Cigar box guitars are a little known American tradition. This "lost art" and long forgotten form of
guitar construction spans back well over 150 years in our country's history. Since the mid 1860's
up to the early 1950's and well before musical instrument mass production brought the cost
down, it was quite common for poor people to make their own guitar or stringed instrument out
of different types of cigar boxes and scavenged or found wood.
My name is John McNair, I am from New Orleans, Louisiana. I have been building homemade
guitars as a hobby since my teenage years in the mid 90's. I am fascinated by early American
history and Folk music of all types; Blues, Country, Bluegrass, Rock and just about any form of
self taught Folk music from early America.
It seems most people are happy with the "industry standard" electric and acoustic body styles
made of rare and exotic woods. As for me I enjoy working with recycled materials in a pursuit of
an authentic Blues and Country sound that they achieve. I find it challenging to find and use old
furniture and reclaimed old growth American hardwoods. Not only are they much more stable
woods, but to me they are much better looking and I believe it adds a charm and character that
you can't get from the "run of the mill" at the local lumber yard.
|Look for my Trademark and super fun to
play 3 string guitars.
They are my passion to build and play
|They have a vintage tone
that is strait from the South!
|This is where the "Blues" all started,
the American Southern Delta, a cigar box,
a stick and homemade music!
This photo is dated 1868
"George D Flynn Jr. Fall River, MA"
Painted by, L. Rupert
Traditionally, cigar box guitars had only a
few strings. Many had only 3 or 4 strings
due to the simple nature of being homemade.
Check out the Cigar Box Guitar Museum
online to see and learn more about the
history of these homemade guitars.
|The first Bo Diddley guitar
now owned by Hard Rock Café
|Flash ahead almost a 100 years, early Rock pioneers were still doin' it.
Homemade is still cool!
Long before the Gretch Guitar Company machine made and mass produced Bo Diddley's legendary
square guitar...Bo made his guitars himself!
He did it with his bare hands and with some simple hand tools. He made them in the true spirit of
"Americana." He never kept count but it is said that he made well between 25 and 30 homemade
square wooden guitars.
Bo with his 50's Gretch guitar, notice that even
though it was factory made, he still added his own
art and chrome embellishments.
Bo was a true Folk artist and Do-it-Yourself Rocker!!!
Bo's "Red Dog" 6 string guitar
His guitars were made using recycled wood, whatever he could find, and he made them most often simple
and crude, they were after all "homemade." The nicer ones he doodled and finger painted art on them for
the individual owners whom he often "gifted" them to. The most famous one of all is the wooden one he
gave to Dick Clark after being invited to "American Bandstand" which helped launch his career to the next
|If you have always played standard 6 string guitar,
I know you would love the refreshing change of playing a 4 string Bottleneck Silde guitar.
You should try, it's much easier to play and it's alot of fun!
Truthfully, I've never considered myself much of a "guitar builder," but just a ordinary guy
with a passion for music, history and art, putting them together for an original formula for
creating guitars. I'm a "craftsman" so to speak?
I love to make these antique inspired guitars, it's my passion and they would pile up to the
celling if I didn't do something with them. So, here I am sharing them. This is a life long
hobby I have had, so I know I can't keep them all.
Would you like one? Made from scratch, I can whip you up one!
The fact that you are here on this site, means you have the same similar interest that I do. I greatly
appreciate your interest in my craft. You can contact me and If you want I can send you a guitar, I
build both Left and Right handed guitars and whether you are a Blues, Country, Bluegrass, or Rock
guitarist, I'm sure to have the perfect guitar for your style. email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
anytime, or if you want to talk on the phone send me your phone number.
If you have any questions on something you've seen on this site, contact me. Don't be shy!!!! My
wife says I can be a real chatter box sometimes, look how far you had to read to get to this spot on
this page!!!!!...sheeez.. I'm tired of typing now!....so no worries, if you have any questions, we can
email or talk on the phone, I will blabber your ear off about how fun and creative cigar box guitars
are to play!
Well, since you're here, feel free to browse the gallery of guitars for sale and viewing. I've been
making them far longer than I have been using the internet, and while it wasn't possible for me to
show you all of the guitars I've built, I've tried to select some interesting and colorful designs to
give you an idea of what I enjoy making.
As for the History Aficionado, check out the History archives on this site. It's filled with history
of American Folk music and the Blues. I have spent many years scouring Libraries, the Internet
and basically any and everywhere for the history of the cigar box guitar. It is vast and I have
collected an array of historical photos not found anywhere else in the world.
I have seen many online art galleries and libraries and I have noticed they all were hard to
navigate because you needed to open many pages just to view one photo after another, click n'
load, click n' wait, click n' get bored.
I often found it to be too much clicking and waiting, but, this website I set up much different
and it allows you to view many historic photos easily and enjoyably. I encourage you to dig deep
and stay awhile, especially if you have a child or family member interested in history. Some of
the photos are so memorable and impressionable you'll never forget them... some will take your
breath away....But no matter what, If you enjoy history, you are sure to enjoy them, have a peek
at the online museum link further below.
email me anytime at email@example.com
|The oldest known photo of a Cigar Box instrument is actually hand drawn art by Edwin Forbes
it is of Union soldiers at a Civil War encampment 1863-64.
This photo below is dated 1865 at the "Siege Of Charleston"
He writes of his story of the making of a Figora cigar box fiddle in his book of etchings
"An artist story of the Great War"
But, that doesn't mean there is not an older photo yet to be found, I am always on the hunt!
This is the Ultimate How to Build a Cigar Box Guitar
From beginner to advanced, everything is completely
I have spent well over several hundred hours filming
and editing the most complete How to Build a cigar box
guitar DVD available. If you would like to make your
own, or would like to take your guitar building not
only to the next level but far beyond to get the sound
you have always wanted in a cigar box guitar, I will
show you how and what I do, everything is covered
from start to finish, If you would like me to send you a
copy in the mail, click here.
This DVD is from A to Z, the complete start to finish
of building cigar box guitars. Full of many secrets that
can only be found on a Red Dog Guitar...listen to the
guitars on this site and you will hear why they have a
sound that is iconic and original. The best part is you
too can build a guitar just like the ones on this website
by watching this DVD.
|Everyone tells me at some point,
"cigar box guitars are just as much fun to build as to play"
If you want to try to make your own homemade guitar, I have a DVD
that shows you everything , I will post this DVD link here
Red Dog Guitars are proudly MADE IN AMERICA.
All rights AVAILABLE, feel free to cut, copy and paste any guitars you see on this site...
be sure to tell 'em it's a Red Dog!!!
Do NOT use any photos or logos from this site to sell any products,
they are only available to use for educational purposes only
|There is 3 nagavation choices below, be sure
to check them all out,
Wait for the pages to load, there's alot of
photos on them all
After building guitars for friends and strangers alike, I have never changed my outlook and I am
just a guy stuck in the past, but because the power of the Internet I am with disbelief at how
popular cigar box guitars have become, if this was still the 90's and without the world wide web,
being able to share this part of American history would be all but IMPOSSIBLE!
I remember trying to meet people in Guitar clubs and organizations by posting small classified
adds in a Louisiana newspaper and just waiting for a call.
I just wanted to met like-minded people who loved America and it's history as much as I did, I
always knew I was not alone.
Man, that was a strange time before the Internet came along, and to now see how information is
now exchanging between person to person is mind boggling. Now pictures of a house, car or
even cigar box guitar can be shared instantly from the other side of the planet at the click of the
|Here is a modern interpretation of those guitars from the 1880's.
It's just a stick running thru a cigar box.
|All of the designs on these guitars are hand drawn original art by me,
nothing is done with computer fonts or programs, all my work is done homemade
and handmade with pencils and pens on white or brown paper.
|The art and lettering on this guitar is hand engraved freehand,
NO computers or machines are used.
It is far from "perfect," yes, it's scratchy, it has crooked lines, but it's done the way craftsmen did it
in early America before typesetters came along and WAY before computers and just pecking
keyboard buttons on an Adobe or Corel Art computer program.
I use to be insecure about my guitars and always think that "other people's stuff is so
much better than mine" but over the years I have come to realize that I have my own style and it is
how God made me. So I embrace my flaws and do it the way it was done in the past.
It's done just by hand and when there is mistakes in my art, I accept it.
I start and finish all my art ideas with just pencil and paper.
|This "1857 Old Timer" art is done
with a black Sharpie fine point pen
and drawn on brown paper.
|This 1865 "Arrows & Talons" is one of my all time fav-o-rite works.
Inspired by my Dad's "Old West" Time Life book collection I read as a kid.
I really enjoy drawing Old West and Native American art.
Up front I tell everyone, I've never been trained in any type of woodworking or guitar construction. I'm not
educated in any form of carpentry, everything I know I have taught myself.
Everything I do is by hand and eye, pocketknife, wood file, sandpaper and chisel. It's not because I don’t want to
use power tools, but for the simple reason that I have noticed better results sanding and cutting by hand. I think
machines are wonderful and they help other people save time. But for me, they always seem to create a lot of
dust and because they work so fast they make me nervous when they start skipping and jumping around, they
always seem to cause me more problems than they solve.
I see my guitars as playable art and as "Americana," they are built by hand and they are built as if it is my last
one, my last chance to make my greatest guitar. I never wait for the next guitar to do that "next great idea"...I do it
now ....If I think of it, I'll do it on the spot...they are made to please me and I am always trying to better my craft to
Homemade instruments really became popular
during the Great Depression in America.
Poverty did not stop people from wanting to enjoy
music and having fun with family and friends, In
fact it made the desire even stronger, people just
made their own instruments!
In the 1920's and 30's it was common to see
many street musicians with a wide variety of
banjos, mandolins, ukuleles and guitars all made
from a simple cigar box.
|Old Willow Joe 1932
He's holding that thing with pride.
I sure would love to hear him play
|They all love it and so will you!
Red Dog Guitars has been the Sailors first choice for over a century.
OK maybe that's going too far, at least you read it!
This is art drawn on cheap photocopy paper with charcoal pencils and ink pens.
|Have a listen and watch this short video of a cigar box guitar
|Play this Reso at exactly 88 miles per hour and see what happens!
Sometimes a little is allot!
I often get asked by people if I would make them
a simple and clean "old timey" homemade style
cigar box guitar. Good News, I make these often!
Made to play and sound like homemade guitars
did a 100 years ago. Email me and I usually have
some on the work bench.
|Just plug in and play!
Strait wired internal acoustic pickups make theses guitars a joy to play.
Plus its easy to get a great old time vintage sound, it's really just an acoustic guitar with
a bone bridge and nut that has strings running across the body...no knobs, no frills....just fun!
Here is some original hand lettered art I did with a $1 sharpie pen in about 2 hours while watching
TV. It's hard for even me to believe what I've created when I see my own work.
When I was younger I did not show the knack for drawing of any kind. In fact I did not do any art all
that well or even had any interest. I was not a "natural," but as I grew up I wanted to learn how to
draw so I read as many books on the subject as I could find.
Just another reason to NEVER bury your desires or give up on your dreams, It's never too late!
The point is, if you are 70 and want to learn how to play guitar, Now is the time. You CAN do it.
It's real easy to learn how to play 3 string guitar, more on that on the next page.
Anyways, I do allot of Native American themes and art, It's part of the history of cigars and tobacco,
and also a very important and fascinating part of American history.
Watch this short video and come on in my shop and you can see this work in progress
Here is a simple recording of a cigar box guitar and a glass bottle neck slide.
These cigar box guitars are built with just a few basic hand tools that
most people have, a small saw, sandpaper, a drill, a few screwdrivers
and a pocket knife, you do not need many tools at all.
That is what's so fun and liberating about them, they are simple by
nature. Give it a try, make one, you will have a blast.