Light of the Stereo

Light of the Stereo

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Strumophile: Darren Brown Custom Cigar Box Guitars




Believed to have had their hayday in depression era America the cigar box guitar's (CBGs) origins can be traced back as far as slave culture of the 1700's. Developed out of lack of resources cigar box guitars have a prominent place in blues and folk music. With the recent resurgence of hand made instruments CBGs have made a comeback.
Darren Brown, the owner and creator of D.B. Custom Cigar Box Guitars has taken these basic instruments and turned them into pieces of art. Making sure that each instrument he builds has amazing handcrafted details; from hand wound pickups that provide the perfect tone, to beautifully built hard wood necks that he fashions from driftwood collected from the Bay of Fundy near his home in Canning, Nova Scotia Canada. Truly unique these guitars are amazing tools to make wonderful music. Darren Brown was kind enough to talk to us about his company and instruments. 

BLS: In your spare time, you have been fixing guitars over 30 years and have been building cigar box guitars (CBGs) since 2009. How did you get into building CBGs?

DB: I think I was 12 or 13 working on a farm in the summers. I saved up $ 74.00 for an electric Silvertone. I learned to tune by ear and had to fix that old guitar all the time. Then kids from school would bring me their beat up ones to get fixed. I’d seen Cigar Box Guitars(CBGs) years ago but never thought more about them until 2008, when I saw a rough one go by on the net. I thought I could build a little nicer one. It was rough too, but now 300 CBGs laterI’m still learning and hope I always will.

BLS: You make your career as a finishing carpenter. What advantages do you feel your experience provides when building your instruments?

DB: I do framing as well, but as I got older I found that the younger guys on the construction jobs liked to frame and do all the rough construction. So I got into doing any of the exterior and interior finish work. So over the years I learned how to slow down and think way ahead on what can happen and figure out the best way of getting to that point and of course checking twice and cutting once.

BLS: On your website you have emphasize three different styles of CBGs that you build: The Main Line, Resonators, and the Vintage Series. Can you briefly explain the differences between these styles of instruments?

DB: The web site is run by a friend and I don’t go there as much as I should.

The Main Line series CBGs are built from cigar boxes that I can get a good supply of: Cohiba, Arturo Fuente, and La Gloria Cubana boxes.

For the Resonators I make the boxes myself because cigar boxes are too narrow for the 6 inch resonator cones that go into the wood well.

As for my Vintage series, they’re mostly built with a Cohiba wood box. I have a process where I age and crack the finish and add ware makes on the body and the fret board.

BLS: From hand wound pickups to hardwood that you collected as driftwood and kiln dried; you take a very personal and hands on approach to your instruments? What inspired you to take each of these unique steps as a craftsman?

DB: There’s not a lot around where I live (Canning, Nova Scotia Canada), so I find things that I can use. The driftwood is off the Bay of Fundy and is from all over. I find cherry, ash, oak, walnut, black locust and maples of all kinds. Some of which I’ve never seen before.

As for the pickups, that I got into because of tone; for three strings I build 3 poles and and 4 strings 4 poles wound to certain ohms. They also look nicer than a big, over wound 6 string pickup slapped into one.

BLS: In building your instruments, have you found a favorite brand of cigar box you like to use when building your guitars?

DB: Yes, the boxes I like most are: Cohiba; after I thickness-plane the top thinner. Padron,Las Cobbelas, Dark Sumatras, Arturo Fuente, and the boxes I make myself.


(Manatoba Hal playing one of Darren Brown's License Plate Guitars)

BLS: Besides cigar boxes, you have built instruments out of license plates, Cheese boxes and oil cans. What is the most interesting thing you’ve built an instrument from? Is there anything you would like to build an instrument out of but haven’t yet?

DB: The oil can was tough going. I’ve been eyeing old apple crates that show up here now and then. I’d like to take the label side and build some tele of strat tops out of them. I’d also like to try old wood beer crates.

BLS: In some of your instruments you incorporate both piezo transducers and your db coil pickups that have separate outputs. How does this diversify the playability of the instrument? How does this affect the voice of the instrument?

DB: It allows you a way to run it through one or two amps or I can build blend pots into them and mix the sound that way. It’s endless what you can do with electronics in CBG’s.

BLS: If someone is interested in obtaining one of your instruments how would they go about doing so? What is your typical price point?

DB: They can reach me by e-mail:(darwood at live.com) or phone.

Prices start at $240.00 cap for basic 3 string CBG with piezo pickups.

$350.00 with coil pickups, volume and tone controls.

$525.00 for resonators.

All guitars are tax free, but shipping is extra.

BLS: What artists are currently playing your instruments?

DB:

Olds Sleeper

Manitoba Hal

Myles Goodwin of April Wine

Colin Linden of Blakie and the Radio Kings

Morgan Davies

Doc McLean

Terry Whalen

Jim Roberts

Shane Speal

BLS: It might sound like a weird question, but do you play guitar yourself? Of your instruments do you have a favorite?

DB: Yes I do play a bit. I have a 3 string and a 4 string resonator that I play with more though, through an bunch of tube amps that include a ’64 Fender Bandmaster, 38 Gibson 5 watt and ‘69 Traynor YGM 3 to name a few.