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It’s no secret among my friends that I’m a cigar box guitar (CBG) aficionado. About a year ago at a flea market in North Carolina, I ran into blues musician Kenny Ford, a colorful character who tours and lives in his old truck camper. He always collects interesting, oddball guitars in his travels, but what he brought out of his camper that day floored me. It was a Fender Squier Telecaster that Kenny had sawed up so it resembled a cigar box guitar. I really liked the way it looked and played, and to top things off, he offered to sell it to me. But we could never agree on a price, so after a time he ended up leaving town, while I ended up regretting not buying it.
But one day I decided if Kenny could make one, I could too. So I started searching the ’Bay for the exact model Tele that he used, which turned out to be a butterscotch Squier Affinity Tele with a maple fretboard. I studied the market for a while, and after a few weeks I snagged a cheap one for $118, plus $18 shipping. When I got it, she played great. There was thankfully no gloss on the fretboard, so it felt very comfortable for string bending. The butterscotch color seemed a bit too dark, but I could live with that because the pickups sounded quite Tele-ish.Squaring off a Tele body requires that you relocate the output jack. Here, I use a flat Les Paul-style jack plate, rather than the round, recessed Tele version.
I took it over to my neighbor Robert, who has all kinds of fancy woodworking machinery, and we went to work. First we removed the neck and strings, and then we unscrewed the output jack. Next we took careful measurements. Finally we fired up a table saw and proceeded to lob off sections on all four sides of the body until it had a rectangular shape. The scariest moment was sawing off the lower body—I wanted to make sure we avoided the control cavity, as that could damage wires and leave a gaping hole in the bottom of the guitar. But our measurements were spot on and it turned out fine.
So I spent that weekend playing my Tele CBG and what a treat it was. The only thing that bothered me was the neck pickup. It sounded too wooly and dark, so I replaced it with a spare G&L pickup I had lying around. Now it smokes!
An interesting sidenote: In the process, the guitar lost almost two pounds and is now quite light and resonant. Also, the dark butterscotch color looks lighter now with the black pickguard gone. Keep in mind—if you ever do something like this, I’d advise using a cheap guitar.Hey, Bo Diddley!
So is it a keeper? Absolutely! Technically it may not be a CBG, but it’s close enough for me.
Will Ray is a founding member of the Hellecasters guitar-twang trio. He also does guitar clinics promoting his namesake G&L signature model 6-string, and produces artists and bands at his studio in Asheville, North Carolina. You can contact Will on Facebook and at willray.biz.