A visit to Tennessee, USA, in 2012 sparked Basil’s interest in building musical instruments from recycled and scrapped materials. This Syrian born, Canadian bred artisan felt inspired to create cigar box guitars out of his love for guitars and making music. Handcrafting them, he says, took him back into his childhood past time building model airplanes.
What keeps him excited when creating these guitars is witnessing the evolution of his guitars as he learns new techniques in guitar building and wood working. As far as materials go, he says, “Scrapped wood from factories around my workshop, and construction sites, cigar boxes, lunch boxes, unwanted cookie tins, jewellery boxes, really any box will do if I can make it look good and get a sound out of it.”
Wood working, remains his favourite handcrafting technique because it teaches him patience – one characteristic an artisan should have, to achieve long-term success working at his passion. “There are no shortcuts her; you have to condition the wood properly, you have to seal all the cracks and sand everything down to get a perfectly smooth surface (especially when the wood you use is salvaged and probably has many imperfections), and if you skip one step or rush the process, then you are guaranteed to see that imperfection expressed in the final product.”
Basil has been creating custom guitars for the last ten months and already his work is quite popular at ARTE. A regular attendee since 2014, he has started to offer ‘build your own cigar box guitar kits’ which are pre-built and can be assembled in twenty minutes with a few basic handtools. The customers can take home with them instructions to assemble the kid – available as an online instruction manual available on The Howlin’ Rooster’s facebook page.
Out of all the instruments he has made, Basil has enjoyed creating the ukulele.” I loved making the laminate neck from 3 different typed of wood. It came out pretty good, and I wanted to show that by conditioning the wood to express the grain. For that reason I didn’t use any stains or paints, and the sequence of finishing steps gave a really smooth neck. Also, the second ukulele I made had great playing sound; the playability was great, and I had also experimented with a new way to get rid of the marks left by anti-smoking stickers on the cigar boxes, and it worked well.”
Here is a preview of the workshop that the Howlin’ Rooster has held at ARTE, where he explains the principles of making a music instrument.
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