Let me just start by saying that I have no wood working skills whatsoever, let alone luthier skills (or tools for that matter), but inspiration has struck nonetheless.
I have been a guitarist for around 15 years now, but have always been fascinated by eastern and middle eastern music. In recent years I've come across some middle eastern instruments such as the oud, the saz, and the setar (not to be confused with a sitar).
I liked the exotic tones, and was drawn in by the fret spacing allowing for the microtones we just don't get on western instruments. I liked the idea of a bass/drone string coupled with courses of double strings (like you'd find on a 12 string guitar). What I didn't like was the reliance on friction tuners, the extremely light and fragile nature of their bodies, their lack of volume, and the lack of availability of properly constructed instruments of this kind in Australia. Put off by all of this I temporarily lost interest.
Recently though I spotted someone at a local market selling cigar box guitars. I hadn't heard of cigar box guitars at that point, and so I had no idea thats what I was looking at. They were clearly home-made from improvised parts, and from a distance all I could make out was the odd body shape and the fact that they each had only 3-4 strings. I thought at first that I was looking at home-made sazes and setars, and thats when it hit me: I could probably do this!!
My plan is to make a square-ish shaped electric instrument with a round chamber inside. I love the weight, warmth, and sustain of my Les Paul, and was wondering if I could combine these qualities with an otherwise acoustic instrument.
I'll start with the basic cigar box design, except
- I won't be using a cigar box
- the fret markers will be in different positions
- instead of three strings, it'll be three courses of strings (two of them will be doubled).
I intend to have a low D string in the bass end, a course of two A strings, and a course of two D strings an octave higher.
The tricky thing about the music I'm into is that it isn't a straight forward 12tone equal temperment tuning (12tet, 12 equally spaced notes to the octave). It includes micro tones which fit between our western notes, bringing it to 17 notes to an octave. Just to complicate things further, its not 17 equally spaced notes (17tet)!
One might think you could just measure one of these things up and bung your frets in accordingly, but again it gets more complicated. Frets on these instruments are usually tied on. The main reason is that there appears to be no real "standard" as to where the "extra" notes are supposed to be. Depending on the region you're in and the folks your jamming with, you might have to move your frets around a bit to play in tune with each other.
It appears that the most common tuning they're working to is 24tet with a few notes missing. All of the 12tet notes that we know and love are there though.
To get around this fretting drama, I've decided not to fret at all. I couldn't be bothered tieing on frets. Instead, I'll cut fret slots into the finger board according to this "24tet with notes missing" formula I've worked out, and then fill them in with some kind of filler which has a colour which contrasts with the finger board. I'm thinking of using a different colour again for the "extra" fret slots, so anyone could pick this sucker up and play on it, without getting put off by the extra frets.
...then theres the body. If the hardcore cbg purists amongst you aren't already disgusted with my plan so far, brace yourself for this:
Instead of a cigar box, I intend to take two slabs of timber (roughly 40cm x 30 cm X 5cm), cut a large hole in the middle of each of them, and stack them on top of each other. I'll attach a thin sound board front and back, and carve the neck down a bit where it passes through the body to minimise its contact with the sound board. Sort of like whats been done to this neck:
I'm entertaining crazy thoughts about having a floating sound board in there somwhere, but wouldn't know how to mount it without it absorbing the front sound board's movement and therefore losing volume.
I'll be gluing on a fingerboard of sorts to avoid splinters whilst playing, to help lower the action a bit, and to have something for one of these to attach to:
The strings will pass through the bottom of the neck like a traditional cbg tailpiece, and up over a custom made acoustic style bridge. I've been reading THIS for inspiration with the bridge.
I'm thinking this will be acousticly louder than your average cigar box guitar, and will hopefully have a fuller tone. I'm not sure how it will sound plugged in, but I'll settle for having it sound like it does accousticly, only louder.
I have obtained some scrap wood to make a mock up. I'll be using thin MDF for the sound boards, and some dry, surprisingly light sleepers from the backyard for the rest. If all goes well with said mock up, I'll buy some decent timber (proper spruce soundboards etc)and maybe refine things a bit.
As I said in my opening paragraph, I have no tools nor knowledge of how to use them. For a first build, I may be biting off more than I can chew, but I guess I'll find out. The trouble seems to be getting past the design stage and actually generating some saw dust!
Looks like a cool idea: I think you are right about getting to the sawdust.
For some ideas on color coding for alternate tunings, you might check out the 21-tone Just Intonation Guitar page.
The Fretfind 2-D web calculator can be used to model some pretty wild keyboards -- maybe it would be helpful for you?
Thanks. I appreciate the link to the 21tone guitarist, he seems pretty comfortable with the tuning, like he's been playing it all his life or something!! It takes a fair bit of talent to play something in a different temperment and not have it just sound "out of tune".
As for the fret calculator, I've been using this one . It asks for your scale length, whether you want it in inches or cm, how many equal tones per octave, and whether or not you want to compensate for the fret height.
I'll most likely be punching in 65cm, 24 tet, no compensation, but leave a few quartertones out when I go to mark them on the fingerboard. I'll be using this as my guide: http://www.setar.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article... If you scroll down you can see the photo of the neck with the tied on frets and the notes next to them explaining which ones are quarter tones.
I'm wondering about the shape of the neck. On my guitars they seem narrower at the nut than they do at the bridge. What would be the benefit of this? From looking at CBGs online, it would appear that CBGs don't do this. Why not? This on its own has had me puzzled, but also adds to the confusion of how to line up the doubled courses of strings on the bridge/saddle. Henry, how did you tackle the spacing of double courses on your instruments?
Have any of you guys used under-saddle piezo pick ups? i was wondering how they'd go in a CBG. My main concern with mounting one to the sound board or body as seems normal practice around here, is the noise every time you touch the instrument. I'm worried with an actual acoustic soundboard front and back (around 2-3mm thick) this would be exagerrated more so than on a normal CBG.