Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cigar Box Guitars | Much More Than A Toy

I’m a drummer who owns a cigar box guitar. I use it for therapy. What do I mean by therapy? If you ever picked up a cigar box guitar, you would understand.  Their simplicity encourages you to interact with them. You can’t help but play with it, pluck it, strum it.  The open tuning helps me find a sound, as I just can’t jam my fingers into any discernible chord structure. When I get a bit hung up on the fact that I really can’t play chords, I recall the following quote by Bluesboy Jag: “In the cigar box guitar revolution, everybody does what they want to do.”

There is an annual festival held in North Little Rock Arkansas that celebrates the cigar box guitar. That festival brings together many of those folks who love to build and play cigar box guitars.  There are no hard and fast rules on how to build one.  The same can be said about how to play, or tune it.  It’s all about the feel, and what the box says to you.

Their origin springs from a time and a place where money was tight. They were built with items on hand, like a broomstick, broom wire, and (of course) a cigar box.  Things have evolved to a point where serious bucks are spent in their construction.  Mine is made with a vintage box, real hardwood for guitar necks, and tuning pegs.  The retail price for mine would probably be in the $200 range. It was an investment, to be sure. That doesn’t mean that you can’t find the materials to make one yourself.  It just means that a cigar box can come from humble beginnings, or be part of some serious luthier work.
Two of my childhood friends now build cigar box guitars.  One was a professional luthier, the other a machinist.  A few years back, the luthier taught the machinist how to cut the wood, and assemble the guitars. It had been a long time since the two had worked together, and they both came away from the experience having learned that some things never change.  They both retain a passion for building and playing. As for the therapeutic properties of the guitar, I must say that I usually turn to it when I’m stuck on a writing project, or when I’m patiently waiting for my wife for one thing or another. When I play it, my back muscles loosen up.  Time slips away, and before I know it, I’m relaxed (or my wife is ready to go.)      

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