A Visit to Matty Baratto's Guitar Shop
Hollywood's Cigar Box Guitar Builder to the Stars
by Shane Speal
When Paul McCartney stepped on stage with a cigar box guitar in 2012, the news went around Cigar Box Nation like wildfire. Many people recognized the instrument as one similar to the cigar box guitars seen in the hands of Johnny Depp, Steven Tyler, Dave Grohl and other rock stars...but they didn't know anything about the builder, Matty Baratto.
Matty is a professional luthier who has worked with some of the biggest names in the business. He's toured as a guitar tech for KISS, Sugar Ray and many others and he has built custom guitars for many others. Matty has also buillt cigar box guitars under the brand name, "CigFiddles" for the past twenty years.
Two months ago, Ben "C. B. Gitty" Baker and I visited his shop in North Hollywood, CA on a Friday afternoon. It was over nine years since I had last seen Matty and the visit was a great way to catch up.
"I have to apologize in advance," Matty said as we walked in. "I'm under a deadline to get this pink plexiglass guitar (pictured: right) to Pharrell Williams' guitarist by Monday. They're going on tour."
"Wait...nevermind," he said. "I'll work on it later. It's good to see you, Shane! Let's eat lunch and catch up." And with that, he abandoned his pressing project to spend some time with Ben and myself.
Matty Baratto is one of those guys who becomes your best friend the first time you meet him. Unassuming, friendly and excitable like a teenager, his personality draws you in. You'd never expect a guy like this to be a guitar maker to the stars. In fact, he becomes almost apologetic when he starts name-dropping various famous customers.
The instrument above is a double neck CigFiddle custom built for Johnny Depp. It features Baratto's signature tenor-scale necks (19" scale) in both single and double coursed versions. This is one of several CigFiddles purchased by Depp. In fact, Johnny Depp has become an evangelist of the CigFiddle, giving them as gifts to many famous people including the one played by Paul McCartney!
(Right) In order to streamline the building process, Matty created various jigs for his CigFiddles. The one pictured to the left is for his resonator version, as used by Paul McCartney. In order to use these jigs, Matty searches for one particular cigar box that is used on most of his builds.
Matty was the first person I know of that used paint can lids as his resonator material, cutting the box hole big enough for the lid to fit snugly inside. He has since engineered a custom "spider bridge" system that fits inside the can lid. He has the bridges created on a local wet-cut CNC machine.
(Left) CigFiddle necks have been roughed out and the necks are shaped by a router. Baratto will then shape the necks more, add frets and lastly, add his name logo to the headstock.
The shorter tenor-sized necks are a big draw for many pro guitarists because the CigFiddle falls in the sonic spectrum between a guitar and mandolin. Some players tune them like a standard tenor while others opt to use open tunings.
To hear the CigFiddles in action, check out the album "Spark" by Alain Johannes (guitarist for Queens of the Stone Age). The entire album features various CigFiddles and is an art rock masterpiece.
Want to see more? More Pics From My Visit to Matty Baratto's Guitar Shop
Baratto Guitars: www.barattoguitars.com