Cigar Box Guitar History


Cigar Box Guitar History - Thorne Studios

Historically, the origins of most cigar box guitars performers are found in poverty – CBG’s were made and played by Depression-era jug bands members who specialized in making instruments out of anything. Follow in the footsteps of Blind Willie Johnson, Lightin’ Hopkins, Hound Dog Taylor, Big Bill Broonzy and many other old-time blues legends – it has been documented that all of these legendary folks rocked on a cigar box guitar at one time in their careers.

We’ve all heard stories about famous bluesmen or country singers that started their careers on a simple homemade cigar box guitar. With a list of artists including Jimi Hendrix, Roy Clark and Carl Perkins, the cigar box guitar has been the precursor to many great careers and countless stories.

Cigars were extremely popular in the nineteenth century; many empty cigar boxes would be left around households. The 1800s were also a simpler time for Americans, when necessity was truly the mother of invention. Using a cigar box to create a guitar, fiddle or banjo was an obvious choice for crafty souls.

The earliest proof of a cigar box instrument is an etching of two Civil War soldiers at a campsite – one is playing a cigar box fiddle. The artist, Edwin Forbes, was from France and worked as an official artist for the Union Army. The cigar box fiddle appears to sport an advanced viola-length neck attached to a “Figaro” cigar box. The etching is dated 1876.

The cigar box guitar has such an awesome pedigree. Blind Willie Johnson made a one string when he was five – he quickly learned to play melodies up and down that lonely string. Blind Willie would record the monumental “Dark Was The Night (Cold Was The Ground)” on a standard guitar. The song is a instrumental classic that has droning chords lying in the background while a haunting melody is playing up and down the high E string – a technique he learned on his original one-string cigar box guitar.

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