The history of the cigar box guitar dates back to 1840. The earliest evidence of this was in an illustrated proof in 1876 of an etching showing two civil war soldiers at a campsite playing a cigar box fiddle. Cigars were initially packed in boxes, crates and barrels in the 1800s but the smaller boxes that we know today were only introduced after the 1840s.
Plans for a cigar box guitar were published around 1884 by Daniel Carter Beard; the plans were re-titled “How to Build an Uncle Enos Banjo” these plans had omitted the story but still showed a step by step description for a 5 string fret-less banjo made from a cigar box guitar. Thus the primitive looking instrument was born.
The cigar box guitars were an important part of the rise of the early jug bands and blues. Most of these performers were black Americans living in poverty and could not afford to buy a real instrument. Using these guitars along with washtub basses made from broom handles and tubs, they were able to produce a rhythm. Along with harmonicas and washboards the first stages of the blues were born during these socialisations.
Homemade Musical Instruments
The great depression of the 1930s saw a resurgence of homemade instruments. Times were hard in the American south and a popular pastime was groups sitting on their porch “singing away their blues”. Musical instruments were an unheard of commodity but an old cigar box, broom handle and some twine suddenly made the first stages of what we know today as the guitar.
Modern day times have come on leaps and bounds and so much so the “Cigar box revolution” is well and truly under way, current sites include cigarboxnation.com started up by Shane Speal which has over a thousand members showing off their skills and sharing their outstanding knowledge to others.
Famous artists that have used cigar box guitars are Jimi Hendrix, BB King, Gary Moore, Seasick Steve, Robert Johnson to name but a few.
The blues has been the backbone of music since the early 1800s and continues to appeal to artists and public alike.
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