Cigar Box Guitars – Their History and Players

The cigar box guitar is an instrument that has fascinated many guitar players, mainly in relation to whether they are real musical instruments. Many people who have learned how to make a cigar box guitar have done so simply to give their children something to amuse themselves with but the truth is they can make serious music. The origin of the cigar box guitar is in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when there were many people seeking to express themselves through music but could not afford to but real musical instruments. The use of homemade musical instruments like the cigar box guitar had a resurgence in the years of The Great Depression.

The need for improvised musical instruments led to the proliferation of jug bands which gave people the opportunity to play melodies and generate rhythm for dancing using homemade instruments. So musical gatherings featuring washtubs, spoons and kazoos became commonplace in communities all over America. Gourds with guitar necks attached originally provided the basis of homemade guitars but as cigars began to be shipped in small boxes and the boxes were left lying around the house, sooner or later somebody had to try them out as resonators for guitars. The neck for your average cigar box guitar was often a broom handle with one or two strings attached.

If you want to make your own cigar box guitar you will need some basic tools: a box cutter or pocket knife, a hacksaw, a drill, some fine and coarse grade sandpaper. The raw materials for making your guitar are: a cigar box, a one inch by two inch piece of lightweight soft wood (poplar is a good choice), a dozen one inch nails, wood glue, some wood stain and an applicator. To tune your cigar box guitar just buy three tuning pegs from your local musical instruments store. Their are plans available from expert cigar box guitar makers, in fact there is even a Yahoo Group you can cigars

Once you have made your three string cigar box guitar you have several options for tuning. These tunings are from bass to treble: A E A, G D G, A E G.

Many guitar legends are supposed to have played cigar box guitars but not many are talking openly about it. Here is an unverified list of reputed cigar box guitar players who have made names for themselves using conventional instruments: Rockabilly legend Carl Perkins, jazz guitarist George Benson, epitome of refinement Ted Nugent plus other noted musicians like BB King and Jimi Hendrix.

There are also guitarists who make and play their cigar box guitars as their sole musical outlet. One cigar box guitar mover and shaker is Shane Speal, the curator of the National Cigar Box Guitar Museum in York, PA. Shane is archiving cigar box guitar history. He has found the earliest known plans for a cigar box banjo (circa 1870), unearthed etchings of Civil War Soldiers playing cigar the box fiddle and owns a genuine dated and signed cigar box violin from 1899.

John Lowe, a musician and bookstore owner from Memphis who makes electric cigar box guitars called Lowebows. They are made from two oak dowel rods, a wooden cigar box, three guitar strings and a bass string. You play Lowebow with a slide. Lowe’s repertoire has everything from Johnny Cash to Iggy Pop. You can find him busking on Beale Street.