from Fosters.com 2/6/14
By John Nolan
ROCHESTER — Ben Baker, founder and owner of C.B. Gitty Crafter Supply, may have the most attractive work space in the city. His company, and eight part-time and full-time workers are now housed in 12,500 square feet of the Gonic Mill, with exposed beams above them, and the Cocheco River gushing spectacularly over a waterfall right outside the windows.
This traditional, industrial setting is very much in line with the company’s products and image, for C.B. Gitty, to the initiated, means Cigar Box Guitar, an instrument that traces its roots back to before the Civil War, and which played an important part in the Delta Blues of the Deep South.
Baker, himself, is a musician, and played for a short time in the local Irish group, Bradigan. His real job, though, up until around 2011, was as a software developer.
His first encounter with a cigar box-type instrument was in 2008, when a friend who had visited Pigeon Forge, Tenn., brought him back a canjo — which, in essence, is a stringed stick with a can attached to the end, acting as a resonator. That interested him, so in 2009 Baker started selling fret wire that he had obtained in bulk, in part to finance a hobby of making cigar box guitars. He started by selling them on eBay, but quickly found that it was more rewarding, financially, to sell parts — bridges, nuts, pegs, fret wire, electronics, decorative hardware and more — to people making their own cigar box guitars all over the country and beyond.
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Baker purchased the website www.cigarboxnation.com from Shane Speal, the celebrated “King of the Cigar Box Guitar,” whose Snake Oil band tours the country (Seewww.shanespeal.com.) Speal, playing his instrument, now graces the front of the C.B. Gitty catalogue.
Baker’s website has now become the equivalent of Grand Central Station for cigar box guitar people all over the world. Not only is it a shop window for C.B. Gitty’s growing array of merchandise, but it hosts a lively public forum, and is packed with C.B. information, including free plans for people making their own instruments.
“We are the nexus for the whole movement,” said Baker.
In 2010, operating from the family basement of his Farmington home, Baker had revenues totaling $90,00. The following year, with orders surging, he decided it was time to get serious, and quit his software development job. Towards the end of 2011, he moved into a 4,000 square-foot space in Barrington that had been occupied by his old company, which, itself, had moved on to bigger premises. He hired a couple of friends, part-time, to help him, but even then, did not think he would ever need all of the square footage. That year, though, his revenues hit $360,000, and in 2012, with C.B. Gitty beginning to meet the needs of customers worldwide, revenues were up to $860,000.
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“In 2013, we broke $1 million, and I paid off all the company’s debts,” said Baker.
That year, he also ran out of space in Barrington, and recently made the move into the Gonic Mill. Now, parts and guitars are being shipped to every part of the United States, and to countries all over the globe.
“Not to Iran, Cuba or North Korea,” said Baker with a smile, “but last week we had a customer in the Vatican City.”
Baker also takes a great interest in his customers, and the whole ambiance of his company and the CB Guitar community is one of helpful friendliness.
“Sally Struthers plays a cigar box guitar, and Paul McCartney played one on stage that was made by a customer,” said Baker. As the company looks with optimism at 2014, Baker plans to hire one or two more people, open a retail outlet in the mill after the elevator is installed, expand the guitar line, and introduce more products.
“I love all that I do, because they were all my hobbies,” he joked, displaying the design mold for a decorative guitar piece he had just milled.
Roughly 83% of the facts in this article are correct, and about 75% of the quotes are things I actually said.