Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy cigar box guitar Christmas

Happy Christmas to you all wherever you are. It was this time of year when all this started for me. I guess it must have been 6 years ago. I saw a cigar box guitar on Ebay - loved the look of it and my wife said she would buy it for me for Christmas. If you've been following this blog, then you'll know the rest of the story. Well what a great story it's been. It has led to so many interesting and fun things. I've learnt how to make cigar box guitars and play them (reaonably). It's got me back into another hobby from my youth - electronics which has led to making amps, mics, oscillators etc. It's opened up new avenues of music to explore. I've learnt how to make small movies and upload to youtube. I've made quite a few new friends and in particular one very good friend. We've seen a UK CBG fest emerge and get better every year for three years now. It has been a truly exciting, stimulating and creatively rewarding pastime for me and I know it has too for many other people because I have met some who have had similar experiences and I've had some wonderful feedback via comments and emails.

So if you have just found this site and just discovering the world of cigar box guitars and homegrown music and instruments - you are in for a a real treat my fiends. When I turn on the news, when I look around me, there is so much misery, mess, pain and worry around us. The world has truly gone crazy and if you're not careful it will drag you down too. If you feel this like I do, you need something positive, uplifting and insipirational to pull you through. This whole cigar box guitar stuff is not crazy at all (though some may think so). It has been a light in the darkness for me. So I thoroughly recommend you immerse yourself in it too. Buy a guitar, learn to play it, learn to make one yourself, meet other like-minded people (you're a great bunch) and just enjoy being creative and for a while you can switch off from the misery and worry.

Thanks for being here, sharing and joining in this journey with me. Hope you all have a great Christmas and let's hope next year gets better.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

guitar building course session two

Second session of my course where I am building a solid body six string reso guitar. Didn't realise how much preparation work needs to be done before actually working on the guitar itself. This week we cut the mahogany plank in two. We sat the two halves side by side with a small gap and using a slotted template on top we routed the two edges simultaneously to provide smooth faces to be glued. Quicker and easier that trying to plane them. They were glues up and cramped together to make the block of wood for the body.

Next job, made a template for body and headstock by tracing the drawing onto some thin MDF. We cut them out with a jigsaw, then smoothed the edges to a perfect shape with rasps and sandpaper. These will be fixed to the body block and headstock piece and used to run a router around to cut out the shapes. It took us pretty much the whole session to do these jobs. Another session next week then a break over Christmas. What I've learned so far - the need to make a good drawing and templates. The simple use of a router to provide straight edges accurately and easily. I'll be digging my own out now I know what can be done with it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

guitar building course day one

I mentioned in my last post that I was going start on a guitar building course to build a 6 string reso cone, solid electric guitar. OK I know this blog is supposed to be about CBGs but there are many of you who are also interested in more conventional guitars too and learning some general building tips. The idea is that I learn some new skills and build myself something really special. It's loosely based on a National resolectric but with some of my own tweaks to it. I've done a rough photoshop job to show you what it might look like.

I will be building it in half day sessions, roughly once a week. So the first day we headed off to John Boddy's timber yard near Boroughbridge. There's a big warehouse with lots of planks of interesting timber. Martin, my tutor helped me select a piece of maple for the neck/headstock and mahogany for the body. Mahogany was chosen because it is a fairly light hardwood which should emphasise the bass end of the tonal range to balance the rather toppy reso cone. I also bought myself another maple plank that will cut down into 4 nice CBG necks for future builds. Was surprised how relatively cheap maple is. The neck plank cost about £8 and the CBG plank about a fiver. Back at Martin's we started to draw up a full size plan of the guitar. Didn't quite finish it this week. We ordered some hardware too - truss rod, reso cone and plate and a pre-cut rosewood fretboard. Next session we finish the drawing, cut the mahogany in two and glue both halves together to make a wide plank for the body. Probably start cutting out the neck too.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

this and that in smojos cigar box guitar world

It's been a bit of a frustrating time here and an exciting one too. Still a bit quiet on my CBG front. Much as I love 'em, there are many other interesting distractions going on in my life. First the frustrations - I bought some cool looking lipstick pups, cheap, with the intention of building myself a super duper CBG with frets and a proper magnetic pickup. Got as far as cutting the neck from a piece of old shelving when my bandsaw blade snapped. So that one went on on hold.

As you will have noticed, I've been heavily into the electronics side of things. Not a million miles away from the cigar box guitar ethos of making something cool and musical out of junk or stuff that was never meant for that purpose. So I started "bending" an old casio keyboard. Found a cool distortion bend, drilled holes and mounted the switch and two pots. Working one minute - the next it was just making a horrid buzz. Messed about but can't seem to fix it. Maybe I burnt out something. So that's on hold too. Moved on to a new electronics project - making an envelope follower from the Nic Collins book. You can connect a sound source like a guitar or CD player and it's supposed to light some LEDs when the signal peaks or dips. Got the preamp part made but can I get the LEDs to come on when they should? - no, on hold too.

So what are the exciting bits. Well I had an great weekend in Manchester with my mate who had organised the Hollowbelly gig at his local pub. Great atmosphere and the whole thing went down well. Hollowbelly belted out his excellent punk blues material whilst entertaining us with some funny stories in between. The support act was great too, three local people who got together with slide guitar (and CBG), african drum and cigar box bass to play some nice bluesy stuff. Lot's of time to chat about music stuff and do a bit of jamming back at my mates too.

I bought an old ex-forces bakelite communicator set which is a chest mounted microphone and headphones. I was looking for an old telephone receiver to make a distortion mic and I found this. Might be ww2 but if not, will probably be at least 50 years old. I dismantled the set to make three mics, the chest mic I'll keep for myself, the two headphone mics I might eventually sell on. They look so cool and make fantastic hand held mics for vocals or harp where you want a bit of an old-timey, mildly distorted sound. If I get time I'll post a photo or two.

Finally (please forgive me but let me explain) I'm about to build a solid body electric 6 string guitar. As I said I do love CBGs but I suffer from GAS (guitar acquisition syndrome) where I have to keep getting a fix with a new guitar. I see something cool and I want it! Yes my friends you know what I mean. The explanation will justify the diversion from 3 strings, a stick and a box guitar. For some time I've wanted the personal satisfaction of building a "proper" guitar. Something really cool and unusual. Also to take my luthier skills a little higher and get to grips with the more complex elements of guitar building. There's a local guy who runs courses on guitar building on a one-to-one basis. I went to see him this week to talk about starting with him. My initial idea was to make something based on the old guyatone solids of the 50s/60s. They look so cool with their simple retro shape and colours. But I do have a really nice Harmony Stratotone reissue that fits the bill so what to build instead? Then the bulb lit up in my head. A solid body reso similar to the National supro reso guitars. A bit of research showed that they make a modern version still. So my design will be based on that but with a bit of the guyatone look about it. It will have an under-saddle piezo and a single coil neck pickup. I've done a very rough photoshop job to get some idea of what it might look like and here it is. I'm starting the build this wednesday. We're going off to a timber yard to chosse the wood and then back to cut it up and glue the two body halves - can't wait! I'm gonna keep a record of my progress and put something on here so if you're interested, come back and take a look regularly. It might just get me inspired enough to get cracking with my lipstick pick-upped CBG too.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

special offer on two cigar box guitars

I'm making a special offer open to the UK only.

I have two cigar box guitars for sale. They are both three-stringed fretless guitars currently tuned to open A. They have an internal piezo pickup wired straight to a 1/4 inch jack (no vol or tone controls). I have given them the usual smojo treatment of having a distressed neck look. I'd like to move them on now so that I can make space to make some more so if you fancy one of these, here's my offer. £75 gets you :-

One guitar + free smojo handmade wine bottle neck slide + free leaflet on tuning and playing + free shipping to mainland uk address. This package would normally cost you £100 so you're getting a whopping 25% discount. Order now and get yourself an early christmas present.

Email me at my usual smojoguitars(at) address for further details and have a look at the two guitars on my Flickr page here

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hollowbelly Manchester UK gig

OK I promised some more info on the Hollowbelly gig in Manchester so here's the official poster. The gig is held at the Cheshire Ring pub but the music venue is known as The Verge. You can buy tickets online, check out the website here.

This is his first Northern gig and should be a belter. If you haven't seen anything of this guy you should have a look at some of his videos and listen to some tracks. You can see his facebook here.

and you can see more of his stuff on Cigarbox Nation here

Friday, October 14, 2011

Catfish Keith

Righto here's the lowdown on the Catfish Keith gig last night - simply brilliant. Just a small gig which was nice and intimate, I got to sit right in front of the stage. He played three guitars and a foot stomp box. Guitars were a National tricone reso, a small parlour style 6 stringer and a beautiful luthier built 12 stringer based on an old Stella. This guy can really play and his vocals are powerful and expressive. He's a great fingerpicker and slide player. If you love old style blues with a gospel flavour you'll love this guy. He's a really cool fella and easy to talk to. His musical influences come from the likes of Rev Gary Davis, Mississippi Fred Mcdowell, Jesse Mae Hemphill, Blind Willie Johnson, Leadbelly to name a few. That might give you an idea of his style of music. Very much a delta sound. Some of his numbers were quite mesmerising especially when he played the 12 stringer. He's touring the UK right now so why not check out his website and if he's appearing near you, go see him - you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

life after Boxstock 2011

So I think I've finally come back down to earth (and the mundane) after a cracking weekend at West Brom and the UK cbg boxfest. What now, to stop me from topping myself every time I see the news or look at my ever-increasing bills? Well I understand plans are already underway for next years Boxstock so that's got to be good but it's a long way off yet.

Well Hollowbelly is doing a gig at the Verge (The Cheshire Ring) in Manchester on 26th November. My mate Mark C. is organising that one, I'll put the poster on here when he sends me the file so watch out for that. It's the first Northern gig HB will have done and coming originally from Warrington, it's something of a special event for him. Looks like being a popular gig so if you fancy it, get your tickets early. I'll give you details soon about booking.

Nearer to that in time (this week) and only a few miles down the road from me, Catfish Keith is appearing in a local wine bar. I've heard a lot of good things about this guy who is a superb slide player. Can't wait for that one, I'll let you know how it went later this week.

So what am I doing with my time now? Still making electronic stuff. I have a couple of those nand oscillator machines to make for friends so I'm part way on with those. No cbg making in the offing yet but the Boxfest did stir my enthusiasm for more playing and recording. Haven't done anything serious for months now and am raring to get experimenting again. I'd love to get something bluesy going on a cbg along with the oscillator drone box I made. Just need some time to get on with it. Got a busy month ahead with this 'n that but hope to find some time for music making. Be sure to call in here again for more news soon.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

photos from boxstock 2011

Just a few snaps from the event.
Top -Tinqui8 performing at the evening gig.

Middle - Ben Prestage

Bottom - Chickenbone John checking out an old archtop

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

still hot from Boxstock

Yes I'm still coming down from the event. The evening gig exceeded all our expectations with an international line-up. Set in the theatre of The Public, the gig kicked off with a guitarist (Andy Bole aka The Interplanetary Music Collective) and the Khalgani Dancers (turkish belly dancers). CB John had pursuaded the lady who runs the dance troupe, who had been at the fest last year, to perform for free. Andy set the atmosphere fantastically with his guitar and turkish lute-type instrument with the use of looping pedal and an Ebow (if you don't know what that is, check it out. I want one now). The girls performed two mesmerising dances, all in sequence with each other and very tastefully done. What a cracking start to the evening.

Second on was Tinqui8 who had come all the way from France for the weekend. We were treated to an excellent performance from him last year and he was back for another. Hard to describe his particular blend of music, definitely has a bluesy feel but his slightly unusual open tunings have a sound that seems to be his. Check out his album - Old Riders Blues. He played cigar box guitar, a vintage Weissenborn, and on loan from one of our gang - a beautiful plastic bodied guitar reminiscent of the old Airline electric guitars. The guy that made it is called Sam North. He's made several now and they are amazing.

Next up, our very own Hollowbelly with his distinctive blend of music, he describes as punk-blues. Thrashing away at his cbg, kick drum, low-boy hi hat and singing, he's a veritable one-man powerhouse. Bluesbeaten Redshaw, who collaborated on HB's latest album, Punk Northern and Blue, accompanied him on washboard for one number. HB is our UK flagship for cbg performance and if you want to see him playing, he will be in the Manchester area in November. I'll be announcing the details nearer the time.

Finally our headline act was none other than Ben Prestage from the USA. Ben had been performing at the Tangiers Jazz festival and we managed to divert him to the UK for our gig. Looking like a true hillbilly he stunned us with his performance. Another one-man band, he played various guitars, foot operated drums and hi-hat, harmonica, cigar box fiddle, cigar box banjo and sang. He did an amusing job of introducing his "band" - playing each instrument in turn. This guy is one helluva talent and worth checking out if you don't know of him. His latest album is One Crow Murder.

And that about wraps it up. We managed to drink the bar dry out of draught beer by the end of the night. There is a buzz on Cigar Box Nation about the event, as you might expect. Already plans are being made for next year which hopefully, will be even bigger and better. Things have come a long way in the UK since I discovered the cbg movemnet and started this blog a few years ago. There were literally a handful of UK guys posting on the old Yahoo forum and it was just a pipe dream that we could ever have something like this going in our country. I am truly proud of our guys for pulling all this together and want to give a big thanks to Chickenbone John and Roosterman for all the work they put into organising it.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

hot from Boxstock 2011

I feel like I've got a head full of bees, so many thoughts buzzing around. Fresh back from our 3rd UK cigar box guitar annual festival and what a belter it was. Held at The Public in West Bromwich UK. This time I drove down the day before. I've been busy making electronic stuff to take and wanted to set up my little stall before the big day. Some of the other guys usually meet up too and there was an open mic planned in the evening at the Barge and Barrel pub. Wasn't gonna miss that. Lovely sunny day too - perfect.

I was amazed at the level of talent at the open mic. Chickenbone John, who organised all this, kicked off the evening with a couple of numbers then it was pretty much non-stop, high octane cigar box music till midnight. Some of the guys I already knew but also some fresh talent.

Saturday was the big event. An all-day CBG fest with workshops, stalls and some playing. First hour or so was just spent chatting with old and new friends, checking out each other's gear and browsing the stalls. C.B. John had organised a beginners' building workshop. He'd put together a number of cheap, easy build kits so that newcomers could see how a cigar box guitar is constructed, learn some basic skills and have a playable guitar at the end of it. Following that they would have a beginning players' workshop to jump-start their CBG journey. What a brilliant idea.

Meanwhile I was holding a show and tell session and starting it off with my electronic stuff - various mics, circuit bent toys and my pseudo theremins. Seemed to go down well. Lunch time came and went in a flash but during the break, downstairs in the lobby, various performers played for us. Back to the main events in the afternoon we were treated to players workshops with Hollowbelly and Chickenbone John and another open mic session.

The afternoon was wound up with our first AGM. Just enough time to leg it back to the hotel, freshen up, a quick meal then back to the Public for the evenings entertainment in the Theatre. What a treat we were gonna get. An international line-up, headlined by Ben Prestage from the USA. I'm gonna leave it there for today as I'm pretty whacked out. I'll be back with more info in the next day or two.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

two weeks to Boxstock - the third UK cigar box guitar fest

It's only two weeks away folks. This is gonna be even better than the last two. Starting with an informal Friday night open mic session in a local pub, then the big day on Saturday. There'll be talks and workshops and lots of like minded folk to get to know. weird and wonderful instruments to see, some to buy. In the evening a gig. Ben Prestage is coming over from the States, Tinqui8 from France and our own Brit-man Hollowbelly will be playing. I'll be there with a few things for sale, might even do the open mic and there's a possibility of a talk on circuit bending and home made mics and amps. So if you want a cracking CBG weekend get your tickets ordered ASAP. Only £25 for all that, I call it a bargain. Follow the link below for more details.

Monday, September 05, 2011

september in cigar box guitar world

I guess it's september in everybody's world but I had to think of a title! What I'm getting at is that summer is nearly over already and in CBG world that means it's not long until Boxfest at Birmingham. If you haven't been to one before you really should try to make it. This is our third year in the UK. Lot's of great stuff going on, workshops, open mic, lot's of like minded folk to chat to and instruments to look at and a cracking gig lined up in th evening. You'll be buzzing for days after. If you want to know more and how to get tickets visit this link. So I've been busy with my electronic stuff again making a few things to take to the fest. Made three tobacco tin amps (one is on order from a guy who sent me the tin) and a cool amp in a small wooden cigar box. They're based on the LM386 chip in case you wondered. I'm also on with some electret mics. These are tiny components that require a battery to work. You can make contact mics from piezos which are great for some things but the electrets give a wider frequency response and are less prone to feedback (apparently) What would you use them for? Well because they are small you can drop them inside instruments that a piezo would be unsuitable for. e.g. an accordian, flute, bagpipes, or how about a guitar that you can't get to the insides of. I haven't tried them in a practical situation yet but I'm thinking of putting one in the old indian harmonium I just bought. Then I can connect it to fx pedals, amps, mixers etc to get some interesting sounds. All this means still no new cigar box guitars but as I still have a couple of spare ones for sale there's no big motivation to build more just yet and space is getting tight in my attic. I'll post some pics soon. I mentioned the India Harmonium. I've been fancying one for a while but they are pretty expensive. Well I spotted on in a junk/antique shop a few weeks ago. I had to have a look at it and the price was £75. Pretty much a bargain as it is a three reed one with 5 or 6 drones. If you don't know what these things are or sound like check them out on Youtube. They are really cool. You pump them with a bellows thingy at the back with one hand and play the keys with the other. But you can pull some stops out to produce a constant drone in key with your playing. Well after checking it out and hearing it work I decided to be cheeky and ask if they were open to offers. They let me have it for £65. There's some minor damage to the casing and one reed seems to squeal but for that price it's a great buy. Here's a photo of it. Hopefully I can make some music soon with it, and combine it with some CBG playing for something a little different to listen to.

Monday, August 08, 2011

cigar box guitar update August

As you may have noticed my CBG output has been a bit sparse the last few months. Fear not, it's still alive and kicking but in need of a good meal. I'm still heavily into my electronic stuff and I only have so much time to devote to this hobby. I'm about to start a batch of tobacco tin amps after a request from someone to build one into his own tin. So I may as well make a couple more whilst tooled up for it.

The circuit bending stuff has been taking most of my spare time. But the Barnsley CBG workshop gave me a bit of a boost. I guess I had got into a bit of a rut with my CBG playing and was spending more time on 6 string playing. But C.B. John showed us some different tunings which sparked my interest again. It also made me re-think about what I want from a cigar box guitar. My thoughts are split and sometimes contradictory. On the one hand I love the ethos of throwing together a playable instrument from a few bits of reclaimed materials and a cigar box. On the other hand, as I progress with my own music, I am finding I want the CBG to be a little more versatile.

At first I poo-pooed the idea of frets and magnetic pickups, vol controls etc but I'm coming around to the idea of making CBGs a little more sophisticated. I used to think "why not just buy a cheap strat or something" but it's not as clear cut as that now. I really like playing with just 3 strings but want a bit more quality of sound and to be able to play simple chords and fingered licks as opposed to just slide. So I might re-visit some of my own CBGs and upgrade one or two if possible.

So the message is, don't get stuck in a rut with your thinking or playing. Don't be a slave to your own ideals (or anyone elses). Be prepared to move on, change your views, experiment. Life never stands still but if you're not careful you can get held back by your own beliefs when they are no longer fully appropriate. Remember the CBGers number 1 rule "there are no rules". And don't trap yourself in your own rules.

Keep on flying the flag for do it yourself music.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Polish club Barnsley gets cbg'd

Chickenbone John hosted a CBG event at Barnsley at the Polish Club this weekend. Open mic on the Friday night and a players workshop on the Saturday afternoon. And it was free. How good is that, it doesn't get much better? Not a massive turnout but that made it all the better for those of us that went. It was a small friendly crowd, about half locals and half CBGers. John took the stage for the first half playing some cracking blues on his guitars. The second half saw a few of our very own CBG artists, Yellowbelly Flatt, Ant on his cigar box banjo, Soulcatcher and Kev to name the ones I remember. A cool mix of styles. John ended the session with a few more numbers.

Saturday afternoon and John led us through a players workshop. There was a mix of abilities, some beginners and some more advanced but eager to learn players. John gave us a good few hours of his expert time and I'm sure we all took something away to benefit our playing. I particulary liked the G minor tuning he showed us. G,A#,D -try it. It has an almost out of tune ring about it (may just be the restrictions of a cigar box guitar) but a melancholic sound that when I noodled some chords and licks, it reminded me very much of a a Reverand Gary Davis number called Death Hath no Mercy. I saw him playing it on a Stefan Grosman video with a small audience in a sort of studio shack-style setting in the 1960s. It's one of the saddest performance I ever saw. Anyway I came away inspired by the workshop with some new ideas to play with and even sketched out a song this morning based on my chord progressions. I called it Death is a Stealer. Now where did I get that idea from?

Check out Catfish Keith on Youtube, John talked about him. I wasn't aware of him until the workshop but he plays some pretty neat slide guitar. I'm sure you'll like it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

drone box oscillator synth

At last I've got Youtube working again and I've uploaded some quick demos of the drone box I've been building. The video sounds don't do it justice. It sounds wicked when hooked up to some fx and a decent amp.

Friday, July 08, 2011

some of my music on soundcloud

Just found this site where you can upload your music to share with the world. I've put some of my cigar box guitar and circuit bent recordings on it.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

free cigar box guitar open mic and workshop

Just announced - Chickenbone John is organising a free CBG event at Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Beginners and more experienced players/builders welcome. Looks like being a cool event. If you're able to get there it'll be worth the effort! I'm gonna do my best to make it, hope some of you will too. Here's a link to the forum too so you can take a peek at what he's planned.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

June and a little cigar box guitar news

Just heard from my mate over in Manchester that he's planning a CBG gig at his local pub in November. One of our top uk CBG gigging men - Hollowbelly will be playing. He describes himself as punk blues and it'll be a great gig. Provisionally it's gonna be 26th Nov but I'll confirm nearer the time. If you're in that neck of the woods, be sure to come along for a brilliant evening. I'm gonna be there!

I'm having trouble with bloody Youtube again. Taking forever to load the page, then it's all screwed up and I can't get into it to upload anything new or answer any comments. So my apologies if you are waiting for a reply or looking for new material from me. Can't figure out what's wrong but they probably changed something in the name of progress and my ageing laptop can't handle it. Hoping to get a new one soon, then I can spend more time being creative with it rather than trying to fix it.

I'm still not making any new guitars as I'm fully immersed in holidaying, decorating, running around after old folks and when I do get some time to be creative, it's a bit of electron-trickery/circuit-bending rather than CBG building. Just completed my NAND gate oscillators in the old box and it's a pretty wicked machine. I'm hoping to get to grips with it's music making potential and somehow weave it's manic pulsey noisies into something listenable, ideally a bit of CBG palyed over it. Watch this space.

I do have a couple of CBGs for sale. If you want details just email me.

A side benefit of CBG playing for me is that it pushed me toward fingerstyle playing to the point that even when playing standard 6 stringers, I hardly ever use a plectrum now. In fact it feels quite awkward. The limit of three strings to play with on a CBG made it fairly easy to get into fingerstyle plucking. You just need a thumb and one or two fingers. Glad to say I still have all four fingers which I was trying to use when I first attempted fingerstyle in pre-CBG days. I realise now that two are plenty, in fact many of the old time blues players just used thumb and one finger. I think Blind Gary Davis did and he often played a 12 stringer! So if you've tried and failed fingerstyle on 6 strings before. Try getting to grips with it on a 3-string CBG, you'll find it falls into place quite easily.

Bye for now, enjoy summer, it's gone quicker than you think.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

cigar box guitar update - May

Well a month has passed in a flash and I don't seem to have done much CBG stuff. Still messing about with the oscillator box which is nearly finished so I'll show you that soon. I watched Jools Hollands Later on tv the other night and was pleased to see Seasick Steve on there playing a CBG. I guess he'll be on again tomorrow (Friday night) so if you can get BBC2 watch out for that.

I'm on the hunt for a parlour sized 6 stringer. Playing CBGs has got me into fingerstyle playing and on something small that's comfy when you're sat on the sofa watching boring crap on tv, so hence a parlour guitar. I called at a small music store that looked like something from a Dickens book. Dark and dusty and full of intriguing instruments. On the wall I spotted a very old one string CBG and something weird that used a tortoisehell with a skin stretched over it for the guitar body. Whoa and I thought CBGs were weird!

The UK group HGMC is picking up members now. I think we're at about 70 so far. If you're in the UK be sure to check it out and think about joining. And definitley think about going to the Boxfest in Birmingham in October. We have our own Hollowbelly, France's Tinqui8, and Ben Prestage from the USA playing at the evening gig. That's gonna be worth going for on it's own but the daytime workshops, open mic and stalls make it an event not to be missed.

Anyhow, keep checking in here now and then, there's bound to be something of interest even if it's not strictly cigar box guitars.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April update

I feel slightly guilty that I aren't writing about cigar box guitars seeing as this blog is about them. The reason being, that I haven't made any for a little while since I really got into electronics but let me explain where I'm coming from and how it all fits into the ethos of what this stuff is all about. I think it's right to say that most people are into CBGs because they look cool and different but also because there's a certain perverseness about it. Making a great playable instrument from an old cigar box and a stick. It's sort of sticking two fingers up at the big manufacturers who charge thousands for their guitars and saying "I can make something sound pretty damn good out of a heap of junk". So after I'd made a few guitars I naturally wanted a cool little amp to go with it, hence the re-interest in electronics. I found it just as enjoyable making an amp as I did making the guitars. That led me onto making a few other related things out of junk - tobacco tin mics using old telephone receivers, a simple two channel mixer (more of a combiner - no batteries required). Then I somehow discovered "circuit bending" - modifying electronic toys and other devices to make more interesting sounds. On the surface it seems a long way from making c.b. guitars but it's the same ethos behind it. Taking something that was intended for an entrirely different purpose, modifying it and adding your own creative stamp to it, to produce a cool, fun packed instrument. So first efforts were attempts at toys and I'm pretty pleased with one of them. You can see it on Youtube Then I discovered the wonderful book by Nic Collins "Handmade Electronic Music". He has made some amazingly weird stuff and you might want to look for him on Youtube also. What has got me fired up now are the circuit designs he decribes using logic chips to make oscillators. Again the CBG ethos holds good as he is using chips that were designed for computers and other digital devices and making them perform in a musical way,. By combining several oscillators together you can make some pretty cool synth and drone sounds. You can use them to make a simple tremolo box and panners and mixers for combining several devices together plus many other ideas. Nic shows you just how to do it in a fairly easy to understand way. So that's where I'm at at the moment. I will come back around to talking about CBGs but I have to explore this path a little further yet. I have a project part finished using the old electrical tester box I showed you a while ago. It's shaping up nicely and I hope to somehow combine the drone/synth type sounds from it with some CBG playing. No idea how that's going to come out but that's all part of the fun - musical adventures. If you decide to look for some of these noise boxes or circuit bent toys on Youtube, you might be forgiven for quickly getting bored and even irritated at the squeaks and squeals that come out of them. I figure the main reason is that most people who have posted vids of their creations, have little or no musical talent. They are mainly electronics geeks. So don't let that put you off having a go at making some if you are interested. If you have some musical knowledge/skills, it's fairly easy to apply the same principles of music making to these devices. Create a regular beat or rhythm with them and try to find sounds that harmonise with each other. If you look at the boring stuff you'll realise that that is what's missing. Most people are simply demonstrating what weird noises they can get out of them rather than trying to make something listenable. I'll try to demonstrate that for you. Visit my website here and scroll down the home page to the jukebox. Have a listen to "While Giants Sleep". The ticking clock and the snoring sounds were created on the circuit bent toy and looped on my Akai Headrush. I then added some melancholic cigar box guitar playing over it. Hope it might inpsire you to try something different yourelves.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

lots happening

So here's the latest news in Smojo's cigar box guitar world. The Uk's Home Grown Music Collective is now live and what a cracking line-up for the fest in October. Tickets for the full day are £25 and well worth it. Why not sign up to the collective if you're in the UK. It's only £10 per year and gives you a fiver discount on the festival tickets. you get a few cool goodies too. take a look at it.

The chopped Phantom Rockmaster ratrod project is pretty much finished and I'm well pleased with it. Got it tuned to open G for slide playing. I did a quick rough video so you can see and hear it.

I'm heavily into electronic building at the moment. CBG building is on the back-burner for now. I'm experimenting and learning as I go along and before long hope to have some sort of cool oscillator/synth machine made. Here's the box I found in a junk shop that I will be using to house it. How cool is that? I've been to a car boot sale today scouting for cheap useable stuff. It's a great way to find interesting items that can be modified or utilised in your home made projects. Among my finds were an old solid leather belt that will make a great guitar strap - cost 20p. A weird chrome thing that has blue LEDs in it and it fits over your car exhaust pipe (why) - it'll get hacked and find it's way into one of my electronic synth machines, that cost just £1. Some games machine hand controllers with dual joysticks for just 10p each - they can be broken down for parts. A pair of vintage drum brushes cost 50p. There's plenty of bargains to be had and now Spring is here, car boot season is upon us again so get out and turn your boring Sundays into treasure hunting.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

new uk home grown music group

Here's some exciting news for the UK. Following on from two successful cigar box guitar fests, some of the guys have formed an official group to promote the wider spectrum of work by amateur music makers. It's called the Home Grown Music Collective and it's about to launch next week. It's a kind of non-exclusive club that will help us to promote out music interests to a wider field, help people to get in touch with each other and at the same time, raise a little money to fund events. Here's a snippet from the website which sums up what it's about.
To foster and encourage the playing and performance of music on instruments outside the scope of mainstream conventional instruments. The group recognizes that it has arisen from the "cigar box guitar" culture, but that this is by no means an exclusive genre and reflects the ethos of making and playing instruments made from found objects and recycled materials, using innovative designs.The group seeks to encourage and revive the idea of making one's own musical instruments, and making music without having recourse to using commercial standardised instruments or adhering to conventional musical genres.
It's only £10 for a years membership and that entitles you to a £5 discount on the festival ticket. I'm really excited about it and i think you'll like the idea too. There's a great website for it. Have a look around and see what it's all about. Here's the link.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

latest photos on the phantom chopped guitar

Most of the tin-can cladding has been done now. Machine heads been refitted. I need to work on the wiring next. There's a brass plate to cover the opening for the wiring. I've tried ageing it with vinegar and heat which has worked to a degree but not quite as aged as i would like.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

rockmaster phantom chop job

Remember I showed you a photo of a nasty looking, day-glo, yellow six stringer that I bought cheap in a charity shop. Well I have stripped it down and given it the chop. It was a strat type shape with a pointy headstock. You can see the body has been slightly reshaped and a chunk cut off the headstock. I'll re-drill two new holes for the missing machine heads on the other side of the headstock. The rest of the body is going to get covered with the same oxidised can-metal that you can see on the bottom of the body. The back of the neck will get resprayed to look sort of metallish. The two single coil pups have gone leaving me with just the humbucker and I'll re-fit the vol control and maybe a tone pot. I'm please dwith the way it's looking so far. I'll post more pics as it develops.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Happy New cigarbox guitar Year

Hope you all had a great Christmas and maybe got some cool new toys. Had some problems with my internet and couldn't watch anything on Youtube for a while - bummer! Just completed two new CBGs. One of them was built for someone who asked for frets. I'm not keen on fitting them as they can be a pain and difficult to set up. Anyway I built it and it's a little beauty. The guy asked if it could be "ratty" so that's what I made. Trouble is I've fallen in love with it myself and it'll be hard to part with it. A lot of processing went into getting that "rough-as-shit-but-cool-and-also-plays-well" result. Here's a photo of it. Not happy with the strap so I'm gonna change it for a piece of tea-stained rope which is more in keeping with the style. I made a quick but rough vid of me noodling on it. You can see it here if you wish.

I'm taking a bit of time out from CBG making so I can complete some of my other projects. remember the nasty day-glo yellow electric 6 stringer I bought in a charity shop? Well it was never gonna stay that way. I decided to chop the body down to a small rectangular shape and cover it with pieces of old brass or tinplate to make a ratrod slider. I've made a start, I stripped all the parts off and cut the body. Just started with the metal plating. So far so good. I'll post some photos of it's progress soon.

Music-wise, I have been getting into some weird experimental stuff. Started out just experimenting with different effects on my pedals. I hit on some pretty heavy, dark sounding stuff which kinda reminded me of some kind of hellish workshop or satanic place. Some of them came out as workable pieces so I hit on the idea of doing a series of them along the theme of Dantes Divine Comedy also known as The Inferno. He describes his trip through the various circles of hell. The imagery of his poems is very inspiring and so I've used that to put suitable titles to my tracks. You can hear what I've recorded so far on my CigarBox Nation page here. look for the music section on the left of the page.

Getting even weirder than that, I've got interested in circuit bending againv after getting a cool book at Christmas. Re-wiring old electronic toys and such to get weird sounds. I've made some great contact mics from piezo disks and been experimenting with sounds made from everyday objects, interference from electrical equipment etc. I haven't been able to make anything particularly musical from it yet but hoping to combine some of these sounds with some bluesy CBG playing for something a little different from the usual 12 bar shuffle. What I love about this whole thing is how diverse you can get. No need to ever get bored with your guitars. And best of all - it's a helluva lot of fun.