Original Cartoons, Art School projects, Cigar Box Guitars plus other entertaining Odds & Ends. All content & imagery copyright 2010-2017

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Cigar Box Ukuleles: The Simpsons Tribute & Happy Face Lunch Box

I built my first CBG four years ago this month. Building these instruments has led me down a very interesting path. CBGs have become a real passion, bordering on obsession. Making music from unusual objects is a fascinating and gratifying pursuit. I look around me and when I see different objects I'm always asking myself, "How could I make this thing into a musical instrument? What kind of sound would be produced?"  Every CBG builder loves that anticipation. We never know for sure how something will sound until we string it up and try it out. That's the mystery and the beauty of it.

Here are two ukuleles made with some parts purchased from C.B. Gitty and found objects. The Simpsons uke makes use of a Simpsons Trivia Game box for the body. A large tin box with such wonderful graphics like this one is just begging to be repurposed. Visually, this is my favorite uke build so far.

See and hear the uke demos on YouTube: https://youtu.be/3Dg_PZfXg_E

The graphics are so important to the look of this uke, that I didn't want to ruin the effect by placing a large sound hole in the top of the box. Instead I opted to use multiple, smaller, sound holes and locate them on all sides of the body. I've never tried this before and it worked. Every build is different and each one has lessons to teach me.

The neck is attached to an interior support structure which I like to call "the back bone". I build this into all of my ukes to ensure body integrity.


I found this reproduction of a vintage lunch box at my favorite re-sale shop. This uke has a fun look about it and makes a particularly nice sound. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

"Water Works"

Project #1 Senior Semester-2

While researching sound artists such as Liz Philips, a pioneer in the early days of Sound Art, I came across a large-scale installation of floating crystal bowls by Celeste Bousier-Mougenot. It was her piece that became the inspiration for my project. Genuine crystal "singing bowls" are very expensive, and were not in the budget for this project. So I spent some time at a Bed, Bath & Beyond, tapping and clinking different ceramic bowls together until I found some that I liked.

I put a condenser microphone on the side of the metal tub, and processed the sound using reverb and chorus guitar effect pedals.  This device turned out to be one of the most popular and well received projects I have ever made. This project was one of four projects that I presented at the Senior Sculpture Art Show. This brief video is a part of the documentation required by my professors.  

The only critique on this project related to my use of 2x4's to raise the platform high enough so the amp would fit underneath. It was strongly suggested that if I had to include them, that they should have been painted black. But, for the Senior Sculpture Show I eliminated the boards entirely by merely using a much smaller guitar amp.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Two Ukes, a Kalimba, and a Can-Jo, Walked Into a Bar...

The following are all cigar-box guitar style builds for my girlfriend who is a music educator in South China, where she teaches music theory and performance to children. All the instruments were built using basic kit parts available at C.B. Gitty. The kits are quite flexible and the builds were all  modified as I went along in order to make them more interesting in sound and appearance.

   The original can that came with the Can-Jo kit was replaced with
a child's lunchbox.

The Kalimba (Thumb Piano) made with a cigar box.
Large, deep, cookie-tins were used for the Uke bodies.

I was concerned that the string tension might collapse the uke body so I built 
an internal brace for attaching the neck. 


Friday, August 26, 2016

"It Could Get Loud" - Final Project Senior Semester-1

Mineral Oil does not conduct electricity. This little factoid came up during a conversation with a friend, and it became the inspiration for my Final Project for the Fall '15 semester. Apparently, mineral oil lacks the necessary electrons to conduct electricity, which makes it possible to put any electrical device into a bath of mineral oil, and that device will continue to function perfectly. Mineral oil is used as a coolant in large computer systems and has many other industrial applications. 

After doing some research and networking I got exceedingly lucky and was able to obtain 20 gallons of Food-Grade mineral oil for free! Food-Grade means that it is completely non-toxic, harmless stuff, and is safe for human consumption. Normally the oil sells for $50-90 per gal. depending upon the source and grade of the oil. The particular oil that I got is used as hydraulic fluid in machines and vehicles that operate in environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands.

The original prototype with a small electric fan to circulate the oil.

This project was very exciting for me. It is counter-intuitive to see an electrical appliance in a liquid medium, and a working one at that! And, what kind of bizarre sound will be generated by all of this? I was advised by an instructor to be aware of aesthetics, and make my piece look more music-oriented and less like a science project. He suggested that I play up the "absurdity" of my idea by making a large speaker-box façade to encase the amplifier.

A heavy plastic cart was purchased and assembled. The cart would provide a structure around which to to attach the speaker box façade. The build needed to be very sturdy to support the combined weight of the fish tank with 15-20 gallons of oil (approx. 160 lbs.) and the bass amplifier (35-40 lbs.). After the box was completed, it was moved from the wood shop into my private studio for sound experimentation and final assembly. Generally I like to work in private and will not discuss or show too much to the other students of what I'm currently working on.  I also like to include some small thing or aspect that even my professors don't know about. This makes for a more spontaneous and genuine reaction from everyone at critique time, and sets up the "Oh Wow" moment rather nicely. 

Almost all of my time and effort on this project went into sourcing the materials and building the speaker-box façade. Fortunately, I'm very familiar with the proper look and materials that go into making sound reinforcement equipment. I had to build the façade as if it were the real thing using: heavy plywood, black carpet, a speaker grill, large casters/wheels, plastic porting tubes, and metal corner protectors.

I received some much needed help from my grad student mentor who had done upholstery work  before. She was able to teach me some methods and techniques that made the work go quickly.

The fun and easy part would come last; finding out what kind of sound would be produced and then doing additional sound processing if need be. I honestly had no idea what to expect sound-wise once everything was plugged in and turned on.

A bass guitar was hooked up to the amp and placed into the oil bath; and a small electric fan submerged along with it. The fan was turned on and running but was not strong enough to circulate the oil properly. I really wanted a strong current to push across and against the bass strings. Next, I tried a small hair dryer a got similarly disappointing results. So I finally wised up and bought a heavy duty aquarium pump. The pump worked great, but the strings still did not vibrate as much as I was hoping for due to the viscosity (density) of the oil. The sound that was produced was a deep humming drone caused primarily by the electric motor in the pump creating interference with the electromagnetic pick-ups on the bass. Ok, the deep droning sound was not quite what I was expecting but I had to work with what I got, for there was only one more working day left before the critique. 

I then experimented with a variety of guitar effect pedals to enhance the basic sound. After some trial and error the winning combination was an inexpensive Flanger and an Electro-Harmonix B-9 Organ Emulator.

Turn up the volume of your speakers or better yet use headphones or earbuds for the best aural experience while watching the VIDEO.

To really appreciate the full effect one must actually be in the room where the sound can be heard and felt. When my critique group first heard the sound they stood very still, as if mesmerized, and rooted to the spot. My audience said that the sound was very compelling and yet somewhat disorienting at the same time. Some people said they felt themselves getting lost within the sound. Soon after that, everyone wanted to put their hands on the tank and feel the vibrations.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

"Nut Job"

Since the early days of the the University of Houston some eighty plus years ago, there has been a very large and well established squirrel population. Generation upon generation of squirrels living in very close proximity to the humans on campus has made the squirrels quite tame. Students are not supposed to be feeding the squirrels but people find it hard not to interact with them.They are very cute and entertaining after all. Unfortunately most people hand-feed the squirrels junk food. This has made the squirrels into fat little beggars. In some cases the squirrels feel a sense of entitlement and become rather daring and aggressive to the point of stealing food off the plates of students as they eat outdoors.

I made this piece to honor the relationship we have with these creatures and to encourage the students to feed the squirrels healthier stuff.  Nut Job is carved Styrofoam covered with sunflower seeds, peanuts, hazelnuts, and corn.

I obtained permission to place Nut Job in the courtyard of the Fine Arts building. Lots of people and squirrels cross paths there. My hope was to document the squirrels consuming the sculpture's surface  and create a time-based piece in the process. No luck. Too many people and not enough squirrels. After graduation I might put Nut Job out in a park somewhere and finally be able to witness it's slow demise.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

"Domestic Situation" - Senior 1 Semester

Domestic Situation was inspired by Trouble Chair which was one of the 13 Sculptures from my Junior semester.