Cigar box guitars are a little known American tradition. This "lost art" and long forgotten form
of guitar construction spans back well over 150 years in our country's history. Since the mid
1860's up to the early 1950's and well before musical instrument mass production brought the
cost down, it was common for poor people to make their own guitar or stringed instrument out
of different types of cigar boxes and scavenged or found wood.
My name is John McNair, first and foremost, I am a servant of the Lord.
I am a pastor and street minister. I believe prayer can heal the sick and those in need of
healing words. I also have an unshakable conviction that Christ has called me to serve veterans
and people in the Marine Corps. I just want to share the Gospel with all those in need. I also
find that homeless people and people who are outcast of society to be super interesting and I
enjoy listening to their stories.
I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana. It really was a blessing to grow up surrounded by Jazz
and the Blues. Music is everywhere in New Orleans. Living there gave me a master class in
"street life" as well as the music scene. I watched them both from the outside and learned
about people and the music they make. I am fascinated by early American history and Folk
music of all types; Blues, Country, Bluegrass, Rock and just about any form of self taught and
primitive music from early America. I have been playing and working on guitars since my
teenage years. The guitar has been part of my life for almost 30 years.
I am now married and we have a small daughter. We now live in Sparks, Nevada. It's a
beautiful old early 1900's Railroad town and has the spirit of the Old Wild West. I am here
building and selling guitars because God wants me to channel this talent he gave me. I use it to
heal and bring happiness to others. Both with the actual guitar itself, but also through the music
and photos of my work. Countless times people have emailed or called me and said that just
the site of seeing some of my guitars has sparked a new interest or hobby and helped them
find a new direction in life. These guitars have helped people from all walks of life cope with
serious illness, some type of trauma, or helped them heal from sadness and depression. I have
seen and been witness to many miraculous stories of true life and health turn arounds, just by
me sharing a simple homemade guitar with them. From disabled Veterans to retired people
looking for an uplifting pastime, whenever they see or hear a cigar box guitar, it really helps
them fill a void or offer a sense of healing in their life.
Truthfully, I don't consider or label myself a "guitar builder." I'm actually just an ordinary guy
who has taken a passion for music and history, and I've put them together for an original
formula to create guitars inspired by early American history. I am now a disciple and use it to
share the "Good News," but under the cover of building guitars. - Exodus 31:3
I enjoy working with recycled materials in the pursuit of an authentic Blues and Country sound
that they achieve. To me it's challenging to find and use old guitar parts and reclaimed old
growth American hardwoods. Not only are they much more stable woods, but they are also
much better looking and it adds a charm and character that is a trademark of early Americana.
|This is where the "Blues" all started.
An old used cigar box and homemade music.
This painting is of "L. Rupert" 1868
It's from the G.D. Flynn Brewery
New River Falls, MA
In early America and during the 1800's,
if you were poor and wanted to play guitar and didn't
have money to buy an instrument, there wasn't much of
a choice. You'd have to build one yourself.
They were usually just simple crude instruments and
most often they only had a few strings.
As long as some "twang" came out of them, to those in
poverty, there was an exciting new world of possibilities
on a simple homemade guitar with just 3 or 4 strings.
That's old fashioned American ingenuity.
|Made It Dixie - Cigar Box Banjo - Circa 1880's
The banjo was the "grandfather" of Folk and primitive music
in early America. Before the guitar become popular, people
in the South and in Appalachia played fretless banjos.
This homemade instrument in the photo is a very rare
surviving example of a cigar box banjo made sometime right
after the American Civil War. (1861-65)
Photo provided by Shane Speal, Property of Bill Jehle
|The first Bo Diddley guitar
now owned by Hard Rock Café
|Everybody was in on it! Homemade is part of America's past and present.
Long before the Gretch Guitar Company machine made and mass produced Bo Diddley's
legendary square guitar, Bo made his own guitars himself.
He did it with his own hands and with some simple hand tools. He made them in the true
spirit of "Americana." He never kept count but my best guess is Bo made between 25 to
30 homemade square wooden guitars. Bo was the original Do-it-Yourself Rocker!
Bo's guitars were made using recycled wood, whatever he could find, and he made them most
often simple and crude, they were after all "homemade." The nicer ones he doodled and finger
painted art on them for the individual owners whom he often gifted them to.
One of the most famous ones is the wooden one he gave to Dick Clark after being invited to
play on the hit show American Bandstand.
|If you have always played standard 6 string guitar,
You would love the refreshing change of playing a 3 or 4 string Cigar Box Guitar.
You should give it a try, it's much easier to play and it's allot of fun.
|The oldest known photo of a Cigar Box instrument is actually hand drawn art by Edwin Forbes
It is of Union soldiers at a Civil War encampment 1863-64.
This photo is dated 1865 at the "Siege Of Charleston"
He writes of his story of the making of a Figora cigar box fiddle in his book of etchings
"An artist story of the Great War"
But, that doesn't mean there is not an older photo yet to be found, I am always on the hunt.
I have filmed and editing the most complete How to Build
a cigar box guitar DVD available.
I will show you what to do, everything is covered from
start to finish. It doesn't matter if this is your first time
building, or your 10th.
If you would like to build guitars that get that old-time
vintage 1880's to 1930's sound, I will show you how I
make a guitar achieve the tone and how I build that part
into the guitar.
In this DVD you will learn exactly how to make your
guitar sound like it stepped out of the past with a vintage
an authentic sound of early Americana.
This DVD will save you many hours of trying to learn on
This hobby is very easy and alot of fun,
You can make one too, click here.
If you already make cigar box guitars, after you study
my work, you can take your guitars to the next level.
This DVD is from A to Z, the complete start to finish
and this video is full of many secrets that can only be
found on a Red Dog Guitar. The best part is you too can
build a guitar just like the ones on this website by
watching this DVD.
If you have questions email me email@example.com
|If I told you the guitar above has a homemade bridge made from a Popsicle stick that was
cut down and painted black. I then glued a small piece of white plastic on top to support
Would you believe me? Well It does, and it sounds fantastic!
If you want to try to make your own cigar box guitar, I have a DVD that shows you
everything from A to Z. Everyone tells me at some point, "Cigar box guitars are just as
much fun to build as they are to play" Why not give it a try?
There are many pages on this site, wait for the pages to load correctly.
There's allot of photos of guitars for sale on this site
This 1884 - four string guitar below is a modern example of a homemade cigar box
guitar. It is made with just a stick running right thru the middle of a cigar box.
Playing these guitars are the simplest way to take you music back to a sound and
time long ago from the Southern Delta.
|This 1865 "Arrows & Talons" is one of my all time fav-o-rite works.
Inspired by my Dad's "Old West" Time Life book collection I read as a kid.
I really enjoy drawing Old West and Native American art.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Homemade instruments really became popular during the
1920's and 30's Great Depression of America.
Poverty did not stop people from wanting to enjoy music
and having fun with family and friends, in fact it made the
desire even stronger. Music is free!
People who were poor made their own instruments from
old stuff they found in their house, shed or barn.
In the early 1900's it was common to see many street
musicians with a wide variety of homemade violins,
banjos, mandolins, ukuleles and guitars made from old
cigar boxes and cookie tins.
|Cigar Box Mandolin c.1930's
He's holding that thing with pride.
I sure would enjoy hearing him play.
|Sometimes a little is allot.
I often get asked by people if I would make
them a simple and clean "traditional" style
homemade cigar box guitar.
Made to play and sound like homemade
guitars did a 100 years ago.
My email is email@example.com
|Just plug in and play!
Strait wired internal acoustic pickups make theses guitars a joy to play.
Plus it's easy to get a great old time vintage sound, it's really just an acoustic guitar with
a bridge and nut that has strings running across the body...no knobs, no frills....just fun.
Do I need to repeat myself? This guitar is just a stick running right thru a cigar box.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is some original hand lettered art I did with a $1 sharpie pen in about 2 hours while
watching TV. It's hard for even me to believe what I've created when I see my own work.
When I was younger I did not show the knack for drawing of any kind.
In fact I did not do any art at all, I did not have any interest. I would struggle to draw a stick
figure. Truly I was not a "natural," but once I decided I wanted to learn how to draw, I read as
many books on the subject as I could find.
Just another reason to NEVER bury your desires or give up on your dreams, It's never too late!
The point with that statement is, if you are 70 and want to learn how to play guitar, Now is the
time. You CAN do it!
It's very easy to learn how to play 3 string guitar, more on that on the next page.
Anyways, Native American themes and art is part of the history of cigars and tobacco. It is
also a very important and fascinating part of American history. I could build a whole separate
website on just that subject alone! If you didn't know, tobacco originates from America.
These cigar box guitars are built with just a few basic hand tools that most people have. You only
need a small saw, sandpaper, a hand drill, a few screwdrivers a pocket knife, and some odds and
ends, you do not need many tools at all.
On the flip-side, since you DON'T need power tools, it's kind of liberating if you think about it.
If you were to build regular guitars, you would need a whole shop of specialized tools and planes,
But anyone can build a cigar box guitar by hand with only a few common hand tools.
That is what's so fun and interesting about cigar box guitars, they are simple by nature.
You can use old guitar parts from ebay and flea markets or get creative and make your own parts
with stuff from around your house. I cover everything about build these neat homemade guitars
on this DVD below. Give it a try, make one, you will have a blast.
What is a cigar box guitar?
In the South it's common to hear stories that 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 Blues 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
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 glass 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" did not have frets and this crude form of guitar playing is what evolved
into the form of slide guitar were familiar with today. That is what is thought to be the creation
of Delta Blues and slide guitar in the "Southern Delta."
Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters to Elmore James, they were all influenced in some
way by these early homemade instruments. Many of them 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. If you grew up in poverty and
wanted to play guitar, you had to build a guitar yourself.
|This sound recording of Ry Cooder's song "Billy The Kid" is performed by Billy Gibbons of ZZ-Top
It is an excerpt from a Mark Maron interview. I have presented it here only for educational and
commentary purposes in relation to the brief discussion about of the history of the cigar box guitar.
(Copyright Law 107-Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use section; 40)
All Copyrights for this material are the property of their respective owners.
The art and lettering on this website and these guitars is all hand drawn by me freehand.
It is far from perfect, yes, it's scratchy, it has crooked lines, but it's done the way craftsmen did it
in early America before typesetters and WAY before computers came along.
Up front I tell everyone, I've never been trained in any type of woodworking or guitar construction.
I'm not educated in any form of carpentry, everything I know I have just randomly taught myself.
All my work is by hand and eye. I mostly use a pocketknife, screwdrivers and a few small hand
As for my art, I start and finish all my art ideas with just pencils, ink pens and paper right at my
kitchen table. I make my own pickups with my art on the front cover or I draw on top of the actual
photo itself. Most of my art is inspired by brands and Tobacco store advertising from the past.
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 late 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." c.1865
Even during the War, there was a passion for music in America as it was of great relief
from the stress of war. 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. 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.
Today's modern and Chinese made guitars can't even come close to the true primitive
sound these handmade guitars make. Cigar Box Guitars can be channeled into a creativity
that many musicians desire for in playing and having a more authentic sound.
Blues guitarist, in particular, really enjoy playing cigar box guitars in the search of hearing
"Delta Blues" in its purest form. Today you can still find guitar players who are looking for
that raw and authentic sound and they chose to play cigar box guitars.
Here is a wonderful example of one being played today, it really does take you back in
time, Watch this video of Billy Gibbons of ZZ-Top playing a homemade cigar box guitar.
|Cigar box guitars are very easy to learn to play Blues and Slide on.
email me anytime at email@example.com
Here is a homemade recording using a glass slide and a vintage 70's Pignose Amp.
Is not this the carpenters son? Matthew 13:55
Even though little is known about the teenage years of Jesus, we do know that he grew up in a
craftsman's house and must have been familiar with a workshop. It's exciting to ponder his early
life growing up in Nazareth. Before his ministries started, he lived 30 years as just a regular guy.
It's likely Jesus' boyhood centered around his father Joseph's carpentry shop. A carpenter back
then was not a house builder, but a craftsman who made things such as farming tools, plows,
yokes, household items and furniture such as doors and window latices, mostly just simple things
from a very long ago simpler time.
The childhood chores of Jesus probably also involved finding and cutting trees, transporting wood,
rip sawing and preparing wood for his father's workshop. The son always follows the father, he's
the helper. In his youth He must have been a very busy fellow indeed!
Can you just imagine little ol' skinny and modest teen-age Jesus?
He must have been just a good kind hearted boy of character and as harmless as a Dove. Yet
even as a child, He was filled with the Light. He just had not yet been called upon by His Father.
Wow, as I write this I can see there's allot to think and ponder about.
...Who was young Jesus the carpenter? The world needs more details about his early life!
I'm just waiting for the day scholars or archaeologist unearth and find something historical that
sheds more light on his childhood.
It's interesting to ponder what he might have made or repaired?
....Did he make well crafted tables or chairs?...or did he make something cooler like musical
lyres, drums, flutes and instruments?
Perhaps he was an artisan and made spectacular things?
Well, no matter what he made or crafted, back then people had to make everything from scratch.
Even the tools to make the things to make the stuff he made had to be made.
Man, that's a mouthful of words! Jesus could definitely say his work was "Made by Hand"
|The lettering on this Aviator Cigar Brand art is drawn by hand on top of a photo.
It is not computer art, I drew it all freehand.
|The two of my most favorite colors are Black and the other is Black.
I once read Henry Ford was proud to offer his Model T in 2 gorgeous colors,
one was black,
....can you guess what the other color was??? it's a riddle ...Ha Ha
Anyways, these blacked out antique finished guitars are satin smooth,
they only look old, but they are silky smooth to the touch.
They play like a dream and sound like they've stepped right out of the 1930's.
|If you grew up in the 80's you'd uncover a few things about "the Future" in that photo.
Go ahead take a second look, I challenge you to figure it out!
|This excerpt is taken from documentary about the life and times Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins (1912-1982)
Copyright / Fast Cut Films, in association with Sunset Productions.
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.
(Copyright Law 107-Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use section; 40)
All Copyrights for this material are the property of their respective owners.
|I also make both 3 and 4 string Cigar Box Resonator guitars.
These guitar stand out with volume and tone. They are really fun to play guitars.
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.
Better than me typing it out, listen to the man himself telling you some of his history with
this wonderful type of guitar.
|I have made many different versions of this Old Timer guitar.
Its always the same at heart, just a 3 string cigar box guitar.
These guitars are all made by hand. Here is my shop table, this isn't much involved in
their construction. They are mostly built with just glue and screwdrivers, a small hand
saw, a few drill bits, some pliers, some old or used guitar parts, a ruler for measuring,
pens and pencils, and a good pocket knife.
Look at it like this, the guitar body is just an old cigar box, its already been pre-made!
One thing that is wonderful about this form of guitar building is that you can be as creative
as your imagination can carry you. There are so many beautiful boxes and ideas that can be
brought to life.
It's like Bible Scripture, there's allot of parallels. Cigar Box Guitars are super fun and neat.
"What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your
ear, proclaim upon the housetops" Matthew 10:27
|I like to etch my hand drawn art on top of brass and metal pickups.
I also sell my handmade pickups, email if your interested in building your own guitar
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
~Old Lowe~ brand resonator parts are the original Cigar Box Resonator cones.
These hand spun cones are super thin and spun of anodized aluminum. The covers are
made of solid Bell Brass. Those metals used together gives them a classic vintage tone and
provide allot of volume and projection. To me they are the best brand of reso-phonic cones
to capture that old time 1930's Dopyera sound.
These cones install very easy on your own cigar box guitar. They drop in from the top and
the lip holds them up. Perfect for a neck thru the body as they are slim and you can make
a great sounding guitar, even if it's your first time trying to build one.
If you are a builder or want to build your own Resonator guitar or have questions email
me at email@example.com
I am making vintage Tobacco and Americana Cigar Box Guitar pickups for sale for your
own projects. They are easy to add to any cigar box guitar. If you build cigar box guitars
and would like to add a homemade pickup to your own guitar, these pickups are for sale.
email me anytime, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org