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Homegrown 'Medicine'; Mikel Doktor crafts guitars from cigar boxes

There's a scene at the beginning of Davis Guggenheim's powerful documentary "It Might Get Loud" in which Jack White assembles a guitar from found objects, hastily throwing together old, beat-up planks of wood, wire and a hand-wound electric pickup.

After rapidly hammering the primitive one-stringed instrument together, White plugs it into a junky old amplifier, grabs a bottleneck slide and proceeds to rip out lines that sound like the howl of a hound being dragged from hell against its will.

The point? Well, it's not that White is such a genius, though by many among his cult of followers, he is perceived as one.

Rather, the power in this scene comes from the unspoken implication that, as mind-blowing as improvements in guitar and amplifier technology have been since the late Les Paul first started multitracking his own instruments, a true musician should be able to make music with virtually anything at hand.

Later in the film, White explains his fetish for old, banged-up guitars that are difficult to play and sound well, kinda terrible. He enjoys the battle, and feels that the more primitive the instrument, the more direct the conduit to the musician's soul.

Mikel Doktor, veteran area guitarist and former member of such bands as the Dollywatchers and Space Trucker, caught "It Might Get Loud," too. The scene mentioned above reaffirmed suspicions he'd long held. "That scene blew me away," Doktor says.

"It proves that all of this stems from the time of the sharecroppers, when people had no money for a guitar, but they weren't going to let that stop them. They'd pull apart the screen door and make a guitar out of the wire. Those homemade jobs were not easy to play, but if you had something in you that you needed to get out, they provided you with the opportunity to do just that."

Doktor had been building his own solid body electric guitars for a few years, but something about the power in these primitive instruments spoke to him. He began experimenting with crafting instruments out of "found" materials.

Now, a little over a year later, Doktor has launched Medicine Man Cigar Box Guitars, a homegrown independent company specializing in instruments constructed "primarily from recycled cigar boxes, but also from things like old olive oil or motor oil cans, washtubs, hubcaps really, anything that will resonate."

From 7 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Doktor will take over Nietzsche's (248 Allen St.), for a combination art show/performance/social mixer, debuting Medicine Man instruments, and performing solo and with friends Andy Pfeifer and Dave Abbatoy. He'll have some 60 instruments to display and sell. The instruments range from $40 to $400, and make no mistake -- they're playable.

Doktor completed work on his first cigar box guitar a little over a year ago. At this point, he has made more than 100.

"When I got started, I went down to the Virgil Avenue Tobacconist and got some cigar boxes, and just began experimenting," he recalls. "I finished the first one, and gave it to my son, Noah, who was 3 at the time. He loved it, and asked me if he could keep it. That gave me confidence. Within a few weeks, I'd built a few more. Whenever I'd show them to people, they'd love them, and want to buy them."

"Dok," as he's known to denizens of the Buffalo music scene and customers at the countrywide retail guitar store where he's part of the management team, credits his father with instilling in him the passion for tinkering.

"It's my nature to wanna build stuff, and I know that comes from watching my dad as I was growing up. He'd always be in the garage, tinkering away at something. Now, I've got my own workshop at home, and I'm constantly doing the same thing."

I've seen a few of the solid body electrics Doktor built by hand. They're beautifully crafted instruments. Surely, the solid body electrics would have fetched a far higher price than these homespun "found object" creations?

"Yeah, but I looked at it this way. In New York State alone, there are eight fantastic independent guitar makers," Doktor says. "These primitive instruments I'm making are tougher to play, but they have such a unique personality.

"Also, I think we might be well-advised to remember a time when keeping it simple was a good idea. Playing these guitars doesn't make it too easy for you -- a song won't just pop out of one of then. You have to work for it. There's something very cool about that."

email: jmiers@buffnews.com