You may be thinking that plans published in a guitar mag in 1976 aren’t quite old enough to qualify as “historic”. These plans are special though, because these are the ones that Shane Speal used to build his first cigar box guitar… and from that first cigar box guitar, he went on to jump-start the entire modern cigar box guitar revival.
This article on how to build a cigar box ukulele comes from the June, 1917 edition of Popular Mechanics. In it S. H. Samuels walks the reader through the basics of constructing a uke, which in 1917 “was made at a cost of 30 cents, by careful selection of materials from the shop scrap stock.”
Click the image below to see as PDF of the article, or you can click here to see the article in the original context of the Popular Mechanics edition,
This story first appeared in The Book Buyer: A Summary of American and Foreign Literature in 1884-1885. It was written by Daniel Carter Beard, who also founded the Boy Scouts of America. It tells the story of a Christmas Eve where the boys Tom, Dick and Harry discover that their beloved Uncle Enos has built himself a banjo out of a cigar box and broomstick.
This is not just a story though, but a set of plans for how to build a 5-string fretless banjo using a cigar box. These plans, minus the folksy story, would later be incorporated into Beard’s American Boy’s Handy Book.
Due to the time period in which it was written, some of the language and terms used in it may be offensive to some people. We present the digital version of the original publication here in its full, unedited form, as a historical curiosity and for educational purposes, as one of the earliest printed references to making instruments out of cigar boxes. We hope you enjoy it.
Here is a short article from the July, 1920 edition of Popular Science Monthly, in which author Frank W. Vroom gives fairly brief instructions for constructing what he calls a “Jazzolin” using a cigar box. This is basically another take on the classic one-string cigar box fiddle.
Click on the image below to view the printable PDF document for these plans. They were published in the February-March 1948 edition of the Science and Mechanics magazine. If you want to see an old movie of W. C. Fields having an energetic time with a similar instrument, check out this video post on Cigar Box Nation.