Ben Baker, Owner of Cigar Box Nation


Cool Tools Show 088: Ben Baker

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Our guest this week is Ben “Gitty” Baker. Ben fell in love with the idea that anyone, anywhere can build their own musical instrument and make music on it. His company was founded to spread that message all around the world.

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Show notes:

12-ounce Brass Head Dead-blow Fretting Hammer ($14)
“I got to thinking, ‘What tools am I always reaching for when I’m there at the bench, building a new cigar box, guitar or other instrument?’ This little hammer is a dead-blow hammer, which means the head is filled with a metal shot. So when you strike something, it doesn’t have that bounce and recoil that a standard hammer will. One of the heads is brass, and the other head is kind of the molded plastic that the rest of the hammer is, and it’s great for more gentle tapping or hammering. You know, most people have a hammer of some sort, but with that hardened steel head, you can dent softer metals. You can dent wood. Having a little more, shall we say, gentle method of persuasion, is handy at the work bench. I always find myself reaching for one of these.”

“[This] is a site that I created and have built up full of free how-to information, related to cigar box guitars and other homemade instruments. We’ve got how to build them, how to play them. We’ve got modern plans and blueprints. We’ve got historic plans and blueprints. We’ve got photo galleries of famous celebrities holding and playing cigar box guitars. So, my goal with that was to make it the one-stop resource and knowledge base for the entire homemade instrument movement and it’s been a work in progress over a few years, but there’s a lot of great stuff on there.”

“Tablature is a way of depicting where you put your fingers on a fretted instrument neck to play your particular tune. So, usually there are horizontal lines that represent the strings on an instrument, and then there are numbers that get placed on those lines that indicate what fret you place your finger on to play a particular note. And the number of horizontal lines depends on what instrument it’s written for. So, a conventional six-string guitar will have six lines. A three-string cigar box guitar will have three, and so forth… It’s a much easier and more approachable and accessible way for a beginner to start playing recognizable music. They don’t have to learn musical notation, they don’t have to know what all the notes and lines and everything mean. It’s just pretty much a way of displaying ‘Put your fingers here and you’ll get a song out of it.’ So, I like it as a very accessible, kind of like an on-ramp to playing a musical instrument.”

The Cigar Box Guitar ($80)
“My favorite tool of all is the cigar box guitar. Because it’s both a tool that you make yourself and it’s a work of art that use to make more art in the form business. Or, business. In the form of music. And there are very few other tools that you can say that about.”