Skip to comments.The Cigar Box Guitar
Posted on 04/13/2007 3:32:59 PM PDT by martin_fierro
The Cigar Box Guitar
Written by JJ
Published April 13, 2007
Music and cigars arent something I usually equate with each other. In fact, cigars are almost the last type of smoke I think of when I turn the dial of the radio. If I hear Ryan Adams, I imagine him on stage surrounded by a grayish cloud, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. If I hear Bing Crosby, I imagine that his "White Christmas" also involves a black pipe. And, if I hear Willie Nelson, I think of a type of smoke sure to make him hungry for some Kenny Rogers Roasters. Cigars, however, dont typically cross my mind when I think of music.
It turns out this is a misconception on my part: cigars, or rather their boxes, contain some of the true roots of music.
Cigar box guitars are homemade guitars in which used cigar boxes serve as the resonator, echoing the vibrations that cause sound. Used by many poverty-stricken musicians, these instruments forever have a place in the history of song. In fact, cigar box guitars go all the way back to the 19th century.
Before 1840, according to the curator of the National Cigar Museum, Dr. Tony Hyman, cigars were not shipped in boxes but large crates, crates that would hold over 100 cigars at a time. These crates were found to be too big in size for efficient shipping and were eventually reduced into smaller crates that would hold much fewer sticks. And so, the cigar box was born.
About the time cigar boxes emerged, cigar smoking did as well: people from all walks of life indulged, leaving their cigar boxes empty in the process. Picked up by innovators and creators, these empty cigar boxes were quickly turned into guitars, banjos, and fiddles. Unbeknownst at the time, these instruments would soon give those who were too poor to afford a guitar a chance to experiment musically.
The earliest known cigar box instrument is believed to have been concocted during the Civil War. This is based on the discovery of a drawing by Edwin Forbes, a French artist working for the Union Army. This drawing features two soldiers sitting around a campfire, one watching the other play a cigar box fiddle.
Eras marked by poverty saw cigar box instruments, particularly cigar box guitars, begin to flourish. Both the blues movement and the emergence of jug bands are believed to have been facilitated, at least in part, by cigar box guitars, and the Great Depression, leaving so many people broke and out of work, became a catalyst for these homemade instruments.
During these times, many people couldnt afford guitars so they simply made their own. Using cigar boxes, screen wire, and broom handles, as well as anything else they could find, countless children made playable instruments. Since these instruments were made by so many different people, they had many different varieties. Some cigar box guitars had one string, some had three or four. Some had frets up the neck, some did not. Some of the creators built their guitar and simply moved on, some grew up to be the trail blazers of rock and roll.
Among the notable musicians believed to have played cigar box guitars at some point are Carl Perkins, Jimi Hendrix, George Benson, Ted Nugent, BB King, and Ed King of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Part of so much of our nations musical past, the cigar box guitar has an entire museum dedicated to it. The National Cigar Box Guitar Museum is located in York, Pennsylvania and features a wide display of various cigar box guitars as well as the stories of the legendary musicians who played them.
Jennifer Jordan is the senior editor at Savor Each Glass and What's Not To Love. With a vast knowledge of wine etiquette and cigars, she writes articles on everything from how to hold a glass of wine to how to hold your hair back after too many glasses, from how to hold a cigar, to how to know what types to try. Ultimately, she writes her articles with the intention that readers will remember wine and cigars are fun and anything fun should always be savored.
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I suspect I have several HUNDRED old boxes, maybe more. I have smoked cigars for years, and have kept most of the boxes. Maybe this is the ticket to riches...
My Grandpa once made something he called a “Boom-Bah.”
He took a round, covered cookie tin, added a broom handle to the top and bottom and added a cowbell and a bunch of jingle bells all around the edges of the cookie tin.
You would bounce it on the floor to rattle it, and then use a drumstick to beat the thing on the tin and the cowbell. It made quite the racket, and actually took some skill, much like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. ;)
We kids would get the honor of “playing” that, while he accompanied us on his Concertina, and Mom would play her Accordion.
I miss those simple days...
And yes, I have ALL of my teeth, have never lived in a trailer and did not marry my First Cousin, LOL!
I thank you.
This thread needed more cowbell.
I knew that was coming...LOL!
Interesting, I think I’ll GGG this.
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Seeing all those 4-stringers, that was the first thing that came to mind..
I would guess, depending on the tuning, one could use common uke chords as well as the "petite" bridge and chords for guitar.. ( bridging only the 1st 4 strings. )
Likewise, tuning for slide guitar would probably be common, due to lack of actual frets..
I actually attached a short neck and block to a wine box, which is a bit larger than a cigar box, and has some included wooden supports already included.
It worked just "OK".. and had to be tuned down as it could not handle a great deal of tension..
Bo Knows cigar guitars.
When kids used to make their first radio with the crystal the instructions started with: take a cigar box.
I knew a guy who made up a fairly complex cigar box resonator for the 99 cent transistor radios that used to be common. They sounded pretty good and he gave them away to anyone who showed interest.
Remembering those gimmicks I set up my first in-car sterio with two crummy speakers and two cigar boxes.
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