Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown
Representing the 99%!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Cigar Box Guitars

Pictures © Shane Speal
Unlike most children today, I grew up in a household that was filled with books and LP vinyl records. Elvis Presley (Gospel as well as Rock & Roll), Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, The Platters, Aretha Franklin, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and B.B. King are just a rough idea of the musical influences in my early upbringing to name but just a few. It was a time when folks lined up outside the Montreal Forum for days to get tickets; unlike today where people line up outside the Apple Store for a new cell phone. The latter sums up what is wrong with today's culture in general, don't your think? Despite these early introductions and influences, I actually never learned how to play a musical instrument. I tried once in my early twenties after receiving a fiddle as a present from my late mother. Ashley MacIsaac's music was raw and untamed and it spoke to me. Unfortunately, my violin teacher was equally as raw and untamed with her criticism of both my inexperience and my poor fiddle. You see, there in lies the problem with learning music today. The majority of music teachers are snobs. They scoff at anything you own below a certain price point. They turn something that should be exciting and fun into a reminder of how much you suck and can't afford what they consider to be a "proper instrument". Not everyone can afford or wants to spend an exorbitant amount of money on an instrument nor does everyone want to be the next Big Bopper or Ashley MacIsaac!

Pictures © Mead Guitars
Thus, when I first came across a Cigar Box Guitar (CBG) it looked like it had been dragged out into the alley and beaten to an inch of its life and then some. Despite missing the aesthetic beauty of modern instruments, it had character, grit and a presence about it that no other instrument I have ever seen before had. It was so damned ugly it was beautiful. Honestly, I thought it was just wall art. Then I heard Shane Speal and Justin Johnson playing the CBG and I fell in love with its raw unadulterated sound. It screams F*&K-YOU with every poorly tuned note and begs to be played, beaten and man-handled. You can make your own CBG for roughly $25 USD or you can buy one for as low as $80 USD. Some folks are making them with quality parts and charging between $150 USD and upwards to $2200 USD. The latter is just insane. You can make them with cigar boxes or oil tin cans. I have seen folks make mini amps with similar materials. 

Pictures © Darren Brown
Eight months after coming across the cigar box guitar I decided to join the revolution. I purchased my very first (and I fear not my last) CBG from Darren Brown of DB Customs located in Nova Scotia, Canada. As I write this Gloria rests comfortably next to me on a shelf waiting for me to pick her soon and start tickling her strings! I do have plans on making my own and will post said build, when done. Percy has been kind enough to give me some old cigar boxes and my kids are keen on trying too! There is a very supportive network and anyone interested in learning can find dozens of free lessons, particularly by Shane Speal who is considered to be the prime mover of the CBG cult. This instrument also has a rich and fascinating history, one that I hope to see remains in the hands of those that make them as opposed to becoming coporatized as so many resurgences fall prey to today. I'll happily post up my progress including the lessons I have found and my actual playing - whether the good, the bad and the ugly! In the meantime, here is a video that Darren Brown made for me of my CBG before he fretted it (at my request):


  1. I love your article and like you Mario, I feel in love with these beautiful pieces of art 9 months ago, and that is when I discovered Darren's DB Custom CBG's. I've now owned mine for 8 months and absolutely love her and all her imperfections....she sings to me and I can't wait to hear what you will be able to do in no time at all.....For the record, I agree...some music teachers, just should not teach...Period.

  2. Mario you play? I didn't know this. I've never heard of this cigar box guitar... very nifty indeed! You best post a video of you playing!


    1. Hi Jacqueline, I bought one with the intentions of learning and have been working on a song since receiving mine. I will definitely post something up once I am comfortable enough and when Percy tells me its worthy! lol.

    2. Mario...my friend...you sir flatter me and please take this advice...play what you feel and play as if no one is watching. You will not regret it...