May 28, 2018

Horse 2416 - Where Have All The Quality Street Tins Gone?

Possibly because I had latent dreams of being a rock star (because who doesn't?), one of the things that I always intended to do was to learn how to play the guitar. The problem with that idea is that I simply do not have the personality required to be one; if I do, then the world isn't ready to embrace nerd rock. Of course, one of the prerequisites for learning to play the guitar, is actually being in possession of a guitar; so that never happened.

So for Christmas last year, Mrs Rollo decided that she would be willing to tolerate the mauling of music in the back room to bought me a 3 string box guitar. Unwittingly, she opened my eyes to a very long tradition of self made primitive guitars and diddley bows and this in turn has made me realise that not only is it possible to build my own guitar but that the one which she bought for me has a glaring technical flaw. That is, because it is a commercial product and they've made a choice to make it sound warmer, the scale of the guitar is too short. For all practical purposes, the neck ends at the 14th fret and so when it comes to trying to monkey something to play so that it fits into the available scale (the guitar is tuned and optimised for Open G), you don't get a lot of wiggle room.
My plan therefore is to build my own Cigar Box Guitar and if possible fit a pickup with humbucker. This sounds great in theory but the real world often hasn't studied theory and has its own plans.

One of the problems that I've found is that it's somewhat difficult to buy a cigar box if you don't want the cigars contained inside. Mostly tobacconists will only stock a few cigars and won't even have any of the boxes that they come in. The other problem is that where I have found tobacconists who do stock cigars in the wooden boxes, they don't seem to want to sell just the boxes. I even got told by one chap in the city who looked like he was directly out of the 1860s that he didn't sell the cost cigar boxes because he was worried that they'd end up on eBay and told me that he just threw them in the rubbish bin. I don't understand that. Surely if you know that they'd end up on eBay that you'd want to sell them yourself; it'd be even easier to sell them to someone standing in front of you because then you don't have to go to the effort of listing them on eBay.
To date, I have not found anyone willing to sell me a cigar box except online; where I've found people who want to sell me so many that I could build houses out of them.

My backup plan was to go to the supermarket and find something else which could be used as a resonator box for a guitar. I have previously written that I used a Spam tin for this very purpose and going through the process of building a 1 string diddley bow has taught me that the process of building an instrument out of something as simple as a tin of Spam, is actually not as daunting as it would appear to be. I use the word "was" deliberately because finding a suitable tin has been far far more difficult than I imagined.
Once upon a time in the land called "The Past", lots of things came in tins. The tins that I was hoping to find were either a tin of biscuits from Arnott's with the big rosella on the front, a tin of Danish biscuits with some scene of windmills, rivers or whatever else is on those, and possibly a tin of Cadbury Roses or perhaps a Quality Street tin. Have I been able to find any of these? No.

I have been to several supermarkets, both in the city and in the suburbs, both in the the silver-tail and the fibro suburbs and I am surprised that in 2018, I now find myself in a world in which I am completely surrounded by no tins. Chocolate now comes in cardboard boxes, biscuits now come in plastic trays and film. I find it extraordinary that one of the default presents that you can give someone when you don't really know what to get, has retreated into the pages of history. I suspect that this is the reason why Ferrero Rocher  is now so popular because in their little plastic crystal styled box, they are the only one left in the market of default "I-have-no-idea" presents. I applaud the Ferrero company on their business acumen but their plastic boxes which Rocher comes in is simply unsuitable for making a guitar out of because plastic is brittle and does not respond well to even the most basic of tools being used to work on it.

One of the whole reasons why cigar boxes were used to make guitars from in the first place is that because they are wooden, they can be cut, drilled into, screwed into, as well as providing a nice warm resonant sound. Every stringed instrument, be they plucked, hammered, or bowed, are all basically strings across a resonator box with a some method of changing the pitch of the notes coming out. Once you've worked that out, then the only differences between a Stradivarius and a diddley bow made from a tin of Spam and a length of wood, are to do with the quality of materials and the quality of the craftsmanship. The basic underlying principles of how a note is produced, is identical. Very obviously I don't claim to have either the skills or the ability to build something like a Stradivarius but it would seem that the world is currently conspiring to prevent me from building something on the exact opposite end of the spectrum of quality and craftsmanship.
Perhaps I can understand a tobacconist's desire not to sell cigar boxes because secretly they'd rather that people like me would just buy the cigars but unlike cigar boxes, virtually everyone likes to eat the contents of biscuit and chocolate tins. So where are they? Hello?! 

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