Monday, January 31, 2011

Latest Creations

'Double Trouble' 

'Double Trouble' and 'Toro' are my latest creations. 

Each guitar is a three-string instrument hand made from an Arturo Fuente OpusX Limited Edition Lost City cigar box provided by my Houston Friend Jennifer.  There were only 1200 of each box released in November 2010, so each guitar is a rather unique creation. 

An oak neck, poplar fingerboard with 20 hand dressed and seated stainless frets, custom recessed sound hole covers, brass nut and saddle, and a Piezo pickup to transfer sound, completes each smooth sounding and easy to play guitar.


The 'Toro' box is a little shorter and about an inch wider than the 'DT'.  The headstocks and a couple other design elements distinguish each of the guitars, but I wanted to keep the basic footprint very similar, because of the Lost City distinction.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

People Are Funny!

Art Linkletter said many years ago, "People Are Funny!"  One could say some people are even obnoxious . . . no new observation there, right?

My workroom, den, rec room and bar are being overrun by cigar box guitars I've been building, even though I've sold some and given others away.  So, I decided yesterday morning to place a classified ad on Cigar Box Nation for interested parties to see, with the thought in mind that perhaps I'd sell a few.

Within minutes, I got response.  People were looking at my blog to see what I had for sale.  And one guy even contacted me by email to share his thoughts.  That's where the obnoxious comes along!

The guy questioned my work and the prices.  OK, I can live with that.  I might even be inclined to make a deal, if I were hearing from someone sensible.  But, this guy suggested the reason my prices were out of line is because he could build a better cigar box guitar in a couple hours.  It's probably true, and I have read where someone has built multiple instruments in just a day.  So, why is he contacting me instead of building one?  Just to give me a hard time, I suspect, because I'm not giving the things away!

Some guys are gluing a stick into a cigar box, rough-cutting sound holes in the box, adding an eye bolt for a bridge, more eye bolts for tuners, drawing lines for fret positions or gluing down nails or toothpicks, and stringing it with anything from wire to weedeater string.

I have no problem with that, in fact I respect what they do, but, that's not what I do! 

Hell, it takes twenty-four hours for the glue to dry on the neck and fingerboard, to say nothing about the time I spend thinking about a design, locating and/or purchasing the necessary elements that make up the instrument.  Each neck, from headstock to tailstock is finished by hand.  Every fret (real honest-to-God stainless bulk stock purchased from my friend Ben) is hand finished and set in the neck.  Tuners are 'real'.  Each cigar box is chosen to fit the design I have in mind, and they are the best I can find from smoke shops around the country (many of the best coming from my friends Jennifer in Houston or Eric in LA), and then, if the design calls for sound holes, they are designed and cut to match the theme.  Nuts, bridges and saddles are the result of design and hand finishing.  I use 'real' guitar strings (Ernie Ball 10-46 is my favorite).  All of the guitars have pickups to amplify sound, some are transducers and others are comercially made.  Some of my guitars are fitted with necks from manufacturers like Fender and enhanced with hand-applied pinstriping, which some folks say is 'art'.  And, when I'm done creating, I finish each guitar with several coats of oil or poly, which takes more time.

So, Marvin (that's the guy who wrote me), that's why I charge what I do for my guitars!  You CAN create your own, or buy something less expensive, and I recommend you do that.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

It's Only Been A Year

I started building cigar box guitars just a year ago, finished number 29 a couple weeks ago, and the poly is now drying on #30.

Not my only hobby, but it is the one that is the most enjoyable.  Perhaps I'll get good at it some day.

It seems like I've been involved with CBGs for a lot longer, and I guess maybe I have been.  It started in high school with Cars, Beer and Girls, . . . that was just as interesting, almost as satisfying, and certainly as complex . . . but, not nearly as much fun.

I play golf, and at one time not too badly.  I fish, and have managed to become an accomplished fly fisherman, even tying my own designs at one time.  With the encouragement of my oldest son Jay, who rides competitively, I have learned the enjoyment of riding a multi-gear road bike, right down to wearing the funny shoes and colorful jerseys, but I stay away from the Spandex.  My youngest son Joe, who has rolled several 300 games, taught me how to properly bowl, and to survive the bowling league experience.  My friend Mark lured me out of retirement to learn to be a school/sports photographer, which has improved my overall use of a camera.  I built some pretty nifty hotrods, until I got tired of crawling around on the floor in the dirt and grease busting my knuckles.  I still pinstripe stuff, as witnessed in the photos of the guitars I build.   I read a lot, which gets in the way of the more fun stuff, but I just cannot get away from the intrigue and violence of a good Patterson, Clancy, Ludlum or Baldacci novel.  Thanks to the Internet, I have managed to re-connect with old friends I haven't seen or spoken with in nearly fifty years . . . that's a great thing.  And, last but not least, my wife has been successful in teaching me the benefits of regular exercise and proper diet . . . it's boring as hell, but my sawbones tells me it is working . . . I feel great, most of the time, and I take no medication.

Thanks, to all who encourage and tolerate me.  Now, I'm going to do what I like most, well, maybe not most, but certainly right up there with sex and rock & roll, I'm going to the workshop to build another guitar.

Viewed 'Round the World

As a part of the stat counter on this blog, there is a listing of all views of the site from cities and countries around the world.  The bulk of these views come from the US, but, to my surprise, there are people from around the globe interested in my take on the creation of cigar box guitars and related information.

Without the WWW, it would be impossible to reach out to, or to engage, people from every continent, but it is happening.  There are people from Australia, Bulgaria, Norway, United Kingdom, Hungary, Philippines, Canada, Germany, Finland, India, Argentina, Poland, Bosnia/Herzegovina and Spain, who visit this blog regularly.

It's a real kick to get feedback from some of these folks.  And, it's equally as pleasing to be able to answer questions about what I do, and to be able to give advice and encouragement to them so that they will find enjoyment in a hobby that has been so fulfilling for me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Tribute to Dale Earnhardt


The Dale Earnhardt 'Intimidator' cigar box guitar is a custom, one-of-a-kind, handmade six-string electric instrument designed and created for Bruce Kempf, my long-time Montana friend.

The guitar features a body created from a Tatuaje Totalmente a mano cigar box, which is a product made in Esteli, Nicaragua exclusively for Tatuaje Cigars, Inc.

The Spanish cedar body is modified and fabricated to allow attachment of a 21-fret Fender Stratocaster guitar neck.  Other modifications are the addition of a single-coil magnetic bridge pickup to amplify sound; a through-body custom adjustable metal bridge and saddle; recessed output jack plate; and volume control to allow sound adjustment at the guitar.  Interior modifications include strategic bracing for neck adaptation and overall support, which also serves to counterbalance the weight of the neck, giving the instrument a well- balanced 'feel' when played.  Foil lining throughout minimizes 'feedback' at the amp.

The 'blacked out', pinstripe-enhanced, design of the guitar augments the overall 'bad-boy' theme, through the use of black accessories complimenting the black body.

Nascar racing legend Dale Earnhardt, seven-time series winner, whose life was cut short in a crash at the Daytona 500 on February 18, 2001, (1951-2001) was the 'Intimidator'!  He was 'big'!  He was 'bold'!  He was 'bad'!

Political Correctness Defined

"Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end."
Texas A&M University contest entry

Friday, January 14, 2011

"Delta Boogie" Details

I've been asked recently to elaborate about details as they apply to the creation of the 'Boogie'.  So, here goes.

The 'Boogie' is made from a Kristoff cigar box.  By design, it is a very rough box, not smooth like typical boxes (9-1/4" wide x 9-3/4" long x 2-1/8" deep) with built-in hinge pins on the lid.

I cut a 5-1/4" hole in the center of the lid to accommodate the resonator (a small antique pie tin found in a junk store) turned upside down inside the box. The tin rests on raised wood blocks, one on each side of the box cavity, which are cut to a thickness to allow the bottom of the tin to be level with the top of the box opening. The tin is held in place by other smaller blocks glued to the resting blocks,   A small gap (1/8") separates the tin from the box top opening.  The purpose of the resting blocks and the top gap is to prevent sound deadening from the resonator.  The tin should rest flat on the blocks to eliminate any potential buzzing.

A diamond-shaped sound hole is cut in the corner of the lid to let sound resonate.

A 1/4" hole is drilled in the center of the tin bottom to accommodate wires from the Piezo transducer pickup inside the bridge biscuit. The wires are connected to the output jack in the back of the box, which is mounted by way of a custom designed cedar plate.

The biscuit is 2" in diameter, made from three glued pieces of wood: a 3/16" birch plywood base; 1/8" balsa mid-piece (each has a 1" hole in carved in the center to accept the pickup, which is kept in place with a healthy dose of silicon filler); and a 1/8" solid piece of Spanish cedar for the top of the biscuit (from the inside divider pieces of the cigar box).  A 1/4" piece of solid brass rod is used as a bridge saddle on which the strings rest. The biscuit floats on the tin - not glued to it.

The neck is a 'set' neck, which is attached with screws to a block of oak (1-3/4" cube) glued to the inside of the box on the neck end.

I chose 1/2" x 1-1/2" oak as a neck with 1/4" x 1-1/2" poplar as the fingerboard.  As with all necks I produce, I chose stock that has a slight hump in the wood for the top of the neck, which straightens under string tension, so that I don't have to screw around with a truss rod (this works well on 3- and 4-string guitars), anything with more strings would require a rod.  I chose to add a little cedar veneer to the neck for decoration.

Like all my creations, I use BBs as fret markers glued in depressions on the leading edge of the fretboard.  No special reason, just my quirky design.  It works for me and keeps the surface of the fretboard clean.

The nut is also 1/4" brass rod resting on a cedar bed to lift it enough to allow the strings to clear the first fret.

I never attach the nut or bridge until the neck, complete with frets, is attached to the body.  Then I use a straightedge on the fretboard to determine how much thickness I want at the nut for strings to clear the frets, and so the saddle height is enough to allow 1/8" string clearance at the 12th fret, on a regular guitar (I like close action), and whatever I desire for action when using a slide to comfortably play without mashing the strings on the frets.

The headstock is a simple design with three holes drilled for tuners.  I used a Floyd Rose type string tree to snug the strings to the nut.

The tailstock is a stainless steel door strike screwed to the back of the box, with three holes drilled it it to accept the strings.

Strap pins are simple buttons acquired at Hobby Lobby.

I use the #5, 4, and 3 strings (A, D, G) from an acoustic set of six medium gauge strings. There are many inexpensive brands to choose from, and I have had a lot of success with Guitar Fetish strings.

The 'Boogie' is open tuned G - D - g, which is my preference.

Another Nifty Homemade Tool

I was cruising around the tool shed at one of the 'big box' stores the other day and bumped into what I thought would be a good addition to my shop, until I looked at the price.  A bench mount 2" spindle sanding drum was only $129. Ugh! 

I thought to myself, hell, I can make one of these for under ten bucks.  All I need is a $8 combination set of adjustable spindles (1/2" - 2") with sanding discs (sold at the same store), and I'm set. 

The spindles fit in my drill press and are recessed into a piece of wood (for convenient and accurate sanding), which is bolted to the press table. I even got crafty and built a fence to fit on the table so that I can precision sand if I want.

And the $120 I saved will buy a little Heineken to quench my thirst after a hard days work.

My Workshop

This is a 360 view of the 10' x 14' workshop, where I hide out creating CBGs and other fun stuff.

Fret Seat Tool

I thought I'd post a couple shots of a simple tool I made to seat fret stock into a fingerboard.  I laminated a 5/16" bolt between layers of hardwood; let the epoxy set up; inserted it into my drill press, and voila, a simple way to install frets.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Don't Make Assumptions!

For years, I've heard and used the expression, "Don't make assumptions, because to assume makes an 'ASS-of-U-and-ME'."

Today, I had the opportunity to nearly experience it.

I was ready to ship a guitar to a friend.  I assumed that UPS was the best way to go, but I thought I better check around just in case I was wrong.  So, after a few calls, I discovered my assumption was not a good one. 

FedEX = $124.   UPS = $74.   USPS = $33.

That's correct, the United States Postal Service was the best choice. 

One might ask why it costs $10.33/# - FedEx; $6.17/# - UPS; and only $2.75/# with USPS?

And, people complain about the Postal Service!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Last week a friend was looking at one of my guitars and asked about the truss rod nut that is exposed in the headstock.  The discussion lead to 'how it works'.  He suggested that I write a post to explain it.