Something I've become very interested in lately is the 3-string guitar
But first, a confession: I'm not
a big a fan of The Blues.
I know it's cool to like blues music. Some people almost grant it religious status. And a few countries (most notably the UK) have a long list of "blues" players (Clapton, Mayall, et al) whose devotion and admiration for the idiom borders on fetishistic.
Maybe because my primary instrument is electric bass, I get bored holding down a groove based on pentatonic scales and a I-IV-V chord progression. I'm sure it's a lot more fun to play blues if you're a guitarist. But as a bassist, I find it 'kinda boring' after a while. (Note: a great many bass players will disagree with me on that point.)
So while looking for a more interesting role for myself when musical friends gather to commit an act of Blues, I stumbled on something called the cigar box guitar
. The CBG is an American folk instrument that was popular around the turn and early part of the 20th century (ca 1890 to 1930 approx), and extensively used in various blues forms, most notably Delta
This was the Poor Man's Martin. Put together with scraps of lumber, salvaged hardware, and a wooden cigar box for the body, they were both easy and cheap
to build. Most had three strings and were hand made by people who knew as much about traditional guitar making as they did particle physics. But despite their humble trash bin origins, these instruments were capable of producing some amazing sounds. And in the hands of a real musician, were also capable of producing some superb music. Many big name blues guitarists, including B.B. King, have owned and played CBGs.
And they're still being built today. Note the drain cover 'rosette,' the eyebolt 'bridge' and what I think are inverted cheese shaker lids for 'resonators.'
CBGs have enjoyed a bit of a renaissance over the last several years as more and more musicians are discovering just how unique and musical an instrument it is. So unique and musical that it even got me
(closet bass snob extraordinaire
) interested in the Blues for the first time in my life.
Here's a video put together by a CBG builder John McNair
to demonstrate what you can do with one of these instruments. Link here
. (Note: Guitar people! Check out that AXL AA-DSP-10 ThinAmp Portable Amplifier he plugs into. Amazing what $139 can get you assuming you can still find one of these terrific little amps! Check eBay since they're no longer being made last I heard.)
The CBG is probably the most common manifestation of the 3-string guitar. But other musicians, in keeping with the "found art" tradition of 3-string guitar building, have adapted the concept to whatever was at hand.
Enter Seasick Steve
and his 3-string "Trance Wonder" guitar...
-Seasick Steve and the Three-String Trance Wonder
Where would the three string be without Ol' SeaSick???? He is perhaps the most revered player who still graces the stage with his beat up 3 string and always leaves the crowd wanting more.
His sound is super ranchy, ultra primitive and distintly Southen in its flavor . His guitar is a generic unbranded guitar from Japan that has an old Harmony pickup added and is played tuned to G, G and B using an E string in the A position, a D in the G position and a G in the B position.
At his gigs, he often tells the story that he bought it for $75 in this condition in Como, Mississippi from a man named Sherman, who later told him he only paid $25 for it the day before. He vowed never to add another string, and that he would tour the world telling his story of how Sherman ripped him off. All in good fun as Sherman Cooper is a good buddy, who gave him the guitar having had it nailed to the wall as a decoration. A lot of the time he also adds (while picking up or putting away the guitar) that it is the "...biggest piece of shit in the world, I swear"....
Watch Seasick and his Trance Wonder in action performing Cut My Wings here
Gotta love that homebrew box drum (with Mississippi license plate 'resonator') he stomps out the time on.
Get one of those and you won't need a drummer.
There's a pile of other videos by him up on YouTube. Especially good is: I Started Out with Nothin' (And I still got most of it left!)
. Link here
. For this he uses an ancient and equally beat-up god-knows-what POS 6-string that also sounds great. (Where does he find these things?)
If you like roots music (or maybe didn't think you did - like me) it's well worth checking out.
Fine music by a genuine musician. Recommended.