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I don't do normal guitars...but what I do is always unique and with my own personal slant on things...why not take a look around?  I make cigar box guitars (and lots of other types of stringed instruments too), play them, teach people how to build their own guitars...and how to play them too.

They call me "The Godfather of the cigar box guitar"...

If you are looking to buy a cigar box guitar, please note that due to recent exceptional demand in continental Europe and the UK, my stock level is very low. I am working on more guitars right now and my focus is on getting my custom orders completed. If you do want a Chickenbone John guitar, please drop me an email, I can advise you on when  I expect to have more stock for sale, or you can place an order for a custom instrument.  I'm always happy to discuss  individual requirements and ideas for new guitars.

New Workshop - the North East

Another new workshop, into new uncharted territory for me...the NorthEast.

http://www.chickenbonejohn.com/events/make-a-3-string-guitar-with-chickenbone-john-stockton-on-tees

New Van Gent machineheads in stock

Just in from The Netherlands, VAN GENT machineheads. I've got these in 3 + 3, 2 + 2, and 2 + 1 sets, all supplied with heavy duty nickel plated bushings and fixing screws. They are simple, but robust and nicely made - a definite step-up in quality if you are used to buying cheap (and often not so cheerful) Chinese tuners. I've also got  the VAN GENT deluxe machineheads available in 3 + 3 sets. These are top notch quality sealed-back tuners, beautifully made at a very affordable price - Schaller quality at almost half the price - what's not to like?! VERY LIMITED AVAILABILITY And a nice finishing touch for your guitar, VAN GENT vintage-style nickel plated strap buttons - nice and chunky and complete with old school slot headed fixing screws. 

Wherever possible I'm using UK, European & USA manufacturers and sources for my parts and materials...moving away from sweat-shop produced components form far-off lands, and using more responsibly made and sourced supplies. These days you'll see the timbers I'm using are European and North American - cherry, walnut, maple, oak, polar, beech etc...no rosewood, no ebony, and not much mahogany or sapele.

All packed and ready to go...

It's just a little bit busy at the ChickenHaus..this week's orders packed and ready to go out..so if you've bought a guitar, kit, parts, books, shirts etc...here they are. I have to do everything...as well as making all this stuff, I have to "pick 'n' pack" all the items, but they are all ready and will be going out shortly...and later today collecting another batch of Diamond bottlenecks, looking at a venue for this year's Boxstock, and dropping in to see Trevor Steger of Babajack.

New Products just in.

I'm pleased to announce that I am now stocking Bill Lawrence USA pickups. I've been using the A-300 and FT-145 magnetic pickups on my Stella acoustic guitars for years, and helps me get that old-time Lightnin' Hopkins & Elmore James tone. These are simple and effective pickups, a classic design that's just right for the job. Another plus point with these pickups is that they are compact, and will fit into the smaller soundholes of these old USA Harmony & Oscar Schmidt guitars. These are direct from California, so remember folks, when you buy from me there's no worries about expensive overseas shipping and the dreaded VAT, duty and handling charges that you'll be faced if buying from the USA - I've dealt with all that so it's easier, quicker and cheaper for you.

 

Two New Guitars

Just completed for handing over at this Saturday's workshop in Bristol. An Arturo Fuente with mini-humbucker and one piece neck, and a rather more full-on reso, with a three piece laminated neck, Baltic birch body, stained black and finished in gunstock oil, "Continental" reso cone and minihumbucker...I must make one for myself one of these days, but I've got lots more custom orders to get out of the way before then.

First guitar of the year just finished

Just got this finished, at long last! I'm steadily working through through my backlogged order book, so if you are waiting for a guitar or a uke...I'm on the case.

New Year - New Guitar Kits

Due to popular demand I've brought out  a cigar box guitar kit - it's a development of my "make and play" workshop guitar, but comes with a nicer plain wooden box, hardwood neck and pre-slotted fretboard, fretwire and and a single coil pickup. It also comes with step by step instructions, and as a special deal  it's also available with a copy of "Handmade Music Factory" - save £5.00!  Everything you need to make a great 3 string fretted guitar. It uses the same components and materials as my new entry level guitars.

http://www.chickenbonejohn.com/menu-shop/view/productdetails/virtuemart_product_id/104/virtuemart_category_id/4

 

The Chickenbone John Signature combo amp is on its way

What's this you may ask? The  Chickenbone John amp of course!! In my constant efforts to come up with new and exciting products, I've teamed up with THE solid state amp guru, Stewart Ward of Session amps to develop my own "signature" combo amp. I'll be using the brand new Session "Blues Baby" amp in my own custom cabinet, to deliver 22 Watts of delicious blues power into a 12" speaker, sweetened up with a nice serving of Accutronics spring reverb. This thing is designed to go head-to-head with the Fender Blues Junior, and man, it delivers. It's loud and goes from a  lovely mellow clear tone to a raunchy aggressive overdriven bite.  I love my old Sesionette combo and it's little brother backup amp the Rockette 20, so I'm really pleased to be able to move forward in this way. The Sessionette has proven to be robust and great sounding in a compact package (sometimes known as the "British Mesa Boogie" - yes, it really is that good), and this new amp looks set to continue that great tradition  - a certain Mr Eric Clapton used Session amps on one of his albums, so it's got some pedigree. Early in the New Year I aim to be road-testing the new combo...and I already have a certain well known player champing at the bit to try one out. Watch this space!!!

A Weekend Tour Of The Low Countries…or Cigar Box Guitars for Fun and Profit, European style.

Another visit to Europe with Hollowbelly - this time we decided to make it short and sharp - just 4 days in Belgium and the Netherlands, plus traveling there and back.

One thing that a lot of people don’t realise is that it’s not the gigs that are the hard work...it’s everything else that’s involved...the logistics of traveling, loading gear in and out of venues, simple but important things such as finding somewhere to park, making sure you arrive on time with all the right gear…these are the things that have to be done to make it all work…and this jaunt was no exception.

 

As we were traveling in the BellyBus, I decided to head down to Devon the night before our first gig, so that on Thursday morning at 6.30am we were all loaded up and ready to hit the road, with our guitars, amps, percussion, merchandise, a full PA system and enough kits, hardware, tools & workbenches to cope with 2 guitar making workshops. It’s a heck of a lot of gear, and a real physical job of work to load and unload every day. Anyway, off to Dover, nearly a 5 hour run from the HollowHaus. As we arrived at the habour we were diverted in the terror that is "THE DARK SHED" and our hearts sank at the prospect of unloading the van for the Border Force and HM Customs & Excise to pick everything over..but we just had to open the back door for them to give it a quick once over, and we were on our way without any problems. Onto the boat, and we grabbed lunch straight away and then an hour’s snooze before hitting French tarmac and up the slab towards the hell that is the Antwerp Ring Road. Our timing had been somewhat unfortunate, and we hit the dreaded “Ring of Death” at peak evening rush hour …along what seemed like about a million other trans-Europe commuters and long distance truckers…and once we’d cleared Antwerp, the prolonged torrential rain adding to the murky darkness made the high speed run out to Westerlo for our first appointment a stressful and nerve wracking event. Even a good SatNav (and Homer Simpson giving us directions) sometimes can’t cope with the multi-lane junctions and confusing split exits on Belgian motorways, so knowing that you are an hour later than planned, with heavy traffic and foul weather, means that every turn-off and navigation decision is SatNav nightmare...one wrong decision and we could be miles off course and disastrously late for our first gig.

 

We rolled into Westerlo at around 6pm, and spotted the familiar Café Pallieter at the crossroads in the quiet little village centre. We were welcomed by Hans, the bar’s owner, and a few locals were already taking a well-earned post work beer at the dark, cosy bar.  We swung into action, got the gear loaded in, set up the PA and sound checked. I handed over a new guitar to Hans, which I’d made from a metal sign that he’d given me on our last visit...and he was delighted with it.

 


 

Hans sent out for something to eat for us, and then I opened the evening at around 9.30pm, and found it pretty hard going, to “warm the room”, but that was probably my own perception of the situation, as we’d already been working for 15 hours before getting on stage.

 

 

First night at Café Pallieter, a typical cosy Belgian bar.

 

A lively, hard driving set by Hollowbelly and we’d got the first night under our belts. I must admit, as I wasn’t driving, and we were staying at the café, I did have a few more Belgian beers than I should have…and I payed for it with a thick head for the next two days.

 

The next morning it was breakfast in the bar, followed by a visit to the supermarket stocking up with supplies for the drive plus some local specialities..gingerbread biscuits and beer, and then across the town square to the pharmacy for something for my head, and we were away. It was only an hour’s steady drive to our next stop in Asten, over the border in Netherland’s North Brabant region, staying with our good friend Ozzy van der Loo and his family. We had the luxury of being able to have a few hours sleep, then a civilized dinner, and away to the venue. Although only 30 minutes away, the drive to Eindhoven was dreadful, with a downpour of biblical proportions making the short drive down the motorway a very unpleasant experience.  However, we received a hearty welcome from Marijke and Thjeu at Café Balls (a snooker café, hence the rather amusing name). We got set up, managing to solve a feedback problem with the kick drum mic…after I realised that the whole stage was “microphonic”, and was amplifying every footstep and percussive sound to an uncontrollable degree, but I worked out that we needed to isolate the mic stand with some soft padding..problem solved. Some other friends that we’d met at the Muddy Roots fest had driven over from Germany, so it was great to see them again.


 

This time I didn’t have any problem getting the room going, and we both got terrific receptions from the audience…with Thjeu keeping the vibe going in his own high spirited way…taking to the stage to do a quick impromptu number on harmonica and kick drum before getting Hollowbelly to close with a couple of encores. Fortunately the weather had improved for the drive back..although my head certainly hadn’t, despite drinking lots of water all day and all night. Back at Ozzy’s it was a half hour sit down to relax a little and then off to bed, as we had a long hard day in prospect.

 

 

Up at about 8.am the next morning (a lie in by our standards!!!), and then off to the venue.  The venue was only ten minutes drive away, so we were set up and ready to go well in time. We had 28 people to deal with, but after doing over 20 cigar box guitar making workshops over the last year, I’ve got the process refined and running like a well-oiled machine. At the lunch break, we were visited by Leo Gabriels from the Dutch Blues Foundation and Ben Prestage from the USA, who was touring Holland, so that was a very pleasant diversion.

 

 

 

Lunch at Asten (left to right) Leo, Ozzy, Stefan, Hollowbelly, Ben Prestage.

 

Back on course, we got the guitars finished and Hollowbelly taught everyone how to play… and we were wrapped up at around 3.30pm, with a load of new converts to the church of the 3 string guitar.

 

 

 

 

Workshop, In De Brouwerij, Asten

 

We cleared the room of all the tools and debris, then took a quick break while the stage risers were being rigged.  As soon as it was ready, we set up all our gear, I got to grips with the PA, (a nice powerful HK set-up) and soundchecked Hollowbelly..then it was time for dinner. Off back to Ozzys, with Stefan who had come over from Germany to see us, and to talk to me about making him a guitar. We had a great dinner prepared by Jolanda, Ozzy’s wife..and I was feeling well enough to cope with a small pre-gig beer. Just one hour’s rest and then we were all back to the venue. I did a quick sound check, got the monitors working, shifted the merchandising table and we were ready to go. As we sat and chatted, we mused on the likelihood of Seasick Steve and Ben Prestage taking a good part  of our audience away, as they were both gigging in the region, but our fears were unfounded and we had a pretty good and appreciative crowd in the house.

 

Opening at In De Brouwerij

 

 

Working it hard, Hollowbelly , In De Brouwerij

 

As per usual, I opened the evening, although I felt I didn’t really give a good account of myself…but Hollowbelly played up a storm and rounded out the night in fine style. Once we’d spend some time chatting with the audience and selling merchandise, we had to get on with the job of breaking down all the gear, packing it into the van ready for moving on in the morning.  It’s a really hard job, loading up half a ton of gear at the end of a long day…we’d not just done a gig, we’d been working solidly from 8 in the morning with the workshop -  another 16 hour day, just taking off an hour for lunch and an hour for dinner.  Straight back to Ozzys, but no post gig party, just a cup of coffee for me and off to bed.

 

Rising at 6.30am, we headed off back to Belgium, leaving Ozzy to take a well-earned rest.  We arrived at Café Pallieter at 9.00am to join the workshop participants for a cup of coffee, then we quickly drove round to the local village hall to get set up for the workshop. A lovely big upstairs room, lots of light and space, we quickly got unloaded and set-up. By the time we were ready, just after ten, our workshop people were gathered at the bar, knocking back bottles of Primus beer…well, it is Belgium after all. 

 

 

Learning to solder

 

We had a small group, just 15 people, but it was a very relaxed and willing bunch…I tried out my best Flemish, much to the hilarity of the locals..it really is difficult figuring out if Flemish for set square really is “Winkelhaak” or if they were just pulling my leg..or my winkel.

 

 

They are all laughing at my terrible attempt to speak Flemish

 

We finished with a great lesson from Hollowbelly, and a little impromptu jam with HB and myself, which all seemed to go down very well.  All we had to do now was clear up and pack all the gear away..but by now we both were pretty tired and felt like we were wading through treacle..but the job had to be done.  An hour later were were back at Café Palieter for a well-earned sit down. The bar was pretty busy with people watching the football on the TV, but it was a very cosy and convivial atmosphere in which to take refuge from the chilly autumnal day outside. Hans presented us with two glasses of very special beer…he serves 35 different sorts of beer, but this was something a bit special- Westvleteren Trappist beer. You can’t buy the stuff over the counter,  and it’s only available in very limited amounts - you have to make a reservation with the abbey, book a day on which to collect it, and let them know your car registration number!  It is reputedly the best and most expensive beer in Belgium  - HB had a glass of the blonde beer, and I had the dark version...absolutely delicious, and at 10.2% proof, a heady brew. So we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, went out for a pizza, then back to the bar for a couple of beers with the locals. The bar got pretty busy, but during the course of the evening we decided that we had to move the van to a more secure parking place, and unload all our valuable equipment. You just can’t afford to take the risk with this sort of thing – neither of us can risk loosing any gear, we can’t afford it financially or professionally, so it all had to come out of the van and we then lugged it upstairs above the bar, where we were sleeping. We spent an amusing couple of hours chatting with some guys at the bar, who started off their session drinking a cocktail of coffee cream liqueur, whisky and Cointreau..which was set on fire and drunk with a plastic straw…quite something to see. It got more interesting when Hans poured out a big shot of liqueur into a stainless steel jug, blasted steam through it with the espresso machine, poured it into half an orange which had been scooped out, then set fire to it and the customer tried to drink it with a straw.  Things went wrong in a Nicki Lauda sort of flame-out way when he tipped the orange over and blue flames spread across the bar top.  Hans prepared another drink and this time the customer managed to sort of inhale the flaming concoction with a straw. After this hilarity, that was our lot, so off to bed and another 6.30 am start the next morning to head off to the ferry.

We got loaded up, sorted our earning from the workshop, and were sent on our way with a splendid gift from Hans….some bottles of 150th anniversary Chimay beer and 6 matching presentation glasses.

We hacked out way across country, studiously avoiding Antwerp and its dreadful rush hour ring road, and arrived at the ferry terminal in plenty of time, all under clear blue, rain washed skies. 

 

 

 

 

Flanders, 8.00am, cross country route to avoid Antwerp rush hour

 

The Dunkirk ferry terminal is a singularly unwelcoming building, and boggles the mind as to quite how they managed to make it so bleak and unwelcoming. It’s a pretty big empty, ugly unfriendly lump of a building, and houses nothing more than half a dozen vending machines..travellers just seem to wander round in a daze with a “Is this all there is?” sort of expression on their faces.

 

All went well with the crossing, until about half way when the boat started pitching and rolling under a fair old swell. When we were about 15 minutes out from Dover, the captain announced that due to 47 knot winds (in seafarers jargon that’s a “strong gale”, only just short of a full storm force wind) we were a little delayed and, we had to wait for one ship to manouvre into the harbour and another to leave...the nautical equivalent of turbulence and being put in a holding pattern. So 45 stormy minutes later we were in the harbour, but even when it was tied up, the ship was rolling and juddering against the quay, and as we drove off the car deck, we could see the ship rising and falling a few feet against the dock.  On his own admission, HB isn’t a good sailor, so this was all a bit of an unwelcome stress. Another long drive ahead of us...and the weather closed in with squally rain and fog as we headed into the dark. We arrived back in Devon at around 6 or 7 at night, where we feasted on a splendid takeaway curry and a bottle of that good Trappist beer to celebrate a successful tour and a job well done.

 

 

Yet more gear to be unloaded before the evening was out, an early night, then in the morning we had to transfer all my gear into my own car and then homeward bound to the Midlands for me.

 

So, it’s not all glamour and glitz at this end of the music world -  it’s more about route planning, lugging heavy gear, having enough of the right sort of cables and leads and finding a comfortable pair of shoes to work in. So that’s how you do 3 shows, and two workshops in a long weekend - it’s hard work…but that’s how we roll.

 

 

On the Telly -Pawn Stars UK

 I was called into Regal Pawn in Chester to look at and evaluate a guitar box guitar for The History Channel's new series. It was all a very interesting experience. Of course, the clever thing was the way they set up the filming and did the editing...I had no idea that the chap trying to sell the guitar had actually built it...they didn't tell me that bit in advance! It's all part of the schtick to try and inject a bit of liveliness into the production I suppose.

Fortunately, I tried to be diplomatic and on my best behaviour...but when the gentleman started getting very critical about the pickup in my guitar that I'd been asked to bring along for a quick comparision, the penny dropped that not only was he trying to sell it, but that he'd also made it. He really didn't like the fact that mine had got a nice custom made JuJu pickup in it instead of a piezo buzzer. Well, watch the clip thru' to the end see what money he wanted for it...and if he managed to sell it.