The idea for the musical invention he recently patented came Mark Pires in 2011.
The New Canaan High School graduate had recently retired from touring as an actor and singer-songwriter and obtained his real estate license in order to support his new and growing family.
Yet Pires continued to nurture his talent and love of music during monthly acoustic gigs at the Georgetown Saloon in Redding. One night when his drummer was unable to make the show, Pires—energetic son of a builder—decided he would make his own box drum or “cajón” so that he’d have live percussion superior to slapping his guitar or using a beatbox.
A one-man-band, Pires quickly realized that the traditional Peruvian cajón didn’t suit him because its boxy shape made it awkward to tap underneath him while he played.
“I realized then, what if I built something that came through my legs like a horse and its wider at the back and more narrow at the front?” Pires recalled on a recent morning from the retail floor of New Canaan Music on Main Street.
“The first one I built in a couple of hours and that night I realized it didn’t work, so then I went and built another the next day. It took me about a week before I realized what dimensions were perfect for me. And by ‘me’ I mean everybody. I could figure out how it would work.”
So the GigBox was born.
Specially designed for performers to sit astride while singing and playing guitar, and with varied acoustic features for drummers seeking a single instrument instead of a full kit the GigBox was patented by Pires in 2015. He’s hand-built more than two dozen of them and the unit is already selling out of New Canaan Music, where owner Phil Williams has carried it since around Thanksgiving.
“I like the fact that it’s locally made,” Williams told NewCanaanite.com.
“It’s a nice piece, it looks great. The fit and finish is good. Good quality piece of equipment. It’s a nice instrument.”
Asked about the popularity of cajónes (that’s the plural) generally, Williams said that in addition to percussionists who play the instrument, people like to have them in the house so that “everyone has something to play.”
“Even if you can’t really play an instrument, you can sit on that and tap along,” he said.
A ’96 NCHS grad who works locally at Caldwell Banker, Pires has custom-built 16 GigBoxes so far and, though he’s only been selling them since August, about 10 units have already sold (the price point is typically set at $299). It’s been picked up by one contestant on NBC’s “The Voice,” Monika Leigh, and has shown itself to have some appliances that even Pires himself did not anticipate (more on that below).
Asked what it’s like to see the GigBox sold in his hometown, Pires said, “It’s amazing.”
“I drive by every day on my way to work and I look and say, ‘Aw it’s still there,’ I hope someone bought it and then I’ll bring another one down,” he said of a unit that has since sold.
“Growing up here and then to have New Canaan be the first store in the country to carry the GigBox is really exciting and they have been so great. The feedback has helped me even to improve the product. Even Phil has given me some tips on things that I’ve already improved.”
Those tips include adding a snare that has helped differentiate the GigBox from a traditional cajón, which only offers treble and bass as opposed to what Pires called “omni-tone.”
Long-term, Pires said he envisions bands in the future where “every single person has one.”
“Guitar players, singers, bassist, everyone is sitting on a GigBox and adding a little percussion and the drummers go crazy on his own GigBox,” he said. “To me, I’d be blown away if I saw a band and everyone was sitting on a GigBox adding percussion.”
A father of three who lives in Fairfield, where his wife is a fifth-generation resident, Pires discovered a new use for the GigBox about one year ago, during his daughter’s eighth birthday party.
She invited an autistic friend to the party “and he was petrified in the corner, and he sat on The GigBox with all the other kids and he turned into one of the kids,” Pires recalled.
“He was playing the GigBox and when he sat down everything went away. And his mother grabbed me and said, ‘You have a sensory therapy drum.’ And I said, ‘What’s that?’ And she goes, “You need to bring this to our community. There are people who need to find an outlet a channel and because your instrument can be played with your hands and feet, that’s never been possible before and I think that’s what [my son] likes and I think that’s what people will like. Being able to do something.’ ”
The idea of that third-market possibility, beyond serving solo singer-songwriters and drummers, is an exciting if unexpected possibility for Pires.
“Pretty cool that something I created for musicians could potentially have a larger world need,” he said.