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, first and foremost, I am a servant of the Lord. I am a pastor and street
minister. I tend to and pray for the sick and those in need of healing. I also have an unshakable
conviction that Christ has called me to serve veterans and people in the Marine Corps. I just want
to share the Gospel with all those in need, from the factory worker to the truck driver.
I grew up in New Orleans Louisiana. It really was a blessing to grow up surrounded by Jazz and the
Blues. Music is everywhere in New Orleans, living there gave me a master class in "street life" as
well as the music scene. I have been building homemade guitars as a hobby since my teenage
years. The guitar has been part of my life for almost 30 years. 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 primitive music from early America.
I am here building and selling guitars because I believe God wants me to use my talent to heal and
bring happiness to others. Both with the actual guitar itself, but also through the music and photos
of my work. Countless times people have emailed or called me and said that just the site of seeing
some of my guitars has sparked a new interest or hobby and helped them find a new direction in
life. These guitars have helped people from all walks of life cope with serious illness, some type of
trauma, or helped them heal from sadness and depression. I have be witness to many miraculous
stories of true life and health turn arounds, just by me sharing a simple homemade guitar with
them. From disabled Veterans to retired people looking for an uplifting pastime, whenever they see
or hear a cigar box guitar, it really helps them fill a void or offer a sense of healing in their life.
Truthfully, I don't consider or label myself a "guitar builder." I'm actually a disciple who has taken a
passion for music and history, and I've put them together for an original formula to share the Good
News, but under the cover of creating guitars.
I enjoy working with recycled materials in the pursuit of an authentic Blues and Country sound
that they achieve. To me it's challenging to find and use old guitar parts and reclaimed old growth
American hardwoods. Not only are they much more stable woods, but they are also much better
looking and it adds a charm and character that is a trademark of early Americana.
|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 and were
simple in the nature of being homemade.
|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 own guitars himself!
He did it with his own 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 Bo made well between 25 to
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
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 level.
|If you have always played standard 6 string guitar,
I know you would love the refreshing change of playing a 3 or 4 string Bottleneck Slide guitar.
You should try, it's much easier to play and it's allot of fun!
|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 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 DVD.
From beginner to advanced, everything is completely covered.
I have spent many 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 to the next level to get that "old time"
sound you have always wanted in a 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.
|If I told you the guitar above has a bridge made from a Popsicle stick and plastic...
Would you believe me?? Well It does...and it sounds fantastic!
If you want to try to make your own homemade guitar,
I have a DVD that shows you everything from A to Z.
Everyone tells me at some point,
"Cigar box guitars are just as much fun to build as to play"
Why not give it a try?
I have many pages on this site, wait for the pages to load,
There's allot of photos of guitars for sale on this site
|Here is a modern interpretation of those guitars from the 1880's.
It's just a stick running thru a cigar box.
|This "1857 Old Timer" art is drawn with a black Sharpie fine point pen.
|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.
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
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
|Have a listen and watch this short video of a cigar box guitar
They are super easy to play and recreate that long lost sound of early Blues and Country Americana
|Play this Reso at exactly 88 miles per hour and see what happens!
Grew up in the 80's??? .....You'll get that!
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.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
|Just plug in and play!
Strait wired internal acoustic pickups make theses guitars a joy to play.
Plus it's easy to get a great old time vintage sound, it's really just an acoustic guitar with
a bridge and nut that has strings running across the body...no knobs, no frills....just fun!
Email me at email@example.com
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 once I decided I wanted to
learn how to draw, 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.
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. On the flip-side, since you DON'T need power tools...It's kind of
liberating if you think about it. If you build regular guitars, you will need a whole shop of
specialized tools and planes, But anyone can build a cigar box guitar by hand with only a
few common hand tools.
That is what's so fun and interesting about them, they are simple by nature. You can use
old guitar parts from ebay and flea markets or get creative and make your own parts with
stuff from around your house. I cover everything on this DVD. Give it a try, make one,
you will have a blast.
Well, what is a Cigar Box Guitar?
The truth is, in the South it's common to hear stories that B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Lightnin'
Hopkins and many of those other old-time blues guys started out playing guitar on a cigar box
guitar. Not many people who follow Blues and Country music know this, but many famous
Bluesmen and Country singers started their career on a simple homemade cigar box guitar.
One reason most Blues and Country music has such a distinctive sound is because it was
derived off of music made on these simple instruments.
The precursor to the cigar box guitar as an instrument was an instrument called the diddly-bow.
It was a one stringed instrument where the player would take a glass bottle neck and run it up
and down a string while plucking the opposite end of the string to achieve the tone that they
where after. These basic "guitars" didn't have frets and this crude form of guitar playing is what
melded into the form of slide guitar we are familiar with today. That is what is thought to be the
creation of slide guitar in the "Southern Delta."
From Son House to Muddy Waters, they were all influenced in some way by these early
homemade instruments following along in their career as slide guitar players. That's where the
Blues and slide guitar truly started at. On those plantations and cotton fields, homemade
guitars and 'field hollerin' went hand in hand.
Many of the biggest names in early Blues history played a cigar box guitar. They didn't play
Gibsons or Martins, they couldn't afford them!
It's well known Lightnin' Hopkins got his start on the cigar box guitar. If you would like to hear
Lightnin' himself talk about his homemade guitar, watch this short video...what's better than
the man himself telling you some of the history of this wonderful type of guitar!
This tradition of making and playing a homemade guitar continued from the 1880's for many
decades up until the 1950's.....but it never stopped there, many small magazine articles from the
60's, 70's and 80's keep this art form alive. Even though this form of guitar has faded into
obscurity, some Blues and Rock musicians still enjoy playing them today.
Here is a wonderful example of one being played still today, it really does take you back in time,
Watch this video of Billy Gibbons of ZZ-Top
|This sound recording of Ry Cooders' song "Billy The Kid" is performed by Billy Gibbons of ZZ-Top and is an excerpt
from a Mark Maron interview. I have presented it here for educational and commentary purposes only in relation to
the brief discussion about of the history of the cigar box guitar as a long forgotten instrument in American history.
All Copyrights for this material are the property of their respective owners.
The art and lettering on this website and these guitars is all hand drawn freehand. 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 and WAY before computers came along.
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 just randomly taught myself.
All my work is by hand and eye. I mostly use a pocketknife, screwdrivers and a few small hand saws.
As for my art I start and finish all my art ideas with just pencil pens and paper right at my kitchen
table. I then take that art and etch it into metal parts of all kinds, I also make my own pickups and
engrave the art upon the front cover.
This story about what would make a poor person use a cigar box for a guitar in the first place
began in the mid 1800's. The Cigar boxes that we are familiar with today didn't exist prior to
the 1840's. Prior to then, cigars were shipped in larger crates containing 100 or more per case.
But after 1842, due to exploration of the West, cigar manufacturers started using smaller,
more portable boxes with only 20-50 cigars per box.
In the Old West and through out the 1800's cigars were extremely popular. Card games,
Saloons and of coarse those great Mississippi Paddle boats helped spread tobacco throughout
early America. Because of the widespread popularity of smoking in those days, many empty
boxes would be just laying around. Unlike times are today, the 1800's were a simpler time for
Americans, when necessity was truly the mother of invention. Being that most American
music was based off of stringed instruments, using a cigar box to create a guitar, fiddle, or a
banjo was an obvious choice for a few crafty souls. The earliest proof of a instrument made
from a cigar box that has been found is an etching of a Civil War solider at the "Siege of
Charleston." Even during the War, there was a passion for music in America and it was
After The Civil War, America was in ruins. Little money was had to buy instruments. One
thing for sure about American resilience is that ingenuity was abound. After the War both
Union and Confederate Soldiers along with now freed Slaves carried this creative homemade
guitar back with them to almost every corner of America. People used left over wood, cigar
boxes, biscuit tin cans, string, broom handles, baling and screen wire and whatever else was
lying around the house, shed or barn to create these crude homemade instruments. Making a
"home-made" guitar was the only choice for the impoverished. Those humble beginnings of
the cigar box guitar are what eventually gave this little known guitar a home in music history.
|Photo provided by Shane Speal
Cigar Box Banjo c.1880
|Here is a short video of an Old Timer 3 string Resonator guitar in action,
|I can build you any just about anything you want.
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
|This Liberty Bell art was etched into a brass pickup.