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Cigar Box Guitars

 

In my library/office at home in Kedron, I have assembled artefacts of my life.  .  It is a comfort to sit here surrounded by paintings, photographs, objects and books that are reminders of who I am and from where I have come.

There are some things that people seldom discard.  Things like a globe, an old map, an antique object with just the right patina or a Geographic magazine.

Among those objects are cigar boxes.  I save them.  Moreover, I do not know anyone who can throw one away as they are objects de Arte as well as items of universal utility.

Perhaps the need to keep them goes back to our prehistory when a container of any kind was an object to be treasured.  That they are beautifully made closes the deal for this writer.

In my obsessively ordered shop, hangs an antique clock salvaged by my wife’s father when he worked on the Island of Shemia near the border with Russia on the Aleutian chain of Alaskan Islands.  It came from a B29 Super fortress that had been left there to decay.  The old clock is housed in a cigar box from the Paladar.  Every seven days, I dutifully wind it up with its brass key.  There is a satisfaction in that that a double A battery operated clock cannot offer.  Without the cigar box to display it, the clock would probably be in a box under the bench.

On my bench is a stunning “Sir Winston” cigar box, with gilt lettering that I got from Filip.   I have carefully violated the smooth shiny surface of the box with two F notes for sound holes in the cigar box guitar (CBG) that it will become.   I work on it when the need arises to focus on the small details in a life that is filled with what seem to be larger responsibilities.

As a life long lover of American blues music, I am astonished that I totally missed the historical significance of the cigar box in the development of that genre.  I had to discover it in Australia while walking down Fish Lane a couple of years ago.

The occasion was one of the Cars and Cigars events at the Paladar.  Half way down the alley/street I heard a sound that I have not heard live since my pre-hurricane Katrina visit to New Orleans, Louisiana.  It was the sound of a Delta Blues slide guitar riff.  My pulse and my pace quickened and I arrived to see and hear Nigel McTrustry on the small balcony of the Paladar playing a fretless three-string electric slide blues guitar made out of a cigar box.

The music captured me.   That evening, I researched the history of the CBG.  It’s history, in short, is this:  After the American Civil War, no one in the south had much money…least of all freed slaves.  A proper guitar was out of the question.  Former slaves took cigar boxes, affixed a board to the box, strung wire or string and created early blues music on the instruments.

They also made violins in the same manner.  In fact, the bows they made with a bent stick and a string were called Diddley Bows.

The great Bo Diddley who is credited with making the first electric guitar used a signature rectangular CBG his entire career.  Moreover, most of the early blues greats like Bee Bee King got their starts on CBGs.  It wasn’t until they started recording records and making some money that they got proper guitars.  But, it was the cigar box that was the foundation of the music.

As an amateur luthier (guitar maker) I decided that I had to build some CBGs.  Featured in this piece are three.  I determined that my guitars would each have a unique feature and also keep the tradition of using “found objects” for a part of the guitar.

The first was my “Devil’s Tail” guitar.  I designed the tuning board so as to be able to tune the guitar with my left hand without having to move it to the other side.  And, I laminated the guitar neck with two types of wood.  Laminating them in that way holds the two different grains in tension and thereby resists warping.  The box was a Padron, which is a favoured box by CBG makers.  The found objects were the nut and the bridge, which I made out of dominoes.

The second is my signature piece.  It is a tribute to what I believe is nature’s most beautiful creature.  It is called the “Ulysses” after the Australian Ulysses blue butterfly.  The soundboard and the sound holes are in the shape of a butterfly…and the base attachment for the strings uses a butterfly hinge.  The bridge is made with a brass skeleton key.  I was honoured to have Nigel McTrustry play it at one of his gigs in the west end.

The third is the guitar that I call “Repatriation” in honour of a 150-year-old headdress that my 92-year-old father repatriated to the Indian family from which it came.  My father, who grew up adjacent to a large reservation was given the headdress generations ago by the patriarch of the family believing he would preserve it, which he did.  Before my father died in December, he gave it back to family.  He said it was never his.

I elongated the image of a headdress to give it the feeling of forward motion, made sound holes in the shape of arrowheads and fashioned the tuning board in the shape of the feathered end of an arrow.  In the tuning board, I inserted an old Indian Head American nickel.

Each of the guitars are wired for sound using a piezo buzzer wired to an amp jack as a pick up to give the guitar the an authentic tinny sound.

I cannot bear to sell them.  So, I give them away.

 

Mark Salo

aka The Paladar Scribe

The flood of 2011

The first thing that came to mind when the news broke that the Brisbane River had breeched her south bank was the thought of caustic muddy waters seeping into the Paladar and rising to contaminate her contents of fine Cuban cigars.

This writer discovered the Paladar quite by accident.  Four years ago, my daughter Leah, was on a bus heading down Merivale Street when she saw the place.  She got on her mobile and declared, “Daddy, I have found just the place for you.  It is called the Paladar and they sell Cuban cigars and coffee.  You will love it”.

She was correct.  I was taken with the place instantly. The colours and shapes of the establishment were altogether unique.  She looked as though she had been plucked from Havana and wedged into the convention district of Brisbane…a bright accent in a muted environment.

Before entering, I thought about an appropriate greeting in Spanish.  I even wore my Panama hat.  I was sure that a Cubano owned and operated the Paladar.  Who else could give it that look and feel?

Filip Pilioras was at the machine.  He brewed a great coffee and showed me an unusually perceptive selection of cigars…all from Cuba.  I bought a good one and insofar as it was a Friday afternoon and the city was vacating, he took one as well and a friendship began over a mellow Cuban cigar in his small courtyard.  In short, This Yank felt welcomed in his newly adopted city.

I consider myself a noticer.  I saw that this place was more than a transplanted Latin establishment.  It was an object of art and original thought. The seemingly random arrangement of objects was not random at all.  I deduced that Filip is an artist of shape and form and a man who could think laterally.

Most of us cannot create a Paladar.  Still some of us can appreciate it immediately.  And, I am drawn to people who can.

I like those rare places where one can find conversation with those who do their own thinking and speak in their own voices.  That is why I go to the Paladar to talk with Filip, Deanna and the other “Usual Suspects”.  That and the sense of community that Filip has fostered…  In the same way as he has collected practical objects d’arte, and puts them together in a way that makes sense, the Paladar attracts a varied clientele whom I find interesting and informative.

Cigars and coffee, like wine, absorb their environment and pass it into the taste and character of those organic products.   A flood would extract an especially high price on an establishment like the Paladar.

In anticipation of such a dread event, Filip, his, his brother, Mitch, his father, Louie and some good friends emptied the Paladar and moved everything upstairs and waited for the waters to rise.

I checked the Brisbane Council list of streets that were predicted to be flooded.  Both Merivale and Fish Lane were on the list.   I was concerned by the news.  I heard that Russell Street was flooded and saw on an aerial photograph that Merivale Street was getting the floodwaters.

After some failed attempts, I was able to reach Filip.  The waters that had started up Merivale were thoughtful and stopped short of the front door.

Today, I stopped in for a cup of coffee.  The place was crisply put back together…not exactly the same.  Which, I suppose is the point of Paladar.  Her character, I am happy to report, is intact.

Mark Salo
aka The Paladar Scribe

Paladar meets the Brisbane floods

on the eve of the flood, not knowing what to expect, i walked out of paladar with a firm set of priorities. the most important thing…the cigars…

when the waters didn’t rise overnight as first predicted, we decided not to waste the second chance. dee and i went back into south brisbane at 6am predominantly motivated to save the large cabinet that functions as the paladar humidor. preservation of the integrity of the seasoned timber in the humidor was critical, as cigars are very absorbent and take on the characteristics of their environment. once the timber had tasted poo water, no amount of gurneying would recover it, and there was no chance of it ever serving as a humidor again! poo water and cigars, not a good idea.

as dee and i readied to shift the humidor to higher ground in the apartment block next door, we were surprised by the arrival of my brother, my father and gerard (the crazy frenchman who lives upstairs, pictured above) offering their assistance.

seizing the opportunity…

2 hours later, paladar was stripped of anything not permanently attached, plumbed in or electrically connected. everything else was loaded into dad and mitch’s respective utes. gerry offered to mind the cookies, and other brick-a-brick, as well filling as every landing between the ground floor and gerry’s top floor abode.

when we arrived at 6am, the floodwaters were two city blocks from paladar. by 8.30 when we left, water was lapping at the corner of melbourne st. we departed for home, and were later advised by dad that in the 20 mins he spent helping the neighbours, the waters had moved across melbourne street. ferocious!

the rest of the time during that flood period we spent constructing an almighty barricade across our driveway at home to prevent water filling our subterranean garage. having already moved the cavalcade of old girls (vintage cars), there was not much left to do but consume the chilled 1999 vintage champagne and wheel of brie left in the fridge when the power went off, as we maintained a vigil over the petrol pump that was keeping our basement dry.

in the following days as the floodwaters receded, we drove to paladar to realise that our worst fears had fortunately not materialised. time for a spring clean and to replace all the paladar accoutrements. 2 hours to pack up, 4 days to reconstruct! thankfully all we lost was power for a few days – it could have been much worse.

i would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one (too numerous to list) who offered their time and enthusiasm to help us get back on track. we were absolutely inundated with phone calls, texts and emails, and it was quite overwhelming to realise the extent of paladar friendships. our thoughts were and are still very much with those who lost so much more than we did, and are continuing to rebuild their lives.

paladar dodged the bullet and lived to serve again!

Ghost of Christmas Past

last christmas, we chartered a yacht and sailed the whitsundays for a very lazy ten days. alas, this year, it was not to be… there was much water, but conclusively not quite the same! this festive season has been a lot more subdued by all accounts, outside of the feasting, a few good drams, and a lot more cigars!

on the yacht, for openers, i thoroughly enjoyed a box of 25 partagas serie D4, an exquisite spicy robusto, perfect for the open ocean. each and every one just as good as the one before. i lament only the one fumbled overboard (as i was lighting it off the stub of the previous stick in some unusually turbulent water) … and then to comfort myself, declared the fallen cigar a sacrifice to poseidon for fair waters, the signature red band winking at me as i watched it disappear at a rapid rate of knots into the wide blue yonder in our wake.

the vegas robaina unicos and h upmann magnum 50’s were also a treat for my brother and i, although the girls were rather disgusted that we’d already finished our first smoke during a dawn swim, before offering them a demi tasse by el rey del mundo with breakfast (because of course, real ladies never smoke before noon!)

this christmas, hoyo de monterrey epicure no 2 and hoyo de monterrey double coronas have featured predominantly, with a couple of ramone allones small club coronas thrown in for good measure. a 20 year-old bruichladdie rounded out the break.

viva la cigar box guitars

apart from being a talented vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, nigel mctrustry creates his own cigar box guitars demonstrating good old fashioned mississippi ghetto engineering. this creative gent recycles materials to complement the the cigar box, utilising old skeleton keys for bridges and sink strainers as resonators. he also coils his own electric pick-ups. these curious instruments not only look amazing, they create the most unreal sound – eat your heart out huddy leadbetter!

recently nigel honoured me with a master copy of his new record, “psycho in a green commodore”. it sounded great but much to my amusement, when loaded into my computer itunes reconciled it as a musician by the name of wolfgang petty. since then, we’ve referred to mr mctrustry as ‘wolfgang’. hats off to mr ‘wolfgang’ mctrusty…..viva la revolucion!!!!