Sunday, April 29, 2012

Creating a cigar box guitar changes the way you think.

I vaguely remember going to a hardware store, a secondhand store, a swap meet, or various other commercial establishments to acquire whatever I needed for a project, without thinking about how it might adapt to a CBG. 

But, those days are long gone. 

Everything I see now rattles around in my noggin and what shakes out has nothing to do with the intent in which the product was intended . . . right down to a bag of pretzels.

It's a real dilemma.  My wife won't go shopping with me.  My friends, the only two I have left, always have something more important to do, when I suggest a fun trip to somewhere.  My sons just look at me with glazed-over eyes.  And, my granddaughters simply stare at me with silly grins.  That's the upside attention.  Store clerks and their customers gaze at me quizzically and may utter something remotely connected, like, "Gee, I never thought of using it that way."  Or, "Really!"  Even, "You're shitting me, you really plan to make a guitar out of that?"

I walked into a run down, over crowded, grungy secondhand store the other day to look around, and I spotted a bedpan that was pretty beat up.  I asked the old gal running the place if she had one that was in better condition?  She said, "Oh, I can understand not wanting to sit on that old thing, but, that's all I got right now."  "I don't plan to sit on it, but that one's a little nasty to play with", I said.  She looked at me funny, like I was from another planet and asked, "Well, just how do you plan to 'play' with a bedpan?"  I said, "Music."   She said, "You sure you don't want a trumpet, the sound may be a little more enjoyable than the oompa-roompa that comes with using a bedpan, and the mouthpiece is a little smaller, hee, hee?"  "Nope", I said, "I'm gonna make a guitar out of it, and I think the sound will be just right."  She gave me the thing . . . to get me out of the store, I think . . . before other people started to question my sanity.  It's going to make a helluva guitar.

When I see a broom, I think instantly of a Lowe bow -- one-stringed instrument played by finger picking or with a stick.  Cabinet hinges, spoons and cake servers look like tail stock string retainers to me, and some are missing from our home.  Drawer pulls suddenly become sound hole covers or bridge covers, while pop rivets look good as string guides to me.  And, everything I see somehow appears in my mind as a decoration of some sort for the headstock or box of a guitar.  A cookie tin suddenly becomes a guitar body, not quite as dramatic as a toilet seat or a bed pan, but just as much fun.

Oh, well, it's a hoot building these things, but watching the expressions on people's faces is what makes it really fun.

I Don't Get It!

I was reading various posts on Cigar Box Nation, when I bumped into something a member had shared.

He introduced us to the The Loog Guitar site.  The sales hype says "The small and innovative three-string guitar that makes it fun and easy for kids to play music."

It's a site where you can buy an unfinished wood three-string guitar kit.   The kit comes with pre-formed 18- fret neck; three simple body styles; and accessories which include nylon strings.  It's ready to build and finish.  And, it's specially priced at only $195.

He stated that the company has contracted with him to produce a CD, which it can sell as an aside to help someone learn to play a three-string guitar.  This must be why this guy, who is one of the strongest supporters of the cigar box revolution, and who plays CBGs in his CD tutorials and when he is subway busking, has decided to promote the Loog.

With the abundance of moderately priced, high-quality cigar box guitars available from a vast number of qualified builders, it's difficult to understand why anyone would  pay $195 for a simple, plain vanilla kit with no special character to it -- which they must assemble?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Swap Meet Find

Went to the monthly swap meet this morning, and bumped into a new set of CP bongos.  The guy was asking 30 bucks, but what's the purpose of going to a swap meet if you're gonna pay what they're asking, right?  It was  really cold, and the wind was blowing a gale, so I took advantage of the opportunity for bargaining.  Offered him fifteen and he took it.  These are regularly advertised for $70, so I think I did OK.  He also had an old cigar box that I couldn't live without, which will make a great guitar.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

'Boogie Bowl'

Well, I'm back at it.

Several weeks ago I was rummaging around in an antique store and ran across a very old two-part silver serving  dish.  Originally, it enclosed a lidded glass bowl, but that disappeared long ago, leaving only the silver surround for me.  I thought, "this is so cool, and I gotta make a guitar out of it."  but, I wasn't sure just what I was going to do with it.

But, between fixing meals and doing laundry, while my wife was recovering from heart surgery, I landed on a plan to turn the silver dish into the reverse resonator guitar.  That's right, a 'reverse' resonator.  Most resonator guitars are wood bodies with metal resonators that transmit sound.  The 'Boogie Bowl' is the opposite.

If you look closely at the photo of the side of the guitar, you'll see that space separates the main dish from a thin piece that rested on top of the glass bowl insert (the missing part).  This separation offers a perfect sound opening so that I didn't need to cut sound holes in the thin circular maple piece that serves as the top (resonator) of the guitar.  It has a through-body oak neck with cherry fretboard and hand dressed and inserted frets.  The nut is corian, and the bridge is a Spanish cedar/balsa combo that encloses a piezo transducer pickup and corian saddle.  I designed the bridge to take on the basic design of the filigree decoration on the ring, and to add a little personality to the top.  It's a four-string, electro-acoustic, tuned to open G (G-D-B-g), and set up to be played with a slide.

I had to create a maple ring to attach to the thin silver 'lid', which is attached to the neck, and the circular top (the resonator) is attached to the neck as well.  The bowl is attached with screws that pass through the handles and into the neck, making this a very sanitary creation.  The mounting screw at the tailstock also serves to hold a strap button in place.

I'm not sure how much silver is in this little dandy, but I will tell you that when I drilled the hole for the output jack the drill bit passed through the side like going through butter, which suggests to me that it could be solid silver.  The patina on the silver is so cool that I decided to leave it unpolished, and it looks fantastic.

Now, how does it sound?  Well, it is awesome!  Very loud acoustically with a ton of sustain, and it sounds rich through my amp.  Most CBG resonators sound tinny, but this has a deep and solid sound.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Piezo Installation In a CBG -- 'How To'

There is abundant information available on the Internet regarding the construction and use of a transducer (Piezo).  But, the purpose of this 'How To' missal is skip all the technical jargon and to share with you how I utilize the piezo transducer in the creation of my cigar box guitars, to transmit sound to an amplifier.  I believe in the 'KISS' theory for most of what I do.  (Keep It Simple, Silly)

First, it is important to understand a transducer.  The transducer is a microphone, which picks up vibrations around it.  For more refined details, refer to the Internet jargon.

Generally, I use a disc piezo placed near the bridge on the inside of the box, but on occasion I use a rod piezo placed directly under the bridge on top of the box.  Placement of the rod is a little more involved, but it may produce better sound.  However, if you want the best sound transmission, use a magnetic pickup.

I buy my piezos with the lead wires already soldered in place.  There are many sources from which to purchase these, but I've found that Zinky (on eBay) provides the best product and price.  If you're a purist and are inclined to do your own soldering, one lead (positive) is soldered to the ceramic portion of the disc, and the other lead (negative ground) to the outside exposed metal ring of the disc.  The plain disc is also readily available.

The positive lead (usually red) will be attached to the positive post on the output jack, and the negative lead (usually black) to the ground post on the jack.  That's it.

However, I like things a little more sanitary than loose wires floating around, so I do a couple things to refine the assembly.  Leads on the piezo are short (about three inches long), but you will need a finished assembly to be 9 or 10 inches long to fit properly in the box you're using for the body of the guitar.  So, I stagger the length of the the wires coming off the piezo so the exposed ends are not next to each other.  Then, I add (solder) 7 or 8 inches of 24ga. wire to the existing leads to reach the required overall length.  When I've completed this, I slip a piece of 1/8" shrink tube over the wires (leaving only about an inch of each wire exposed to attach to the jack, and heat it with a hot air gun to make a tidy little assembly.  Then, I solder the leads to the jack, and I'm in business.  If you don't want to mess with the shrink tube, I suggest that you cover the exposed joints and twist the wires to make a better looking package.

Parts for this project will cost you about five bucks, or less.  But, if you don't mind throwing money around, you can buy the ready made harness from various sources on the eBay.  I've seen them offered from $12 to $24, plus shipping.  I think I'll continue to make mine, 'cause it's simple, and I don't like giving money away!

Placement -- The versatility of the piezo presents several options for placement in your cigar box guitar (stomp box, drum head, etc).  And, the piezo can be cut to a desired shape for ease of location, without harming it's effect.

It really doesn't matter where you place the piezo, because it will pick up sound.  But, what will matter is the quality of the sound it transmits.  Some builders locate it under the bridge; beside the bridge; on top of the box; on the outside of the bridge; under the fretboard; and even under the nut.  The options are many, but each will produce different results, and some may not be very pleasant.

Inside the bridge -- Good results can be had by embedding the piezo in the bridge, under the saddle (disc or rod), but a rod piezo seems to work better here, and it tends to produce better sound transmission.  Most rod piezos have a 'male' plug attached to the end.  If you want to attach leads directly to the output jack, simply cut off the plug, strip back the outside wire mesh (ground) and twist it into a tight lead, and then strip back a small amount of insulation from the inner lead (positive).  Solder each to the posts on the output jack, and you're ready to rock and roll.

Under the bridge -- A very good option, because the piezo reacts to vibration, is to place it under the bridge, sandwiched between the bridge and the top of the cigar box (soundboard).  In either of these options, a small hole must be drilled in the box for wire leads to pass through to be attached to the output jack.

Inside the box -- This is my favored solution for mounting a piezo.  Finding the 'right' location may be a bit of trial and error, and it may vary with each guitar you build.  But, I have found that if I position the piezo as close to the bridge as possible, and directly under the bass string, it generates the best sound.

However, in the process of trial and error, I've also learned that 'how' the piezo is mounted makes considerable difference in sound and amp feedback.  Some builders glue the piezo directly to the box surface.  Others encase the piezo in wood pieces that are glued to the surface.  Some even use a screw to attach it.  Many cover the glued piezo in various substances (silicon sealer, foam insulation, etc.).

What works best for me is to encase the piezo between two layers of double-sided 3-M picture mounting tape.  You know, the dense foam material about 1/8" thick and 1" wide, that comes in a roll, and has a green/white protective cover that can be peeled away leaving a very sticky surface.

I cut two squares from the roll, leaving the protective cover in place.  Then, I carefully center the back of the piezo on the sticky surface of one of the pieces.  Then, I pop the other sticky square surface on top of the piezo (the top is the part with the ceramic ring) -- voila, it's enclosed and ready to mount.  So, I now peel off the protective cover from the surface covering the 'top' of the piezo (make sure you remember which surface is the top, 'cause sound is transmitted better if the piezo is mounted with the ceramic ring surface next to the box).  With this done, there is still a surface with the protective cover in place, right?  Well, peel off the cover and apply a square piece of tinfoil (slightly larger than the sticky surface).  Rub hell out of the entire piece to ensure that the sticky surfaces are well adhered.  The tinfoil works to eliminate feedback.

The sound produced by this method is more mellow and less 'tinney' and 'scratchy', with no feedback at my amp.

Multiple Piezo Mounting -- By adding more than one piezo to your build, you will be offering some interesting sound options for your creation.  Wiring multiple piezos can be done in 'parallel' or 'series', but the recommended method is to wire in parallel (each piezo has it's own set of wires leading to the output jack), which produces more consistent sound results.

Adding Pots and Switches -- Volume potentiometers and  switches can be added to your piezo harness (a 250K audio taper pot or 500K pot can be used, but the 500K seems to work better), if you wish to control sound at the guitar, rather than at the amp.

Options -- The interesting thing about creating cigar box guitars is that there are no rules.  Experiment.  If something does not work like you want it to, try something different.  It is your individual ideas that will make your guitar unique and different, so don't be afraid to step outside the box.

You're in business!  Play hell out of your guitar, while driving your wife, kids, and pets nuts.    q:-)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rate Your Pain!

I had the opportunity recently to 'enjoy' the medical miracle of removing an irregularly shaped stone from my kidney by way of a long and flexible instrument the size of a spaghetti noodle.

This doesn't sound too bad, right?  Well, there is a reason the ol' sawbones does this while you're in a drug-induced state.

I said the probe is flexible, and it is, just like a remote controlled noodle with a headlight to look around in your pee-pee (it's so little by the time you're asleep, that it looks like a button on a fur coat) as it travels toward your kidney.  The thing also comes equipped with a mini scalpel and small adjustable fingers to grab stuff (in my case the stone).

Imagine for a minute, all that stuff crammed into your little pee-pee.  Makes for a delightful moment, right.

It's not bad enough that they go probing around in there, but then they may decide to leave something behind (a stint) so your water works will perform better -- but it has to be removed at some point, so you live with that mind game for a few days.

But, before any of this happens, you're visited in the emergency room by a lovely young lass named Jill, who takes all your vitals and attempts to make you feel good.  Fat chance of that happening with a boulder stuck in your plumbing.

The real fun for me came when Jill asked, "Can you rate your pain for me?"

I said, "Rate my pain?  What in hell does that mean?  It hurts bad!"

Jill said, "On a scale of '0' to '10', tell me how bad it hurts."

Well, I said, "If '0' is no pain, and '10' is like a gunshot wound to the penis, I guess I'm at about an eight, and by the way I think you're a '10'."

The last thing I remember, before the sedative kicked in, is Jill smiling.  I'm not sure if she was smiling about the rating, or if it was the button she was holding in her hand.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Gotta have one of these.  Just think of the melodies that will come to mind when you're standing there doing your business.