Build The BATFINK Cigar Box Cello - Our most insane DIY instrument plans ever!

A note from Shane: When I received these plans from Ward Shrake several weeks ago, I had to double check my blood alcohol levels to make sure I wasn't imagining things.  Sure enough, I was 100% sober...and I was gazing at a full set of instrument plans based on an obscure episode of the Batfink cartoon from 1966!  

I think these are the wildest set of plans we've ever published!  I dare one of you to build this.  

IMPROVE THESE PLANS?:  If you improve these plans, post them in the comments below.  Also post your finished photos!!!

But first, I present the original cartoon featuring the diabolical Professor Vibrato and his cigar box cello weapon:

Professor Vibrato's Cigar Box Cello - by Ward Shrake

Hey, I'm wondering if maybe you would want to post this stuff I'm sending, onto the "tech article" section, over at Cigar Box Nation?

[I used] screen-grabs from a 1966 TV show and some fan-made measurements to go along with it.  

Even though the TV show only shows one size, I'm including measurements here for two sizes. What I'm calling the "full scale" version (on the sheet of figures) was gonna be way too big to be much like most other real-life "cigar box guitars," in terms of size and shape, so just for kicks, I drew up another at approx half of that "toon" size.That "half scale" version was, to my eyes, a bit too small in "real life". I did some math and (some occasional rounding-off) and to me, a "five-eighth's scale" version looked pretty close in size to what most CBG-building folks would be used to.

Hopefully, you'll get a kick out of this silliness!


 -- Ward Shrake --

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My alter ego is Professor Vibrato.  You can see me in the informative video above.  What the video doesn't show you is my daring second escape from Federal Prison using dental floss string and a comb for a bow...

The "bat-illac."  So funny.

"I'll vibrate you so much you'll split down the middle!"

And I helped him.....

Guys and Gals -- Here's a (for me) quickee attempt to try to clarify some of the decisions made, when I came up with those numbers. This is (again, for me) the short version of things: the intent being along the lines of the "don't overthink describing how I originally over-thought things" explanation of why those numbers were what they were. (The sheet I scanned in was something like the tenth or fifteenth page of analytical notes I'd done for myself. I didn't see the point in including anything but the "final" one, here, but I do keep such things around, in a (non-PC) folder. Just a habit of mine, to keep any such notes around.

As for the info below: if nothing else, my description of my process may be food for thought for other's analysis efforts, in other areas? (Who knows, maybe something even crazier is lurking "out there"?!)

One major thing I wanted to do was to KEEP the proportions, exactly as I was seeing them. So, as far as I know, when I made the screen-grabs (on a PC, with a 1990s program I love called "Paint Shop Pro" version 5) I did all of those without adding "aspect ratio" (TV screen length versus height) distortion errors. Ditto for the printouts: aspect ratio distortion can be accidentally introduced that way, too. (Such as by using "fit to page" features when printing, rather than carefully keeping it all "as was".) Just a concern to be aware of, on this kind of stuff.

There's also things like accounting for "perspective drawing" rules -- but I had enough art classes in (junior) college to know how to account for that kind of stuff. I mean, really, it's a cartoon, so it's not like NASA-grade precision is likely; but still, I took "all due care" with it.

Certain things you can't really get around: like the animators drawing things differently in one "shot" than in another". But doing a "composite" drawing, with many different angles, all seen without having to look at separate pieces of paper, helps to sort of "work that stuff out okay".

After I had a presumably un-distorted set of printouts, that were true to the original intent of the animators (as best I know that intent, from the DVDs I was working from), I hand-traced the best images onto tracing paper, using a mechanical pencil. I wasn't aiming at coming up with "sizes" yet -- just relative proportions of components. Using a calculator and a metric set of dial calipers (accurately reading to 0.1 mm) I came up with numbers for everything, in whole millimeters and fractions of millimeters. (Way easier math, later, by using metric.)

Next up was deciding, "Okay, well, how does that translate into real life sizes?" which in turn led to, "Okay, how well do cartoon people size up, compared to real-life people?" and since one of the later BatFink episodes (one with a Swami in it) had the Karate character say that people in that world were "five foot nine" I assumed we had more of less a 1-to-1 ratio of "toon people" to "real people". But ... that leads to another can of worms, which is that (and this is stuff I know from some prior artist's training I had, ages ago) I know we all have different body proportions -- longer or shorter legs, torso's, etc., etc. so there's some wiggle room here, as well. Enough that I wanted to come up with a "more reliable" and simpler way to size the raw proportional-only numbers into "what a person could actually stand there, and play". (Toon people have ratios of something like three heads, maybe five, to the total body height: real people are more along the lines of "seven heads tall" ... so, sizing proportions of the device to the proportions of the toon people, didn't seem like a good way for me to proceed.)

I'm average height for a male in this day and age (about 5 foot eight inches tall) so rather than trying to ridiculously (even for me) trying to over-over-guess how tall the device itself was, in comparison to the cartoon villain (since his legs / arms / head-to-body and other ratios weren't necessarily "real") what I did in the end was to stand next to a a doorway, and, closing my eyes, I put my hand about where the Professor seemed to have his -- as if I was touching the midpoint on the neck, and not the edge of a doorway. I put a piece of masking tape there, and did some calculator calculations, from the floor to that point. Which gave me maybe not a NASA-grade answer, but a reasonable "if you try to actually play this monster" number. In other words, the math I did was meant to make it play-able, or reasonably so, when I "sized it upwards".

Then I drew it up, in "full size," per my numbers. And, yikes, it's huge! (At least compared to average CBG sized type of stuff.) But it's supposed to be huge. Still, I didn't want to build a prototype of it, in full size, without maybe making one that was "regular CBG sized" first. So I drew up a second one -- front view and side view, mainly) with "half scale" numbers. Which looked, to me, almost too small (compared to a CBG in the sizes I'm used to seeing them in.) So I drew up a "five eighths of full size" version, too. And that seemed good enough to include the numbers on the simplified, hand-scribbled set of "plans" I sent to Shane. Unbeknownst to him, since then, I've drawn up a fourth version, that has a 23 inch scale length. And I think that's the version I like best, in terms of having a smaller one, closer to "normal CBG scale". (And I even worked a standard C.B. Gitty sized neck into that version of the design; with some other bits and pieces added on, to make it match the toon's proportions and the like, without any major changes.)

I'm checking with some locals who have a BIG scanner, to see if I can work out a deal with them, to be able to scan in (say) the 23-inch-scale-length version ... if anyone wants to see working drawings, and not just a bunch of numbers?

Questions welcome -- if any? -- but hopefully that sums up why I came up with those numbers.

  -- Ward Shrake --

If anyone is interested in seeing the numbers for the 23-inch-scale-length version, here's that info. (See attachment.) Sorry that the hand-scribbled (and then re-scribbled) numbers are a bit messy (it's that way since I didn't originally plan to publicly share a scan of this page; it was "my own notes") ... but, hey, one way or the other, it's all in good clean Toon Fun.

I have to admit that I partly came up with this particular version to encourage (aka: "tempt") Shane Speal to build himself one of these fun-looking little monsters. (After having seen, from his book, that 23-inch-scale-length is apparently his personal CBG-building preference.) Whether he'll appreciate that form of temptation, or not, remains to be seen. Ahem.

I may re-draw the version I did, of this one, and try to get it scanned in -- it's messy enough, in terms of "changes on the fly" that trying to scan "version one" might not be best. (I was/am trying to work out an arrangement for a "hollow lower neck" piece, so that sound from the lower box has some chance of getting into the upper one, and "outside".)

One other perhaps-inspirational thought for the group, regarding this overall design (in any size): rotating the lower box by 180 degrees (as seen from the front view) might make this the most bizarre "flying vee" contraption ever seen, outside of Toon Land ...?

 -- Ward Shrake --

Hi from aus
I remember watching bat fink growing up
I have downloaded the plans for this cool cello
2 questions if I can ask
How deep should the boxes be
4 or 5 inches I gues going by the sound hole size ?
Should the neck go through the boxes or have boxes attached onto the back of sound box
Figured out the questions I asked so disregard
Just pondering
Should the head angle away from the neck ?
10 to 15 degrees?

>  Just pondering
>  Should the head angle away from the neck ?
>  10 to 15 degrees?

On your build, it's your call ... but on the drawings I recently did for the "23 inch scale length" version, yeah, I angled that back about 15 degrees: to see how it would look. (Partly so that a "C.B. Gitty" style neck would drop right in, as it were.) And it looks like it "belongs there".

With apologies for "lack of sleep" mode, on this next (attempted) explanation ...

Other's mileage may vary, but on that version (or interpretation) of things, I have the two sound boxes connected with a hollow tube; which is sized to fit the one-point-five-inch-width of a CB Gitty neck. Keep in mind, this is still all in the drawing (not yet prototyping) stages of things, and stuff keeps changing (a little bit, here or there) as I work on it, more, but for now the stated wall thickness of the "hollow tube" portion of the overall "through neck" is three-eighths of an inch. That way, with the "solid inner core" part of it being 1.5 inches wide, by that same number in depth (because I'm imagining the prototype with another chunk of a 1.5 inch wide by 0.75 inch deep Gitty neck glued on bottom) and a three-eighths-inch wall thickness, per side (or top / bottom) it adds three quarters of an inch, overall; making the lower half of the neck sort of a hollow "box" -- with the upper part of the neck (what one might call the "actual neck" or "visible part of the normal neck") sort of "sticking inside of that box" ... and spare bits of the neck being glued into the bottom of that "vertical box" arrangement, to stiffen the overall box; enclose it all around; and give something solid for the extend-able "foot thingie" to fit into.

The way-easier work-around would be to just put some sound holes in the lower sound box; and put a solid neck all the way through the whole device. But I have seen some wooden Dobro's (I think it was a Weisenborne, or something like that?) that had sort of a hollow neck arrangement; to sort of add more of an empty, acoustic resonance space, inside the overall guitar. At first I was questioning the utility (or common sense?!) of trying to engineer a hollow neck, just to NOT make holes in the lower sound box; and to have one chamber talking to another, through some sort of a hollow tube arrangement. I almost talked myself out of pursuing it, but when it occurred to me how much sound manages to get through the tiny central / longitudinal hole in a flute, it was a short wait until my brain threw some sketchy memories of those Dobro's into the conscious part of my head, and I suddenly thought, "Darn it, now I have to figure out how to do it! Now, my curiosity won't let me ignore that partly challenge." And I think I mostly worked it out ... but it's hard for me to describe it, especially in a semi-short space ("low word count") without sharing some "blueprints" or "working drawings". Keeping in mind that I've played with this silliness for a few months now, and you guys are just seeing it all, suddenly ... well, anyway, it seems like "Drawings, sooner rather than later" should be my plan for the next steps. (In other words: despite the "there are no rules" aspect of CBGs, this is a specific item that's in replica form, and needs to look as close to the original item as reasonably possible ... so it sounds like I need to go ask the people with that very big scanner about the specifics of what it'll take to get that part of things going.) Overall, it seems like others need help to try to "picture this thing, in real life" ... and I can't blame them. Even with the several sizes of working drawings I've done, so far, some of the nit-pickier aspects of the "prototyping" challenges of this silly monster of a Toon CBG remain a bit fuzzy, even for me.

Just thinking out loud, but maybe I'll ink the "half sized" version, for the first-seen public working drawing? (Because that version is still in pencil; whereas the 23-inch'er is in ink, but with "white out" in a few places where I had better ideas, as I went ...)

  -- Ward Shrake --

P.S. -- Questions for the group: Are there any "washtub bass" players out there? Ones who could supply their own height; plus the vertical height of where their "plucking hand" ends up? That might help me to better visualize the "big version" better; and make the final drawing of that one, sized so that real-world play-ability is maximized.

Also -- what's a good "scale length" for something like the strings one might use, on the full sized version? The current (still in pencil, not "technical pen" ink) drawing of the big one could be altered, if the 40.5 inch scale length is less than optimal, for emulating, say, a stand-up bass. (Which is probably one "practical" way to treat the full-sized item?)

I actually kinda like the idea of the hollow tube to connect both boxes.

But if you don't want to go that way, it would also be possible to put a piezo pickup in the bottom box under the bridge along with a small amp and hide a speaker in the top box. But I don't think that would be in the spirit of the build.

While looking at the toon, I noticed that the characters were pretty wide. This is definitely not helping in achieving realistic proportions, something that is probably impossible.

One way that could give an easy to build result is to match a part of the instrument to an existing piece of hardware and then go from there... but then again, in a fantasy world anything is possible.

Thanks Ward for finding this thing and showing it. I think we'll see some inspired builds sooner or later :-)

>  While looking at the toon, I noticed that the
>  characters were pretty wide. This is definitely
>  not helping in achieving realistic proportions,
>  something that is probably impossible.

Probably, yeah. My take on things was to take what I was seeing, pretty literally, and not try to "translate" too much between Toon-Land and Real-Land. Like grabbing the real thing off of the "movie set, during filming" and running back with it, to "reality". And picturing it not really changing, all that much, during "translation".

>  Thanks Ward for finding this thing and
>  showing it. I think we'll see some
>  inspired builds sooner or later :-)

You're welcome. And yeah, I figure this will likely snowball, over time ...

Next we'll probably have someone tell us there was some random episode of Pinky and the Brain, or SpongeBob SquarePants, or something, that had cool CBGs in it? Wouldn't that be fun?! But, meantime, it's cool that CBG folks can see this bit of inspired silliness, from the BatFink 'toon universe.

  -- Ward Shrake --

I am getting on in years, and on the eastern side of the great pond (England) so I only learned the phrase "bat shit crazy" in the last six months.
Up to others to decide whether this comment has anything to do with this thread or not, but I moght start using "bat fink crazy" instead


Alright guys, did this yesterday while we were snowed in. Posted a video of how it sounds. Still trying to get the destructive high freq's from it like the professor did.


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