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Freak Gear Review: Lace Matchbook Pickup for Cigar Box Guitars

(Image credit: Shane Speal)

After building hundreds of cigar box guitars in the last 25 years, I thought I had seen it all. That is, until the iconic Lace Pickup Company sent me its new Alumitone Matchbook Pickup, made specifically for cigar box guitars.

Lace has been making current-driven pickups since the mid Eighties, when its products were used on the Jeff Beck Stratocaster and other Fender guitars. These used up to 90 percent fewer copper windings, have less of a string pull and are touted to have longer sustain than conventional pickups.

That’s all good and fine in a top-notch Stratocaster, but recently, Lace decided to put all that technology into a pickup for a cigar box guitar, the instrument made from trash. I just had to try this out!

The Lace Matchbook pickup is designed to be top-mounted on a cigar box guitar. This is a great design idea, but has a drawback with the circuitry. The Matchbook has a large circuitry plug on the center of the back which requires a substantial ½” hole to be drilled into the cigar box guitar. If you build cigar box guitars with a neck-through, “spike fiddle” design, you’ll need to glue extra bracing to the interior. (Dear Lace, is it possible to put that circuitry plug on the side of the pickup?)

(Image credit: Shane Speal)

To try out my Matchbook pickup, I decided to use the worst cigar box guitar in my arsenal: a $35 “Blues Box” 3-string cardboard instrument made in China and sold at bookstores. The idea was to see what the Lace could do. The instrument also sported an extra-wide neck (2” width) which didn’t require any extra bracing. I just drilled a hole through it and loaded the pickup.

The final word: The Matchbook pickup by Lace is a fantastic sounding pickup. The tones are clean with plenty of bottom end and virtually noiseless. Is it absurd to put a $75 pickup on an instrument that cost $10 to build? Absolutely. But cigar box guitarists are far from normal.

There are no rules to this game. Go build something this week.

Musician and author, Shane Speal is responsible for the resurgence of cigar box guitars in modern music. He fronts the DIY-instrument band, Shane Speal and the Snakes, curates the Cigar Box Guitar Museum inside Speal’s Tavern in New Alexandria, PA, and has made 2,000 cigar box guitars to date. His latest book, Poor Man’s Guitar (Fox Chapel Publishing, August 2018) combines DIY instrument projects with their deep blues history.