Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Some Things I've Learned!

  • That the best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.
  • That just one person saying to me, 'You've made my day!', makes my day!
  • That having a child fall to sleep in your arms is one of the most peaceful feelings in the world!
  • That being kind is more important than being right!
  • That you should never say no to a gift from a child!
  • That I can always pray for someone, when I don't have the strength to help him in some other way!
  • That no matter how serious your life requires you to be, everyone needs a friend to act goofy with!
  • That sometimes all a person needs is a hand to hold and a heart to understand!
  • That simple walks with my grandfather around the block on summer nights when I was a kid did wonders for me as an adult!
  • That we should be glad that God doesn't give us everything we ask for!
  • That money doesn't buy class, character or credibility!
  • That it's those small daily happenings that make life spectacular!
  • That under every one's hard shell is someone who wants to be appreciated and loved!
  • That to ignore the facts does not change the facts!
  • That when you plan to get even with someone, you are only letting that person continue to hurt you!
  • That love, not time, heals all wounds!
  • That the easiest way for me to grow as a person is to surround myself with people smarter than I am!
  • That everyone you meet deserves to be greeted with a smile!
  • That life is tough, but I'm tougher!
  • That opportunities are never lost, someone will take the ones you miss!
  • That when you harbor bitterness, happiness will dock elsewhere!
  • That I wish I would have told my mom that I love her before she passed away!
  • That one should keep his words soft and tender, because tomorrow he may have to eat them!
  • That a smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks!
  • That when your newly born grandchild holds your finger in her little fist, that you're hooked for life!
  • That everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you're climbing it! And, besides it's lonely at the top, and just room for one.
  • That the less time I have to work with, the more things I get done!
I only hope I can use and demonstrate effectively what I've learned!

New Project

I've been busy lately working on the design for a guitar which is a tribute to the late Dale Earnhardt.  So, the absence of posts here on the blog.

The guitar is an electric ordered by my old friend Bruce (yes, I do mean old, like in elderly, grizzled, vintage, time-worn, run down and worn out), who has developed a Nascar fetish . . . this has replaced the foot fetish he had years ago.  He says he plans to auction it to support a Nascar fantacy league he runs, but I think he will keep it for himself.

Without giving away too many secret details, before the job is finished, delivered, and photos posted here, it is a six-string built using a Tatuaje cigar box as the body (thanks to Jennifer in Houston for supplying the box), a Fender Strat neck via a guy in Georgia, and various parts from Toronto.  It is coming along nicely, and a lot of fun to create, even though the design has been a pain in the ass.  But, you should be seeing photos in a couple weeks.

Ya Can't Stay Grumpy, When Ya Read This!

How do crazy people go through the forest?   They take the psychopath!

How do you get Holy water?   You boil hell out of it!

What do you call a boomerang that doesn't work?   A stick!

What do you call Santa's helpers?   Subordinate Clauses!

What's the difference between roast beef and pea soup?   Anyone can roast beef!

Why do gorillas have big nostrils?   Because they have big fingers!

Why don't blind people sky dive?   Because it scares the dog!

How are a Texas tornado and a Tennessee divorce the same?   Somebody's gonna lose a trailer!

Do you know the difference between a Harley and a Hoover?

It's the location of the dirt bag! 

Now, admit it, at least one of these made you smile!


Support bacteria, it's the only culture some people have!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Recent builds

'The Baron' is one of three guitars I managed to create in the past couple weeks.   It's named for the overall character and simplicity of design.  One thing I've discovered is that when I like a design element, I'm going to stick with it whenever possible.  Thus the headstock, it works for both 3- and 4-string instruments.  The body of The Baron is an Arturo Fuente Opus X, which is really a nice box.  It's clean and stylish and offers just the right amount of spice to make the design comfortable.  It's one of my favorites, and it plays very well.  Super tone coming out of the Spanish cedar, and a lot of sustain.

The 'Delta Boogie' is a resonator created from a rugged Kristoff cigar box, a 6-inch pot pie tin I found in an antique store for the resonator, an oak neck, poplar fingerboard, nickle frets, a stainless steel door stike for a tailpiece, the bridge bisquet is handmade from cedar and balsa and includes a transducer pickup like all the other guitars, and a little Blackfoot injunuity.  It has a gutteral sound and it's awesome when played with a slide, although it can be picked and sounds very good as well . . . but, the slide makes it come alive with the blues.

The 'Pantie Dropper' is a sister to the 'Orion', same box and style with the exception of a couple small items, and that it is a 3-string.  I don't quite know what it is about this box, but it has an awesome sustain, and it booms when it's played acoustically.  It sounds so good, it'll make a girl dance right out'a her jeans.  And, when it is lighted up through the amp, it rocks.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Exercise For Guitar Players

Begin by standing on a comfortable surface, where you have plenty of room at each side . . . pretend your on stage at the Apollo.

With a 5-pound potato bag in each hand, extend your arms straight out from your sides and hold that position as long as you can.  Try to reach one full minute, then relax your arms to your side.

Each day you'll find that you can hold this position for just a bit longer.  After a couple weeks, move up to 10-pound potato bags.

Then try 50-pound potato bags, and eventually try to get to where you can lift a 100-pound potato bag in each hand, and hold your arms straight out to the side for more than a full minute.

After you feel comfortable at this level, put a potato in each bag.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Perfect Gift -- Art and Function All In One

Three String Cigar Box Guitar
Combination Acoustic & Electric
Made by me, Jess Allred -- TotalRojo Guitars
  • I will create a custom, handmade, cigar box guitar similar to the one shown.
  • Choose a style from the creations seen on this blog, or develop your own theme for me.
  • Please allow two weeks for the completion of your guitar.
  • Share your thoughts or questions with me (jallred489@gmail.com).
The instrument shown above is a genuine three-string cigar box guitar.  It is fretted and set up with open tuning and can be played with either slide or in the traditional strum/pick manner.  It is built for playing Delta Blues, Folk, Rock, or whatever, acoustically or through an amp via a Piezo transducer pickup.  Either way it sounds great, and it's unique and gnarly sound is perfect for ripping the blues on a slide.

There are numerous design possibilities, so I am not limited in creation. 

Features Include:
  • A genuine cigar box
  • Hand cut sound holes -- open, covered, or screen-backed, and styles vary
  • Hand shaped oak neck -- set neck or through-box design
  • Poplar fretboard
  • Hand finished stainless steel medium size frets
  • Geared tuning machines -- open or closed design
  • Custom handmade nut -- in a variety of styles and materials
  • Custom handmade bridge and saddle -- in variety of styles and materials
  • Custom designed tailpiece to fit the style of the guitar
  • 25-inch scale on most designs, but that can be altered to fit the design/style
  • Steel strings on all guitars
  • Commercial pickups -- either Piezo transducer; single coil; or Humbucker style
  • Graphic enhancements when desired or required
Each instrument is handmade by me, and intended to be played, and each guitar has a unique look and sound, no two are alike, and each is numbered and signed for authentication.

Prices vary depending on design and style, however they range from $135.00 for the simpler straight-forward designs to $300+ for the more complex and refined guitars.  Includes a set of extra strings -- $9 value.  Shipping is additional.  (Write me for a quote on your design or selection).

All the instruments are playable one-of-a-kind creations ready to meet your musical demand.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Gold Guitar

A fella was sitting on deserted railroad tracks somewhere down south playing his beat up old cigar box guitar and thinking about how his life was turning out, when suddenly the sky clouded above his head and, in a booming voice, God said, "Because you have tried to be faithful to me in all ways, I will grant you one wish."

The ol' boy looked up and said, "Build me a gold-plated guitar to replace this beat up old thing, so that I can entertain the masses, and feel better about myself."

God replied, "Your request is quite materialistic, and I do not see how such an instrument is necessary in the effort to entertain others, and I cannot understand how it can serve to change your feelings about yourself. I can do it, but it is hard for me to justify your desire for worldly things.  Take a little more time to think of something that could possibly help mankind."

The ol' guy thought about it for a long time.  Finally, he said, "God, I wish that I, and all men, could understand women.  I want to know how she feels inside; what she's thinking when she gives me the silent treatment; why she cries; what she means when she says nothing's wrong; why she snaps and complains when I try to help; and how I can make her truly happy."

God said, "You want a six- or twelve-string?"

Rural Montana Traffic Control

Only folks in my home state of Montana can conceive of methods to present their wishes, and in this case demands, in a manner which can be easily understood, without a lot of bureaucratic intervention.  (Thanks to my friend John for sharing.)

Monday, November 22, 2010




Sunday, November 21, 2010

It's Tiki Time!

A couple weeks ago, I got a message from Tim, a new friend from Chicago via cyberspace, asking if I would pinstripe a cigar box in a Tiki motif for a guitar he is going to build.  This Internet stuff is awesome, it lets a fella make new friends in the most interesting ways.  He saw one of my striped guitars on CigarBoxNation.

The Tiki theme comes from his desire to become the next Surf Guitar legend, ala Dick Dale style, (just kidding Tim). 

I said yes. Tim sent the box last week. I finished the creation yesterday.  Will ship it tomorrow.  Take a look, and let me know if I can stripe a toilet seat or a tuna can for you.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Another Orion

Shortly after completing the 'Orion' guitar, a friend from Pennsylvania, by way of Cigar Box Nation, informed me that he had an Orion box he would part with.  So, I now have another really cool cigar box, which I think will become a monster amp. 

That's what happens when a fella associates with good people . . . good things happen.

Thanks Wes.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

'Big Business' Enters the CBG Arena

In a recent post, I mentioned buying, from Mitzi in Monroe, La., the cigar box that eventually became the 'Orion' guitar. 

She was kind enough to stop her eBay auction to sell me the box for a cool ten bucks.  Geez, I nearly wet my pants over that box.  I've not seen another like it, in its original form, or in a guitar conversion, and I just had to make it into a guitar.

Well, tonight I got a note from Mitzi after she looked at my blog and saw what a nice creation came from her willingness to sacrifice the auction so I could satisfy my own crazy thirst for a unique instrument.  She is such a nice person, and she has very kind words of praise for my work and creativity.

Hang on, the story gets better. 

It turns out that Mitzi is a business woman to be reckoned with.  She revealed that, what I have mistakenly thought was kindness and sympathy on her part, for an old guy with a lust for mystereous little three- and four-string instruments made from dicarded waste, is actually 'Big Business' at work here.

Mitzi from Monroe confessed that she paid a whopping two bucks for that box at a yard sale, and that she didn't even know why she bought the damn thing in the first place.

I know why!  She knows that a sucker is born every day, and I was the sucker for her cigar box.  But, what she dodn't know is that I would have paid twentyfive bucks for that box that day.  So I guess we both won big! 

Thanks again Mitzi, you da' Lady!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

'Plum Crazy' -- #25

A six-string Fender Squier neck attached to a Tatuaje cigar box, which I painted purple.  These are some of the most simple creations, in that the box itself is large enough and so solidly built that it is great for an electric guitar, especially when oak reinforcing pieces are added to hold the neck and bridge in place.  This adds just enough weight to offset the weight of the neck, and the balance feels so good when it is played.  The pickup, neck plate, strap holder buttons,  and jack plate  are from a supplier in Ontarion, Canada; strings from GuitarFetish; neck with tuners and string trees off eBay; a custom made string cover and hand brushed pinstripes by the old guy who built this rig, me.

Damn, this is a fun hobby.

'Orion' -- #24

I nearly wet my pants, when I discovered this cigar box up for auction on eBay, and couldn't believe nobody was bidding on it.  So, I asked the owner, Mitzi from Monroe, if she would unload it on a 'buy-it-now' basis.  She did!  And, what you see here is the result of that negotiation a week or so ago.

The neck is oak with a beautiful Brazilian walnut veneer laminated to it, by way of my son Joe, whose father-in-law collected veneers of many types during his cabinet-making days.  Now, I have a supply for exotic guitar necks.

Along the way, I decided to laminate another type veneer to the front and back of the headstock, with a skunk stripe going down the neck to the box.  Fret markers are small nails on the fretboard, and BBs (my usual treatment) for the side markers.  Tuners out of China.  String trees from a supplier in Ontario.  Strings from GuitarFetish.  Brass rod for nut and bridge.  And a silver spoon from a yard sale for a tailstock.

This is my first attempt at a 'set neck', and it worked out beautifully (whew! nothing like being adventuresome).  I separated the lid from the box body by removing the hinges; calculated where the neck should be positioned to allow for a 25.5-inch scale; cut an oak block for the neck anchor inside the box, and glued it in place; repositioned the lid to mark the bridge location; cut the center out of the Orion "O" logo for a sound hole; positioned the tailstock, after drilling anchor holes and string openings at the proper distances to match string slots cut into the nut; marked the tuner positions and drilled holes; drilled a hole in the body for the output jack bezel, which I had created from a metal door-slide thingy.  The heavy lifting is now over and I can get to the finishing steps.  I soldered up a Piezo transducer to attach to the jack, and attached it to the inside of the lid under the bass string location.  Added dark screen to the underside of the sound hole for aesthetic appeal; applied several coats of poly for a smooth and glossy finish; attached the top to the body with hidden screws; fitted strings, tuned to DGBd; fired it up; and wow! it sounds great! with the amp, but acoustically it rocks . . . very load from such a little box, and the sustain is awesome.

I think I did wet my pants, just a dribble, when I first plucked a string!  Damn, Mitzi, I cannot thank you enough for helping me buy that box.

Friday, October 29, 2010

New Find

Get a load of the really unique cigar box I bought from a lady in Louisana.  This is going to make a bitchin' guitar.  I'll post pics when I have it completed, but at present I'm working on another six-string.  Then, I'm going to be doing some graphics and pinstriping on a box for Chicago friend Tim . . . a Tiki theme . . . which is going to be a hoot.  Can't wait to receive the box from him.  Then it's on to the Oliva.

Wiring Diagram for 1 Pickup/1 Volume Pot

This is the diagram I use to wire the six-string guitars that can be seen on this blog.  However, the only difference is that I use a 250K Pot, because that is what is normally used on a single-coil pickup, which I use, while Humbuckers use the 500K Pot.  This is a very simple and effective way to wire for the use of only a volume control.  Gain, tone, etc. is controlled at my amp.

When soldering the ground wires to the back of the Pot, the best way to do this is to melt a small drop of solder on the iron and apply it to the Pot, then place the ground wires on the solder spot, heat the wires with the iron until the solder melts, remove the iron and wait for the wires to cool, and you have a solid connection.  Do not 'over heat' the Pot with the iron, as this may damage the Pot.

Thoughts To Get You Through A Crisis!

  • Indecision is the key to flexibility.
  • There is always one more S.O.B. than you counted on.
  • If you ever find something you like, buy a lifetime supply, 'cause they'll stop making it.
  • All things being equal, fat people use more soap.
  • You can't tell which way the train went, by looking at the tracks.
  • Be kind!  Everyone you meet is fighting a tough battle.
  • This is as bad as it can get, but don't bet on it.
  • The is absolutely no substitute for a genuine lack of preparation.
  • By the time you can make ends meet, the ends have been moved.
  • Happiness is merely the remission of pain.
  • Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.
  • Sometimes too much to drink is not enough.
  • The facts, though interesting, are irrelevant.
  • The world gets a little better every day, and worse in the evening . . . just watch the news.
  • The careful application of terror is also a form of communication.
  • Not one shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious.
  • Someone who thinks logically is a nice contrast to the real world.
  • Things are more like they are today than they have ever been before.
  • The other line always moves faster, until you get into it.
  • Anything worth fighting for is worth fighting dirty for.
  • Everything should be made simple as possible, but no simpler.
  • Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate.
  • It's hard to be nostalgic, when you can't remember anything.
  • I have seen the truth, and it makes no sense.
  • To live forever, acquire a chronic disease and take care of it.
  • Suicide is the most sincere form of self-criticism.
  • If you think there is good in everybody, you haven't met everybody.
  • If you can smile when things go wrong, you have someone in mind to blame.
  • One seventh of your life is spent on Monday.
  • The more you run over a dead cat the flatter it gets.
  • It takes a big dog to weigh a ton.
  • And, you don't screw around with a momma that can whoop ya . . . ask the guy in the photo.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Eliminating Feedback

No, this is not about shutting the door on comments for this blog.  As a matter of fact, I want to hear what you have to say, so, WRITE A COMMENT, DAMMIT!  And, also add your thoughts about anything to do with the CBG movement.

This is about amp feedback.  

There are many opinions about how to eliminate amp feedback from your cigar box guitar, but I gotta say that I have found the best and easiest method is to line the entire inside surface of the box you're using  to create your masterpiece with foil.

Now, some folks recommend copper foil tape (expensive) as the best and only real method.  Others say aluminum foil tape is the ticket (expensive, too).  Many also tell the story that the tape strips must be connected by the use of solder to be effective.  All this sounded like overkill to me, so, after experimenting a bit, I discovered there is an easier way, less expensive, but dangerous if you are not the sole proprietor of your kitchen.

Reynolds aluminum foil is the deal.  While your wife or significant other is away, sneak into the kitchen, grab the biggest roll of foil you can find, take off for the workshop, and you're ready to put the kibosh on amp feedback.

All you need in addition is a small jar of contact cement, scissors, mineral spirits (to clean the sticky crap off your fingers), a sharp knife to trim the foil to make it a real sanitary installation, and somewhere to hide the roll, when the kitchen help discovers it missing.

You're ready.  Rip off a strip wide enough to fit the inside of the box.  Coat the surface of the box to be covered with contact cement.  Lay the foil (shiny side up) on the  sticky surface, and smooth it out.  Cut the corners with the knife to facilitate a good fit, and finish smoothing the small areas.  Go all the way up the sides of the box with the foil as well, leaving a little foil to be rolled over onto the edge of the box (this ensures that the top and bottom of the box foil will make contact when the unit is put together.  Cut away foil from pickup, tone/volume controls, and output jack to prevent careless grounding.

That's it!  No numerous small strips of foil tape to screw around with.  No solder (you're not trying to create an electric conductor, only a shield to prevent signal feedback from the amp to the guitar).

This method may not be what the big boys use to shield an instrument, but it works for me.  And, just add a little clarity, I took my Strat apart to see what they do, and I was surprised to find the control cavity contained only a little piece of foil, apparently the solid body does a good job on its own to shield.

'Nuff said.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Creations

The attached photos are of the newest creations I've been working on for a couple weeks.

During one of the many excursions to the music store to lust over beautiful instruments, I saw a violin laying in a pile of crap.  It looked great to me, new, shiny, not a ding, so I asked the ol' gal who owns the place about it.  Her comment was, "It is a piece of Chinese shit, if you want it I'll sell it to you for $15."  So, 'Gitfiddle II' was in the works before the end of the day.

I ripped off the strings; fingerboard; cut the neck apart; modified what was left of the violin; built a neck of red oak; cut an opening in the back to install a pickup, and commenced to fit and glue the pieces together.  

There are a few little differences with this build and the previous Gitfiddle.  For example, I left the tailstock as it was originally, flexible, and replaced the original tuning pegs with modified guitar pegs to make tuning it less difficult.  And, the attachment of the headstock to the neck, and the neck to the body was a little less problematic, in that I didn't mess around with recessing anything.  I modified the original bridge to accommodate the lower action of the four guitar strings.  After all this, I tuned it to DGbd tuning, and fired it up.  It sounds great acoustically, as one would expect, because of the original construction, and through my amp it is awesome.  Sure it's no Strad, but it plays Chinese real good.

Next in line out of the workshop came 'Ol' Smokey'.  It is a twin to 'Big Red', the six-string I dubbed to be 'Almostafender', because it has a Fender Squier neck.  The box is a Tatuaje cigar box just like the red.  Everything is exactly the same.  I just wanted a black twin to the red one.

This week I finished 'The Spider' .  It is one of my favorites, not because it is such an unusual build, but because it incorporates the two hobbies I find most pleasureful . . . pinstriping and cigar box guitar building.  I sprayed a Tatuaje box a deep royal blue and added process blue and dark magenta freehand pinstriping to set it off from anything else I've done.  Added a silver black widow spider to give it a little character, and I'm happy, until I take a look at the back.  It just didn't light up my board, until I added the 'real' spider with exposed bones and a human skull.  Now, it's a real spider guitar, and it really sounds good, too.  I'm happy!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Busy Makin' Guitars

It's been very busy for me the last couple weeks, so I've not had much time to post messages here.  Between helping my friend with his school photo and sports photography business, and building guitars in the spare moments, there's been no time for writin'.  I'll be posting photos soon of several guitars I've been busy creating.  To tease a little, there'll be a 'Gitfiddle II', a black twin to the 'Almostafenderplank', and 'The Spider', which incorporates my other hobby, pinstriping.  I think you'll like what you see.

Guitars for GIs

A Chicago woman I know recently came up with a fantastic idea, which calls for any of us who build cigar box guitars to share the experience with service men or women, who may be in a war zone or stateside.

She is attempting to acquire names and mailing addresses for GIs, which she will share.

I like the idea and I hope to be able to make contact with a serviceman/woman who wants to learn to play, and I will provide the CBG.  It's the least I can do to show my appreciation for the sacrifice they are making to protect me in a world filled with radicals who are persistent in their violent mission to destroy our country.

This guitar is the creation of a fellow who calls himself
TinyGuitars (his moniker on CigarBoxNation),
and he plans to share it with a GI.

If you know of someone who is serving our country, or who is recuperating from war-related injuries, and you feel they may find some enjoyment from a little instrument, which produces big sound, please share your thoughts with me, and I'll take it from there.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Could I Be A 'Redneck'?

We've enjoyed Redneck jokes for years.  It's time to take a reflective look at the core beliefs of a culture that values home, family, country, and God.

If I had to stand before a dozen terrorists who threaten my life, I'd choose a half-dozen or so Rednecks to back me up.  Tire irons, squirrel guns, and grit -- that's what rednecks are made of.  I hope I'm one of those.

You might be a Redneck, if:
  • You've never protested about seeing the Ten Commandments posted in public places.
  • You still say 'Christmas', instead of 'Winter Festival'.
  • You bow your head, when someone prays.
  • You stand and place your hand over your heart, when the National Anthem is played.
  • You treat Armed Forces Veterans with respect.
  • You've never burned an American Flag, and never intend to.
  • You know what you believe, and you're not afraid to say so, no matter who is listening.
  • You respect your elders, and raised your kids to do the same.
  • You'd give your last dollar to a friend.
God Bless The USA!

Snip, Snip, Snip!

A height-challenged, cigar box guitar playing, Texan was complaining to his buddy Bubba that his testicles ached somethin' awful every time he took the stage to play.

As he was always whining about his problem, Bubba finally suggested he go to a doctor to learn what could be done to relieve the problem.  The little guy took the advice and went to the sawbones for help.

The doctor told him to drop his drawers, and that he would take a look.  The dwarf dropped his pants.  The Doc lifted him onto the examining table and commenced to examine the little guy.

The doctor placed one finger under his left testicle and told the dwarf to turn his head to the side and cough -- the usual method for determining a hernia -- "A,ha", said the Doc.  Same thing for the right nut.  "A,ha", said the Doc, again, as he reached for the surgical scissors.  Snip, snip, snip on the left side, and snip, snip, snip on the right side.

By this time, the little guy's eyes were buggin' out like a stomped-on-frog, and he was terrified to look down, but he noted with amazement that the snipping wasn't painful.

The sawbones told the dwarf to pull his pants up, and to tell him if it still hurt.

The dwarf was overwhelmed with joy as he pranced around the doctor's office, discovering that his testicles were no longer aching.  "Geez, what did you do, Doc?", he asked.

The Doc replied, "I cut two inches off the tops of your cowboy boots."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Some Days Are A Bummer!

Yesterday my wife asked why I didn't do something useful with my time, instead of spending every waking moment in the workshop messing with cigar box guitars.

She suggested that I go to the senior center and hang out with the guys.  So, off I went, and when I got home last night I told her that I had joined a parachute club.

She said, "Are you out of your mind?  You're almost 70 years old and you're going to start jumping out of airplanes?"

I proudly showed her that I even got a membership card.

She said to me, "You dummy, where are your glasses!  This is a membership to a prostitute club, not a parachute club!"

I'm in trouble again and I don't know what to do!

I signed up for three jumps a week!

Life as a senior citizen is not getting any easier.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Little History

Because the cigar box guitar is a primitive homemade instrument, there is no standard for building it.  Physical dimensions, construction techniques, or string types are limited only by the creator's imagination.

Around 1840, cigar manufacturers started packaging and shipping cigars in small, portable boxes, which were similar to what we are familiar with today.  These boxes were soon to become the vehicle for performing 'blues' music.

The earliest evidence of cigar box instruments dated from 1840 to 1860s.  The illustrated proof of such an instrument is an etching of two Civil War Soldiers at a campsite with one playing a cigar box fiddle (copyrighted in 1876). The etching, which clearly shows the cigar brand 'Figaro' on the cigar box, was created by illustrator Edwin Forbes, who worked for the Union Army. It was published in Forbes' work 'Life Stories of the Great Army'.

In addition to the etching, plans for a cigar box banjo were published by Daniel Carter Beard, co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America, in 1884 as part of 'Christmas Eve with Uncle Enos'.  These plans showed a step-by-step description for a playable 5-string fretless banjo made from a cigar box.

Most of the earliest cigar box instruments would be crude and primitive, but this is not the case for all.  Some of the fiddles built in the late 1800s were well constructed and very playable.
Cigar box guitars and fiddles were also important in the rise of jug bands and blues music.  As most of the performers were Black Americans living in southern poverty, many could not afford a 'real' instrument.  Using these, along with jugs, washboards, and harmonicas, Black musicians performed blues music during gatherings.

The Great Depression of the 1930s saw a resurgence of homemade musical instruments.  Times were hard in the American south and a popular pastime was to sit on the porch playing and singing the blues away.  Musical instruments were beyond the means of everybody, but with an old cigar box, a stick, a couple discarded wires, and a guitar came to life.  The sound coming from these crude instruments was raw and gritty, much like the lives of the people playing them, but it is a sound that is as much of our life today as it was back then.

Due to interest in jug bands and the 'do-it-yourself' culture, a modern revival of these instruments has been gathering momentum.  Modern-day cigar box guitar builder and performer interest has fueled the fire, as cigar boxes, strings, and other necessary hardware is relatively inexpensive and easy to acquire.  The creation of the modern cigar box guitar can be seen as a means for an amateur to become a luthier, and implementation of many personal touches, such as the addition of tuning machines, electronic pickups, metal resonator cones, to say nothing about 'design' of the instruments, is their stage for creation.

And, the desire of many musician's for a more primal sound is another factor supporting the Cigar Box Guitar Revolution.  Blues guitarists, in particular, have taken to the cigar box guitar in an attempt to play Delta Blues in its purest form.  The instruments can be fretted or fretless, and can be played with a bottleneck slide or 'picked'.  Either way, the sound is unique to this instrument, and it has an 'earthy' quality that takes the player and listener back in time.

It is said that Lightnin' Hopkins was one of the first performers to play a cigar box guitar, and he had this to say about it . . . "So I went ahead and made me a guitar.  I got me a cigar box, I cut me a round hole in the middle of it, take me a little piece of plank, mailed it onto that cigar box, and I got me some screen wire, and I made me a bridge back there and raised it up high enough that it would sound inside that little box, and got me a tune out of it.  I kept my tune and I played from then on."

Reference: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sunday, September 19, 2010

'The Revelator'

My friend Wichita Sam, whom I met on the CigarBoxNation.com site, encouraged me to build a resonator guitar and after he shared some crucial thoughts with me, I set out to craft what turned out to be a nice instrument.  The box is a basic Chateau Fuente QueenB cigar box with an oak neck and poplar fretboard, modified to accept hardware store drain covers for the sound holes and a resonator made of a paint can lid.  The bridge biscuit is my creation, which includes a piezo transducer pickup sandwiched between spanish cedar and balsa woods wired to an output jack to amplify sound.  The backside art is a pic of an old bluesman bangin' on a real resonator guitar.  Sam was right, this simple design really does work, and the accoustic sound is amazing, but when I light it up throug the amp and lay on a slide, it really comes alive with a gritty delta blues twang that vibrates to my toes.  Thanks, Sam for showing me the way!

'Blackeyed Susan'

Blackeyed Susan is the result of a knawing desire to incorporate a little art with guitar building.  I have always liked the effect one gets from burning designs in wood, and a recent trip to a crafters meet at the local fairgrounds set the fire off inside me.  After searching the web for the best deal on an adjustable burner (from Nibsburner.com), and waiting for delivery, I commenced to design the neck and body of 'Susan'.  The burner arrived and I made the leap into pyro design with a little help from my granddaughter Maggie, who thought a blackeyed susan flower arrangement from a coloring book was the only choice. That design went on the back.  The front design is my creation allowing for two of the leaves to act as sound hole cutouts, and the other two for balanced decoration. This basic design leads to the vine growing up the neck.  Note the flowers at the critical fret locations.  It is setup with a piezo transducer for amped sound, but it sounds great accoustically.  Another fun project with a little creativity thrown in for grins.