many people seem incapable. Well here’s my slant on what we can do. Firstly, try to embrace those nice principles ourselves as much as we can. There are many good people out there who already do. In fact I believe there are more forces for good than bad but unfortunately, many of the people in positions of power don’t practise it enough. We can always do a bit more though can’t we.

Secondly, have a little courage and empower yourself – make your personal world one you can enjoy. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, follow your dreams, talk to a stranger, put a coin in a busker’s hat, sing out loud, say sorry when you know you’re wrong. Take time to visit an old friend or make new ones, take up a new hobby or learn a new skill, grow some fruit or flowers, or just sit quietly and listen to the birds sing and feel the sun on your face. Don’t be afraid to try something new because you think you’ll be no good at it or someone will disapprove. I can’t remember which rock star said ‘no-one gets out of here alive’ but it’s a great line and also true. The point I’m making is - it’s these small things that add quality to our lives and to those of others. The warmongers and governments can’t take those away from us. This is the world we can create for ourselves whenever we wish to.

Sorry for the rant. It started out as a short post to wish you the best for the new year but I got carried away. Take care, have fun.