Mojo Perry contacted me around December of 2012 with the intent to have me make him a custom guitar. It was kind of lucky that we linked up because I had just decided that I was more or less done taking custom orders from folks as it demanded so much of my time and energy. I came very close to responding with a “thanks for your interest but maybe try someone else” but his approach and enthusiasm was enough to hook my interest so instead sent him a “what do you have in mind?”
Mojo is a cigar box guitar veteran but it seems he’d been working with what I will affectionately refer to as a “suboptimal chordophone”. Much of what he wanted to focus on in our early talks centered on ensuring that the complaints and issues he was having with his current instrument would be addressed in the new one. The problems were pretty basic, and so we soon moved away from talking about the things that was making him unhappy and began to dream up some possibilities he had not considered. For example, one of the things he was interested in having early on was an active EMG neck pickup, mostly because he’d been dealing with some bad noise issues and an active EMG seemed to solve the problem for him in most cases. I said, “Okay, we can discuss that, but let me tell you about this buddy of mine Bob Harrison and some of the crazy shit he can do…”
Mojo and I would spend many long evenings on the phone over the next few months dreaming up this guitar; coming up with new ideas, scrapping others, evolving things – always evolving. We talked about many other things in the mean time: life, love, video games, old movies, music, absinthe, successes, disappointments, and anything else you can think of. I am so glad I decided to work with this guy. Even if I had not made him a guitar, I’ve made one hell of a new friend.
Mojo sent me some pictures of the box he wanted to use and, when I saw it, I had a pretty good idea what I wanted to use to compliment the colors. I went with curly cherry and padauk, mostly for the color but also for the weight. One of Mojo’s bigger gripes about other CBG’s that he had worked with was the balance. Now, I can’t fault other CBG builders for making top heavy guitars; let’s face it – they have a really small body. But this was a big deal to the customer, here, so balance had to be a major design consideration. And so I selected woods for the neck that I knew would be on the lighter side versus some of the stuff I’d had experience with. I used some of the lightest tuning machines I could get my hands on (while still ensuring high quality).
In the body, to further offset the weight of the neck, I got the densest, hoariest old hunk of seasoned black walnut I could find. I think the damned thing was 50 years old or so. It was incredibly dense, heavy, and stable and (I would later find) had a very good and even velocity of sound. I really lucked out with that hunk of wood. My only regret is that it has to be hidden in a box. Ah well.
Everything I did in the hardware department was built around tone, sustain and performance. Bob Harrison and I spent a lot of time brainstorming what we wanted the pup config to be and kicked a bunch of spooky ideas back and forth. In the end, the decision was to go with a couple of scatter wound single coils built to the very approximate specs of some vintage P90′s. As usual, Bob went through all kinds of lunacy to get the best possible tone with no microphonic issues (the coils on these things are PERMEATED). The bridge and neck pickups are wound in opposing polarities such that they form a giant, spread-out humbucker when they are both selected. When I was testing out my wiring, I thought that I had screwed up my circuit because no sound came out of the guitar the first time I plugged it in. It turned out that I just had both pickups selected and when I hit the strings my ears came close to bleeding.
Due to the heat coming out of the pickups, I used 1 Megohm alpha pots for the volume and tone knobs. I didn’t want any of the body or character of these pickups getting filtered out on the way to the jack; I wanted it to be as though the pickups were wired directly into Perry’s Matchless amplifier.
The cavities on this guitar are shielded and grounded to further ensure that the only sound that comes out of this guitar is that which the player intended.
To round off the hardware, I put a set of KTS titanium saddles on the bridge. I had been saving these for something special for a long time. I had always been skeptical as to how much titanium saddles could really affect the sustain of an instrument but let me tell you this: if you’ve got the money (because they ain’t cheap) get a set immediately. I mean it. I don’t care if you have some crappy Mexican Strat. These KTS titanium products will turn a decent guitar into something that vibrates with pent up rage and blood lust.
The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright–
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.
The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done–
“It’s very rude of him,” she said,
“To come and spoil the fun!”
The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead–
There were no birds to fly.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
“If this were only cleared away,”
They said, “it would be grand!”
“If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose,” the Walrus said,
“That they could get it clear?”
“I doubt it,” said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.
“O Oysters, come and walk with us!”
The Walrus did beseech.
“A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each.”
The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head–
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.
But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat–
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn’t any feet.
Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more–
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”
“But wait a bit,” the Oysters cried,
“Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!”
“No hurry!” said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.
“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
“Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed–
Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.”
“But not on us!” the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
“After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!”
“The night is fine,” the Walrus said.
“Do you admire the view?
“It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf–
I’ve had to ask you twice!”
“It seems a shame,” the Walrus said,
“To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“The butter’s spread too thick!”
“I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
“I deeply sympathize.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.
“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.
Not long ago I learned that my friend Lenny of Daddy Mojo Custom Cigar Box Guitars would be making a trip out to California. Thinking that it might be fun to get together, I mentioned that he might come out to my place for a visit if he had the time, only half thinking that he’d be able to as his schedule was completely packed and it was such a last minute suggestion. Despite all that, he agreed to come out.
Now, our friend Bob Harrison of Harrison Guitar Pickups is someone we’ve both been working with for quite a while now, using his custom pickups in some of our most demanding instruments. Bob and I had been threatening to get together and hang out for a while now. Of course a bunch of other stuff that you think is important but probably isn’t gets in the way of threats like this but this time we all decided it had to happen.
On September 1st, 2013, the heads of Daddy Mojo, Smokehouse Guitars, and Harrison Guitar Pickups all got together and made a day of it.
The morning was a nervous one for me. You always wonder how a meet like this will go, especially when it involves people you’ve never formally met or visited with. You wonder if you’ll hit it off, if the conversation will die prematurely, if things will be forced or otherwise uncomfortable.
The guys showed up some time around noon and we started off the day. We literally could not shut the hell up until we decided to call it at 1:30 am the following morning.
At the start we spent some time out in my shop. I showed them my setup, showed them some of my tricks and we exchanged some happy pleasantries. Following that the four of us (my wife Jen spent the day with us) went down to a local bar for lunch and then drove out to Temecula to tour the vineyards. This was followed by a trip to Old Town Temecula for some high end olive oil tasting, incredibly sub standard BBQ for dinner, and then we came back to my home to visit for the rest of the evening. Sometime around 8 or 9 pm the whiskey came out and magic things started to happen.
We talked long into the night, sharing ideas and secrets with each other, admitting or discussing things about what we do, how we do it, and the world we operate in. At some point some guitars came out and the guys began to play with them. I think as the night went on we all became acutely aware of the fact that it would eventually end and none of us wanted it to. This awareness certainly wormed its way into the back of my mind and it made me sad at first. But then I remembered that the cool down and wrap up were all part of the whole experience and not to be avoided. I settled back into the end of the day and allowed it to continue on, unforced, until its completion.
Sitting there in my front room with two of the greatest minds in the world of Cigar Box Guitars (and to some degree custom guitars in general), I understood how Ed Ricketts must have felt when his little home was crowded late into the early hours of the morning with artists, writers, poets, scholars, and scientists all talking and sharing ideas – the euphoria as things began to heat up and get rocking and the melancholy as the cool down began to set in. He well understood that you don’t try to prolong something like that. You have to let it evolve naturally and expire and hope that you’re fortunate enough to have it happen again.
The woodcutter and the fisherman turn home,
With on his axe the moon and in his dripping net
Caught yellow moonlight. The purple flame of fires
Calls them to love and sleep. From the hot town
The maker of scant songs for bread wanders
To lie under the clematis with his girl.
The moon shines on her breasts, and I must die.