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Cigar Box Guitar

                                                                Cigar Box Guitar

A collection of cigar box guitars
The cigar box guitar is a primitive chordophone that uses an empty cigar box for a resonator. The earliest had one or two strings; the modern model typically uses three or more. Generally speaking, strings are connected between the end of a broomstick or 1" x 3" wood slat and to the resonator, the cigar box.


Cigars were packed in boxes, crates, and barrels as early as 1800, but the small sized boxes that we are familiar with today did not exist prior to around 1840.[1] Until then, cigars were shipped in larger crates containing 100 or more per case. After 1840, cigar manufacturers started using smaller, more portable boxes with 20-50 cigars per box.

Trace evidence of cigar box instruments exist from 1840 to the 1860s.[citation needed] The earliest illustrated proof of a cigar box instrument known is an etching copyrighted in 1876 of two American Civil War Soldiers at a campsite with one playing a cigar box fiddle. The etching was created by illustrator and artist Edwin Forbes who, under the banner of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, worked for the Union Army. The etching was included in Forbes work Life Stories of the Great Army. In the etching, the cigar box fiddle clearly shows the brand ‘Figaro’ on the cigar box.

In addition to the etching, plans for a cigar box banjo were published by Daniel Carter Beard, co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America, in 1884 as part of 'Christmas Eve With Uncle Enos'.[2] The plans, eventually retitled ‘How to Build an Uncle Enos Banjo’ as part of Beard's American Boy’s Handy Book in the 1890 release as supplementary material in the rear of the book.[3] These plans omitted the story but still showed a step-by-step description for a playable 5-string fretless banjo made from a cigar box.

It would seem that the earliest cigar box instruments would be extremely crude and primitive; however, this is not always the case. According to Bill Jehle, curator of The National Cigar Box Guitar Museum, and author of One Man's Trash: A History of the Cigar Box Guitar,[4] has acquired two cigar box fiddles built in 1886 and 1889 that seem very playable and well built. The 1886 fiddle was made for an 8 year old boy and is certainly playable, but the 1889 fiddle has a well carved neck and slotted violin headstock. The latter instrument was made for serious playing.

The cigar box guitars and fiddles were also important in the rise of jug bands and blues. As most of these performers were black Americans living in poverty, many could not afford a "real" instrument. Using these, along with the washtub bass (similar to the cigar box guitar), jugs, washboards, and harmonica, black musicians performed blues during socializations.

The Great Depression of the 1930s saw a resurgence of homemade musical instruments. Times were hard in the American south and for entertainment sitting on the front porch singing away their blues was a popular pastime. Musical instruments were beyond the means of everybody, but an old cigar box, a piece of broom handle and a couple wires from the screen door and a guitar was born.

Modern revival

Cigar box guitars at Maker Faire 2011
A modern revival of these instruments (also known as the Cigar Box Guitar Revolution) has been gathering momentum with an increase in cigar box guitar builders and performers. A loose-knit tour of underground musicians tour the East Coast (US) each summer under the banner "Masters of the Cigar Box Guitar Tour." These musicians include Doctor Oakroot, Johnny Lowebow, Tomi-O and many others. Also, there is a growing number of primitive luthiers adding cigar box guitars to their items for sale.[citation needed] One cigar box guitar maker is Shane Speal.

Modern revival is sometimes due to interest in jugband and the DIY culture, as a cigar box is relatively inexpensive when considering other factors, such as strings and construction time. Many modern cigar box guitar can thus be seen as a type of practice in lutherie, and implement numerous personal touches, such as the addition of pick up and resonator cones into it.

A superior modern fiddle

The modern revival of cigar box guitars is documented in the 2008 film, "Songs Inside The Box" which was shot primarily at an annual Huntsville, Alabama event called the Cigar Box Guitar Extravaganza.

The Cigar Box Guitar Museum, a free-to-the-public display dedicated to cigar box guitars is located in Speal's Tavern, a small blues club in New Alexandria, PA. It is curated by cigar box guitarist, Shane Speal and contains over 60 antique and modern cigar box guitars. 


The diddley bow is a single-stringed American instrument which influenced the development of the blues sound. It consists of a single string of baling wire tensioned between two nails on a board over a glass bottle, which is used both as a bridge and as a means to magnify the instrument's sound.

It was traditionally considered a starter or children's instrument in the Deep South, especially in the African American community and is rarely heard outside the rural South, but it may have been influenced to some degree by West African instruments.Other nicknames for this instrument include "jitterbug" or "one-string", while an ethnomusicologist would formally call it a "monochord zither".


The diddley bow derives from instruments used in West Africa. There, they were often played by children, one beating the string with sticks and the other changing the pitch by moving a slide up and down. The instrument was then developed as a children's toy by slaves in the United States. They were first documented in the rural South by researchers in the 1930s.


The diddley bow is typically homemade, consisting usually of a wooden board and a single wire string stretched between two screws, and played by plucking while varying the pitch with a metal or glass slide held in the other hand. A glass bottle is usually used as the bridge, which helps magnify the sound. The diddley bow was traditionally considered an "entry-level" instrument, normally played by adolescent boys, who then graduate to a "normal" guitar if they show promise on the diddley bow. However currently, the diddley bow is also played by professional players as a solo as well as an accompaniment instrument.

The diddley bow is significant to blues music in that many blues guitarists got their start playing it as children, as well as the fact that, like the slide guitar, it is played with a slide. However, because it was considered a children's instrument, very few musicians continued to play the diddley bow once they reached adulthood. The diddley bow is therefore not well represented in recordings.

Notable users

One notable performer of the instrument was the Mississippi blues musician Lonnie Pitchford, who used to demonstrate the instrument by stretching a wire between two nails hammered into the wood of a vertical beam making up part of the front porch of his home. Pitchford's headstone, placed on his grave in 2000 by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, is actually designed with a playable diddley bow on the side as requested by Pitchford's family. Also some famous guitarists in the Motown band "The Funk Brothers" learned to play on the diddley bow and went on to play on some of Motown's greatest hits.

Other notable traditional players include Lewis Dotson, Glen Faulkner, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Compton Jones, Eddie "One String" Jones, Napoleon Strickland, Moses Williams, James "Super Chikan" Johnson and "One String Sam" Wilson. Willie Joe Duncan was also notable for his work with a very large electrified diddley bow he called a Unitar.

Recent performers who use similar instruments include New York City-based jazz pianist Cooper-Moore, American bluesman Seasick Steve, Samm Bennett, Danny Kroha, One String Willie, and blind musician Velcro Lewis. Jack White makes one at the beginning of the movie It Might Get Loud, then after playing it quips "Who says you need to buy a guitar?". Seasick Steve recorded a tribute song to his diddley bow on his song "Diddley Bo" from his 2009 album,


A "lowebow" is a variation of the cigar box guitar, created by John Lowe in the 1990s.It involves one cigar box, with two wooden rods projecting from it. Each wooden rod typically holds one string each: a bass string and a standard acoustic guitar string. Variations often contain multiple strings in the treble neck similar to standard cigar box guitars.This allows the player to pluck a one-string bass and a one-string guitar at the same time. Each of the two strings has its own individual electric pick-up that feeds into the amplifier. This guitar was created with the One-man band performer,
source: Wikipedia 

1 comment:

  1. It is remarkable blog. I wanted to learn such type of the things that I have got from here at one platform. Thanks. beginners guiter