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Notable Cigar Box Guitar Players
Blind Willie Johnson: His father made him a one-string cigar box guitar at the age of five. Young Willie learned to play melodies up and down that lonely string using a slide to fret the notes. This became essential training to his unique style of playing, for later on in life, he would incorporate the single string melodies on his six-string guitar. The best example of this is his phenomenal song "Dark Was The Night (Cold Was The Ground)"
Lightnin Hopkins: "So I went ahead and made me a guitar. I got me a cigar box, I cut me a round hole in the middle of it, take me a little piece of plank, nailed it onto that cigar box, and I got me some screen wire and I made me a bridge back there and raised it up high enough that it would sound inside that little box, and got me a tune out of it. I kept my tune and I played from then on." (from Guitar Player Magazine)
Charlie Christian: He made and played a cigar box guitar in his teen years from a manual class.
Carl Perkins: One of the greatest cigar box legends! His father made him a guitar from a cigar box broomstick and two pieces of baling wire. Perkins was seven at the time. He went on to be one of the greatest of all the rockabilly guitarists.
Jimi Hendrix: Whoa, check this one out... "Eight year old James Marshall Hendrix wanted so much to play the guitar to set his poems to music that he used a broom to strum out the rhythms in his head until he crafted a cigar box into his own guitar." (from Pittsburgh Post Gazette) Jimi's cigar box guitar had rubber bands wrapped around the box, serving as strings.
George Benson: Yes, that George Benson! The eight time Grammy winner started his career as 'Little
Georgie Benson, the Kid From Gilmore Alley,' playing a cigar box ukulele on street corners.
rRoy Clark: Roy Clark The great country guitarist and banjo player (and Hee-Haw host) first played an instrument his father made from a cigar box and ukulele neck with four strings.
Albert King: Albert made and played several 1-string cigar box guitars and diddley bows starting at the age of 6. He got his first real guitar 12 years later.
Hound Dog Taylor: The Dog first played piano, then cigar box guitar and then got a real guitar in his teens.
Robert Pete Williams: In 1934, 20 year old Williams taught himself how to play guitar by first building one out of a cigar box. His crude instrument had 5 copper strings. Williams was born in Zachary, Louisiana, the son of sharecropping parents. While he was a child, he worked the fields with his family; he never attended school. Williams didn't begin playing blues until his late teens, when he made himself a guitar out of a cigar box. Playing his homemade guitar, Williams began performing at local parties, dances, and fish fries at night while he worked during the day
Buddy Guy: In the video Buddy Guy with G.E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live Band -Real Deal, Buddy remembers the first time he met the blues...and the first guitar he played. Of course, it was made from a cigar box.
Albert Collins: The Master of the Telecaster first started out on a down-home cigar box guitar. His second instrument was a guitar made by a local carpenter. Legend has it that he placed rattles from a rattlesnake inside to improve the sound.
Pee Wee Crayton: This R&B legend started out on cigar box guitar as a child in Austin, TX.
King Bennie Nawahi: The great Hawaiian virtuoso, King Benny played slack-key guitar, ukulele, steel guitar and a one-string cigar box fiddle.
Big Bill Broonzy: Young Bill Broonzy first played music on a corn stalk fiddle, eventually graduating to one made from a cigar box. He got so good at playing the instrument that the owner of the plantation he lived on invited him to play at picnics and dances.
Eddie Lang: Before he was old enough to attend school, Lang, a.k.a. 'the Father of Jazz guitar' was riffing on a cigar box guitar built by his father (who was a luthier by trade).
Louis Armstrong: Don't quote me on this one. I'm still checking out the sources, but Shane Speal has come across a bio on ol' Sachmo that said his first instrument was a cigar box guitar.
Josh White: In an e-mail to Shane Speals website, Dr. Tony Hymas gave him this story of folk icon, Josh
I promoted a folk concert at Colorado State back in 1961 which featured Josh White and one of the first appearances of Josh White Jr. He and his son attended a small private party in my basement. After the concert, I remember him telling me that he too played a cigar box instrument as a kid.
(Editor's Note: Dr. Hymas is the curator of the National Cigar Museum)
Fenton Robinson: This bluesman built his first guitar out of a cigar box and wire at the age of 11. He learned to play by listening to music from jukeboxes and radio shows such as the King Biscuit Flour Hour.
Sleepy John Estes: Learned to play on a home made cigar box guitar.
Scrapper Blackwell: Blackwell, a pre-war bluesman, built his first guitar using wire and wood and a cigar box.
Scott Dunbar: Fat Possum recording artist, Dunbar first built an instrument when he was eight from a cigar box, broom stick and cigar box.
This Bio information has been researched and written by Shane Speal, curator of the National Cigar box guitar museum. Without his dedication and long hours of research this history would not be available. This website owes a debt of gratitude to him for his contribution. Thanks Shane!