Distracted and Sidetracked More Than Usual

Le violon d’IngresSM

Talk about an image hook for an instrument building post! Le violon d’Ingres, Man Ray 1924.

As if I didn’t have enough irons in the fire…

I decided to make (and learn) a new instrument this summer; a three-string cigar box guitar.  It took a few weekends to get it right; figure out the design, apply a finish, and re-work a few details in the setup before I was pleased with the action, feel, and sound.  It’s fretless so I am also learning a lot about the slide as well.  It’s got a great, bluesy sound and maybe I’ll post a few riffs when I’m feeling up to snuff.

My first CBG, but certainly not the last.

My first CBG, but certainly not the last.

There are plenty of web and print resources for making a Cigar Box Guitar (CBG) so I leave the detailed instructional stuff to the pros.  However, Cigar Box Nation is a great starting place if you are interested in homemade musical instruments and I’d suggest starting there if you have no other experience.  You can even buy an inexpensive kit if you don’t know where to start but, in the spirit of the cigar box instrument movement, I decided to wing it for the first one.  I did however, have to find a cigar box so I picked up one from C.B. Gitty for a very reasonable price.  While there, I bought some parts for some other instruments in the planning stages and some very affordable strings to boot.

cbgitty_logo

So how do you make a Cigar Box Guitar?

What follows is my brief overview of making a CBG from mostly found materials.  As a side note, you are certainly not limited to cigar boxes for a resonator.  A quick look around the internet will reveal some fairly ingenious sound boxes from oil cans, wine boxes, and gourds.  I was tempted to save the few dollars and just knock up a box myself but decided that for my first specimen I would stick to the traditional model.

So what do you need to make a functional guitar?

There are essentially only three parts to this ancient style instrument; the neck, the resonator, and the strings.  Yes, it’s a little more complicated than that but looking at the essentials helps simplify the construction.

The junk pile.

The junk pile.  A piece of oak was found suitable.

Neck

The neck is any straight piece of hardwood about 35 inches (100 cm) long, about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) wide, and approximately 3/4 inch (2 cm) thick.  Mine was made from a less-than-perfect recycled oak scrap out of my wood pile.  While strings can actually be harvested from the steel radials in tires, these make for some pretty limited and primitive sounds.  I just used a set of guitar strings I had around for the setup and strung it properly when complete with a set of open G tuning strings from C.B. Gitty.

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Resonator

The resonator in this case is a wooden cigar box.  Depending on how you decide to put it all together, the cigar boxes may need to be reinforced and modified to hold the neck.  They are only intended to hold cigars so the pieces may need glued tight to avoid rattles.

strings

Strings

The string assembly needs a few things to keep them under tension and control their length (for tuning).  Starting from the bottom of the instrument you will need something to firmly attach the strings to; tacks, screws, or some sort of tail piece.  I had a very cool hinge without anything to do so I used it.  The screw holes are just small enough to hold the ball ends of standard guitar strings.  Next, you will need a bridge.  This is simply a bar with grooves to hold the strings in place at an even spacing.  This should be something dense like bone, very hard wood, or even a screw laid on it’s side.  At the far end of the neck the strings will need to pass over a nut which is essentially another bridge at the other end.  Finally, the strings attached to some sort of tuning peg or geared machine to change tension (and tone).

Put it Together

Here is the construction in a nutshell.  Cut out the neck and peg head shape. If the neck passes through the body of the box (as opposed to laying over the top) it should be dished out where it would touch the top.  The notches are where is will join with the box.

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DSC_0010 (3)A groove was cut with a rasp to hole the 1/4″ bolt that serves as nut.

DSC_0011 (4)Cut this notch deeper than 1/8″ so the action won’t be too high.

DSC_0014 (3)The peg head can either be set back as above or angled back like a traditional guitar. This allows the strings to be pulled down over the nut.  As this left the peg head a bit thin for my taste I laminated a piece of hickory on the back for strength.

DSC_0019 (2)Drill holes for the machine tuners.  Mine were recycled from an old Harmony guitar (a garage sale gimme) and served perfectly.

DSC_0018 (2)Here you can begin to see the carving of the neck.  I rounded mine fairly traditionally but this is up to the maker/player.  The rest of the shaping will wait until the neck is fit to the resonator.DSC_0002 (4)Once the neck location was determined, an appropriate corresponding notch was created in the box.

DSC_0005 (6)Test fitting the neck.  You can see the wasted area that was removed to make sure there was no interference with the sound board (the box top).

DSC_0007 (4)The box wasn’t too sturdy and had a bit of a rattle upon “tap testing.”  All joints were glued up for strength.  Note I moved the interior lid sticker to the inside back where it can be seen through the sound holes.

DSC_0006 (4)The resonator is dry fitted into place.  After this, it was just a matter of removing the leftover bit of neck, glue the box in place, glue the lid shut, and attach the hinge that serves as tail piece.

DSC_0001 (7) DSC_0003 (7)This nifty hinge served perfectly and suited my mental need for brass or bronze fittings where possible.  I didn’t like my first experiments with a bolt for a bridge so I whittled a simple one from a scrap of ebony.  I played it “in the white” and made the few adjustments necessary before finishing up.

DSC_0021 (1)Fret positions were measured out and marked with a wood burner.

DSC_0023 (2)With a parallel-sided neck this is a simple process.

DSC_0024 (1)Piloting for screws with a gimlet.

DSC_0025 (1)Attaching the tuning machines permanently.

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The rusty old machine tuners cleaned up well and suit it perfectly.

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The head stock is reinforced with a slab of hickory as a bit of insurance.

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Fancy brass nut was cut from a toilet tank bolt.

A few coats of tung oil later, and she’s up and playing.  I’ll update this as I get familiar with my new toy.  YouTube is full of instructional videos about playing a three and four string guitar.  Mine works well in an open G tuning.  Very bluesy and surprisingly bright and clear.

Looking at my junk craft piles around the house I believe I easily have the makings for three or four more.  My next one is already rattling around my head and I think it will be fretted for added versatility.

Come back soon…

George

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Expectations and the Literal Thinker

George Crawford:

I cannot even express how much this speaks to me. I have been reprimanded for not being willing to make extensive working drawings of furniture for a lazy half-wit on more than one occasion. My Vardo building pages have been attacked by the entitled internet Anons for not being able to state in exact measures how many fasteners will need to be purchased to build their own project. I was loudly scolded for not making an exact dimensional cutting list for the thousands pf pieces that make up the project, and so on and on and on.

“Close your mouth, open your mind, get off your ass and put a little effort into life. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish” says it all.

Originally posted on GREG MERRITT - BY MY OWN HANDS:

In the past few days there has been a, lets call it lively, discussion over on Paul Sellers’ Woodworking Masterclasses forum.  Generally speaking, the entire thing centered on two complaints voiced by a single member.

The first complaint was that the when and why of which joinery to employ was not being directly addressed.  The second complaint was that the woodworking instruction was not directly addressing how to design a piece of furniture.  While these issues are technically correct, all of the information is there in Mr. Sellers’ videos and blogs for those willing to observe, think and extrapolate for themselves.

For some reason society in general has shifted to an absolute literal way of thinking.  Every step and element of a process must be spelled out in order for people to understand and perform that process.  Here is an example from my workplace:

An employee was told to sweep the floor in his…

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The Best Advice Ever

P.G. Wodehouse.

P.G. Wodehouse.

“I always advise people never to give advice.”
― P.G. Wodehouse

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Study of a Banjo Player

Study for “Negro Boy Dancing”: The Banjo Player, probably 1877, Thomas Eakins

Study for “Negro Boy Dancing”: The Banjo Player, probably 1877, Thomas Eakins.

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Woody, Pete, and Some Hand-Made Music

petenwoody

Woody Guthrie (fiddle) with Pete Seeger (banjo).

“What are ears? What is Time? that this particular series of sounds called a strain of music, … can be wafted down through the centuries from Homer to me, and he have been conversant with that same aerial and mysterious charm which now so tingles my ears? What a fine communication from age to age, of the fairest and noblest of thoughts, the aspirations of ancient men, even such as were never communicated by speech!”  Henry David Thoreau.

One of Woody Guthrie's final performances before the onset of Huntington's Chorea. Back to his fiddling roots.

One of Woody Guthrie’s final performances before the onset of Huntington’s Chorea. Back to his fiddling roots.  Photographs by Leonard Rosenberg.

More images from this session can be seen HERE.

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Daesh vandals destroy Palmyra’s Temple of Bel

Originally posted on The Heritage Trust:

 
 
The 1st century Temple of Bel at Palmyra before its destruction by Daesh
Image credit Bernard Gagnon. Source Wikimedia Commons
 
The United Nations says a satellite image has confirmed that the Temple of Bel, the main temple in the ancient city of Palmyra in northern Syria, has been destroyed by Daesh.
 
More here.
   

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Apologies

Some plum good advice from one of my favorite literary craftsmen P. G. Wodehouse.

“It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.”

From: The Man Upstairs and Other Stories.

Color-tinted image of P. G. Wodehouse in his prime.

Color-tinted image of P. G. Wodehouse in his prime.

About himself and his career, he took the humble path.

“When in due course Charon ferries me across the Styx and everyone is telling everyone else what a rotten writer I was, I hope at least one voice will be heard piping up, ‘But he did take trouble.'”

From: Wodehouse on Wodehouse, 1957.

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