Builder's Diary: Shane Speal's "Future Legends" Cigar Box Guitar and Amplifier

A builder's diary by Shane Speal.  Speal's instruments can be purchased at SpealGuitars.com

 

I've seen many instruments created to give a "steampunk" look, a style that mixes Victorian Era aesthetics with futuristic robotics and technology.  The pair of creations above reflect my fascination with the concept of "DELTAPUNK," a fictional concept that asks the question:

What would the earliest Delta blues have been like if a time traveler gave the musicians electric amps and pickups?

Starting out an instrument project with a fictional story idea like this is a fantastic way to chase the creative muse.  Instead of building just another cigar box guitar & amp, I used this concept to steer my choices of parts and layout.  I knew that the guitar had to have elements of Depression Era cigar box guitar designs.  And an even more extreme idea came to me, demanding that amp needed to look like a cyborg Victrola!

Here's some of the details on each, starting with demo videos...

THE FUTURE LEGEND 5 WATT AMPLIFIER:

Parts:

I have a big stash of antique cigar boxes that are 80-100 years old.  (It's good to have a friend who's an auctioneer!)  Many of the boxes are perfect for guitars, such as the one used for the cigar box guitar in this blog.  However, others like the Virginia Cheroots box pictured here is just too big and bulky for a guitar.  However, it's perfect as an amplifier.

I knew I wanted to make a two-speaker cabinet, giving the amp more volume and depth.  I proceeded to cut out two Stradavarius sound holes in the front, thinking that I would just put the speakers behind them.  

However, when it came time to lay out the design, I got the idea of placing the speakers at opposite ends and using the violin sound holes as extra tonal outlets for the sounds emanating from the backs of the speakers!

I like to find things that would approximate an old Victrola speaker horns.  I've documented many of these in my Cigar Box Amp Mods article here.  For this amp, I had a stash of new Jello molds that had a non-stick surface.  To give them an aged look, I put a wire brush wheel on my drill and proceeded to strip them down to the metal.  A bit of black spray paint added some patina on the inside.

Using a stepped drill bit, I drilled several holes into the bottom of the mold.  When I mounted the molds to the sides of the box, I sandwiched in some old screen wire.  As you can see, the C. B. Gitty speakers were mounted inside.  (Note:  I added structural bracing all around the inside of the box to support all the parts.)

I also used the same screenwire behind the F-holes.  As stated above, there are no speakers mounted at the F-holes, they're used to project the tones from the back end of the speakers.  (It actually works!)

The speakers were wired in parallel to a 1/4" guitar jack which is mounted on the back.

Instead of using a Gitty 2.5w amp kit to drive the speakers, I did some research and purchased a Nano Purple Wave amp head.  It has 5w of power, gain, bass, mid and treble controls.  To match the speaker cabinet, I removed the top cover of the amp head and ground it down to the metal.  A perfect look.

To finish the amp, I took some short wooden candlestick holders, painted them black and mounted them on the bottom as feet. 

The Future Legend Cigar Box Guitar

What if an old Delta Blues guy had an electrified cigar box guitar with an Elmore James tuning... Let's find out.

Parts used:

I needed a guitar to compliment the Future Legend amplifier, so I chose another antique cigar box.  This Totem box looked great, but the inside of the lid looked even better!  I loved that both the amp and guitar would have price stamps right on the front

The cigar box guitar is my classic neck-through-body design that I've been using since the early 1990's.  (This style is detailed in Chapter 2 of my book, Making Poor Man's Guitars.)  I used an old piece of barn wood as the neck and I rounded the back and sanded it to remove splinters.  I made sure to leave the original saw marks.

I've been sitting on two marquetry fretboards made by Louie LaManna, so I decided to use one.  It reminded me of the Mississippi River.  Here's the tutorial on how to make your own:

C. B. Gitty's Juke Shack pickups have the great tones of mini humbuckers, but are so thin, you don't need much routing at all to place them on neck-thru cigar box guitar.  I removed the side mounting tab of the pickup and wedged it into a tight route on the box.  A big amount of E-6000 industrial adhesive holds the pickup to the center block.  (I love that stuff!)

To get the most of the pickup's tone, I simply hardwired it to the guitar jack.  No volume knobs needed on this baby.

Instead of woodburning fret lines into the neck, I simply placed brass tacks at the 3, 5, 7, 9, 12 markers using a C. B. Gitty 25" Scale template.

I decided on 4-strings for this guitar because I've been playing another 4-string with a "high Elmore James tuning" (D, F#, A, D) in concert and it's become my current tuning mistress.  I used the four high strings from a pack of electric strings and saved the low E and A for a future 'chugger' cigar box guitar.

Because this is an electric, I didn't add soundholes.  (Sound holes sometimes entice feedback at higher levels on a hollowbody instrument.  B. B. King's last version of Lucille was a Gibson ES-335 sans sound holes for that very reason.)  The center block actually is glued to the box lid, adding stability to the setup.  One addition I did make was the chrome handle "bridge cover." To me, this really completes the look

Final thoughts:  I could have gone for the relic'd look on the cigar box guitar, but decided to let the box shine as it was with all the glorious chrome hardware.  The axe screams.  So does the amp.  

Learn more about Shane Speal's instruments at SpealGuitars.com

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Replies to This Discussion

Badass Shane! Whenever I find a box that old, it’s always so full of moldy black spots? Definitely diy delta chic :D

That's so futuristicly retro swampy but RCA would of gotten ahold of it and put the dog on the amp somewhere. LOL   I also like the delta chic comment would make a great name for a system like yours.

Love that amp. Very cool.

I see a creative boom in you lately ..  and me likey   ;-)

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