I've been meaning to post something about Sean Kochel for quite some time. I'll be honest, the holidays make me incredibly lazy. But now I am, officially, off my ass so here goes.
About 3-4 years ago, I was at the People's Market here in Missoula. The People's Market is sorta like the Farmer's Market (and it happens on the same day) except it's more about crafts and whatnot. Anyway, I was drawn to a little tent that had about a half dozen cigar box guitars. I spent some time talking with the craftsman involved in their creation (Sean Kochel) and I got pretty excited. The fret markets used 22 caliber shell casings and the nut and bridge of the guitar were made with elk bone. I pretty much had to have one and I'm pretty sure I paid less than $100 for it. This was my first cigar box guitar purchase and I was already addicted. That first cigar box guitar had 4 strings and it was tuned to an open G. But, it didn't take much thinking for me to realize that I needed a Cigar Box Ukulele!
So, shortly thereafter I asked Sean to make me a ukulele. It was made from reclaimed barn wood and this one actually used a hand-wound pickup instead of a piezo. Oh wait... maybe I didn't mention that before. The original cigar box guitar I bought from Sean was electric! It sounds pretty rad out of an amp. Here, check out this video:
Well, here it is, several years later and Sean is making all sorts of stuff now. Here's some pictures:
As you can see, Sean isn't just making cigar box guitars or cigar box ukuleles anymore. He's also making Stompboxes and cigar box amplifiers! If you want to learn more then just check out the Kochel Guitars Facebook Page or the Kochel Guitars website.
So, if you read yesterday's post about Cigar Box Ukuleles with Jon "CornfedGroove" Spencer, then you saw some pictures of some beautiful CBUs (Cigar Box Ukuleles). Well, I checked my e-mail this morning and saw that Jon sent me some links to some videos of him playing some of these ukes (and a mandolin and dulcimer). These are a treat because these cigar box instruments sound beautiful and Jon is a really skilled player. Check em out!
Editor's Note: So, on Twitter I was contacted by a friend who's husband makes Cigar Box Ukuleles and, let me tell you, he takes it pretty seriously. After seeing some of his Cigar Box Ukuleles (or CBUs, as he often calls them), I asked him to write a guest post and he happily obliged me. You should also know that he makes custom cigar box ukuleles (and mandolins, dulcimers, guitars, etc) and he's currently taking orders. I'm also trying to convince him to sell some on ebay. But, for the time being, if you want one, you should contact him at "cornfed-groove at hotmail.com". (Just replace the " at " with the @ symbol. I didn't want his e-mail to get harvested by spammer robots or something). NOTE: Jon is working on a website as well at www.cornfedgrooves.com.
I think we can all agree that it just doesn't get much better than the ukulele. Not only is it a beautiful and versatile instrument, but when you buy an ukulele, you get more than just an instrument. When you purchase a ukulele, you not only become part of a rich culture, but you become part of a family. That's my official, well-written intro...
Now, I wanna take a few minutes to talk to you about cbu's...that is cigar box ukuleles. Cbu's are the bomb! Not only can you have a great sounding instrument, but you can have a really cool, off-the-beaten-path piece of rustic American culture. Take all the glory of Hawaii in one hand, the historic wonderment of American music in the other, then put your hands together...you'll find that what is born is the raw, screaming beauty of brand new cigar box ukulele.
I own a lot of nice instruments... acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, mountain dulcimer, strumstick, congas, bongos, djembe, harmonicas, and Irish whistle. The point is that despite all these great instruments, and except for my guitar (which I get paid for), I never play them. Anyway, there is something really tasty about the old-skool flavor of a quality homemade instrument. Although they aren't professionally manufactured, if made well, they can be comparable to a good manufactured ukulele in both volume and tone.
I've made a lot of cigar box instruments: ukuleles, mandolins, stick dulcimers, 3 and 4 string guitars (some with magnetic pickups), even a one string cigar box diddly bow...but the ukulele is my favorite. Everyone has a different style or twist, from the hack hobbyist to the aspiring luthier, and although some are better than others, you have to appreciate people's love of music. A lot of people buy old ukes, using the tuners, bridge and various parts while bolting the neck onto the box...this is a great way to start. Yet with basic tools, a little money, and some extra effort, you can make everything except the box. Myself for instance, I craft the entire neck, headstock, make my own fretted fingerboard, electronics, etc. There are a lot of variables in building, and because of that, like traditional ukes, cbu's range in price and quality.
It is my opinion that everyone should own a cigar box instrument whether they make it or purchase it from a craftsman. Cbu's can be great instruments with unique style. They make amazing conversation pieces and if you got the guts, I imagine they'll always love you at the local Cracker Barrel!
If anyone is interested, I am always taking orders on ukuleles and other instruments. I also teach classes on how to do make them, and I am even willing to travel! Being laid off for 9 months has afforded me the opportunity to travel to scratch a few dimes together. I offer this class for free to whomever can host and provide a few paying students. You can contact me for further details.
So, I got a tweet from PedroFFerrai asking, "Cigar box uke? Wtf?" WTF, indeed, my friend. I hadn't heard about cigar box guitars or ukuleles until I read it in this issue of Make Magazine (which is an incredible magazine, by the way).
Then, just a few weeks later I see a guy selling them at the local farmer's market. I bought my first one for $99 and it's a real beauty. Here's some pictures of her:
The details are my favorite thing about this guitar. For example, both the bridge and the nut are made from elk bone. The fret markers are 22 shell casings. Oh shoot! I didn't take a picture of the input jack. Yup, that's right. There is a piezo in there so you can plug it into your amp. It's not an awesome sound, but you can still make it pretty fun. I'll upload a video of it soon.
So, some weeks later I'm at a show and I see a guy playing a cigar box guitar that's similar to mine by the amplified sound is really great! I talk to him and it turns out that the fella that made my first cigar box guitar has taken it up a notch. He's getting pickups hand wound for him now. So, of course, I had to get another one commissioned. I think it was like $250 and here's some pictures of it:
This one isn't technically a cigar box guitar because it's made of old barn wood. The tuners are recycled from some old broken guitar I think. All in all, it's a real beauty, but I'm still working on the tuning for it. It has a floating bridge that I can never seem to get where I want it. Also, the guy that makes these guitars is more of an outdoorsman type and not so much of a luthier. So, they are pretty rugged and rustic. But, I like the challenge of playing them. It makes you feel like you should be in the Mississippi Delta and also blind (possibly considering selling your soul at the crossroads and whatnot).
So, you want one of these buy you don't want to buy the Make Magazine. Well, for heaven's sake, don't just buy the magazine to learn how to make the guitar (although, if you like fun projects and general nerdiness, then you really should subscribe, it's my favorite magazine!).
So, a few weeks back I read an article about kids making their own ukuleles from an old margarine tub and a piece of wood. I believe one of my British twitter friends turned me on to it. When I remember their name, I'll mention it here. Anyway, it sounds like the six month project is finally complete and the kids had their performance! Huzzah!
The performance in Willow Place, Corby, was the result of six months of work under the Corby Ukulele project across the Corby area, getting youngsters to create their own instruments from a piece of wood and an old margarine tub.