Archive for the ‘Music’ category

My 12-string Top 10

March 19, 2013

On the way back from Puerto Rico one of my student’s families hosted me and several students overnight. On the drive to the bus station, we listened to a satellite radio station featuring acoustic covers of originally electric songs–a thing I’ve always enjoyed. I was struck by how many of them featured 12-string guitars. I’ve always loved the jingle-jangle sound of a 12 string. So when Owen and I were listening to music one night recently, I decided to compile a top ten list of songs featuring the 12 string guitar. Here they are not *necessarily* in the order of greatness that I’d place them, but close).

We’ll start with one that just cracks me up. Warning: There may be some swearing.
10. Leather and Lace (Dave Grohl and Will Farrel):

Next up, here’s a hit from my youth that I hadn’t heard in ages. You might be most likely to know Extreme because of ‘More than Words’, but this is another good acoustic tune from them:
9. Hole Hearted – Extreme

8. A Horse with No Name – America

This next one I love in all its 12-string incarnations that I’ve heard (Super tramp, the Goo Goo Dolls cover, and Roger Hodgson (the song’s author) singing on his own).

7. Give a little bit – Roger Hodgson

6. Hotel California – The Eagles

5. A Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles. Note the iconic 12-string solo by George Harrison at 1:20 into the track

4. Mr. Tambourine Man – The Byrds. As far as I know, the Byrds pioneered the arpeggiated electric 12-string Rickenbacker sound. I didn’t realize that that sound was a 12 string until I was about 13. Until that realization I thought 12 strings were always acoustic and could only be strummed.

3. Wanted Dead or Alive – Bon Jovi.

2. Wish you were here – Pink Floyd. Here David Gilmour covers it acoustically

1. Turn Turn Turn – The Byrds

POTW #12: Chipping Sparrow

May 11, 2010

Chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina), Durham, NH. 7 May 2010. 72mm, f/2.8, 1/50 sec, distance 3 meters.

Cigar Box Guitar

March 3, 2010

I’ve decided I want to build me a cigar box guitar. I don’t remember where I first saw one of these; but I think there was a man playing a cigar box tenor guitar on stage with Joan Baez at a concert Beth and I went to two years ago. Basically, it’s an ersatz guitar made from a cigar box. Some of them sound pretty good. I especially like the sound of resophonic models like this one:

I’ve learned from a bit of internet research that cigar box guitars have become pretty popular of late, but they have a fairly long history. (According to wikipedia, cigars have only come in boxes since the 1840s, having been shipped in barrels before that!) There is an etching that shows a Union soldier playing a cigar box fiddle in the 1860s (shown below). Legend has it that the blues guitarist, Blind Willie Johnson built himself a cigar box guitar when he was five (in 1902).

Etching by French Artist Edwin Forbes (1839-1895), showing a Union soldier playing a cigar box fiddle in camp.

A couple weeks ago I stopped in Dave’s Cigar Shop, just down the street from our apartment. I was not surprised to find that Dave had quite a selection of nice, empty cedar cigar boxes in the corner. He was offering them for $3.50. I chose this handsome black one:
Dave makes key chests out of some of his old cigar boxes, which he sells in the store. He mounts a strip of brass hooks inside, so you can keep your keys organized. He said some girls buy cigar boxes and make purses out of them, and he has some old ladies that come in and buy them to make jewelry boxes. With all these cigar box crafts going on, I was surprised to find that he’d never heard of a cigar box guitar (CBG).

For my first attempt at building one of these, I’ve decide to do a four string model (probably to be strung like a tenor guitar, or the top 4 strings of a 5 string banjo in G tuning), and to follow the basic design by Ivan L. Sucharski, which is shown in the free plans at, and can also be found at

I have cut out a recess in the poplar 1×2 that I’m using as a neck, and a rectangular hole in the box itself to make a half lap joint between the neck and body:

It may take me a while to get some fretting wire and geared tuning machines. But I will do another post with video or audio when the CBG is finished.

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