Flat pickups have been produced for decades. However they can be quite expensive. I became aware of flat pickups around the end of 2014 when I noticed pickups made by Dan Sleep called Thinkbuckers. I was fascinated by the concept, but in the otherwise open-and-sharing field of cigar box guitar building, everyone was very secretive about how flat pickups were made. For some reason the concept of Flat pickups was considered by some in the community as the property of one person-- which seemed a bit silly. One person cannot possibly fill the world-wide market of CBG builders and players. There were no patents held. Anyone could make a flat pickup-- if they could figure out how.
Research revealed that flat pickups were nothing new; they'd been around for decades-- long before the CBG community came about. At least two major companies produce the in off-the-shelf models (for a significant price).
Gaining little or no cooperation in understanding flat pickup design, I went to the Net and did some research. I started experimenting by the seat of my pants, beginning with only a slight inkling of how these were made, based on non-specific photos. They were wax potted and wrapped in cellophane packing tape, a process and visual that didn't appeal to me. I wanted something sturdier and more resistant to environmental changes.
Factory-made flat pickups were pricey, starting at $145 each. I wanted to build a pickup that was especially sturdy and had a wide-range of sound ability, but at a significantly lower price than factory-line pickups.
Over a period of several months of extensive research and experimentation building pickups by hand, I started developing an unusual design, significantly different than prior designs I had seen.Not a quick process. Hundreds of hours were involved in basic R&D. Detailed records were kept on all attempts-- gleaning the best features. Eventually, the FlatCat pickup was born.
By mid-2015 that R&D session had accomplished several things:
* Considerable improvement over existing design concepts both in construction and resulting sound. Testers stated it sounded better and was more versatile than other pickups.
* FlatCats are fully potted and encased in solid PolyResin, which makes them very sturdy and more immune to elements and the environment.
* Because of their design I was able to create and offer the first low-cost 6-string flat pickup on the market, intended for use on standard electric guitars. Where factory-produced pickups started at $145 and up, FlatCats are priced at $50 to $55. FlatCats had extended beyond the realm of cigar box guitars.
* Despite surprising gain in power, FlatCats remained wonderfully rich in tone. Now the pickup could range from mellow sound on the low end to a terrific natural-distortion grit on the high-end, making it the most versatile flat pickup ever made. From mellow blues to jazz to country to rock-- a single FlatCat could cover them all.
* FlatCat was released in Cigar Box Guitar and Humbucker footprints. Both models are aboout 1/4" thick and designed to be mounted to the surfaceof a guitar.
* In the electric guitar field a FlatCat could be used to replace an existing pickup (mounted to cover the existing pickup cavity), or if no pickup was present it could be mounted directly to the surface of the guitar without need for carving or routing. The only mounting requirement was drilling a relatively small hole for the wire, making installation of FlatCats very simple, even for beginners. (Full mounting structions are included with each FlatCat pickup.)
FlatCats were released to the market and over the next several months earned solid 5-star reviews. They were purchased by professional luthiers, cigar box guitar builders and customers modding their own off-the-shelf guitars. Repeat purchases by existing customers proved their effectiveness.
FlatCats are often specified as the "pickup of choice" by people who order custom guitars from Wishbringer, with those guitars receiving top reviews as well.
Today the FlatCat is available in a variety of colors, a primed model for painting your own designs on the surface, and a 24k gold foil laser-etched version. Their sturdy composition assures their continued function over decades-- the wonderfully unique sound available to you for your special guitar projects.
HOW TO PLAY A CIGAR BOX GUITAR in ten minutes or less!
What first attracted me to cigar box guitars was how easy they are to play. I have played 6-string classical/folk guitar for years, written dozens of songs, produced and marketed three CDs... yet the simplicity of this instrument fascinates me.
I was browsing YouTube one day and came across this video:
(Go ahead and watch it. It's only 4 minutes long.)
So the CBG is an instrument that just about anyone can play regardless of musical background. This delighted me because we've all heard someone say "I wish I could play an instrument but never learned how." Maybe you've said that yourself. The CBG offers an introduction to music without years of practice... and encourages improvement of skills as you learn more songs.
Cigar box guitars are a foot in the door that can bring years of playing enjoyment without requiring rigorous study. They are truly the heart of folk music... but versatile enough to play any style from blues to jazz to rock n' roll.
How to Play Any Song on a 3-String Guitar with Just One Finger
Most of us have seen a dulcimer, a lap-instrument that is played using a wood peg and a pick. I've always liked these instruments, but they use a diatonic scale (7 whole notes). The CBG is chromatic (all musical notes) and can have from 1 to 6 strings (most have 3 or 4). These are tuned so that a "chord" can be played by placing a finger across all strings at the same place(called "barring" the chord). The instrument is so versatile that almost any song can be played using this method.
This method is so easy that CBG players often "write" their music using numbers rather than notes or chords. No matter what your git is tuned to, you can play a song literally by the numbers. On the neck we start with the nut as zero, followed by fret 1, 2, 3 and so on.
This in mind, see if you can figure out what song this is by playing it on your CBG (** means pause, o means open string):
9-9-7 ** 9-9-7 ** 9-9-7-5-3-3-3-3-3 ** o (answer at the bottom of this post)
PICKING OUT YOUR SONGS
It is easy to pick out songs by ear. Just sing the song and bar different frets until it sounds right, changing chords as the song seems to need a change. It can seem tricky if you're just starting out, but gets easier as time goes along. For those who suffer from being tone deaf, there's always guitar music...
"READING" GUITAR MUSIC
Most guitar music has chord signatures above the music. These signatures will look something like this:
C D G7 Am C D F Em C
All of these represent full chords that are played on a 6-string guitar.
On a CBG however, because of the harmonic tuning you can drop the secondary signature (7, m) and just play the main chords:
C D G A C D F E C
It usually still sounds right. So that simplifies things to start with. You can tell what chords are on the CBG by the fret number. In the key of G (where the thickest string is a G note) these are:
O 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
G G# A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G
So when you know where the chords are on the CBG (it doesn't take long to learn them; there are only 12), you can actually read and play standard guitar music books... without the months or years of practice necessary to learn standard guitar chord fingering. Just place your finger across all the strings at the positions shown above, and there are your chords. It's like a dulcimer on steroids!
MOVE IT UP A NOTCH
Now that you have the bascs, you can expand your tuning and playing skills with one little, fantastic trick:
Tune your guitar to D-A-F. Alternate tunings are C-G-d# or G-D-Bb
Here is a really neat video that shows why this works. It's well worth watching. The link below starts playing at 2min 16sec to avoid the unnecessary stuff. Note this video is in regard to 4-string tuning, but can be just as easily used for 3-string. It is my personal favorite tuning and playing method.
There is of course a lot more you can learn about playing a CBG. You can learn fingered chords and rifts and all sorts of things as you gain experience. But to get started, to my knowledge there is no easier stringed instrument in the world. Not only that... but cigar box guitars sound wonderful (especially when amplified), they are great conversation pieces, and they're just plain fun.