"Screw Tradition" An Interview with Bristol's Drummond & Hammett on Cigar Box Guitars

Bristol, in the UK’s Southwest, has recently become an incredible incubator for small businesses full of creativity and attitude. So it seems only natural that a brand like Drummond & Hammett would call Bristol home.

Drummond & Hammett is a workshop dedicated to building instruments that anyone can pick up and instantly make music with. It currently produces cigar box guitars for the most part, giving players a bit of a blues sound mixed with the company’s punk attitude.

We spoke to Pat Hammett to ask about innovating with such a retro instrument and what’s next for the brand.

Cigar box guitars are a very niche but cool instrument. What motivated you to start building them?

It was amazing to learn how early Depression–era blues musicians made their own instruments and how those homemade instruments became pivotal in the early Blues movement.

By today's standards, these guitars are still rudimentary — some may say “simple” — but they’re also accessible, sexy, and cool as hell.

Cigar box guitars, along with a key group of revivalists, have spurred a modern blues movement, and I wanted to be a part of that. It inspired me enough to learn bottle slide and dig into the back catalogue of Chess Records and Alan Lomax. Hopefully, my practice will also inspire some others to pick up and play.

Photos by Johnny Cajon

One of the great things about cigar box guitars is how easy they are to pick up and play. Was it intentional to get into building an instrument that would appeal to beginners and people just looking to make some music for the first time?

The beauty of these instruments is their accessibility. From my experience, people don’t feel apprehensive or reluctant to pick one up and have a strum, especially since contemporary players demonstrate how amazing it is to literally smash and slide with them and yet still achieve great music.

There are certain traditions when it comes to conventional guitars in regards to style, music, notation, composure, etc. However, these little jangle boxes seem to steer around those traditions, stigmas, and hangups and head straight to how you can make one sound. Stripped bare, they’re all about raw expression and the blues.

What do you think makes a really good cigar box guitar?

Drummond & Hammett Resophonic Cigar Box Guitar

Great tone, cool looks, and originality of the producer.

There's a lot of cigar box guitar makers out there now, but sadly many of the cigar box guitars that have flooded the marketplace are largely unplayable because they’re poorly crafted.

When you’re learning a new style of guitar, it's important to actually be able to play the thing and have it sound relatively good because it spurs you on to pick it up the next day and try harder for longer or experiment with it. A well–crafted guitar, with a good action and a nice pickup to thump on is the foundation of a good cigar box guitar. Add some artistic flair to make a great one.

Do you personally use three strings or four? Any other personal preferences in setup?

I actually prefer 4–strings, as it gives you a little more option with tunings and that extra frequency when playing to create a fuller sound. This, combined with a medium–low action so that I can still finger pick or use bottle-slide. Having played slide for years, I don’t need a massively high string action to play without fret–rattle, so this is best for me.

By their very nature they’re quite a nostalgia instrument. Do you think there’s room to innovate the cigar box guitar, or is it a tradition that needs to be maintained?

Screw tradition! These guitars were created out of rebellion. I mean, yes, I am maintaining a style of guitar with a nod to heritage, but I feel these guitars and the musical genre they represent is a middle finger to tradition.

But today's blues players even mimic the styles of blues players of old. I wonder how those old players would feel about that. Every musician has a different perspective.

Of course, if you’re making a guitar out of junk, there’s obviously room for innovation — try another trash can.

How important has the internet been in connecting you with potential customers all over the world?

Very important. Trade shows and festivals are great but are limited by the number of people at the event.

Online sales can drive me to customers and customers to me. You want the best cigar box guitar maker, and I want to sell you the best–made cigar box guitars in the UK.

What’s next for Drummond & Hammett? What are your plans for the future?

Properly launching a sister company in the next year called Hammett Guitar Co., which will be producing full scale semi–acoustic and hollowbody guitars. Again, this is with a nod to the golden era guitars of ‘60s Chicago: Harmony, Kay, Silvertone, Danelectro etc.

We’re looking at their shapes and reworking them for a modern market, with premium timbers, better build quality, high–end pickups and components. If you love those guitars brands of old, think of [our guitars as] iconic guitars but with better components and construction.

In terms of D&H, I’ve some new models planned, cutting some old models that aren’t popular. Rosewood now is a problem to export [editor’s note: due to recent CITES regulations], so I’m looking at alternative timbers and materials the are more ecologically responsible.

We’re just honing the production methods really and making subtle improvements where I can. We’ll see. Watch this cigar box–shaped space!

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