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All About Box Guitars

The cigar box guitar is an instrument (chordophone) that is under debate, that is guitar players are not really sure as to if it should be classified a real musical instrument or not. Although it was often created as a toy for children to play with, it has also been used by several serious musicians and can make some great music. To build one, people would use an old cigar box for the base and usually a broom handle or other soft wood to make a handle. After doing a little cutting, tooling, sawing, drilling and some sanding, all they had to do was add some wire strings and they had themselves a guitar. Box guitars have gone through some changes over the years. When banjos became popular, the instrument became box guitar banjos and the same happened with ukuleles. As trends changed, so did the box guitar and since they were home made, anyone could do anything they wanted to change them. This gave the builder the option to add one or more strings, to design an image on their guitar, to buff it to a shine or leave it plain. There are even electric versions made by builders today. Whichever is chosen, it is sure to be both a great project to make and a fun instrument to play once complete.

  • Airburst images and information posted by the builder and user of a box guitar, including what he used and why.
  • Cigar Box Sounds lists 3 guitars with images, just click and listen to a short song played on each.
  • The Daily Star article on the box guitar in the sounds and rhythm section.
  • Music Inventions a simple explanation of a box guitar along with images of a simple model.

History of the Box Guitar

Although there have been reports of black slaves making similar instruments before the 1800’s, the box guitar was originally made using cigar boxes which were not in production until the 1840’s. The first known historical drawing of one was what a newsman sketched during the Civil War. People didn’t have a lot of money back then, but loved to make music, so they creatively designed their own instruments. Making music with jugs, washbasins and other common household items, this was often called rockabilly and became rather popular at one point. This was especially true during the Great Depression when again people found themselves without means to purchase musical instruments. Since cigars were popular at the time, discarded boxes were easily accessible for use.

The box guitar became an instrument for blues musicians as well, names like Lightin’ Hopkins, Bo Diddley, and Blind Willie McTell were all said to have gotten their start on a box guitar. Today the Internet has played a part in their acceptance and they have once again become popular amongst the guitar playing set. Since each box guitar will have it’s own unique sound, they are a fun way for players to enjoy their music in an individual way. It seems the box guitar will be with us for some time. In fact, there is a man named Speal Shane who both regularly manufactures and sells the guitars. He also has put together a museum for the instrument located in York, PA.

Make Your Own Box Guitar

For the average price of $15 to $20, someone can build a box guitar. However, an electric model would of course cost more than building an acoustic instrument. The basic needs are that of a cigar box, some handle wood, wood glue, tuning machines, sealant, a brush, hacksaw, a drill, and some sandpaper. Although there are different styles and modifications that can be added, once you start building you can make the instrument your own. Children often make similar instruments from old boxes or bottles and though they don’t have the stability or sound of the real thing, they are fun.

  • Cigar Box Guitar Geek Dad gives video instructions on how to make a box guitar using a cigar box and less than $20 in materials.
  • John Park Project building a simple 3-string box guitar, with PDF downloadable instructions.
  • Science Play Make a box guitar using an old lunch box and rubber bands.

Box Guitar Playing Tips

Basic guitar lessons are very helpful when learning to play the box guitar. Learning the chords and notes gives you an ear for how things should sound and will help in both playing and keeping your instrument in tune. One does need to remember though that the box guitar is not a regular guitar and each has it’s own sound and peculiarities. Whether your box guitar has one string or twelve, practice is necessary for good music and lessons are very helpful.

  • Cigar Box Nation Shane Speal teaches you how to play your box guitar via video lesson.
  • Free Guitar Lessons get to know the notes, basic scale, chords, how to practice by ear and more.

Box Guitar Performers and Performances

Back in the mid-1990’s Catfish Music Works made over 200 cigar box guitars and while some were sold locally, others made it around the globe. Some of those same instruments found their way into the hands of some big names in rock and roll as well. Names like Ted Nugent, Roy Clark, and Jimi Hendrix are said to have played the box guitar, though few really want to admit it.

  • Kirk Withrow radio program interview with guitar box player Kirk Withrow, which speaks of his building and love for the instrument.
  • Doctor Oakroot a band that plays exclusively on box guitars. Site offers information, discography and band history.
  • Cigar Box Festival site for the annual cigar box festival, includes information on where, when and who. Just click a page to move forward.
  • Albert King article about the history of Albert King, his career both with and without his box guitar.


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