Hi, my name is John McNair. This is a website about Homemade guitars, Cigar box & 3 string guitars, Cookie tin banjos, and all things made by people like yourself who have decided building and playing homemade instruments is so much more rewarding than buying "name" brand guitars.

Come back often and enjoy reading the new daily stories with your morning coffee or whenever you need a spark of inspiration. I post here almost every day with historic photos and the latest stories of these wonderful homespun instruments.

Also, Give the photos time to load on your screen, some of the photos are huge, I wanted to display them nicely, so some will take time to load on your computer.

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1920's Cigar Box Mandolin



This is a really well built 8 string mandolin made from an Old Virginia cigar box. This type of build was often over looked for the more common homemade instruments such as guitars, banjos and violins of that era.
However, during the early Jazz craze the mandolin was also popular, and in the 20's and 30's at a time of widespread poverty and economic depression you knew it was only a matter of time before folks saw that a cigar box was the perfect size to be a mandolin body.

 
Here is plans for build you own cigar box mandolin dated 1922
 I tell you what, times sure where different back then, people use to take matters into there own hands, from building an instrument to building this great country. It was all about "do-it yourself!"
 
 

Cigar Box Music from the Boer War



Here's a super interesting photo, especially for British cigar box guitar fans. It's two British soldiers in South Africa, during the Boer War, playing piccolo and cigar box banjo. This photo came from  David Brookhouse of the Museum of Lancaster, who hosted a workshop and sent it to John Wormald of West Midlands. He does cigar box guitar workshops throughout in the United Kingdom and the EU. 
 This photo is from a book by one of the Museum staff members, and to his knowledge, the earliest known photo of a British person with a cigar box guitar. The soldier with the guitar is the author's great grandfather. The book is called "Snapshots from the Boer War."

Cigar Box Guitar History

 
 
It's been well documented that people have been making homemade guitars from old and used cigar boxes since the 1860's. Once cigar manufactures started using small boxes to transport and sell cigars, it didn't take long before people in poverty figured out they are the perfect size to build guitars, banjos and violins. 
Here is a photo from the late 1890's and it shows a young boy with his cigar box guitar on a cotton planation. Most of these instruments were crude and often had just a few strings....But make no mistake, they made real music!
Our modern Blues and Country music can trace it roots to the simple origins of these often overlooked and crude stringed instruments from America's past.
 
 
 


If you would like to learn how to play Old Time & Delta Blues on 3 string cigar box guitar, I have a DVD I can mail you anywhere in the world.
This 3 string lessons DVD shows you how to get that vintage sound in both your slide playing and fingering on the fretboard. This type of music is really easy to learn and understand the 3 string guitar is not hard, at any age, even at 70 you will able to play old timey Blues music, the majority of slide guitar is just one finger guitar!


I can mail you this DVD  anywhere in the world, you can get a copy at this webpage,
click here to get a copy of the How To play DVD

I can mail the DVD anywhere in the world. It plays on all DVD players worldwide. It is encoded to play in both Europe and American Televisions...and Australia too! Plays in all DVD players.( both NTSC and PAL)

Just in case your wondering "What's a 3 string guitar?"

Here's a quick video, watch and look at the hands and playing. There is not much going on, that's the key, it's primitive music...it's just a simple form of music anyone can learn... and at any age!

 

Photo 551


Some newly uncovered photos from my friend Termoking in Belgium. These 2 photos are of  German World War 1 soldiers with their homemade instruments.
Another great find with lots to ponder and imagine....I would love to hear these guys!



Best & Biggest

Check out this old cigar box guitar from sometime in the early 1900's. Made with a 1914 John Ruskin "Best & Biggest" cigar box.
This cigar box guitar is a four string with a really well made neck and hand carved friction tuners. Check out the back of the neck too. The craftsman who made it put a lot of attention into it. I bet it was a well playing guitar when it was first built. This guitar is wonderful piece of history from the long lost art of making your own homemade music!

Cigar Box Ukuleles

Who wouldn't jump at a chance to play this fun little uke?
 Some time in the 1960's a neighbor of Sam Kamaka had several empty cigar boxes lying around and asked him if he could do or make something with them. Sam having a keen eye in building ukes saw and knew that the redwood that the boxes were made of would make a great sounding instrument.

So was born the Kamaka Cigar Box Ukulele.




Here is a photo of Sam Kamaka Jr. with a cigar box uke. I received this photo from Lesley at "Life's a Ukeafrolic."
She said,
In May we were fortunate to be able to visit the Kamaka Ukulele factory in Honolulu. The tour was given by Mr. Fred Kamaka himself - and here he is, showing me the museum-piece cigar-box uke made by Sam Kamaka... what a wonderful experience it was - and that ukulele is simply beautiful!

Neck to Body Mock up





I often get questions from people telling me that the cigar box guitar they have built has strings that are too high and what they can do about correcting it.
 There are several things you can do after your guitar is constructed, but even a well built guitar will not give you much room to either raise or lower the string height once the body is glued to the neck. In other words if your "completed" guitar has action and string height that is in excess of a 1/2 inch or more, it can be difficult to dial it in and become a great playing guitar, yes it can, but the higher the action is, the harder it will be to correct.
So, I drew this quick diagram to show how you can "test" or verify with eyesight about where your strings will be once the neck is glued to the body.
No matter if you plan to make 3 string /4 string / Resonator or standard cigar box guitars, here is a quick and easy way to find out where your neck angle and string height will be.

What you will need are 2 specialized tools, but they are not expensive and have countless uses in any work/crafts shop.
 You will need 2 Deep throat (or sometimes called "Large mouth") Locking clamps.
They are mostly used by welders as they allow you to reach up and over large areas of work and temporarily pin and hold down the work area and lock in place your work.

In our case, locking claps with a small footprint can be used to clamp and hold down two areas. The tail end of the body and the front of the body over where the strings will ride ( which is why a small foot printed clamp is needed to not interfere with where the strings will ride.  It will allow you to verify how high the guitar strings will be once it is glued together.
You can clamp the lid to the body and run several test with a long piece of kite string or thin twine by running it from the bridge area down to the nut holding each end with your fingers and you will clearly see "where you stand."
By preforming this one test, you will know BEFORE you glue the neck to the body if your action will be too high. You can then sand down and lower the scarf of the neck or modify the angle of it to achieve the height that suits your needs before you commit to the gluing process. Keep in mind, after you glue the neck to the body there will not be many options left to correct or over correct a guitar with bad "action."



There is one thing and factor to compensate for before you do this test, and that is that the neck WILL bow, no matter what type of wood you use. I cannot give you any general idea as to "how much" that will be because every piece of wood will either bend or not bend depending on how thick the wood is and the type of wood you used....ie, poplar will bow a lot and hard rock maple or hickory will hardly bow at all. Woods like Red Oak or Ash will only slightly bow...so you will need to figure out if you are using hardwood or soft wood to build your guitar.
(and just as a side note, I don't not use softer woods like pine or poplar in my building BUT...they do have a great sound! ..Pine sounds fantastic, so softer woods can be used, you just need to factor in AT THE BEGINING of your build that the neck WILL BOW and it might happen slowly over time.)

That's it, that's my tool tip of the day. So head on down to the hardware store and buy 2 large mouth locking claps. You will notice your future builds will begin to take on a more uniform playability and "action" no matter what type of cigar box guitar you plan to make.

You do not need to go over board, just a few clamps, here is a guitar being glued shut....but if you decide to build more than one guitar, C- clamps are perfect for this craft.


Can I get a fist bump with that twang?

Check out these German soldiers from World War One. There is several homemade instruments in the background. I just love to see human interaction and personality show through old photos.
I don't know what the 2 guys are doing in the front of the photo but I think this is a great snap shot in time!

 
 
1920's antique cigar box guitar

This old homemade cigar box guitar came up for sale today on ebay. It was just found in someone's grandparents estate. If only we knew it's history and maker, I bet it's got a great story to tell us!

1886 Newspaper First-Hand account of Cigar Box Guitarist

 
 
Some phrases and descriptions in the 130-year-old article are considered offensive by today's standards.  

MUSIC IN A CIGAR BOX.
A Juvenile Darky Sits on a Beer Keg and Gathers a Crowd
Galveston (TX) Daily News.  Thursday, April 15, 1886
   Perched upon a lager beer keg in an obscure locality in the city, sat a diminutive darky yesterday.  His legs were crossed, his lips were moving, and his hands were playing a home-made guitar.  This instrument was rudely but cleverly fashioned, and exhibited traces of an inventive genius in its maker. 
   A cigar-box of the usual size constituted the body, and the handle was composed of a piece of lath about eight inches in length, over which strings of tightly-drawn India rubber were laid, and caught at the end on roughly-made keys.  The box was completely inclosed, with the exception of a round hole in the center for a sounding-board.
  Altogether, it was an original instrument, and though crudely constructed was capable of emitting melodious strains.  Considering the imperfections of it in the comparison with a genuine guitar, the player handled the strings very deftly.
  When seen he was earnestly playing a tune, and no one appeared to enjoy it more than himself, though the barkeeper whose keg he was sitting upon came out and shaded his eyes on the curious object.  The selection was an old-time negro melody, and he soon had a crowd of sympathizers around him.  While playing, his different antics and motions were peculiar and amusing.  His lips went in and out, keeping perfect time to the music.  He swayed himself from side to side, shut one eye, then the other, then rolled both up until only the whites were visible, apparently in a perfect deliriam of enjoyment.
  In the midst of all this a great catastrophe occurred.  The strings all snapped but one.  But to the wonder of those present he continued to draw music out of his one string.
  As he finished and crawled down from his perch he was variously interrogated, but jumping into a small wagon hitched to a good-sized goat, he rapidly made off amid the shouts of the crowd and uproarious laughter.
  It was evident that he did not wish to be bothered and had his goat handy for any disagreeable emergency.
________________________________________________________
 Discovered by Shane Speal

1930's Homemade Mountain Banjo

I saw this instrument for sale up on ebay and the auction did not have any of the history listed with the sale. The only clue or tid bit of info about this homemade box banjo is that it's from Sutton, Massachusetts.

You can kind of approximate it's age by how long it takes for wood to age like it has on the body, by looking at the screw in the tail piece, and looking at the finishing nails used to build it. I would guess it was made in the 20's or 30's. It would say it's pre war sometime.
Man this sure is fantastic. It's so well made I know it could be played right now today, and I bet it would play just as well as it did 80 years ago.



1930's Homemade Mountain Banjo




As you can see this was made by a craftsman at home, yet paying attention to detail though-out the build.  It's a five string banjo. It has some type of skin on top of a homemade box. It looks like someone used violin pegs as the tuners. That's both brilliant and works well. It was probably a cheap and easy way to build a instrument back then that would have reliable tuning.





You can look at the screws and the nails to try kind of date these type of homemade instruments.  The person who made this banjo put a lot of effort into something that they could play. Talk about twang? This wonderful piece of Americana is an inspiration to us all to build your own musical instrument.

This banjo is what it's all about....Do-It-yourself!

Natural Born Confederate


I drew this art just having fun today. I was thinking about my childhood growing up in New Orleans. They use to have an old beautiful large green and white Dixie brewery sign right there when you got off the ferry on the other side of Algiers Point. You would come out and off the landing ramp and then you could walk to the left to go to the riverwalk, or cut to the right and when you looked up, there was Dixie Beer sign that stood about 40 feet up....it was huge and really cool. I just kinda spun that into my own art.

Bounty Hunter Cigars ~ 1877 ~

I came up with this idea for a cigar box guitar pickup cover after listening to a T. Boone Pickens interview, someone asked him about the price of "expensive oil."
Boone said, "Well, my great grand daddy was a bounty hunter, he went after all kinds of criminals in the wild west...what do you think....he charged by the bullet???
 That sure shut up that person giving the interview fast! They did not know how to respond.....But I can tell you, Don't give no lip, don't get none!

Anyways, I liked what I heard. I was so inspired I whipped out some paper on the moment and I came up with this art that could be a brand of cigars and I think it would make a cool cover art to engrave on the front of a cigar box resonator guitar pickup cover.

The Dimestore Cowboy

Best place on earth to buy stuff for building guitars????

Yep, the Hardware store : )

It's great, all those "real" guitar builders have to spend countless dollars on rare and exotic woods and expensive guitar parts, but folks like us can hit up the local 5 and dime and come out with our next great noise maker....How's that Mr. Fender!


 
beStillroy Clark 1923

One "Lucky" Ticket



Come one, Come all!

 Here is your printable ticket...prices subject to change!

To be held at : Frenchmen Theatre - 514 Frenchmen St. New Orleans, LA 70116
It's a great reason to visit New Orleans, a town with lots of history, GREAT food and so much to do!

Papa was a Rolling Stone

You probably thought that headline was about this photo huh?
 My daughter calls me "Papa"....so I guess you could say I'm a "Rolling Stone" too?
Am I going to far with this??? Who cares....This is cool!

As for the photo, yep, it's Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones recording a new song. He is playing a Daddy Mojo 4 string. Honestly, can this be any cooler?


Two for Five





I did this art for my Cigar Box Guitar music CD, if you would like to hear some of this music and see the CDs and DVDs I have for sale on the subject of cigar box and 3 string guitars,
you can click here
http://cigar-box-guitar-music.blogspot.com/

Cigar Box Label Art



Today I drew this art, I originally started off trying to draw a new idea for a 4 string cigar box guitar pickup, but the wording would not fit, so I just went ahead and made it just art for art's sake.

The inspiration behind this art is a short story.
I was walking in WalMart by myself and as I went to the front of the store near the checkout, this boy darted out right in front of me headed to that candy stepped ladder thing with all the candy bars and stuff....just as he stepped right in front of my path, this guy (his Dad) grabbed him by his shirt and said
"Go over yonder and stand there with your Mom!"

Man he sure did stop his kid dead in his tracks!....but I tell you what, when I heard those words "over yonder" they rang in my ear!...I have not heard that saying in many years, I just loved it!... say it with me.....Over Yonder!

So I came home and was inspired to do art and wanted to just write "over yonder" on something. I thought it would be cool to engrave it on a pickup and turn it into vintage style tobacco art.....but the wording and shape would not be the right dimentions, so I just made what I think would be a cool cigar box label. If this were the early 1900's and I was making cigar box labels I think this would be a great brand....What'cha think???

I did this art on old gray blank military paper from a 1940's Navy diary book. I then decided to draw it with Blue ink to give it an authentic period feel. I think it could pass for the real thing!

Southern Rock Monday

You thought I was gonna say Sunday....didn't you?

Well, no matter what day you watch this, this is just a wonderful song and the cigar box guitar solo on this video is off the hook!
Put on some headphones, this is a really great recording for being recorded live.
This is what its all about : )

The New Timer

 I finished up this 1857 Old Timer guitar this week. It's a project I have been working on for about 20 days. All of the metal work is done in Silver/Aluminum that I've made to match. This guitar is a 3 string guitar and I am playing it thru a 1955 Arvin Radio that I have rewired and turned into a vintage guitar amplifier. 
Just wanted to share this photo as well as see for myself what it looks like on a computer screen.





Inside the Box - Cigar Box Guitar Builder's Documentary

Check out this wonderful story about an Argentinean banker whose true passion has always been music. He also happens to be a very talented maker of handcrafted cigar box guitars. He shares what sparked his curiosity for this hobby and the emotion he gets by peoples' response to his craft.
This is a wonderful video and story!

1907 Acme Construction Plans








I found these antique cigar box guitar "how to build" construction plans at an abandoned Coyote camp site when I went camping this weekend....that poor old Road Runner never stood a chance!


English Gentleman

Here is a photo of English soldiers during World War 1. I have seen many older photos from the early 1900's with people making and playing homemade cigar box instruments over in the UK.
There is defiantly a long history of making homemade instruments in England and they seem to have loved making cigar box fiddles as I have seen them making this exact style of instrument in both World War 1 and 2.

Anyways, check out these guys doing there thing!


The H-1 Racer

I was changing the channels randomly watching TV last night and I just stumbled upon and saw a really fascinating biography about Howard Hughes. Wow, I must say his life and story was really captivating to say the least, what a complex and interesting person....as much as he was a troubled individual in his later life, he was equally brilliant in his younger life!

So, I woke up and started my day as normal, in the shop working on a cigar box guitar....and then it suddenly landed in my head a flash of inspiration for a cool guitar and some art for a guitar Pickup cover.


I just a grabbed a pencil and this is what came out....It's just a ruff draft and concept, I drew this in a fervor of creative inspiration, when it hits, I just run with it.
I think this has the potential to become a really cool black and silver 1930's style three string guitar inspired by the H-1 Racer that Howard Hughes flew and set those speed records and wrecked in 1937.

It could be done... I think he would agree!

ZZ Top's ~ Billy Gibbons song playing the cigar box guitar

Here is a song of Billy Gibbons playing a Cigar Box Guitar. It is such a great recording of the cigar box guitar, he is playing a cigar box resonator guitar and he is playing a version of Ry Cooder's "Billy the Kid."

Anyways, enough chatter, time for the encore!

Old Time Cigar Box 3 String Fiddle

Check out this homemade cigar box fiddle. It was made in the early 1900's and is a 3 string.

Not much else is know, but like I always say when these old instruments pop up, I sure would love to meet the person who made it and hear the music they played on it.



It's from Tennessee, so the maker must have been playing Appalachian folk music on it. I can hear it now.....That ol' time country swing!

How to make Cigar Box Guitar & 3 String "Magnetic" Pickups

This is a 30 minute master class on How to make your own homemade cigar box guitar pickups.
Rail Road Don is super awesome, and watching him work his magic is fun.... and there is nothing better than hanging out with your elders!  This is how we all learn to be better craftsmen.
Watch these 2 videos in a row, you will know from scratch how to hand spin homemade guitar pickups....and they sound terrific!





Here is the second part, I just love the tone of it at the end, super unique and original, He captures that old time homemade sound so well, so follow this recipe and make your own.

The Man In Black

Check out this killer old time Blues recording and song by Graeme Moncrieff

An original song written and performed on his self-built cigar box guitar.


The Civilized World

Check out this photo of prisoners of War from a work shop in a World War 1 internment camp.

They are making homemade instruments. This must have be in a time when humanity was much different. I have often heard and read about French and German soldiers who would fight during the day, and at night go to the front lines to trade items and stories and spend the evening together in comradery.

From Down Under

Check out this really great performance played on cigar box guitar, the vocals are excellent too.

This is what homemade music is all about!



Birds of a feather.....

Hey, one guy's not flocking!!!!




Someone's got his homemade cigar box "twang thing" ....we know what he is thinking about!
 Sweet shot from World War One 1917.

Three-string Thursday


Another project comes to an end. Time to clean up the shop, hose down the floors, organize the shelves and to start thinking about what's next in the creative pipeline...but till then, time to have a little fun and enjoy playing this guitar before I have to put it up for sale.

more than meets the eye

There's something awfully curious about this photo...I can't quite place my finger on it, but I'll let you know when I figure it out!


Couple of soldiers from Belgium 1918. Termoking we salute you!

Victory Guitar Pickups

Today I would like to share with you cigar box guitar pickups that are both ultra low and easy to install on your guitar. They are also really cool with vintage art and hand lettering that makes your guitar have that homemade Americana feel and touch.





These pickups are made by my friend Wade at Victory Guitars and he is the same pickup maker that I posted about awhile back who also makes 60's style Gold Foil pickups, only this time he's taken his creativity to an all new level of awesomeness.
Check out these few hand drawn examples,



These pickups are made from cigar box tops and as you can see, the pickup itself that is hidden below is barley any bigger than the thickness of a cigar box lid. I love this concept and I know at first glance anyone can visualize a cool guitar just with the fact of putting one of these on.



Look how thin and low!

Victory Guitar pickups are just perfect for cigar box guitars with neck thru construction, hardly no notching into the neck, now that's both cool and easy work with.
For those that want more info and where to buy them, you can see them here at this link,
https://reverb.com/shop/victory-guitars

Trendsetting is my buisness!

Check out this World War 1 French soldier from 1916 with his hand made canteen guitar, he seems to think it's worth a pose....and so do I!

I can only imagine what's going thru his mind? We should have a "caption this" contest : )

The Country Life


 Imagine this,

It's the 1890's, you live deep in the heart of the South,  you'r just sitting in an old creeky rocking chair on the front porch of your cabin just strummin' a homemade cigar box guitar while the beautiful breeze blows thru your hair.......the farm work is done, Ma's in the kitchen cookin' supper with biskets made from scratch, all is peaceful in the fields as the afternoon shade finally cools off the land......and while you wait, the kids are playing in the yard...the chores are done, it's time to relax....those sweet jangles coming from your homemade guitar make your ears smile and take away all the worries on your mind...

Now that's the Country Life!

Ok, so I'm being a bit "too literal" but here's a real "Country Life" cigar box guitar that I found for sale on ebay today, yes, made from an old country life cigar box!

How cool is this sweet piece of history!

Hey, did you remember to feed the chickens?

March 1916

Check out this old photo of a cigar box instrument. This is another of a long line of World War 1 photos that cigar box guitar builder "Termoking" has found over in Europe. I have not keep count but I think he has found about 15 or 20 different examples with soldiers and their homemade instruments.

I have posted before on this site, "I wish I could hear it" or "I wonder what it sounds like?"....but the truth is we kinda know what it sounds like. Strum just about any cigar box guitar and you too will know just what this instrument in this photo sounded like....and that's pretty dang cool, keeping history alive!


Top Secret - Burn Notice upon reading

To all my cigar box guitar spies in the trenches,

This is a message for your eyes only!...Burn after reading, do not let this info fall in the hands of Fender.
HA! OK, just a little morning fun.

Everybody always asks me about the single string bridges on the Delta Tramp or the three string guitars I make, so I will post info here so you know what parts to buy if you want to try to build one (you can also make them with bent brass or steel) To see examples visit reddogguitars.com
or here is a quick shot of one,



First thing's first, they are NOT bass bridges, they look similar, but they are much smaller and made for guitar strings, they are not for basses.

They are called "ABM single string guitar bridges," they are sold at allparts.com
They are also available on ebay ( from time to time) . They are top load, meaning the string slips in from the back, super easy to add to a guitar and they are great as you can make the guitar string widths in any size or distance.
The drawback is they are about 30 bucks each, yes!!!! 90 dollars per guitar....they are pricey, but..it is what it is, and I can tell you worth every penny.


Second option is the Hipshot solo,

These are only 19 bucks each, and they are body thru, (same as a standard hard tail)
If you study the photo, you can see that you can in fact make these yourself with home depot "L brackets"
 Believe it or not that's all I do for those old school Delta Tramp guitars I make, I just use the brass curtain brackets and drill my own holes, I polish them and add black saddles, that's it. You only need to cut off one side of the bracket and then drill small holes to add a saddle and one small hole under the saddle itself to slip the string thru, remember these are NOT top load as there is no room, so you do need to come up thru the back of the guitar to load the string.
Other than that, just look at the photos, there are easy enough to make from brackets at home depot.

 
Well, that's it, DO NOT let this info fall in the hands of our rivals, you have your burn notice!