Here’s the thing about me. I’m just not satisfied with one particular kind of artistic medium. This is probably why I never learned to play an instrument… it just takes too damn long to learn. I did manage to figure out how to play a singing saw, and I can even make it through the first few notes of the original Star Trek theme, but I get bored with things fairly quickly.
Actually, that’s a fallacy. I don’t get bored with them, I find something even MORE interesting and get distracted. I sculpt with clay, paint with oil, acryllic, watercolor, tried etching boards… I make a miniature murder scene, draw comics, write a nonfiction book, write a fiction book, make a statue out of glass bottles, make a windchime out of forks, tried my hand at silkscreening, had a darkroom for years, made polaroid image & emulsion transfers, sketch with charcoal, oil pastels, pencils, pens, make collages with all kinds of shit, make weird ass shadow boxes out of found art, biological who knows what, and junk, and on and on and on. I’m like a goddamned fickle teenager when it comes to self expression. Except I love every single form of it that I’ve tried, and want to keep trying everything that looks interesting.
My dad once told me that as a young boy, Charles Darwin would find a fascinating insect and grab it in his hand. Shortly thereafter he would come upon an even better insect, but being unwilling to part with the first one, he would grab it up with his other hand.
Inevitably, he would come upon some third bug who was even better than the first two, but, still being unwilling to part with either of his other discoveries, he would pop one of the other ones carefully into his mouth for safekeeping, so he could scoop up the third.
This is very much a sort of behavior I can see in myself. A frenetic sort of interest in everything. It means I have a basement filled with large, ungainly sculptures and paintings and tools for making them and absolutely not one square inch left in my house to put them.
Thankfully, at least the “singing” saw is multipurpose, and I have used it both to play, and to cut back the holly tree. Most of the other stuff though… I’m not known for functionality in art, sadly. I’ve always loved and respected functional craft (knitting, sewing, woodworking, cooking) but tend more towards the abstract myself. I have recently decided to amend this behavior so that things I make will not be relegated to some dusty corner, to sit sadly neglected forever more.
It was this desire to be – uh- more utilitarian in my crafting that led me to the idea of making a cigar box guitar. I think it was boingboing.com where I saw a photo of a fellow who had just written a book on hand making practical things (An invisible bookshelf too! Oh, I want to try that one!) and he was proudly holding a simple, 3 string CBG. I was struck with the idea of making a musical instrument. I read a little outline of how it was done and realized almost immediately that it was completely within my skill set to do- if I didn’t know how to do any one particular thing, they were all pretty easy to pick up on, and required no intricate electrical or construction related knowledge. I needed very simple tools and materials to do this project, so of course I dove right in.
I found the wood for the neck in my basement. Upon reflection it is terrifically ill-suited as a medium because it’s very very soft, but this is my very first attempt, and I hope it will be serviceable.
It had damn well better be seeing as how much work I’ve put into it.
Anyway, it is possibly as old as the house itself… I found the it (the 2×4 plank) propped up against the wall covered in spider webs and grime, and I cut a 2×2 inch x 3 foot hunk and hoped for the best.
The cigar box I bought at Riche’s Tobacco for 4 or 5 bucks- I bought three because I just couldn’t pick one they’re all really neet- but let me tell you, a visibly pregnant lady gets a lot of funny looks in a cigar store, and additionally, gets ogled when she’s seen carrying around a bag that proclaims “I ❤ Pipes” in big red letters.
Anyway, the last three weekends I’ve been working on the bloody thing. I thought initially that it would be fairly simple, but of course it has become elaborate and complex beyond all conception.
For my first mistake, I cut the holes in the cigar box too large for the neck, which simply will not do because of course that would affect the sound- so I had to cut and sand little wood pieces to cover the fuck-ups.
Then of course I realized I had neglected to cut a “divet” in the length of the neck for the cigar box to sit in, so that the body of the guitar was HIGHER that the neck- which completely screws everything up.
If you imagine the strings coming down the neck of a normal guitar, you can picture in your minds eye that the body of the guitar is, in fact *lower* than the neck- if it was higher, one realizes— upon visualizing it— that the strings would of course, press against the body of the guitar itself- making it, essentially, unplayable.
My solution for this was to lay another slab of wood on TOP of the neck- like a fret board is sometimes a separate piece on top of the neck of some electric guitars. This seemed to work but took hours and hours and HOURS of sanding to make fit properly. blarg.
I installed a set of pegs that I got for cheap (they’re half a set of mandolin tuning pegs- what they had, and I got two in a box, so if I broke one I could just try again) Of course I managed to SPLIT the head of the guitar trying to install them, so now there’s about half a bottle of carpenters glue filling in the split. *le sigh* It’s not pretty but it appears to be holding.
I sanded the ugly cigar box finish off, and I WAS going to apply this beautiful mahogany stain/ varnish I had left from doing the floors of a dollhouse (another project now in the basement) only to discover the can was totally dried up. Humbug!
Also, yesterday, I half-finished a bridge and nut for the guitar and strung ONE string on it for the first time. It was SO satisfying to hear that it makes sounds. And not just any sounds, it makes WONDERFUL sounds. I played slide on my one string with a tube of chapstick. haha!
The bridge is still too high and has no divets cut in it, and the nut is a horrible mess because I’m an idiot and used the same wood as the neck- knowing it would be too soft but unable to think of what else I could use that I had lying around. I will surely have to re-make something but I still don’t know what I can use that I have already on hand. My grandmother gave me some awesome super hard African nuts but my dremel just carves, it doesn’t CUT, so I have to get something that is already kinda shaped.
I called Art media today and spoke with a nice fellow there who suggested that I use a particular variety of chemical which will allow me to stain with oil paint- OOH! Great idea. If I want to stain it blue, now I can stain it blue. Rad! I have a huge collection of rarely used oil paints and now I can pick one to make into a stain. Fabulous. I also got a nice varnish and some armature wire to make frets with. Whew.
I even picked up some cool DAS air-drying clay that I think I can use to patch other small holes- it claims to be very sturdy and will accept sanding, nails, and painting. At the very least so far it’s a super fun new toy. I tested it out and made a teeny tiny little angry old man face sculpture which I gave to a coworker. It is delightful to play with.
Here’s a page I started on “Cigar Box Nation” to track my progress! There are a bunch of photos and descriptions and whatnot.
I am having an absolute blast but obviously I’m running into difficulties. Coming up with creative solutions has so far been both rewarding and successful, and I’m really hoping I’m able to complete the project this next “weekend” (wed-sat) I’m pretty limited by the tools and materials I have, and there is some stuff that I really wish I would maybe have done differently, but that’s what the other set of tuning pegs and the other two cigar boxes are for, right?? I’m definitely going to make another one eventually, though since I’m only technically 3 weeks away from giving birth, it may be longer than I’d like!