Another Cigar Box Guitar

Cigar Box Guitar with pickup installedA couple weeks ago I decided to make a second cigar box guitar. This time I followed the plans from CigarBoxGuitar.com. It was more complicated than the MAKE magazine version I made previously. The neck runs through the box rather than just being glued to the top. I also decided to use real strings and tuners, and make it electric.

Hooking up the pickup was ridiculously easy. I took a Radio Shack piezo buzzer, hooked it to a 1/4″ input jack, taped it together, and that was it! Before installing it into the guitar I plugged it into my amp to make sure it the connections were good, and everything worked fine the first time.

The biggest problem I hit was that I had shaved down the headstock too much. In trying to make it a little more guitar-looking, I planed down the headstock area. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until the very end (when I was stringing the finished guitar) that I had made the headstock too thin. The tuners stuck out high above the nut, and the action on the guitar would be unplayably high.

After I supressed the urge to smash the whole thing, I re-drilled the holes for the tuners where the nut was, and re-filed the groove for the nut further down the neck. That worked out fine, and the project was saved (whew).

The action is still high but it sounds good and is definitely playable. I’ll have to make a clip of Jack or Joe playing it and post it.

Completed Cigar Box Guitar

Aaaaaaarrrrrghhh!*

I just realized I skipped Houses of the Holy in my Listen to Every Led Zeppelin Album In Order Project. Now I have to start over.

*Side note: Although this is not valid in Scrabble, AARGH, AARRGH, and AARRGHH are all OK.

What This Country Needs is a Good 5-cent Guitar

Last week Kathy gave me a really great gift: a subscription to MAKE magazine.

MAKE is an amazing magazine that really appeals to the tinkerer in me. It covers making everything under the sun from woodworking to electronics. Every issue is packed with tons of fantastic projects. So, a really awesome feature of the subscription is that you get access to the electronic archives of every issue so far.

I dug in immediately, jumping through a bunch of issues to see what caught my eye. There it was in issue 4: plans for a cigar box guitar. I thought it would be an excellent first MAKE project: simple, cheap, and musical! We went to Home Depot and got everything I would need (except the cigar box which came from a local cigar store). I decided that this guitar would be a practice one, so I skipped both the electronics and the frets.

The assembly was straightforward, and once I had everything laid out and sanded it came together pretty well in just a couple hours. I had a few issues which I want to resolve my next time around:

  • I didn’t read the instructions closely enough and drilled the wrong size holes in the tail, thinking they were the same size as the holes at the other end. Duh. That was the end of that piece of wood. Which brings me to…
  • The second-choice piece of wood I used for the neck was a bit warped from being piled up at Home Depot, resulting in a very high action. So high that I can’t really hit the first half-step on the neck.

It sounds OK, nothing great. I played it through my amp using the SoundChecker I sometimes use with my ukes. I think the sound would be better if I used a bigger cigar box, and ran the neck through it rather than resting on top as the MAKE plans have it.

Next time around I may use the plans at CigarBoxGuitars.com, or CigarBoxGuitar.com, or the Yahoo Cigar Box Guitars Group. Maybe something with real guitar strings and tuning pegs. I’m kind of torn, though. I sort of like the crappy, thrown-together look of the MAKE one.

April 8, 2007 | Posted in: Music, Wood | Comments Closed

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Friday night, I finally got a band I’ve waited a long time to see: Black Sabbath. Well, they weren’t calling themselves Black Sabbath, they were calling themselves Heaven and Hell (why do I think Sharon Osbourne is somewhere behind that?) but it was Black Sabbath. I had tried to see them last year or the year before at Ozzfest, but they cancelled at the last minute.

I met up with Sean and some guys from nerdnyc.com and we headed in. The security lines were looooong and policies were randomly enforced – one of the nerds had a wallet chain that the security dudes insisted was. not. allowed., but they couldn’t say why or whether the policy was stated anywhere. Of course, once inside we saw people with wallet chains. Whatever.

There was no opening act, which is fine with me – on with the main event! The stage set was just what you’d think it should be – sort of half cemetary and half church.

Dio was on vocals, Tony Iommi on guitar, Geezer Butler on bass and Vinny Appice on drums. Dio was entertaining as always, a little heavy metal elf in a puffy shirt. He had tons of energy, talked to the crowd in between almost every song, and threw many a devil horn. The rest of the band played it cool. No one else said anything even when egged on by Dio. I don’t think they even really moved around.

The band sounded great and Dio’s vocals hit every note. I don’t think they even changed the keys of the songs, which is impressive considering the songs were recorded over 25 years ago. It was a little disappointing that they didn’t do any Ozzy stuff (which they did on Live Evil) but the show was great. Computer God, The Mob Rules, and Heaven and Hell were all standouts for me.

The show was being recorded for a future DVD release. More details, setlist, and photos on Blabbermouth.

Conjunction of Awesomeness

Circumstances have brought together two things that I really dig: the band Harvey Danger (who I’ve written about before) and Jonathan Coulton, the hilarious genius behind Re: Your Brains and many many other songs.

The Stranger held a charity auction where the winner got to pick a song for Harvey Danger to cover. (Jeez, that was tortured phrasing but you get the message.) The winner selected Coulton’s song Code Monkey. I’m really looking forward to hearing how this turns out!
More details at JonathanCoulton.com.

December 27, 2006 | Posted in: Music | Comments Closed

Last Week In Music

I saw two excellent but very different shows over the past week. (OK actually it’s almost 2 weeks ago now…)
Dark Star OrchestraLast Friday was Dark Star Orchestra, the Grateful Dead cover band. If you’re not familiar with DSO, their shtick is that they don’t just cover songs, they cover entire shows. I was a minor-league Deadhead in college so when my friends told me DSO was coming to Princeton I jumped at the chance. So quickly, in fact, that we ended up with second row seats, woot!

Here’s the set they played (thank you DeadBase):

Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA (6/23/76)
set 1
Music Never Stopped
Sugaree
Mama Tried
Row Jimmy
Big River
High Time
Looks Like Rain
Brown Eyed Women
Lazy Lightnin'
Supplication
Friend of the Devil
Promised Land
set 2
Samson and Delilah
Might As Well
Let it Grow
drums
Let it Grow
Cosmic Charlie
St. Stephen
Not Fade Away
St. Stephen
Dancin' in the Streets
The Wheel
Johnny B. Goode

The whole “scene” was happening: people looking for miracles outside, super-sweaty freaked-out tripping guys and spinning hippy girls inside, etc. Of course there was no smoking inside which led to a weird scene: when the band left the stage and the crowd were cheering for them to come out for the encore, instead of lighters people held up their lit-up cell phones! It was pretty funny.

They are excellent musicians and the show (Cosmic Charlie, woo!) was fantastic. They are not kidding around about their Dead impression either – they have two drummers, their own “Donna”, and everything. As Joe put it, “You’d never know they weren’t the Dead… except their harmonies were on.” If you’ve been missing Jerry and are tired of The Other Ones, RatDog, etc (or even if you’re not), go see DSO.

CandidoMonday night was a different music direction. Kathy and I went to the new Dizzy’s Club (theoretically part of Jazz at Lincoln Center, although it is not in fact at Lincoln Center). The New School Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra was playing, and it was a birthday party for Candido Camero. Candido is from Cuba, and has recorded with some of the greats: Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Art Blakey, and many more. He is the originator of modern conga technique – before he came along people only played one drum at a time! Candido turned 85 and man can he still play! Along with the great music, there was cake for everyone. The band was tight and every song was preceded by a story or piece of history.

The venue was pretty cool – usually if I see jazz it’s at 55 Bar, one of my favorite dives. This place was the opposite, and so a nice change of pace. It’s pretty swank, and the musicians stand in front of a window looking out over Central Park. The cover is a steep $30, but on Mondays it’s only $15.

May 17, 2006 | Posted in: Music | Comments Closed

Bluegrass and Other Delights

Dr. Ralph StanleyFriday night we saw a true living legend in concert: Ralph Stanley. If you don’t know him by name or know about the Stanley Brothers, you’d probably recognize his voice as the singer of “O Death” on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. And if you still don’t know what I’m talking about then I can’t help you.

The show was at Town Hall, which I think is a great venue. It’s nice and small, I’ve never had a bad seat, and the acoustics are good. Apparently it was designed by the same architecture firm that did a bunch of NYC landmarks: Penn Station, the Met, and Madison Square Garden. If I had to complain about something, I’d say the lobby gets super-crowded between acts. Oh and their URL is terrible: http://www.the-townhall-nyc.org/ ?! Nobody’s going to find that without Googling for it. Anyway…

The opener was King Wilkie, a fairly new band from Charlottesville, VA that do some nice old-timey music. They put on a great show and didn’t seem too intimidated (although properly awed) to be opening for such a huge act. I bought both of their CDs at intermission, and would definitely see them again when they return to the area.

After the intermission, the Clinch Mountain Boys took the stage. The band spans a wide range of ages (the youngest being Nathan Stanley on the mandolin, age 13!), and every player was a standout. On his own, each of these guys would be a star, but together they are doubly impressive.

Once the intros were over and everyone played a little solo, it was time for the man himself to take the stage – Ralph Stanley. Excuse me, Doctor Ralph Stanley (he received an honorary doctorate in music in 1976). He’s 79 years old but his voice still sounds great. His enemy “Arthur Itis” (as he put it) keeps him from playing the banjo too much but he did play a few songs. He sang and functioned as MC, introducing songs, spotlighting the players and keeping everything moving along. There was a sort of dopey vaudeville charm to the whole show. It was a blast, and I’m glad I got to see him while he’s still around to see.

Metal for Old Farts (Rob Zombie at the Nokia Theatre)

The tagline for the show was “VH1 Classic presents Rob Zombie”. VH1? Classic? How old is Rob Zombie? How old am I?!

This was my first time at the Nokia Theatre and I was really impressed. It’s a good medium-sized venue (holds about 2500 I think), with the front general admission standing and the back general admission seating. With cupholders! I would say the seats are a bit narrow so if you’re a bigger person you might not be comfortable in them. There’s plenty of bars, the bathrooms are huge and non-disgusting and the acoustics were very good. I would definitely see another show there.

The first opener was Bullet for My Valentine, from Wales. I had never heard them before but I liked them. They put a lot of energy into their short set even though the reaction they got from the crowd was mediocre. Both the instruments and the vocals were good. They had some nice “classic” metal touches like chorused guitars.

After that came Lacuna Coil, from Italy. It looked like they had a decent following in the crowd, but I thought they were awful. They seemed really phoney and staged. They did this “synchronized headbanging” thing where the entire band would stand at the front of the stage and bang their heads in perfect unison, and everything they did struck me that way. I felt like I could see the lead singer saying in his head “annnd fist in the air, and pound my chest, and christ pose, and bang.” Oh, and they covered “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode. I am not kidding. I don’t know what they were doing at this show. I feel like all the devil horns thrown their way were sadly misdirected.

Rob Zombie was up last. I have been waiting for him to tour solo again for years, since The Horrible Incident Wherein We Missed the Entire Show. His stage show was great, with tons of carnival-type props (fiberglass devil girls, clown heads, skulls that looked like they came from a cheap funhouse, a light-up 666) for background. While he played, a screen in the back flashed images of anime, porn, anime porn, Charles Manson, Russ Meyer movies, and so on. They played both stuff from the new album and some greatest hits.

The band was tight and entertaining. I think maybe Rob Zombie surrounds himself with doubles to prevent assassination attempts – his bassist and drummer were sporting very similar looks. The guitarist, J5, was really good and played a loooong solo during Thunderkiss 65 that quoted lots of famous solos including Eddie’s “Eruption” and Jimi’s “Star Spangled Banner” complete with teeth-picking. He teased the crowd with the opening riff to “Crazy Train” at one point but it didn’t materialize.

All in all (well except for Lacuna Coil) it was a great show. I heard all the songs I wanted to hear and I can finally cross “see a Rob Zombie show” off my list.

(Don’t) Attend the Tale of Sweeney Todd

Kathy and I went to see the new production of Sweeney Todd. Bleh. Awful.

It was staged in a style I can only describe as Avant Tard.

There was no orchestra – the actors were also the musicians. Clever, right? I guess. But what that means is that every scene has a bunch of people milling around who aren’t really there. People who are having a conversation stand at opposite ends of the stage, both facing out into the audience, but we are to imagine that they are actually standing together facing each other. So if one of them hands something to the other, a third actor (whose character is not “really” there in the scene) takes it from one, walks across the stage, and hands it to the other.

The whole show takes place on a very minimalist set, so props are used over and over. Now this is a coffin, now it’s a table in a bar, now it’s the judge’s bench. Sweeney Todd’s shop is above Mrs. Lovett’s, but the stage is only one level. So there was a ladder that people would go up, to indicate that “now they are upstairs”. Sometimes. Sometimes they just go stand in a different spot on the stage.

The murder scene in the first act was incredibly lame – he holds his razor up, the lights all turn red, and Pirelli gets up out of the chair, walks across the stage and puts on a white coat with blood on it. I’m not kidding. Oh, and for some reason Pirelli is played by a woman (who plays the part as broadly as a birthday party clown).

We both hated it, and we left at intermission.

2 Thumbs Down.

Disclaimer: I can count the number of Broadway shows I’ve seen on one hand (and have a finger or two left over), so maybe I’m just not enough of a “theater person” to appreciate how “clever” it all was. I did like the old production of Sweeney Todd w/Angela Lansbury (saw it on VHS many years ago), and having seen how kick-ass the sets were in that version made this one so much worse.

Live Plasma

Map of Black SabbathMy current favorite web toy is LivePlasma. It’s been around a while, but if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s like a Flash version of those Rock Family Trees they used to have in Rolling Stone. It works with both music and movies. The fun part is that you can click around and keep exploring the connections to the connections of the connections.

For example, check out the map of Black Sabbath. You can follow the connections to Ozzy, Rainbow, Deep Purple, and so on and so on.

I wish the connections were a little clearer – right now it only shows you that there IS a connection, but not what or who the connection is. Hopefully they will improve on this. Other than that, it’s a great way to pass some time and play Six Degrees of Ozzy Osbourne.