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Acoustic Blues Guitar - Cigar Box Guitars

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Cigar Box Guitars Came Before Stella Guitars

The introduction of cheap Stella Harmony guitars at the turn of the 20the century gave a huge boost to the aspirations of many poor black guitar players throughout the states, particularly in the rural areas, where people couldn't afford to travel to get to a store.

Even if they could, money for guitar buying was a little scarce to say the least. Sears provided a means of ordering at a distance, and so represented a big step for the development of blues music.

Cigar Box Guitars

However, before that acoustic guitars were few and far between. Many of the blues men started to play as kids and bought instruments were just not an option - they simply made guitars and fiddles out of whatever they had around the house or yard.


There was always a length of wood around, and various options for fabricating a sound box, but it wasn't until around 1890 that a commercial change in the sale of cigars provided a spin off that was to exist even up to the present time - the cigar box!

The Cigar Box Guitar Was born

Until that time cigars were shipped in barrels of cases in large quantities, but the sellers then changed to smaller quantities shipped in square (or squarish) boxes that were quite robust and durable They were a lot smaller than the sound box of a standard parlor guitar, but resonated quite well.

If a kid could find a box such as this, and the other components, he was on the way to the blues, or perhaps country or bluegrass, whatever his preference. So what was needed? A length of broom handle or flat section could be fastened to the back of the box, or through it, which enhances the strength. Cut a round hole, add strings and a means of  adding tension, and you have a rudimentary guitar!

 Cigar Box Guitar ExampleNot just Cigar Box guitars, But Violins Too!

Often these instruments could be plucked, strummed or played with a home made bow, like a fiddle and the quality of the sound varied enormously, depending on the care taken and the materials used.

They were probably difficult to keep in tune and needed adjusting after every song, but they became popular and whole bands appeared using home made guitars and violins.

After all, they cost nothing to make! Many blues men such as Lightnin' Hopkins report how they made a rudimentary guitar to start playing the blues - without cigar boxes they probably never would have started.

How Do You Play A Home Made Cigar Box Guitar?

The playing techniques and style were a little different for these guitars, as it was rare to find one with the normal six strings, due to the tension that these instruments could stand. This restricted limited the number of strings to four maximum, but is wasn't unusual to find one, two and three stringed cigar box guitars.

Although you could make a tune with one or two strings, the sound became richer musically with more strings, as there were more variations harmonically available.

A Short History About Cigar Box Guitars

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It was common to add lighter gauge strings, either three or four, and tune them the same as the higher strings of a six string guitar. Either normal tuning or an open variation could be used, which meant that simpler chords could be fretted, making it easier to play and sing to.

More than one guitar could be played, tuned differently in order to make the sound more complex and interesting. Open guitar tunings also lend themselves to playing with a bottleneck - three or four strings are also easier to keep in tune in humid conditions.