Edison Volt

Guitar1One thing I’ve come to realize, is that you’ll never have enough time to do everything that you might get it into your head to try and do—but some of the stuff might just be do-able…

About a year ago I decided that I would no longer content myself with a guitar “off the rack.” Instead, I would start a new project for which I was remarkably unqualified: to design and build my own guitar.

Although I had always thought of myself as a mid-century modern sort of guy, for some reason I wanted this guitar to look like it was made at the turn of the century. I think maybe I acquired this fetish for dark wood and tarnished brass from living in (and attempting to restore) an old house. I wanted my guitar to be like that—modern and electrified, but vaguely Victorian. Like a collaboration between Thomas Edison and Les Paul.

Very soon in the process I realized that I was not equipped with the tools or the know-how to pull this off. I would need help. Back in April of 2007 I found a guitar builder online who had guitars on his web site—a lot of which had features that I had actually written down in my initial wish list: exposed pickups that looked like transformers, knobs and switches on the top (rather than the front), brass corner protectors (which I ultimately decided against). This guitar builder was Ted Crocker, about whom I’ve written before on the box vox. It was he who ultimately constructed this guitar for me. (Although I did handle the carpentry on the headstock myself…)


For the past 10 months any amount of musical spare time I might have had, has instead been devoted making “actual size” guitar mechanicals in Illustrator and trolling eBay for brass guitar parts.

One neighbor, who works for DiMarzio here on Staten Island, helped me find a source for brass plating.

I designed & built a mechanical “string damper” since I love the “palm mute” sound but do not seem be a good enough guitar player to achieve it via the traditional technique. (The blue material is a scrubby pad.)

Along the way I encountered some sub-cultures I was not aware of going into this.

Many years ago I used to work at Christie’s auction house where I learned about the importance of patina and provenance in the valuation of antiques. But on eBay there are enterprising artisans who will happily charge you a premium for gear they’ve scuffed up for you. (Sort of like pre-washed denim, I suppose.) I’m ambivalent about relic-ing. I know my guitar would be more important if Thomas Edison had really made it, but—like plenty of other good stuff—it’s inherently fake. And I’m OK with that.

Likewise, I had no idea about Steampunk—that there were all these busy people making stuff look as if it were made 100 years ago. (Among my favorites of this sort of thing is Mike Yager’s spectacles .) The downside of this trend is that too much of it looks like fanciful props for a science fiction movie. (Too many decorative brass gears that don’t really turn anything.) Still, I love the idea that there’s a groundswell movement of new people appreciating how cool old stuff is, ’cause I’m thinking, “hey, I’m old…”

Oh yeah, Ted insisted that we give the thing a name, hence: Edison Volt. Now the Volt is finished and I’m pretty jazzed about it. It sounds really good and I’ve officially reclaimed my musical spare time. (Anyone out there with special guitar needs should just go ahead and contact Ted directly.)

Randy Ludacer

Beach Packaging Design 

Package Hacking

Altoids tin thumb piano from yapruder/RP Collier’s Flickr site

It’s a wonderful thing when a product package is so iconic and so beloved that it spawns an entire subculture of cottage industry and energetic hobbyists. Altoids seems to be in such a position. While Radio Shack is gradually phasing out its trays of diodes and transistors, abandoning their original customer base of electronic hobbyists, Altoids has somehow taken its place. By now, most of us have seen Altoids tins used in everything from housings for flash drives to iPod chargers, but really that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The list of things that people have thought of to make out of Altoids tins has gotten ridiculously long. So many people are recycling Altoid tins in such a variety of ways that one wonders how many of these tins ever find their way to a conventional recycling center.

Why has this happened? Partly it’s just the luck and mystery of whatever it is that makes certain products successful. Partly, I think, it’s because this sort of durable, permanent-seeming package is tremendously appealing and hard to throw away.

(More package hacking after the jump)

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Birthday Mathematics

BirthdayPhoto of vintage birthday candle holders packaging from Fresh Vintage

Today I turn 53. Nice to have it fall on a weekend this time.

Recently stuck in a bit of javascript code on the “About” page of this blog. It was supposed to automatically update my age as the years pass. I put it in there last month while I was still 52. Annoyingly, it rolled me over to 53 a week early! (I don’t really know javascript too well, but I’m pretty sure I entered the birth date variables correctly: 1955, 1, 20 … Maybe it has something to do with 2008 being a leap year?)

Having been born in 1955, my age used to follow a cool pattern in 11 year increments. Starting from the age of 00 in ’55: I was 11 in ’66; I was 22 in ’77; I was 33 in ’88; I was 44 in ’99… Then the year 2000 rolled around and the Y2K millennium bug brought my multiples-of-11-age-computer thing to a crashing halt! I’ll be 55 in 2010. Big deal.

Randy Ludacer


Nice birthday candle packaging and POP display from Gloco Accents.

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Constructed Label Paintings

ControlSaw these paintings by Marc Travanti once in the eighties and I never forgot them. I love how they are so identifiable even without type and logos. Suitable geometric shapes for abstract paintings, yet anyone familiar with the source packaging—the head & shoulders shampoo, the Merit Cigarettes, the Wonder Bread—has no chance of seeing these as abstractions!

…the formal imagery of a Haagen-Dazs tub or the pattern from a Dixie Cup, with the labeling and the original "content" of the package gone, Travanti focuses on the significance of the images themselves. Form becomes content, and the commodity is transformed into an aesthetic ground, fixed for a moment outside the dizzying stream of popular culture.

–from press release by Beth Wilson, 1988, Stux Gallery


(more paintings after the jump)

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Magnetic Packages (they attract and repel)

A few years ago I noticed a neighbor with two scotty dogs, one white and one dark. It reminded of something, but it took me a while to finally put my finger on what it was. When it finally came to me, I got onto eBay and bought me some “Magnetic Spunky Dogs.” This package has been in my desk drawer ever since. A product, made in Hong Kong, it had a humble header card with a staple smack dab through the middle. Hang hole not fully punched out. (As “new old stock” it was apparently never hung up on a hook.) Same artwork front and back. (No UPC’s in those days!) Note the ¢ sign rather than a $ sign! With packaging like this, I’m guessing there wasn’t a lot of market research done or a focus group conducted about the design. No PRS eye-tracking here! Not saying I love the layout, but it explains the product well enough.


I recently stumbled onto this nice collection of “dime store” packaging on Kirk Demarais’s Secret Fun Spot. (These 10 header cards are from his site.) His collection even includes a Spunky Dogs card. (More about Kirk Demarais and “dime store packaging” after the jump)

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Vote Cat!

VotecatI don’t know what office this cat is running for, but—the way I feel right now—I’m inclined to vote for him. (Our dogs just had a fight so I’m feeling kind of “pro-cat” at the moment.)

Our friend, JD King had become quite the cat-lover in his old age. Consider how many of his awesome illustrations now feature felines. (See for yourself at his blog!)

This particular illustration seems pretty timely what with election coverage, writer’s strike and a green car. Love the TV antennas. (More cool cat illustrations after the jump…)

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Metallic silver ink and a grid of colored dots. What’s not to like? Metromint is supposed to be stronger than the usual mint-flavored water. (like Altoids if you could drink them?) I haven’t gotten to taste it yet, but there’s still one left so maybe that one’s mine.

Designed in-house by Metromint co-founder, Rio Miura, this packaging won a Communication Arts Magazine design award in November 2007 issue.

(one more photo after the jump)

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Sapporo Beer

Shapely, recyclable bi-metal can from Sapporo Beer, but why are the graphics of a Japanese beer so Soviet? (Star, wheat, red, gold, etc.) Coincidence? Geographic proximity? (Soviet poster from an Ebay auction is provided here for comparative purposes.)




Came across another, different sort of Soviet style beverage packaging… “Leninade” This photos was from the SodaKing website. I can’t find out much about makers, Mr. Yin and Mr. Yang,  LLC” although there appears to have been some trademark litigation with Pepsi in 2005. (Anyone know anything more about it? Please comment.)