Early Peanuts Sept 27th 1951
This information is put here for all to use, copyright free. I have researched the history of cigar
box guitars for many years, I have tried to put accurate info here as possible I can. In case you
have already read this info, you can skip to the photos below.
What is a cigar box guitar?
In the South it's common to hear stories that B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins and
many of those other old-time blues guys started out playing guitar on a cigar box guitar. Not
many people who follow Blues and Country music know this, but many famous Bluesmen and
Country singers started their career on a simple homemade cigar box guitar.
One reason most Blues and Country music has such a distinctive sound is because it was
derived off of music made on these simple instruments.
The precursor to the cigar box guitar as an instrument was an instrument called the diddly-bow.
It was a one stringed instrument where the player would take a glass bottle neck and run it up
and down a string while plucking the opposite end of the string to achieve the tone that they
where after. These basic "guitars" didn't have frets and this crude form of guitar playing is what
melded into the form of slide guitar we are familiar with today. That is what is thought to be the
creation of slide guitar in the "Southern Delta."
From Son House to Muddy Waters, they were all influenced in some way by these early
homemade instruments following along in their career as slide guitar players. That's where the
Blues and slide guitar truly started at. On those plantations and cotton fields, homemade
guitars and 'field hollerin' went hand in hand.
Many of the biggest names in early Blues history played a cigar box guitar. They didn't play
Gibsons or Martins, they couldn't afford them!
It's well known Lightnin' Hopkins got his start on the cigar box guitar. If you would like to hear
Lightnin' himself talk about his homemade guitar, watch this short video...what's better than
the man himself telling you some of the history of this wonderful type of guitar!
This tradition of making and playing a homemade guitar continued from the 1880's for many
decades up until the 1950's.....but it never stopped there, many small magazine articles from the
60's, 70's and 80's keep this art form alive. Even though this form of guitar has faded into
obscurity, some Blues and Rock musicians still enjoy playing them today.
Here is a wonderful example of one being played still today, it really does take you back in time,
Watch this video of Billy Gibbons of ZZ-Top playing a cigar box guitar.
|This sound recording of Ry Cooders' song "Billy The Kid" is performed by Billy Gibbons of ZZ-Top and is an excerpt
from a Mark Maron interview. I have presented it here for educational and commentary purposes only in relation to
the brief discussion about of the history of the cigar box guitar as a long forgotten instrument in American history.
All Copyrights for this material are the property of their respective owners.
This story about what would make a poor person use a cigar box for a guitar in the first place
began in the mid 1800's. The Cigar boxes that we are familiar with today didn't exist prior to
the 1840's. Prior to then, cigars were shipped in larger crates containing 100 or more per case.
But after 1842, due to exploration of the West, cigar manufacturers started using smaller,
more portable boxes with only 20-50 cigars per box.
In the Old West and through out the 1800's cigars were extremely popular. Card games,
Saloons and of coarse those great Mississippi Paddle boats helped spread tobacco throughout
early America. Because of the widespread popularity of smoking in those days, many empty
boxes would be just laying around. Unlike times are today, the 1800's were a simpler time for
Americans, when necessity was truly the mother of invention. Being that most American
music was based off of stringed instruments, using a cigar box to create a guitar, fiddle, or a
banjo was an obvious choice for a few crafty souls. The earliest proof of a instrument made
from a cigar box that has been found is an etching of a Civil War solider at the "Siege of
Charleston." Even during the War, there was a passion for music in America and it was
After The Civil War, America was in ruins. Little money was had to buy instruments. One
thing for sure about American resilience is that ingenuity was abound. After the War both
Union and Confederate Soldiers along with now freed Slaves carried this creative homemade
guitar back with them to almost every corner of America. People used left over wood, cigar
boxes, biscuit tin cans, string, broom handles, baling and screen wire and whatever else was
lying around the house, shed or barn to create these crude homemade instruments. Making a
"home-made" guitar was the only choice for the impoverished. Those humble beginnings of
the cigar box guitar are what eventually gave this little known guitar a home in music history.
There are so many 1000's of vintage cigar boxes out there with great old and
inspiring art, there is a world of possibilities, and unlike building a regular guitar, half
the work is done, the body is pre-made. These homemade guitars are made with just
a old used cigar box.
Homemade guitar are worldwide, These things turn up all the time in many countries.
The more history that is uncovered in attics and barns as they are searched, the more
antique cigar box instruments of all types people find. It's exciting to see new stuff when
it shows up for sale in flea markets and online ...ebay is king for finding old photos.
This is another theme I like to do often.
It has soundholes in an X pattern and I
hand make the sound hole bezels by
pressing brass and then Powder coating
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I can build you one amytime.
|Russian soldiers in World War One -1917 with homemade guitars
|Fresh off the work bench is this cigar box guitar for sale,
email me at email@example.com I also have 3 stringers too.
I am always making 3 and 4 string guitars, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Look in the lower right corner, photo c.1919
|There were lots of How to build your own Cigar Box
Amplifiers in magazines in the 50's and 60's
This looks like a fun project
These photos are Calender photos from the early 50's. The artist has used this boy in about 6 or
7 similar arrangements with a cigar box violin. Must have been something he had seen.
It seems the music world has moved on to a different sound a feel and I am but a builder of
Dinosaurs. It's sad that machines have taken over the craftsman's hand and eye. If you are
tired of seeing the same old store bought guitars in the same old boring shapes you'll love
playing a simple cigar box guitar. They're just a few strings, easy to play, and allot of fun.
Hey, here's an idea, instead of strumming air guitar in your tube socks when no one's home,
call me and I can send you something allot more cooler to play!
When I started getting serious about building, I cut my teeth on these Black & Gold Bo guitars.
In the begining everything I made was imperfect, people always said "why would I play that?"
or "I would never play that thing!"
I thought cigar box guitars were fun and that seemed to be enough for me, in the end, I'm still here.
|Here is an early 1900's White Owl 4 string Cigar Box Guitar
I would love to have heard it being played back when it was new,
Imagine the wonderful sounds!
|Build your own,
It's just a stick running right thru a cigar box, give it a try.
Here's is a dash of vintage 3 string Bottleneck Americana cigar box guitar
|Yes Mickey even got his start on the cigar box guitar.
Childs toy circa late 1920's
|Check out this old one string cigar box guitar from 1909
I make both left-handed and
I make these type of cigar box guitars in
many different shades, from Colonial
maple, to a deep Red Oak and I can
even do Light colors such as Peach.
These guitar are a joy to play.
Email me at email@example.com
Cigar Box Guitars are great for finding new
ways to be creative, Have a listen.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have built several of these over the
years. I make them in both left and
Check out this photo below of a man with his homemade cigar box violin. His bow is
made from a stick. He isn't letting 'hard times" stop him from making music!
|The Victrola 3 string guitar