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Cigar box guitar
April 30, 2007 1:05 AM   Subscribe

Let's take a moment to consider that humblest of American musical instruments, the cigar box guitar. Many of the most important names in American guitar artistry got their start on the unprepossessing little instrument. And let's not forget its cousin, the cookie tin banjo. By the time you've heard some of those boxy tones you might just want to join the growing legions of players and make one of your own. Not the DIY type? There are lots of folks out there who'll make one for you. And friends, don't forget to pay a visit to the National Cigar Box Guitar Museum, and tell 'em flapjax sent'cha! In closing, if you've got a big stack of cigar boxes but none of this guitar stuff piques your interest, you can always try this.
posted by flapjax at midnite (30 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awesome!
posted by chillmost at 1:40 AM on April 30, 2007


I would think that getting the intonation right would be a nightmare... but if you make a fretless one (a dobro, basically) I guess it wouldn't matter much.

Cool links. I also like this one.
posted by chuckdarwin at 2:20 AM on April 30, 2007


"Humblest"?
Not the kazoo? Not the washboard? Not spoons?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:40 AM on April 30, 2007


"Humblest"?
Not the kazoo? Not the washboard? Not spoons?


Well, see, the thing is, I already made an FPP on the kazoo. Now, I suppose if I had it to do over again, I'd nominate the kazoo as humbler than the cigar box guitar! The washboard (like the jug) is a bit of a gray area, as it's not purely a musical instrument. It was actually invented for washing clothes and later appropriated for musical purposes! And the spoons? Keep in mind I did say the "humblest of American musical instruments", and it's not clear that the spoons are uniquely American. They've been in wide use in Irish folk music for a long time. (BTW, anybody out there have specific info on this point, by chance?)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:06 AM on April 30, 2007


but if you make a fretless one (a dobro, basically) I guess it wouldn't matter much.

While fretless dobros do exist, they are actually pretty rare: the dobro is a resonator guitar, and its neck is almost always fretted.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:35 AM on April 30, 2007


Great post flapjax at midnite.

I bet that kid from Deliverance started off playing one of these.
posted by three blind mice at 3:45 AM on April 30, 2007


Not the washtub bass? It's bigger than a cigar box, but I'd argue that it takes less work and skill to make an instrument from one. Are you going to claim the Russians invented it?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:48 AM on April 30, 2007


And what about the diddley bow? You only need wire and a couple of nails to make one of them.
posted by jack_mo at 4:01 AM on April 30, 2007


Not the washtub bass?

Gerson, you are indefatigable and clearly a man on a mission. I bow down to your superior skill at identifying the humblest instruments. I am humbled. This has been a humbling experience for me. I shall now eat humble pie.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:27 AM on April 30, 2007


Although it should be pointed out that, indeed, with his entry of the diddley bow, jack_mo has beat even you in the Race To The Humblest.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:32 AM on April 30, 2007


That's crazy.. I was just flipping through my auction watch, and saw this cigar box guitar (I'm not the seller..) and I was surprized at the history lesson included.. Videos, too.
posted by Balisong at 5:23 AM on April 30, 2007


the cookie tin banjo.

Oh. My. God.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:00 AM on April 30, 2007


flapjax at midnite, I know that most dobros have frets, but you don't actually USE them for anything other than visual reference points when you use the slide... I wonder why they bother putting them on.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:00 AM on April 30, 2007


I am humbled. This has been a humbling experience for me. I shall now eat humble pie.

Oh, c'mon - hum a few bars.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:08 AM on April 30, 2007


Cool post flapjax at midnite. Can I add Cigar Box Ukuleles - A Tribute to the Stogie Stradivarius. WORKS OF ART!
posted by tellurian at 6:19 AM on April 30, 2007


A friend of mine from Minnesota has been building these from scratch and they sound pretty damn cool. Here are some pics and a sound sample [self-links]- (pic1, pic2, pic3 and sound sample).
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:22 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Although it should be pointed out that, indeed, with his entry of the diddley bow, jack_mo has beat even you in the Race To The Humblest.
posted by flapjax at midnite


Funnily enough, your link about Bo Diddley covers the diddley bow.

Great, great FPP!
posted by Nabubrush at 8:03 AM on April 30, 2007


Don't forget the Lunchbox Ukulele!
posted by buriednexttoyou at 8:30 AM on April 30, 2007


One of my friends builds guitars from olive oil cans. I love this make a guitar out of anything aesthetic. Thanks for posting!
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 8:55 AM on April 30, 2007


Wait, how do you get those cool notes to pop up when you hover over the links?
posted by serazin at 9:19 AM on April 30, 2007


Very cool stuff! Thanks for this post.
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:22 AM on April 30, 2007


three blind mice wrote:
I bet that kid from Deliverance started off playing one of these.
The kid in Deliverance wasn't actually playing--or able to play.
posted by Martin E. at 9:45 AM on April 30, 2007


Man, I was just looking up stuff on cigar box guitar history this weekend and lo and behold! Flapjax to the rescue.
posted by katillathehun at 9:55 AM on April 30, 2007


I'm going to make one or two of these this summer. There, I said it.
posted by interrobang at 10:56 AM on April 30, 2007


I've been meaning to build a cigarbox guitar and a cookie tin banjo for some time. I actually built an acoustic bass by adjusting the basic plans for the cookie tin banjo a bit. It sounded surprisingly good. The plans (via flapjax's 2nd link) are dirt simple.
posted by lekvar at 11:46 AM on April 30, 2007


wow flapjax, you make wonderful posts! This one is delightful. I want a cookie tin banjo! (or maybe just the cookies?) No, really, that cookie tin banjo is beautiful. People's ingenuity makes me happy. A rubber band guitar. And I love pretty much anything made out of a cigar box.

A friend made me a travelling tampura for me. What a great instrument it was (got warped in a monsoon flood, damn, I loved that thing). Now I have fun using an ektar (one string drone), which is pretty humble too but not American.
posted by nickyskye at 12:03 PM on April 30, 2007


The National Cigar Box Guitar Museum link is down, drat those geocities sites. The cigar box juggler was sooo dorky. Man that is so 20th century. Maybe it's 19th century even. Electric cigar box guitar. And these ones are nicely made.
posted by nickyskye at 3:53 PM on April 30, 2007


Hey, thanks to all for the great links here in the comments! Including that link concerning "the kid" from Deliverance. Never woulda known about that without MeFi, I reckon...

And serazin, you asked about mouseover: just go to "view source" for this page and check how the html is written for the links with the pop-up text, and you'll see how it's done! (hint: look for text=")
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:45 PM on April 30, 2007


Now I have fun using an ektar (one string drone), which is pretty humble too but not American.

Oh, and I suppose you're gonna tell me that's from India, now, right nickyskye? ;-)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:47 PM on April 30, 2007


nickyskye's comment about the tampura and ektar reminded me of this page which has some beautiful hand-made instruments which are not entirely unlike the afore mentioned tampura and ektar.
posted by lekvar at 7:04 PM on April 30, 2007


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