For years I tried to learn to play the guitar. I took lessons as a kid but I got bored. As an adult, I tried and tried but giant hands and rheumatoid arthritis made playing not just difficult but impossible. I consider myself to be quite musically inclined but even after practicing every day for months, I could not get clean chords or scales with a 6 string guitar. Fast forward a few years to holiday season 2015. My wife had the amazing idea to do something for Christmas that would allow us as a family to make memories rather than collecting more junk. I had been wanting to build some sort of instrument for a long time so I suggested that I build the kids cigar box guitars. She thought about it for a second and said “I don’t think you will have the time”. I later learned that this was code for “I think they will be dumb!!!”. Despite my wife’s concerns about my time, I opted to build them anyway so I found some cigar boxes and off I went.
When I built my first guitar, I decided to challenge myself. I wanted to see if I could build a guitar over lunch. I took some basic tools and supplies over to a picnic table near my office, cranked some blues music and proceeded to build. Success!!! I built a 1 string diddley bow in under an hour. I have added a pickup to it and upgraded some parts since building it but I had a playable instrument in an hour. I still love to bang on that thing!
Now that I knew I could do it, I picked a box and built an actual guitar. So that I could ease into the building process, I decided to build a fretless guitar. Several days and many lessons learned later, I had a completed instrument. I still have that guitar and it is playable but some of the “lessons learned” make it less enjoyable to play. I was now ready to build for my kids.
My son wanted something to take camping so I made him a short scale dulcimer. My 10-year-old daughter was going to be learning ukulele in school so that is what she got. My 7 year old makes up songs and sings ALL THE TIME but had no experience with instruments so I made her a 1 stringer with a dulcimer fretboard so that she could never hit a wrong note. I wasn’t looking for perfection, I just wanted playable. When I finished them and played them, I was amazed at how they sounded….and looked. The dulcimer chimed and is just a kick to site and play with one finger. Same with the 1 stringer. At work, I have a friend who would bring her ukulele and play at lunch. I had her try it out and she couldn’t believe that it was a handmade instrument using common lumber yard materials. I was told that it played and sounded like a 500 dollar store bought uke. Needless to say, my expectations for the instruments were vastly surpassed!
Since I didn’t have a workshop, most of the building was done in my garage and out of the back of my car. This made it quite difficult to hide what I was doing so occasionally the kids would get a peek of my project. I knew they were expecting instruments so I was sneaky and hid them, all wrapped up, in the garage. After we were done opening presents, we talked about if they liked what they had received. They were quite content as kids usually are after opening a plethora of presents. I let the fact that present time was over sink in for a few minutes and we cleaned up the disaster area of a family room. As they were finishing pickup up the last bits of wrapping paper, I snuck out to the garage and retrieved the instruments. When I came back in, their eyes lit up because they knew what was in the boxes. I am not sure what I enjoyed more, seeing them open the presents or the look on my beautiful wife’s face when they pulled them out. She was as surprised as I was at how well they turned out. That is when I learned the translation of “I don’t think you will have time”. Since then, I have built several more guitars, each a little better than the previous. I have learned so much and will no doubt learn with each one I build.
Since the traditional, if you can call it that, cigar box guitar only has 3 strings, they are spaced farther apart and the chord forms are much less complicated. This has made playing much easier for my big crippled hands. I was able crank out a 12 bar blues riff in no time and now have tons of songs that I can play. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t play at least 5 minutes, even if only to sing my kids a bed-time song. It is safe to say that musically, cigar box guitars have changed my life for the better.
So build or buy a cigar box guitar! It could change your life too. A word of warning however!!!!! Once you start, it is very hard to stop.
Rusty Summer Custom Guitars builds amazing one of a kind playable works of art!
These gorgeous instruments are not just meant to be hung on the wall, but to be cherished, played and passed down for generations.
Rusty Summer Custom Guitars is also the home of the Hick Stick, possibly the most hackable instrument ever! Play it as is for a quiet practice/travel guitar or hook it up to anything that will resonate and you are naturally amplified! You could even slap on a piezo pickup and plug it into an amp for some crunch! So come on in, sit a spell and let's create and learn together!
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