Historically, the origins of most cigar box guitars performers are found in poverty… CBGs were made and played by Depression-era jug band members who specialized in making instruments out of anything. Follow in the footsteps of Blind Willie Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Hound Dog Taylor, Big Bill Broonzy and many other old-time blues legends — it has been documented that all of these legendary old-time folks rocked on a cigar box guitar at one time in their career!
Tune it how you want — we ship most of ours tuned in open D for a great Delta Blues vibe but, feel free to re-tune to G6 or C6 for a more laid back Hawaiian feel. There are just loads of variations! Experiment! On a cigar box guitar your technique gets stripped down to a bare-bones simple approach for both chord and melody work, reminding us of the fat sounds of the olden days.
We’ve all heard stories about famous bluesmen or country singers that started their careers on a simple homemade cigar box guitar. With a list of artists including Jimi Hendrix, Roy Clark and Carl Perkins, the cigar box guitar has been the precursor to many great careers and countless inspiring stories. It is a wonder that nobody has documented its magnificent history until now.
Cigars were extremely popular in the nineteenth century; many empty cigar boxes would be left around households. The 1800s were also a simpler time for Americans, when necessity was truly the mother of invention. Using a cigar box to create a guitar, fiddle, or banjo was an obvious choice for crafty souls.
The earliest proof of a cigar box instrument is an etching of two Civil War soldiers at a campsite — one is playing a cigar box fiddle. The artist, Edwin Forbes, was from France and worked as an official artist for the Union Army. The cigar box fiddle appears to sport an advanced viola-length neck attached to a “Figaro” cigar box. The etching is dated 1876.
In addition to the Civil War etching, plans for a cigar box banjo were published in the 1870s by Boy Scouts founder Daniel Carter Beard in St. Nicholas Magazine. The plans, entitled “How to Build an Uncle Enos Banjo” showed a step-by-step description for a playable 5-string fretless banjo made from a cigar box. The plans were eventually published in Beard’s immensely popular American Boy’s Handy Book.
By the 20th century, times were still lean for many Americans and cigars gained even more popularity. The “television of the day” for some families was the trusty Sears and Roebuck Catalog that encouraged people to dream of items they would love to own. It also provided a catalyst for more homemade creations.
The cigar box guitar has such an awesome pedigree. Blind Willie Johnson made a one-string when he was five – he quickly learned to play melodies up-and-down that lonely string. Later, Blind Willie would record the monumental “Dark Was The Night (Cold Was The Ground)” on a standard guitar. The song is a instrumental classic that has droning chords lying in the background while a haunting melody is played up-and-down the high-E string — a technique he learned on his original one-string cigar box guitar!