A good guitar will play the notes you’re looking for. A great guitar will inspire new music. But an iconic guitar will transport you to another place, time or universe.
The Daddy Mojo Dolorosa guitar is iconic.
Daddy Mojo is a two-man guitar company run by Lenny Robert and Luca Tripaldi in Montreal, Canada. Originally inspired by homemade cigar box guitars, they have taken the primitive art and turned it into museum-quality instruments. The six-string Dolorosa is the top-of-the-line model in terms of their cigar box-inspired guitars.
Grasp the "hard V"-shaped neck and you’re transported to the 1930s, smoking a fine Cuban in the veranda and playing swooning ballads. Daddy Mojo completely nailed the feel of a vintage parlor guitar neck. Add to that a period-correct flat fretboard. Placed in your hands, the guitar immediately beckons for pre-war jazz or slide blues. (Warning: This is not a string bender’s guitar. The flat fretboard is fitting for fingerpicking, slide or jazz chords.)
One unique feature is the neck-thru construction, with the maple neck running the length of the body and coming out the back. This allows the neck to act as the body’s bracing and also a tailpiece for the strings. As someone who has played a Dolorosa for more than seven years, I can attest to the rock solid construction. Mine has taken more abuse than a PETA member at a Ted Nugent concert.
Of course, there’s the big and beautiful body, which is shaped like an oversized cigar box. A skeptic would nonchalantly throw out Bo Diddley’s name when seeing the rectangle, but the truth is, this git-fiddle could have been made by Diddley’s grand-daddy. The vintage feel of the body oozes into your chest as you hold it.
Indeed, the body was special ordered from a Dominican Republic cigar box factory, but at 9-by-12.5-by-2 inches, it’s much larger than your average stogie holder. Constructed of 1/4-inch ply, the hollow body makes it resonant and sturdy. It’s surprisingly comfortable on the lap with your arm resting on the top.
Daddy Mojo uses a floating bridge constructed of a rosewood base and bone saddle. I found mine to be a bit high when I first got it, but some gentle filing of the saddle from the bottom fixed it right up.
A screen-printed Victorian sacred heart motif graces the front and factory-stamped Daddy Mojo logos on the side add a cool extra detail. Florentine F-holes and a nitro cellulose finish complete the look.
Here’s a taste of its tones, performed by the builder, Lenny Robert:
Tones and performance: If the "hard V" neck inspires pre-war blues and jazz, the mini humbucker in the bridge adds another element to the sonic gumbo. It’s warm, yet snarling with a touch of country honk. In terms of slide, the Dolorosa sings in a tone somewhere between Ry Cooder and Hound Dog Taylor. When plugged into my Musicvox MVX-15 tube amp, the Dolorosa comes alive when I add a healthy dose of reverb. Throw in some tremolo and you’re walking with Pops Staples' ghost.
My only complaint on the pickup is that it’s non-adjustable. In sticking with a vintage style, Daddy Mojo permanently attaches the mini humbucker to the neck-thru section. This is just a small complaint, though because I’ve always been able to find a good tone.
Most guitar reviews allow for the writer to test-drive the guitar for a couple of weeks and report back, but I have performed with a Daddy Mojo Dolorosa in almost every show since I first got mine in 2008. It has been transported in flimsy gig bags, fallen off stands and survived my heavy-handed abuse. This guitar is damn-near indestructible.
Because of its beauty, the guitar also is one of the most frequently photographed instruments in my arsenal. People just go ape-shit when I strap it on. Most importantly, notes just jump out of this thing when I play. This is one of my favorite guitars—ever.
The Daddy Mojo Dolorosa retails for $895 at select specialty guitar dealers or direct from daddy-mojo.com.
…And just for fun, here’s Jack White playing a Daddy Mojo Stove Pipe model (the dual-pickup sister to the Dolorosa).
Shane Speal is the "King of the Cigar Box Guitar" and the creator of the modern cigar box guitar movement. Hear the music, see the instruments and read about his Cigar Box Guitar Museum at ShaneSpeal.com. Speal's latest album, Holler! is on C.B. Gitty Records.