|Cigar Box Guitar & Instrument Photo Museum
|Step right up, Step right up,
It's an Italian with a 4 dollar cigar box guitar!
This video is proof to those that don't know. The truth is, "great guitar" is all about the player and
NOT the guitar. It doesn't matter what you play but how you play, check out this guy.
He's smokin' on 4 dollar cigar box guitar!
|This is how they do it in the Hills Of Kentucky, this is the real thing!
A homemade guitar and a sound that cannot be made on any store bought item.
Check out Mrs. Leatha too, you will never forget this performance!
Way Down In Kentucky
Welcome to The Cigar Box Guitar Photo Museum, this is a photo website covering history of the cigar
box guitar and other homemade instruments of the past. The majority or these photos were found on
ebay. Yep, just randomly, I look almost every morning, its my daily treasure hunt, many of these photos
I've bought for just a few dollars.
Some of these photos in this research archive on this site are courtesy of Library Of Congress, Shane
Speal, or Bill Jehle. Some of them are © Public Domain from the Chicago or New York Digital Library.
Some are used for research under "Fair Law," i.e Goggle search; copyright holder unknown.
In the spirit of preserving and continuing history, I do want others to use them. If you are writing a
magazine or newspaper story or book publication, than I encourage you to use them, in fact, if you write
a book or story about the Delta Blues and didn't use them you would have a rather incomplete story!
If you are using them for school or education in any form, you are welcome to use them without asking,
please take them and share them.
People who are researching the history of Blues music and the guitar are the reason I have posted
these photos here and you can use them freely. I encourage you to share them with everyone, take
them and share with the world.
Most of this stuff is available to see in person at the National Cigar Box Guitar Museum with Shane
Speal P.A. or the Alabama collection with Bill Jehle.
If you would like to use them in any other way or want more info, contact me, firstname.lastname@example.org
|Shane Speal in the first Cigar Box Guitar Museum,
Early Peanuts Sept 27th 1951
Check out Johnny deep
with a Matty Baratto
cigar box guitar!
Yeah he looks down
right cool at the airport!
Both Johnny Deep and
Paul McCartney play
From the 1800's to
today, there are still
musicans who play
cigar box guitars.
If you have enjoyed the cigar box guitar and Blues music on this site, I have many
more great songs. In fact I have recorded several super fun CDs and I can send
you one in the mail.
They are great for listening to while driving, working around the house, or upload it
to any MP3 or CD player or even your cell phone and you can listen to cigar box
guitar music on a sunny afternoon at the park or where ever you want.
|If you would like to learn more about the
history of homemade guitars
click here homemade-guitars.com
Well, what is a Cigar Box Guitar?
The truth is, in the South it's common to hear stories that B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Lightnin'
Hopkins and all those other old-time blues guys started 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 the diddly-bow. It was a one
stringed instrument where the player would take a Coke bottle or Rum bottle neck and run it
up and down a string while plucking the opposite end of the string to achieve the tone 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 were 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 and the likes of Elmore James, 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. Blues players didn't play
Gibsons or Martins, they couldn't afford them!
It's been quoted that a schoolmate of the Legendary Blues guitarist Charlie Christian, said:
"[Charlie] would amaze us at school with his first guitar - one that he made with a cigar box. He
would be playing his own riffs...but they were based on sophisticated chords and progressions
that Blind Lemon Jefferson played."
-Ralph Ellison, schoolmate of Charlie Christian.
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, its'o fact'o! What am I speaking Italian here? Watch this video,
Many of the people who built these curious guitars went on to become America's best know
Blues and Rock stars of the day. Rock 'n Roll pioneer Carl Perkins reminisced about his
childhood cigar box guitar that he made with a cigar box, stick and baling wire. Years later, he
would take the knowledge he first learned on that down-home axe to create the song "Blue
Suede Shoes." That sure got Elvis to stand up strait, after that HE WAS HOOKED on the
This tradition of making and playing a homemade guitar continued from the 1880's for many
decades up till the 1950's.....but it never stoped there, many small magazine aritcals from the
60's , 70's and 80's keep this art form alive. Even though this form of guitar has faded into
obsutityr, some artist and musicians still enjoy playing them today.
Here is a wonderful exapmle of one being played still today, it really does take you back in time,
Watch this video.
|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 Marion 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.
Those humble beginnings of the cigar box guitar are what eventually gave this little know
guitar a home in music history. Now even the Smithsonian Museum In Washington D.C. has
several early examples of homemade Cigar Box Guitar on display. They show Americans true
pride and the roots of this lost history. Now that's the Cigar Box Blues!
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 corse those great
Mississippi Paddleboats 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 overflowing
After The Civil War and in the 1870's, America 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 the
knowledge and appreciation of this creative and 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.
|Photo provided by Shane Speal
Cigar Box Instrument c.1880