Now, I am one of those people who has never build a cigar box guitar. Really!
That's because I'm living on a lonesome hill in central Portugal and I just didn't find any cigar box here. Call me a "purist" but I do not want to buy a box or any other part for that matter. Not only because of the choice once made to go and live in a place where modern gadgets haven't set foot on the ground yet, but also because all penny's made are needed to get food on the table. No, I (we) am not a misfortunate person, it's a well thought over decision to give up on microwaves, dishwashers and other modern life convenient equipment, to be able to get more into the joy of living without the daily stress of bosses, managers and dress codes. That said, it doesn't mean I live without the normal luxury of daily life appliances like fridge, freezer, washing machine etc. but why should I have a microwave if there are no "microwave ready-made meals" available and all food comes fresh from the land. Next to that, I actually do like to have an outside shower under the 70-year-old bucket. So what does all that have to do with building homemade instruments you might think, well....
When I was a teenager, and believe me, that was a long time ago, all kids were dancing at the sounds of Saturday Night Fever while I was listening to Robert Johnson and Barbecue Bob. I collected old records, lived completely in another world than my schoolmates and it turned out to be not just a childhood phase. Later on in life, I organized many blues festivals, produced a radio show for over 10 years and wrote for a blues magazine in the Netherlands. You could say it's the only thing in life that kept a constant interest. At first, you believe the romantic stories about the string up a post of the porch being used as a bass, the washboard rhythm and yes, also the cigar box guitar. In fact, it's not romantic at all, is it? It's all about dark and hard times, about being poor and looking for solutions to overcome the lack of money. People made instruments with the items that were available for free, cigar boxes, washboards, tin cans, buckets and so on. The lucky ones bought a proper instrument the minute they could afford it. Which brings me to the way I build my instruments, finally...
No, I can't compare myself with others, not with the ones that made instruments out of poverty, not with the luthiers in history that made beautiful works of art without the modern tools we have nowadays. I am this lucky guy with a 300-year-old workshop (which I rebuild from a ruin, but that's another story), living in a time where people throw so much good stuff away that it isn't hard to find the materials to build whatever you like to, I didn't find a cigar box yet though. A box is a box though and I like to recycle them into stringed instruments, that's why I call them RBG's (recycled box guitars). Any box will do if it's not too small or too big. It's just that people throw away so many things that are usable in the process of making an instrument. At the moment there are 2 washing dryers, 2 dishwashers, a satellite dish and an old street light underneath the carport next to the workshop. The shop is nicely filled with all kinds of wood, donated by a local builder who saves up all usable pieces when he restores houses and calls me once a year to collect. I do make furniture, lamps and other items, rebuild or restore old Portuguese furniture (for a living), but I don't do new doors, windows or other structural builds and therefore I am no competition, that's why the builder doesn't mind giving me the wood.
My goal is to buy as few things as possible. Not in a "purist" way, I will use old guitar parts (or new ones if I find them on a flea market or car boot sale) if they are available, but when not, then it's a nice challenge to make parts. I mostly make my own tuners an frets. Here are a few pictures of former instruments:
So, after this introduction, I finally get to the current 3 stringer I am making. With all these white household appliances under the carport, it's time to get into some metalworking. There must be a way to recycle the sheet metal and later on even the stainless steel interiors of the dishwashers. There's a lot of wiring in these machines, pumps, motors etc. I already made a table lamp with a few bits and parts, but making an instrument is going to be the real challenge! I invite you to look out for part 2 of this blog series and hope you will appreciate watching the adventure...
If you are interested, the whole rebuild/restoration of the ruin that is now my workshop is in a block series on Lumberjocks.