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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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!

Cigar Box Guitars for Sale

If you are looking for a great playing and superbly well built cigar box guitar, check out my friend Lenny at Daddy-mojo.com.
 He makes all kinds of cigar box guitars, 3-string, 4-string and even other types of handmade guitar. I must also say that Luca and the other people who work together as a team up there are just fantastic!
I drew the above art just for fun as they are wonderfull people and I just wanted to share Lenny's guitars and his craft.
 If you are interested in Blues music and slide guitar and would like to buy a well built and GREAT sounding cigar box guitar, check out my friends at daddy-mojo.com.
If you are looking for 3 string guitars and you don't see any at the moment in his web store, email him.
 He also has an etsy store, click here

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!

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!

Cigar Box Guitar Art

It's been a busy week. I've just finished a new 3 string guitar a few days ago. I have also been doing lots of new art for cigar box guitar pickups and photos.

Believe it or not, this "Claim Jumper" art below was inspired by some TV dinners I saw in the grocery store. I was walking down the frozen isle lane and there was a stack of pot pies and pre-made oven dinners branded with the name "Claim Jumper." I thought it was really catchy.
Right now I'm living in Sparks, Nevada, a state that has a long history of gold and silver mining. In the mid 1850's this was the Wild West.They had Pioneers and Homesteaders of all types move here to seek their fortunes...only to find hard times and a wild frontier.
  Anyways, I just loved seeing the words "Claim Jumper."
So here is my hand drawn art inspired by those old miners from Nevada's Old West Territory. I drew this art with a sharpie pen on old paper and scanned it to my computer.

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.

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!


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.  

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

Cigar Box Guitar Parts

I've posted here many times about my friend Mike Lowe's handmade cigar box guitar parts, but I want to post again about his guitar parts he builds and sells for homemade guitars. The will make any guitar both play and sound great. The key is the way your guitar will play, they really help a guitar's stability in staying in tune. He has a whole line of parts that can build 3 or 4 string cigar box and homemade  resonator guitars, in fact they are the only parts I use on the resonators that I build.

Anyways, I am posting this information here today because he has a new product he is making. It is a tail piece for 3 string guitars and is perfect for both standard "neck thru the box" type cigar box guitars, plus it's also great for building a resonator....you can use this same tailpiece on either type of guitar.....and best part is its only 13 bucks!

Here it is,

These tail pieces are made in Rockwall Texas and sold under the name "Old Lowe" resonator guitar parts, they are sold on several places on the internet, ebay, or direct thru Mike himself.
 If your are interested in ordering cigar box guitar parts for sale, check out Ben Bakers website at cbgitty.com. Ben has the reso cones and cover, sound hole bezels, tools, parts and fret wire and just  about everything else you'll need to build a cigar box guitar.
 I really enjoy using his parts, if your looking to build a 3 or 4 string cigar box or resonator guitar, Check out Old Lowe's resonator guitar parts to add to your homemade guitar.

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

Cigar Box Resonator Guitar

I keep making this guitar over and over. I hate to be repetitive, it's just that it is such a great sounding guitar. It's also super easy to play and just downright fun to play.
Three string guitar are so easy to play, they really are, I know I post the same stuff and harp on the same thing, but a 3 string cigar box guitar is by far the easiest guitar to learn, plus the have the most authintic "old time Blues" tone and feel in the music that they make. On top of that, a great guitar player can use one to record the most interetsing and vintage sounding recordings possible. It's hard to believe there is so many opinions with such a simple guitar.

If you have yet to try building your own cigar box guitar. I highly recommend building one with a  resonator cone made by "Old Lowe" from  Rockwall Texas, They are the only parts I use on my guitars. Not only is Mike a great friend, but his resonator cones speak for themselves...I literally mean it, these cones can talk!

Have a listen to this short video,

If you would be interested in buying a fully built guitar like this email me at john@reddogguitars.com

or Just google "Red Dog Guitars"

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!

You'll be needin' a page breaker before I set you up with this next shot...

This video was recorded with a 3 string guitar and an old 1950's radio turned into a retro-rocket homemade guitar amp.

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 : )

Three-peat Poster

I know, I just posted a photo of this guitar a day ago!

 Today I figured I might as well try my hand at recycling art and photos...that's what the guitars are all about anyways?
The label in the top corner I drew on top of the photo is inspired by labels on old auto parts boxes from the 50's and 60's. I used this art a few days ago on the Las Cabrillas guitar with no strings on the body. The guitar in this photo is a silver" Old Timer" 3 string guitar paired with a vintage early 1970's Pignose...by far the best sounding amp for cigar box guitar. I just love old Pignoses!

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!

Aged Cigar Box Guitar tuners

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!

The 11th Annual Cigar Box Guitar Festival

The Cigar Box Guitar Festival is back for its 11th year at Lowe Mill ARTS &Entertainment in Huntsville Alabama.

 This is the original Cigar Box Guitar festival and the Mecca for people who are into celebrating all aspects of Cigar Box Guitar folk culture. Here is this years poster.

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.

Would you like to know more???

I knew you would!.....or better yet, I knew you wood!

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,

Are you still with me??? I bet your droolin' over these photos just like I am!

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,

Ok folks, carry on with your day and I hope this info helps the person out there who wants to add a pickup to their cigar box guitar with a pickup that has just the right mix of homemade Americana, and ease of use to install, this is the perfect guitar pickup for you!.....remember the name "Victory Guitars Pickups."