The third time I screwed up my current project’s pickup bezel because I was trying to shape it with a Dremel tool instead of a small file or other human-powered implement, I began to suspect that I am not amazing at the woodworking part of the Cigar Box Guitar Thing.
This hypothesis was upgraded to a theory later the same day when I spent several minutes trying to make a hole in the headstock with the drill set on reverse.
In my defense, it was dark outside. Not in my defense, making sure your drillbit is spinning the right way is up (or down) there with “is it plugged in?”
Norm Abram I am not.
Apparently I was not put on this earth and then somehow funneled into this hobby to wow the masses with my skills as a builder of cigar box guitars.
But that’s okay. I’ve always liked my guitars a little on the funky side. I have an early ‘90s Les Paul Studio that doesn’t see nearly as much action as the hackwired Danelectro Innuendo that I bought on a lunch break for $170 sometime in 2001. (I also have a very, very nice acoustic guitar that, honestly, I still feel sheepish about playing. Maybe once it’s paid for…) As much as I loved poring over those Carvin catalogs when I was young, having a sleek, perfect instrument custom-built to my every wish would probably mess with my head. If I build two different fretless wonders, and the first one requires you to angle the slide away from you and the second one is the opposite, I’m okay with that. I like the music that happens on the outskirts of I-Know-What-I’m-Doing Territory (which is just a hair north of Okay-Now-I’m-Kinda-Lost-ville).
I came into this hobby having played guitar since the age of six (like Randy Rhoads, only with everything else about me not like Randy Rhoads), so I don’t think I’m really grandstanding by admitting I know how to play guitar some. It would be disingenuous to claim I didn’t, like I was trying to be some musical version of a pool shark, only I’d never win any bets because nobody bets on guitar playing.
I am definitely more of a player than a builder. 80/20 at most.
But then a new question bubbles to the surface for me to overthink: what’m I s’posed to be playing?
I don’t think straight blues is it. I tried to do that at first, but it never sat well with me. While I’m grateful that I bypassed most of the Usual Blues Guitar Suspects and went for the Robert Johnson box set when I was young, playing straight gutbucket didn’t feel like the right path. There were too many other people doing it better (on guitars that looked cooler than mine). Authenticity is important to any form of musical expression, and with blues I always felt like a tourist. A toe-dipper.
And then there was Uncle Gus, that ramblin’ Hoosier wastrel and his hard-drinkin’ (and eatin’) adventures. I created the persona as an anxiety-inspired dodge: if everybody hated my cigar box music, I could at least say, “Well, that wasn’t really me, now, was it?” But I started to feel a little shackled by that dude. He’s a sliver of who I am, but there’s also a raging music geek/self-taught-wannabe-composer in there who, frankly, pretty much dominates the landscape. And he likes wacky time signatures.
Now, I’m not certain that what the world needs is progressive rock played on cigar box instruments (which is just another way of saying “out-of-tune progressive rock”), but that raging music geek also loves the music of Tom Waits and a whole host of other non-pin-downable weirdos, so maybe there’s a way to bring it all together in a form that other people can enjoy.
Because that’s the real nitty-gritty, ain’it? Putting something out there in the hopes that someone else will find something of value in it, while also making things that you yourself like. There are enough people negating. The world needs more people creating.
I’m going to be just throwing stuff against the wall for a while, without trying to worry too much about consistency.
Let me know if anything sticks.