Sunday, December 12, 2010

cigar box guitar tuning - a little theory

Probably the most popular string/tuning configuration for cbgs is three strings open tuned to a chord. Why and how can you get a chord with just three strings when 'proper' guitars have six? My musical theory knowledge is pretty limited but I think I can make some sense of this for you. If you hold down an E major chord on a six-string guitar and work out the notes played on each string, starting at the lowest string (the sixth) and working to the highest (first) strings we get these notes E B E G# B E

You'll spot the obvious here, three E notes two Bs and a G# - just three notes, not six. OK so the three Es do sound diferent to each other but it's just a question of them being in different octaves or pitches but nevertheless they are the same musically. Same applies to the two Bs. So in theory we only need three notes to make a major chord (in fact it's the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes from the scale of E Major - E G# B). The extra notes on a six string are simply adding more harmonics to the same notes giving a richer and fuller sounding chord than if we only used three.

So back to our three stringed cbg. You'll find one of the most popular tunings actually only use two of these notes. If we wanted the guitar tuned to open E we can use E B E (forget the G#) The Es are one octave apart. On a six stringer they could be found on the 6th string open (E), 5th string 2nd fret (B) and 4th string 2nd fret (E). It's basically a power chord. It makes a nice bluesy chord when played with a slide.

If you want the guitar tuned to a different key instead of E, just transpose the 1st and 5th notes from the major scale of the key you want. So for open G you could use G D G for open A use A E A and so on. Has that fried your brain now or made a little more sense of tunings ? There are others of course but this one will get you started on some nice bluesy, folky sounding stuff.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

sorting out finishing some projects

I get to a point where my workshop becomes unworkable. I tend to leave stuff lying around with the intention of putting it away later but just forget. Eventually things pile up so much it drives me crackers. So that's what happened this week. I started to sort out my electronic bits after building some amps and realised that my last attempt to organise things had fallen short of the mark. I'd put things in tins and boxes, figuring I'd remember what was in each. Resistors in this box, capacitors in that one and so on. After a few months of not opening some of them, I had completely forgotten what was in each one. So I've been really anal and labelled them all. I realised that some things get used very frequently but are not in convenient places. So I've rearranged some things to make them more accessible. I've discovered things I'd forgotten I'd got too. So it's a good exercise to do every so often.

During the process I came across a half finished CBG. A beautiful Indian Tabac box which I planned to make into a 4 string fretted guitar for myself. I think I got busy with other stuff and put it on a shelf intending to go back to it later. That was over a year ago. So carrying on the mood of sorting and organising, I decided to make my next project to finish it. Whilst sorting tins and boxes I found a four-pole magnetic pickup from a bass. It's perfect for this four-stringer. I'm fitting a piezo as well with a changeover switch and a volume pot. So having spent a couple of full afternoons on it, frets are on, neck bolted up, machine heads fitted and it's well on it's way to completion.

So the moral of the story is, take some time out to tidy your workshop, take stock of what you've got and see if there's something that needs finishing. You'll feel a great sense of achievement and maybe have a new instrument ready in half the time.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

smojomusic new website

Been working on my new website. Not much on it yet but it's accessible to the public now. Here it is.

Monday, November 22, 2010

open mic nights

I've been on the hunt for some local open mic gigs. I love to hear and watch live music and in particular, small intimate venues like clubs and pubs where you can hear ordinary folks knocking out their stuff. It's a bit rough around the edges but that's what makes it real and exciting, unlike the formularised, glossy crap we get on X-Factor. I have another motive too. As a purely 'play-at-home' musician, I'd love to be able to get up at one of these sessions and show the folks some cigar box guitar playing. So I'm looking for a CBG-friendly gig. So far I've been to two sessions in my home town. Last Sunday was an acoustic night. Consisted mostly of middle aged people playing a mix of folky stuff, some good, some not so good. The atmosphere was friendly and everyone listened attentively to the performers but it lacked a bit of energy. Not exactly my cup of tea musically but there were a few outstanding numbers. A Glaswegian guy who did a reggae version of Ian Drury's 'Clever Trevor' and sounded more like Alex Harvey was great. A guy from Bradford did two hilarious songs he'd written himself. One about goths and the other about road gritting in Britain. A silver haired guy did a nice version of Leonard Cohen's 'Sisters of Mercy' accompanying himself on keyboard. These acts alone made it worth turning out on a cold November night

Last night was open mic in another local pub. A complete contrast to the last gig. It was full of young folks and very nosiy and lively. Everyone I saw played guitar and sang. I enjoyed the night but was disappointed that so many people were stood around chatting and laughing loudly whilst the performers were doing their thing. Obviously, for them it was just a place to go for a drink and a chat and have some light entertainment. They were not particularly interested in it though. I was impressed by the confidence these young performers had. Wish I had half as much. The highlight of the night was a hippy-looking guy who did some of his own songs about illegal substances and vegetables. The chorus to one song was 'I can get by with a chai and a chillum, a chillum and a chai will get me by'. He went down a storm and had everyone applauding for more.

So far, if I could mix the two gigs together in a pot and tip them out again, we might have a good balance. So the search continues. Hoping to find something a little more bluesy perhaps. I'll keep you posted but in the meantime, get out and find some of these small gigs in your own area. Might not be completely to your taste but almost guaranteed to turn up a few good acts and it beats sitting in front of the tv watching X-Factor or I'm a Celebrity.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

thinking outside the box and charity shop finds

Forgive the pun about thinking outside the box but that's just what I was doing on one of my charity shop trawls. I rarely find cigar boxes in these places but sometimes I pick up something that relates to my unorthodox musical taste. I spotted this horrendous looking electric guitar. A cheapo heavy metal styled jobby in day-glo yellow. Well the price was the factor in deciding whether to buy or not - £15. Totting up ebay values of the hardware alone told me it was worth at least £30 in parts. Two single coil and one humbucking pickups plus wiring to two pots, machine heads, strat style tailpiece and a half decent neck and a see-through plastic gig bag - how could I resist. I could just dismantle it for the parts and build them into CBGs but I'm thinking about cutting the body down to a big cigarbox shape, keeping the humbucker and pots. Repaint the neck and headstock in something more subdued and maybe cladding the chopped down body with some rusty tinplate and turning the nasty thing into something even nastier (but cool).

I seem to have strayed back into circuit bending territory and my charity shop finds included two electronic childrens toys that are great items for modifications. Even as they are they can be used to make some interesting loops on my Akai Headrush. If you don't know anything about circuit bending, just type it into Youtube and have a look. I thought I was weird but some of these guys making this stuff are positivley mental!

What I did find that really excited me this week was a site I found that is related to circuit bending. It's a small collective of very clever guys who make stunning pieces of synth type equipment. They are sheer works of art as they stand, housed in lovely old cases with lots of copper plates, big old knobs, lights etc and they make some really cool sounds. Have a look at their site and see what I mean.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

smojo's new website

Just a quick note to say I am revamping my smojomusic website so if you're trying to look at it from the link, it won't work. Hope to have something up and running soon.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

new Monte Christo and Cuaba CBGs

Some photos of my latest creations.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A cigar box guitar message to young folk

Although the majority of visitors to the UK CBG fest was made up of middle aged blokes, it was refreshing to see a number of young people and a few ladies there too. The high number of (shall we say) older men (I am purposely avoiding the word mature) is quite understandable. We are part of the 'baby boomer' brigade that grew up on rock n roll and have never wanted to let it go. Unlike the lyrics of The Who's My Generation, who sang 'hope I die before I get old', we didn't. And we only got old in our bodies, not so much in our hearts and heads. So we're hanging in there, following our passion for music and instruments and exercising our creative muscles. We were fed on blues and soul and folk and raw rock and roll music. Real bands, real people just having fun and doing what they wanted. Sadly today, the music industry has lost it's soul and degenerated into a multi-million pound industry mostly churning out the equivalent diet of sanitised, flavourless baby food.

So what's this message to young folk then? Well you see, we older dudes can still remember the good times and want a piece of it still. So we are still flying the flag for good, home grown music but we are getting to an age where we will be disappearing from this planet. It's nice to think that there is a younger generation (though in a minority) who feel the same way as us about music and that was evident at the fest. I am impressed and heartened by the enthusiasm and creativity of the young folks that were there and that lurk about on various internet sites. So what I want to say to you is this. Keep up the good work, be yourselves, fly the flag of individuality and true creativity. Seek out the good stuff that is still being produced. Don't be frightened to come forward and let your work be known. Talk to your mates and get them on board. Lastly, don't be shy to come and talk to us oldies. We're not your parents! In CBG World the generation gap doesn't exist and we need your energy and enthusiasm. We're pretty much the same as you inside, we're just walking around in Ratrod bodies.

Love and Peace from an ageing hippy.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Two guitars finished, tobacco tin amps started

Just finished my latest two CBGs. One of them has to be the prettiest looking yet. A white and green Cuaba box. I've done th neck in a matching white rubed-down paint finishe with a crackle paint green headstock. The other is a big yellow Monte Christo box. Neck in rubbed down red paint. Pleased with both of them, just need to let them settle in by playing them a little to make sure there's no problems with them before they go to their new homes.

So my next project is a batch of tin amps. Gonna make about 5 or 6. Some will be in nice old tobbacco tins and some in other old tins that I have picked up. One is a lovely yellow and red mustard tin from 1979. I'm quite excited about this project because I love making these little things and I think the old tins look incredibly cool. Probably follow those up with soem baccy tin mics if I can find some suitable inserts. The last ones I made used old 1960s telephone receivers. Being an ex-telecomms man, I had them in my "bits" box already. Need to investigate other sources.

best cigar humidors

OK so if you've found yourself here looking at cigar box guitars, you might also be interested in cigars themselves and something nice to keep them in. Maybe even to make a guitar from a special box like a humidor. Get the best cigar humidor here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

UK 2010 CBG Fest part two

Top photo - Here's the "gang of five" UK CBG dudes at the 2010 Fest Birmingham. left to right: Chickenbone John, Hollowbelly, Smojo, Bluesbeaten Redshaw and Roosterman (at the front)
Bottom photo - After hours jam session (left to right) MrRandomWritings, Chickenbone John, Roosterman.

I'm still wading through all the messages, photos and vids that have been posted on Cigar Box Nation that have followed the event. Everyone who went, seems to be buzzing with excitement. I could get to like this thing!

Monday, October 18, 2010

UK CBG fest 2010 report

Wow, another cracking event and a big thumbs up to Chickenbone John for organising it and thanks to him from us all for the hard work he put into it. This was the second one and I can't wait for the next. Highlights of the day for me were the short documentary made by Lesley Ross on the UK cigar box guitar movement; Hollowbelly's playing workshop (see photo of him playing my special); doing my demo on my pedals (what a buzz and a huge step forward for me personally); the evening gig (loved Tinqui8's spot in particular) and just meeting so many great folk. It really felt like being part of a big family. There just wasn't enough time in the day, to explore everything and talk to all the folks I have met online. What I love about this stuff is the huge enthusiasm that we all seem to have for it. The creativity that goes into it is inspiring and the opportunity to express your self in an individual way is liberating.

Roosterman gave a very entertaining demo on cbg building - he's a natural comedian and once you've net him, not forgotten. The day also included a viewing of Max Shore's CBG documentary in full; a great open mic session; playing workshops with Yellowbelly Flatt and Chickenbone John (pity I missed CB John's but it coincided with the film). A UK based CBG fest has been my dream for a few years and so this was a a dream come true!
Here's Hollowbelly at the evening gig.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

October in Smojo's cigar box guitar world

Well that's just about the end of summer, soon we'll be cabin'd up for the winter. It always depresses me, the thought of having to wait six months before we emerge again. But it's a good time to get on with some projects. October is now a landmark for UK cbgers with the Birmingham fest coming up very soon. It's shaping up nicely already. I've seen a preview of Lesley's short documentary and if you're still hovering about whether to got to the fest, we get to see the full version plus Max Shores long docu about them that was aired on the U.S. tv channels last year.

I've somehow let myself get drawn into doing a demo at the fest. I'll be featuring the Akai Headrush mainly and a few other bits. Kinda scary as I'm not used to public appearances but I know I'll be buzzing with excitement when I get through it. There's some kind of weird masochistic element here. Something pushes me on to do some public stuff but my old shy self wants to run a mile! Can you figure that one? I'm blowed if I can. anyway I hope to see some of you good people at the fest. Come and say hello and forgive me if I don't immediately know who you are.

What's happening here then? The two new cbgs haven't progressed much due to hospital visiting my old mum who fell and broke her hip. I need to find some time to crack on with them. I'm also doing some practising for the Akai demo. These looping pedals really are fantastic toys. If I could choose to keep just one pedal - it would be this one. There are probably better loopers out there but I like this because it's quite simple and has a great tape delay facility. You can really push your creativity with this thing without needing a degree in music.

I have a lovely old red Kit-Kat tin and I'm hoping to make a guitar out of it once I finish the two on the bench. When I do it will definitely be another "keeper". I'm also trying to devise a simple two channel combiner that will fit in a baccy tin. No batteries or power. Just want to combine a CBG and a mic into one output so I can connect it to the Akai pedal. I have a small mixer that will do the job to perfection but it's a bit cumbersome to hawk around. If there are any electronics wizards reading this and you know how I can make one, please drop me a line.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday and I got the blues

Well apart from my wife breaking two toes a couple of weeks ago and my mother breaking her hip, everything is fine and dandy but I still got the blues. So what better to deal with it, than immersing myself in cigar box guitary stuff. My two new guitars are well on the way and I am falling in love with one already. It's on order for someone so it will be a short love affair. It's the white one you see in the photo.
I've posted a photo of the radio amp I've hacked together too. What do you reckon to it?
I've just set up a new Myspace page for my stuff. Not much on it yet but it's slow work figuring out how to do this and that to customise it into something worth looking at. I'd like some CBG friends so if you feel like taking a look and have a page on it yourself, please send me an invite. Here's the link.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I'm still here flying the flag for cigar box guitars

Hi folks, sorry if I've been a bit slack with my postings lately. I'm still as fired up over these things as before, just had lots of other stuff going on too. My passion in life is guitars and in particular, cigar box ones and all the crazy stuff that goes with them.

First some updates. The uke is at last finished. I'm pleased with it but doubt I'll make any more. Too complicated - I like the simplicity of a three stringed, no frets, cigar box guitars. Fun to build cos it doesn't take forever and quite forgiving if you make a little mistake. I've finished the old radio HMV amp and am well chuffed with it. First stage was to install an LM386 based amp circuit board. I just used the existing speaker, the on/off switch and one of the tone control pots. The rest of the radio was left inside but disconnected. The only adjustable control was a gain pot. The thing is pretty loud but very trebly. So second stage was to use the original volume pot so I can turn it down when the wife shouts at me, and add a treble cut control. Not too happy with the treble control. I need to experiment with that. But the whole thing fits the bill for a inique ratrod amp. Definitley a "keeper". I'll post a photo soon. looking for some cheapo radios at car boot sales now.

The UK CBG fest is looming. Got my ticket, booked a hotel - can't wait. Gonna be a great day. There'll be a couple of CBG documentaries to watch, some building and playing workshops, stuff to buy and a great gig in the evening but best of all is meeting all the like-minded folk. Aren't you sick of politics, newspapers, rubbish tv, work, adverts, crappy people messing up our world and all the rest of the negative stuff? Well I am and this whole cigar box guitar stuff keeps me going and it's good to know there's some other folk out there that feel as positive about this crazy thing too. Thanks for your great company and if you can get there I really recommend it. See my post on it for the link.

Got a great email from a guy in the Netherlands who wants a guitar making, so it's got me motivated again to make a couple of new ones. Had some probs with my bandsaw which has been "wandering" when I tried cutting the necks. Fitted a new blade and it seems to be OK so watch out for some photos of these new builds as they develop.

One of the problems I've found with CBGs with piezo pick-ups is the tendency to feedback when you crank the amp. I think I found the answer - a graphic equalizer pedal. I just bought one on Ebay for UK £25 - a Behringer EQ700. Only had a quick play with it but can see that tweaking the sliders down at the lower-mid range settings, really cuts the feedback. Why prat around with all the various methods of shielding the piezo when you can just plug in a pedal? This one is a bit plasticy but for the price is OK for home use and light gigging.

Finally I'm back into doing so experimenting with my playing with a view to recording. I'm messing about with my Akai Headrush on tape delay and loops. Some pretty weird stuff coming out that's got me excited. I've just opened a Myspace musicians page so I can put some recordings on it. I'm trying to get it to look interesting but it's not easy to work with - a learning curve to climb. So far there's not much on, just a short music track and a photo. Hoping to fill it out with some more stuff soon but if you want to have a look at it, here's the link.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

September plans

Well what a sad state of affairs - I have no CBGs to offer at the moment. I'm still struggling to finish the uke that is on order. I've had lots of problems with the build and it will probably be the only one I make. The main reasons are that they are a completely different beast to CBGs and require a lot more work to make them. There's been a steep learning curve and I've had to correct a few silly mistakes. I'm ready to move on and do some new stuff. I have to make some more cigar box guitars soon. They are so much more satisfying to make and play than anything else.

I'm keen to start building some electronic stuff again, like tobacco tin amps. I have an old HMV porable radio - looks probably 1970s and I think it will make a wicked amp. I'm pulling some of the guts out to replace with an amp module but using the original eliptical speaker and control knobs. Come back in a few weeks to see how it progressed.

I more or less finished the "Ratocaster" - a no name strat copy made up from a box of bits I bought at a guitar fair last year. It got put to oneside and I finally got around to dealing with it. It's strung up and very playable. Needs a few tweaks to the action and intonation but almost there. Has a very different tonality to any of my other guitars. I personally favour the warmer grttier sounds of humbuckers but it's nice to have something completely different to what I already have. This has a very trebly almost metallic sound.

Been experimenting with making bottleneck slides from wine bottles. Tony Furtado showed me how he makes them when I went to his gig a few months ago. He's made thousands. My first attempts have been mostly disappointing but I've made a sort of jig to cut the initial score mark nice and straight around the neck. It works a treat and has improved my results. I guess it's always going to be a bit "hit and miss" making these things but it's another fun side of this crazy stuff. Hoping to take some to the UK 2010 CBG fest in October for a bit of beer money.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

2010 UK cigar box guitar fest

So it's almost September now and I've not been here much. Sorry if I disappointed anyone. Well I want to tell you about the second UK CBG festival being held in Birmingham in October. Tickets are now on sale at the link below. Have a look and see what's on. Chickenbone John, who organised a cracking day last year, has been busy again and this one looks like being even better. You can either buy a ticket for the whole day or just for the evening performance. If you are interested in building or playing CBGs, then try to get there for the full day. You really won't regret it and you'll come away buzzing. I've ordered my ticket so I need to get busy making a few things to take with me. Hope to put some more stuff on here soon.

Friday, July 16, 2010

can't believe it's July already

Just looked at my last post - May and now we're half way through July! I know I've been inactive on the cigar box stuff but didn't realise how long for. Summer is here and for a change, here in England, we have been having a hot and sunny one. I seem to have deserted the cool, dark, dusty, basement workshop for the bright, warm sunshine - vacations, afternoon beers, walks in the park - you know all that boring stuff you need to do in summer. I do find that creativity comes and goes in cycles. I get really hyped up over something, then like a fire, it starts to burn lower and if you're not careful, it dies out. Well this cbg stuff seems to keep glowing like an ember. I just need to feed it a little and it bursts into flames again.

I've been plodding along with a CB uke for weeks. Because it's a new direction, it is taking a lot of time and thinking about. I'm not really enthusiastic about it but it's on order and I need to get it built. So I forced myself out of the apathy (mainly because it's rainy now) and into the workshop. The build is progressing nicely. Just fitted the frets (not my favourite job) but necessary for a uke. The neck is looking great. I need to file the fret ends smoothe and treat the neck - probably just oil it. Trying to decide on a finish for the headstock. I like to reflect the colour or design of the body on the headstock in some way. It just seems to make the design "gel".Another new direction in this build will be the bridge. I'm gonna try make a traditional uke style bridge. There's not so much leeway for individuality on a uke than there is on a three-string CBG. Mainly because there are certain elements that must be present, like fret wires and the fact that the nylon strings don't transmit the vibrations as well as steel. So I don't think you can get away with rusty bolts for bridges and nuts like you can on a CBG. I'll post some photos soon. Until then, enjoy the summer whilst it's here.

Monday, May 31, 2010

two new cigar box guitars

Just added some photos of two new guitars for sale to my Flickr page. The green Ramone Allones was one I made a while ago and was going to be a keeper. I just made another with the same type of box because I love the colour of it. I am keeping that one instead. Sounds/plays just the same but I like the paint job on the new one better - my privilege. Ha. The second one is Don Tomas box. Similar to several I previously made. They are a decent sounding box and a nice crisp design on the front. I like the crackle finish paint and distressing treatment on the neck of this one. Both tuned to open A or can detune to G with same strings. Fretless 3 stringers as usual for great slide playing. Have a look at my Flickr page and email for more details if you are interested.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

2 new toys

Just had a great caravanning holiday in Devon (anti-caravanners might want to leave here). My fingers were getting restless when I stumbled into a music shop. Right in the doorway were some ukes. I've been asked to build a cbg uke but not sure about construction yet. I've been fancying one for myself and being too impatient to wait until I can make one, I decided to spend my birthday money and buy one satisfying the need for a musical toy for the caravan and a model for basing a cbg uke on. I avoided the cheapest painted ones you can pick up for about £15 and picked a natural wood concert model. It's a sweet little instrument and great fun for doodling on.

A day or two after buying it, I came across a junk shop. A proper one full of tatty stuff and run by an old chap who was fiddling with an old radio. I spotted a narly looking banjo-uke, all dusty, rusty and nicely worn. A ratrod uke if ever there was one! The bridge was placed up near the bottom of the neck - the wrong end of the skin. I asked the bloke how much he wanted for it - £25. I had a good look and moved the bridge roughly to where it should be and strummed it. "Sounds better already" he said. "That should be worth a fiver off the price then" I said cheekily. "Are you making me an offer" he replied. "You got a deal" I said and bought it for a crisp £20 note.

I got it back to the van and sat outside in the sun to play with my second new toy of the week. The strings were still on it and it all seemed pretty much intact. I tuned it up and had a little play on it. So far the wife hadn't objected too much but when I put my upturned straw hat on the ground in front of me, in case any fellow campers felt the need to reward my entertainment with some gold, she put her foot down and ordered its removal. It's a bugger to keep in tune but it's fun and looks great.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

building cigar box guitars again

Well I've broken the spell that was keeping me from making guitars. I just needed to completed some other unfinished projects and have a crack at some recording. I've done enough of both now to satisfy that lust for a while and feel I needed to make some more guitars. I'm building two simultaneously. Neither will be meant to be keepers - but I've said that before and had to eat my words! I'm using my last green Ramone Allones box for one guitar, these are my favourites in terms of making pretty looking guitars. The other box is a Don Thomas one. Nothing radically new about either design but I'm using my aged paint look on the necks with burnt in fret markers. I think they'll both be pretty guitars when finished. I have thought about trying to age some of these paper covered boxes but am reluctant to try in case I just make a mess of them. I think I prefer to let them age naturally by the owners. After a year or two they will blend down nicely with the other ageing I have done to the necks.

Talking about recording, I had a fun time messing with my new gear. Mainly using the Akai Headrush, my Zoom 505 effects pedal then recording it in simple mono on the Backtrack device. It works well - nice and simple. The backtrack records everything you play as seperate WAV files, so you can drag them onto your PC, import them into your editing software and produce a track quite easily. I found that whilst simply "messing about", a musical idea would start to take shape and with a bit more practise and fine tweaking, I can produce something quite listenable (I think). I now have a loose plan to collect these odd tracks together and eventually put them together as an album. Maybe not for general consumption, but mainly just as an interesting project to work on with a tangible product at the end of it. I'd urge any of you players to have a go at something similar yourelves. It's fun and it tightens up your playing and helps get you out of those ruts we tend to get stuck in when just playing on our own.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

practice makes perfect

Not much to tell you about CBGs at the moment, been having a rest from building them and concentrating more on playing. I've been messing about with the Akai Headrush, creating loops and other effects and even recording some of it. As this is a newish direction for me, I want to tell you a couple of lessons I've learnt from the experience. I'm sure there's a few of you who are like me, purely amateurs, playing on your own but with some small aspirations to produce some of your own music and maybe, hope you might get good enough one day to record something. Even give or sell a few copies of your own album. Probably you lack confidence and therefor think you'll never be able to produce something good or professional enough. Well I've got news for you, you can. The first lesson I've learnt is that practice definitely helps but may not "make perfect". The second lesson is - it doesn't need to be perfect! Let me expand on these.

I've never been disciplined to practise regularly, I tend to pick the guitar up when I feel like it, mess around on it and tend to play the same old familiar pieces that I have been playing many times. Nothing wrong with that but it is very limiting and gets boring. It's one of the problems of playing on your own. The Akai pedal has really opened things up for me because I can create a looped riff or rhythm to play along to. It's quite easy with a little practice and that's where I am learning this first lesson. I noticed how my tempo drifts, tending to speed up. The looped riff is very regular and so it shows up my playing when I jam to it. So when I get a nice little idea going, I have to really listen to the beat and concentrate on keeping time with it in order to produce something listenable. Something you don't do when just playing on your own. I find I keep trying over and over until I get it right because I am now motivated to. So there's the practise bit. Even a small amount pays dividends. So don't give up just because it seems hard to get it right. Just try again and again and it will eventually happen. You'll benefit a helluva lot from it.

Second lesson - aiming for perfection. I'm a bit of a perfectionist at heart with most things I do. If I wait until my playing is 100% perfect, I'll never achieve my small ambition, to record an album of my own music. Let me say here, I have no ideas of selling thousands of copies and getting famous. It's just an aim for my own satisfaction, to actually produce something tangible out of all this. A few pieces of music I can say are my own creation. So yes "practise makes perfect" but do we need or even want perfection? Think about it - we are living in cigar box guitar world. It's the imperfections that we like and even strive for. What makes music "alive" are often the small variations of tone and tempo in a person's playing. Listen to some techno stuff generated from a computer or whatever and you'll probably agree that it sounds sterile and clinical compared to a live performance played on "real" instruments. Fine if you like your music like that but for me, I like the warmth and soul that a real person playing an instrument, puts into the music. Think about blues and folk. Very often the playing and singing is nowhere near perfect in terms of purity. Some vocal examples - compare the likes of classical singers like Pavarotti who are probably pitch and tempo perfect to the likes of Bob Dylan, Hendrix, Tom Waits, Howlin Wolf to mention a few. What they might lack in perfect singing voices is more than compensated for in their feel, emotion and delivery. They're not trying to sing roughly, it's just the way they are - they are just being themselves and you have to like it or leave it. I saw a video clip of Son House playing bottleneck slide. His guitar sounded out of tune, he was holding the slide at about 45 degrees angle to the neck and to be honest, if that was me playing, I would probably feel a little embarassed. But there's no doubting it was a great performance and completely enjoyable to me. The emotion and rough quality of his singing and playing was what made him great. No matter how much I practise, I'll never be able to come close to that. But I might come close to just being Smojo, whatever he/me has to offer.

So I say to all you perfectionists, by all means practice and try to get close to a great sound/performance as you can, but don't be frightened to just let it rip and once you have something down that you feel 75% happy with, that's good enough for most folks. Don't let the striving for perfection get in the way of just enjoying your music and being creative. That's the key - let your creativity flow unimpeded, have fun with it, be proud of your creations and don't be frightened to share it with like-minded people.

Friday, April 16, 2010

I've been lazy

Since I finished my "special" CBG I've been lazy. Well not in general cos I've had lots to do and not had much time for making guitars. I'll get motivated soon. Now what I have been doing is having a great time. I spent part of the weekend with my CBG buddy Mark. We had a total cigar box guitar indulgence. Another "show and tell" session with a a few extras. Mark's neighbour called in with his Eko acoustic bass and we had a little bluesy jam session. Wish I could get more of these somehow, it really does sharpen up your playing skills and more importantly, your listening skills. I've found that to be the case when using my Akai looping pedal and when trying to record some multi-track stuff. When you just play on your own, you aren't aware that your tempo is not 100% but when you jam along with someone else or a drum machine or recording device, it really comes home. So my tip for improvement is to find some way of playing to some other source - a buddy, jam track, drum machine etc.

Highlight of the weekend with Mark was a local gig where a guy called Tony Furtdao was billed. He plays slide guitar and banjo, a sort of mix of American folk with a touch of bluegrass and blues. If someone had described that to me I might not have been all that interested but I trusted Mark's judgement as he'd seen him before. I was not disappointed. The guy played number after number and I loved everything he did. He has an incredibly fast fingerstyle and some pretty mean slide techniques. I thoroughly recommend you check him out.

Friday, March 26, 2010

the creative process is like magic

I've now put a video on Youtube showing the new CBG together with the case and an amp I made from an old radio extension speaker. You can here it and me waffling about it here.

I'm going to waffle a bit more about it here. What I want to discuss is how enjoyable it has been making this guitar and the case that I made a few weeks ago, which will house it. It has taken me to a new level of creativity that I haven't found before. Now you might think I'm getting a bit weird here but the fact that you are here reading about these things, means we have a certain weirdness in common so I'm forgiven! You see I decided they were going to be special in some way. They were always going to be keepers so I was prepared to take however long it took to get there. I always put some original element into each guitar I make, but to some extent, the main construction usually follows a certain loose formula. There was no formula here. There were several new learning curves to overcome - fitting frets, a magnetic coil pickup making the box etc. I ruined one neck to start with, which was a stupid mistake because I hadn't thought it through properly. So that's when I decided to take my time and get it right and build a guitar I would cherish for a long time. Having decided there was no rush to finish them, I could allow myself the luxury of time and letting my ideas ferment a while, before committing them to the build. The effect of that was to allow me to savour the creative process. A bit like enjoying a special meal, not just eating it to satisfy hunger, but taking your time and enjoying every mouthful. The luxury of not rushing it meant I was happy to experiment a bit first and if something didn't look quite right, I could try something else until I was happy.

Now this is where it gets even weirder. I have a sort of theory, that if you use a bit of sensitivity in the creative process and add the ingredient of time, so that things can materielise, the desired object (guitar, case or whatever you're making) will take form by itself to a large degree. You will need to help it along with your craft skills, but it will gather momentum and attract things to itself (I warned you it was getting weird.) Let me explain how this process panned out with this guitar. I found the cigar box at a car boot sale. It was quite old and nicely aged. Inside it were a pair of dice and a plastic toy Skeletor. I had a loose idea of what I wanted - an understated, aged looking, rat-rod guitar with frets.

So that determined the general feel of how it should look but not much to go on there. Let's see how it develops. Now to start creating. This is where your sensitivity, imagination and an eye for what looks good, pay dividends. The first element to find it's way to the guitar was the magentic pick-up. I was incredibly fortunate to win a hand-wired pick-up that JuJu had made when I attended the Birmingham CBG fest. That was definitely going to go in this guitar which determined how the neck needed to be built. A hefty reinforcing piece inside the box to facilitate cutting a big chunk out to house the pick-up. I built the neck and thought about how to finish it. The aged look of the box "told" me, the neck needed to look aged too, so needed some woodstain. I experimented with a few shades and found one that I thought looked good with the colour of the box, a dark stain that rubs back nicely to look like it's worn. I found a cool piece of rusty metal plate in my uncle's garage. Painted white with rust bursting through, it had a number of holes drilled in it. The shape reminded me of the chrome control plate on a Telecaster. Bingo, that's what I'll do with that. I had an old starter module from a flourescent light fitting. I liked the knurled edge and simple shape of it and being white, I thought it would make a nice volume knob to go with the white rusty plate. I cut it in half and glued it over an old knob so it would fit the spindle of the potentiometer. One of the holes in the plate could be enlarged to house the jack socket. I decided a white headstock would go well with the white plate and knob but the aged look of the box "suggested" I should give it an aged look too. I used some crackle finish liquid on the front of it then painted it with white emulsion. See how the metal plate is partly determining the way the other components will look. A little brown boot polish yellowed the white paint and some judicial sanding made it look worn-in. The minimal look I aspired to told me I shouldn't go overboard on the fret markers, so I opted for tiny triangles of white in the corners of the frets. An old rusty hinge from my box of bits made a tailpiece for the strings, it. The bone slide I bought from Randy came with some nut blanks. I figured as this was going to be a special guitar, I'd use them to make the nuts and saddle. That determined the bridge which needed to be wood to hold the bone. I had an idea I wanted an old, well-worn but thin, leather strap. I found two old dog leashes on a car boot sale, perfect for the job. A little modification to the ends and I have a cool, clip-on strap. The sound holes - now there's a story there but I'm keeping that one a mystery! Finally I had the idea of using the dice and skeletor as part of the guitar. I sliced off one side of one dice with the intention of inlaying it into the fretboard for the 12th fret. I tried it in place but it spoilt the minimal look of the fretboard so what else could I do with it? Make a tiny pick. What about Skeletor? Too big, new looking and colourful to use but what about cutting his tiny head off, which then looked like a small jewel and planting it somewhere? I found the perfect place, just nestling behind the nut on the headstock. The headstock was square-ended to begin with but the rounded shape of the pick-up and switchplate suggested a rounded end would look better, so I cut it round too.

There we have it. Can you see how time and a sensitivity to the design and the components you have, will sort of tell you what needs to be done and how it kind of shapes the final look? And if you allow yourself this luxury, you'll get immense pleasure from your creation. I am always surprised at the end of a build, to some degree, as to how a guitar turns out. It's almost like looking at it for the first time. Until it's strung up and I've played it, it's just a bunch of parts, but then hey presto, as if by magic, it becomes an entity of it's own. It's like a butterfly emerging from a coccoon.

See I told you I was weird! Weird is great - embrace your weirdness and get creating something that will be entirely unique, incredibly personal and totally enjoyable.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

cgb "the special" is finished

Yeah at last it's done and I'm well pleased with it. It has great sustain which can be a problem with cbgs. I put that down to the hefty neck reinforcing I had to do inside the box to facilitate cutting away a recess for the pickup. I have a three way switch to select either the piezo or the magnetic pups or both together. The piezo is much hotter than the magnetic and so the middle position, where both pups are in circuit, is a bit piontless becuase all you can hear is the piezo. It's quite heavy for a cbg and I like that solid feel, nicely balanced too. The action seems just right to me, high enough for slide but able to be fretted with fingers too. I have it tuned to open G with strings 456 from a set of 10 guage electric steel strings. When I get time I'll do a video for Youtube.

Monday, March 15, 2010

some cigar box guitar ramblings

I'm amazed and thrilled at the spectrum of experiences I've enjoyed through this wierd and wonderful subject. I've just had the pleasure of free tickets to the Pasion de Buena Vista - a fantastic stageshow of Cuban music and dancing. It all came about from meeting someone who bought a guitar from me and who happens to be the tour manager for the show at present. He kindly offered me a backstage tour where I met some of the musicians, then free tickets for the show later. What a brilliant show and it was a thrill to meet the guys. I even got to play one of my guitars for them. I am deeply thankful for the opportunity.

Next up is tickets to Ian Clayton's Concert for Billie. It's a benefit gig that Ian organises each year in memory of his young daughter who died in a tragic accident a few years ago. I'm really looking forward to that and it came my way through CBGs.

I've made some great friends through CBGs too. But one of the best thrills is when I finish a guitar, string it up, tune it and start playing. Something deeply satisfying happens. I know it sounds weird, but up until that point, a new guitar is still just a collection of parts that I have assembled. Even though I am familiar with every aspect, I don't see it as an instrument in it's own right until I have added the final touches and played it. Those first few minutes of playing are incredibly satisfying. It's like a new baby taking it's first breath. I have a little ritual when I reach this point. I bring it into the lounge and stand it against a plant stand next to the tv in front of where I usually sit. It's just so I can look at it, admire it and drink it in. It's as if I am seeing it for the first time and I can't get enough of it for a day or two. I can look at it and think "Yes I like that, I'd buy it if I didn't already own it". Weird isn't it? It's as if it came from somewhere other than myself.

Updates - the "special" is finished. I'm absolutely delighted with it. It completes my CBG "kit". It goes fantastically well with the wooden case I made and the old radio extension speaker that I converted into an amp way back and my hand-cut bottleneck slide. Every bit of it my own work that creates a completely unique and desirable outfit. This is a definite keeper and no money would prize it from my hands. I'm gonna take some photos of the whole kit soon and post them so be sure to watch out for that. Hopefully I'll get around to videoing it for Youtube.

The little recording studio I'm building is almost there now. Just received my Fostex PM04 monitor speakers but need to build a shelf to put them on. I had a play with the Roland midi keyboard I bought on Ebay. It took some figuring and I'm not completley happy with the set-up yet. It does some random things when playing. Occasionally, the notes played, continue playing until you hit the keys again. Not sure what causes it, probably something in the software I'm using that needs a tweak. Aren't computers frustrating? That's all for now.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

bone slide

As promised here's the photo of the bone slide I had made for me. It's had mixed reactions. Some people shudder at the thought of putting a bone on their finger. Well it doesn't bother me one bit, after all we're full of bones ourselves! So what do I think of it? Well it's a beautiful piece of craftsmanship first of all. Randy, the guy who made it in the USA, really works with you to produce a custom slide the way you want it. I was a little surprised at the large size of it. I knew it would be bigger than a glass slide and not circular, but it is quite a hefty piece. Randy provides some self adhesive material to stick inside to take up the slack. The surface of it is smoothed and polished to a very high degree and provides a beautiful smooth, silky action when using it. I think the thickness and weight of it also helps to give a good action. The bone material works great as a slide and helps reduce the harsh "clatter" you can get with glass or metal slide if you hit the strings a little clumsily. As a special "gift", Randy also included a bone pick and some nut/saddle blanks. These will be worked into my "special" and should help with the tone. If you want one of these, you can contact Randy by email at he calls his business Mojobone Works and he's a real nice guy to deal with. Be sure to tell him who sent you there. No I don't get a commission, it's just nice to know.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

some cbg photos as promised

I made an effort and took some photos to show you as promised. This is the "special" I've been working on for a while. It may not look much but my design aims were to make a visually understated guitar, quite minimal looking and a bit of a "ratrod". Having made a plain, aged-wood finish guitar before, and liked the look of the monochrome brown, I decided to make another but with some added refinements. The hand-wound magnetic pickup I won at the Birmingham CBG fest is the first refinement that makes it a special. Adding a second pup in the form of a piezo disc and a changeover switch plus volume control were the next additions. And to top it off, I've got some real bone blanks for the nut and saddle. Check out my posting on the bone slide to read about these.

Monday, March 01, 2010

cigar box ukes, recording and the "special"

I've got to make a couple of ukes, so there's a new challenge for me. Not sure how I'm going to make and attach the neck but I'll figure something. Big learning curve at the moment. I knew nothing about them except they have 4 strings and frets. So I reckon I can do the frets OK now but how about angled headstocks? I usually take the easy route with the guitars, just a simple cutaway headstock similar to Fender teles. I have a piece of hefty teak which should cut into a couple of nice necks and incorporate an angled head.

Still building my home recording kit. Just bagged a Roland PC-160 midi keyboard for a decent price on Ebay. Should be fun creating some midi tracks to blend with my guitar stuff. I bought a small, cheapo computer station to put everything on. Just need a pair of reasonable monitor speakers to complete the set-up then there's no excuse for not producing something listenable - aprt from lack of skills!

The "special" cbg is coming on well but still slowly. I wired up JuJu's coil pickup and a piezo disc onto a three way switch to give similar set-up to a tele - neck/both/bridge configuration. Added a volume control too. I'm using a 250k log pot. Got the nut and bridge to make now, add the tail piece, then I can string her up.

Hey I need to take some photos of all this stuff to show you. I keep promising but notice I haven't showed you some of it yet.

quote of the day

"We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ian Clayton - Bringing it all back home

Pretty excited this week. Ian Clayton the author and tv presenter paid me a visit and is now the proud owner of a smojo cigar box guitar. What I really want to tell you about is his book Bringing It All Back Home. Ian grew up in a gritty mining town in Yorkshire in the 1960's/70s. He has a passion for music - blues in particular. He's journeyed all over England to gigs and travelled to India and the USA and has collected thousands of albums and mementos from his travels. He has a love of stories of everyday folk and his book combines all these elements into one, highly enjoyable read. When I finished it, I wanted more and just didn't want it to end. He has a knack of touching on subjects, thoughts, stories, observations that are close to my own early life. You feel as if you've know him for years and wish you had! If you love a good yarn, music and grew up in the UK in the last century, you're gonna love this book. I'll be reading it again before long. Have a look at his website to see what he's about.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"my special" cigar box guitar update

Making some progress at last with the "special" I'm building. Got the frets in, fiddly and a bit scary when you think you can mess the whole thing up if you're not careful. JuJu's single coil pick-up is sitting nicely in the lid now, just need to get some bits to wire it in. I made a jack socket and volume control plate out of a piece of rusty metal which is looking cool too. The headstock has been given a white crackle finish look. I'm really taking things slowly though, thinking about every detail. When trying to create a "ratrod" (old distressed) look, it's a fine line you tread between too opposing forces. The desire to make something that looks like it's thrown together from junk and the strive for perfection which can lead you to over-working it. It needs to look like crap but in a cool and pleasing way and most of all, it needs to play well too. Of course you never know if you've created a winner until it's strung up and by that time, most of the work is done.

Been doing some home recording. Wow that takes some concentration. First the steep learning curve of getting to grips with new technologies and software can be extremely frustrating and hard work. Then trying to get your musical ideas to sound half-decent. It makes me realise how hard it is to keep perfect timing when trying to play a new track to add to it. Anyhow, after many hours of messing about, I eventually created a short piece which I am fairly pleased with. No cigar box guitars were hurt during the process - in fact none were used. I'm playing my Harmony H44 through a Zoom pedal and some looping provided by the Akai Headrush. See what you think, it can be heard on my Handmademusic site here.

Friday, January 29, 2010

this 'n that

Been playing catch-up on a few projects. I had some finishing off to do on the guitar case. I needed to find a way of securing the guitar safely inside. I still have a few tweaks yet before being entirley happy with it. I made a leather belt to go around it for safety as the catches I used are to say the least - basic. Also it'll give it a bit more character. I like the hessian/sack lining I used on the case. As someone pointed out, sorta like a poor man's tweed. Might look good covering an amp.

My first attempt at fretting a CBG had mixed results. I tried it on a guitar I had already built. The action was far too high for correct intonation. So I took it apart, cut some relief in the neck under the lid to lower the action. It now has a medium sort of action which is just about low enough for fretting notes but still high enough for slide work. I sort of wish I'd left it alone from the start because it was a great sounding, simple guitar. Well you learn from your mistakes so in future, if I want frets, I'll design it with that in mind rather than adapt a good guitar.

I've got my home recording set-up, more or less complete but seem to have hit a "recorders block". Somewhat like "writers block" where you can't seem to find the creative inspiration. I get like this at times. It's partly due to my perfectionist approach to things. As a novice composer/recording engineer, I'm lacking a bit of confidence in producing something decent, so my sub-conscious puts barriers there on the basis that if I don't attempt something, then I can't make a crap job of it and be disappointed. Faulty logic really because if i don't attempt it, I'll have no results at all and still be disappointed and - wasted my time and money on the project. I know once I get started, I'll enjoy the process but as I have so many other things on the go, it's taking a back seat for now.

I picked up a Marshall Park 10 watt guitar amp from a kind person on Freecycle. This amp has a slight fault - a noisy gain pot. I took it apart and cleaned it but it's still faulty. It's an odd value, 200k ohm and I'm having difficulty finding one. So there's another project that will languish on my bench for a while. I've mentioned Freecycle before. People post items they want to give away and all you have to do is answer the e-mail saying you'd like it. You need to get in early if it's a popular item. Some people give it to the first responder, some draw lots so you don't always succeed in getting it, but I've done pretty well so far..... two guitar amps, a spanish acoustic guitar, mahogany shelves for cutting down into necks, loudspeakers for amps, an oscilloscope for testing my electronic stuff, a few cigar boxes and more. I'd like to add that if you do take stuff, it's nice to redress the balance and give some stuff away too. Don't be greedy. In the words of the great sage and philosopher Noel Gallagher of Oasis - "take what you need and be on your way."

What's next? Finish the "Special" CBG with the JuJu hand wound pick-up; hoping to carry on building the "Ratocaster" which is gathering dust; have a crack at a cigar box uke, start another batch of tobacco tin amps. That should keep me going for a while.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

new toys

Managed to bag a new Novation Nio 2/4 USB soundcard on Ebay and saved myself about £45 on shop prices. Not a dealer, just someone who had an unused one for some reason. OK you chance it going faulty and having no guarantee but it does come with a manufacturers one. I don't usually bother with them because buying locally, the seller usually honours the guarantee if you have the receipt. Electronics are pretty reliable these days so you are usually safe. Having said that, the Line 6 Backtrack recorder worked for a week then stopped. There's nothing mechanical in it except a couple of switches so you'd think you were safe with that. I rang the shop where I bought it, they are out of them. They said they'd have one by the end of the week - nope. So buying locally, in a regular shop, doesn't necessarily make things any easier.

So what about the Nio. I spent all afternoon playing with it (and made my eyes hurt for the rest of the day). It's looking promising. There's no printed manual but you get one on disc. You get two pieces of software to complement it. Ableton Lite recording software. Quite a steep learning curve but there's a good interactive tutorial, which is worth working through as it tells you how to configure it to work properly with your PC. This is important if you are buying it for the same reasons as me - latency problems. You also get software that gives you a virtual effects rack. This is cool and easy to use. You can select various amp types and effects components which are all adjustable like the real thing. Or you can just use the Nio as it is with a pair of headphones and your own pedals and instruments.

I spent most of my spare time this week making a wooden case for a CBG. Just wanted a lo-fi, rat rod type of thing to carry one guitar, but it had to look cool (of course). I'm pleased to say it has turned out great. I'll tell you more later but just leave you with a couple of photos for now.

Friday, January 08, 2010

bone slide

Got my bone slide this week. Watch out for piccies and a review soon.

recording my cigar box guitar stuff

I seem to have opened a can of worms by wanting to do some recording. A while ago I bought Cakewalk 4 recording software but haven't done anything with it. When I recently bought the Akai headrush looping pedal, I got excited enough to want to try my hand at recording. Well that led me to wanting/needing a small mixer so I can mix guitar and mic into the Headrush. So far so good. I also spotted a handy new piece of kit - the Line 6 Back Track. This'll plug into a guitar and keep track of anything you play. Great for keeping a copy of any good stuff you might knock out which you can save to PC and load into recording software. Still doing good. So I got everything set up, got a nice little groove going, saved on the Back Track.

So now comes the bummer. My laptop only has a mic input. First problem - The signal level from the Headrush is too high and distorts. I could use the mixer to drop it but then I can't use it with the guitar and looping pedal at the same time. Second problem is once you get one track down on the software and try playing another piece to it, you get a half second delay on the live signal out of the monitor headphones, so impossible to get your timing in synch. Feeling frustrated I decided to listen to my one and only decent track on the Back Track only to find that it's stopped working! Only had it a week or so. So I can't play with that either. Double bummer.

The good news - which I want to pass on to anyone thinking of recording with their PC, who might know little or nothing about it (like me) . I did some research and discovered my two problems can be sorted without having to buy a new PC. The delay is an effect called "latency" and you're gonna get this with most standard PC soundcards. The answer is a USB standalone soundcard. This will also solve my input level problem at the same time. It has direct monitoring of your live signal and you usually get two inputs which can be mixed to the correct signal level for your PC. There are several around - Line 6 pod studio; M-Audio Fast Track and Novation Nio all look good. The cheapest is the Line 6. You get amp modelling and recording software included and this one is the cheapest. M-Audio is more expensive but probably better quality but no amp modelling but the one that seems to offer the most, even though more expensive again, is the Novation Nio. Has amp effects modelling, two stereo inputs and recording software. I think that's the one I'll go for.

So don't hold your breath waiting to hear anything musical from Smojo for a while yet. More pennies needed to get the sound card and a steep learning curve getting to grips with all these new toys.