A Real “Roots” Instrument: a Fifth-grader’s Tree Branch Diddley Bow

Nick Krissie is a teacher at the Sunset School in Coos Bay, Oregon. He recently started a series of handmade instrument building workshops with students in the school, focused on teaching them to both build and play instruments like cigar box guitars.

Recently Nick sent us some photographs of something special one of his fifth-graders had brought in. Entirely of his own volition, outside of school, this youngster build his very own diddley bow out of a tree branch, some screws and a length of wire.

“From what he told me he has a hand saw he used to cut the branch and I am not sure about a drill for the screws,” Krissie said. “The bridge is nailed in but it was loose so he lashed it with tape. He wanted to use a can for a resonator but he couldn’t get it to fit. I might help him make a pickup to put on it. The string is very tight and the stick is fairly short so it is high pitched. He was using a little plastic flashlight as a slide.”

For us, this strikes right to the core of what the handmade music movement is all about. A simple instrument like this, built by a creative and inquisitive child, takes the idea of musical instruments back to its most fundamental, personal roots, as far as you can get from the shiny, clear-coated, mass-produced Tele clones being cranked out of factories all over the world.

This is where it begins, and what it’s all about. We need more fifth graders making diddley bows in this world.

Glenn Watt and Kenny Rogers on Cigar Box Guitar Building

GlennWatt.com

We have a feed of Glenn Watt’s blog here on the front page of CigarBoxGuitar.com, but his most recent post deserves some special attention.

In it, Glenn uses the words from Kenny’s famous song “The Gambler” as a motivational road map to building cigar box guitars (and doing pretty much any other DIY project as well).

Whether you’ve built one CBG or several hundred, give this a read. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

Historical Musical Instruments Patents Series – From game-changing inventions to just-plain-cool oddities

Patent - 1923 - US1446758 - Gibson Truss Rod Screen ShotWe have just posted the first in what will be a lengthy series of historical U. S. musical instrument patents. In this series we will feature historically significant inventions (the innaugral post is what we believe to be the first adjustable guitar truss rod, awarded to Gibson in 1923), as well as other interesting, inspirational or oddball musical inventions from the last 150 or so years.

Our hope is that cigar box guitar builders and other homemade & handmade instrument crafters will find these patents useful and even inspirational. We often find that looking at what has been done in the past can be a great starting point for coming up with new innovations.

We hope you enjoy this new feature of the CigarBoxGuitar.com knowledgebase!

New Cigar Box Guitar History Section – Historic Plans

Click on the image above to view the Historic Plans knowledgebase category.
Click on the image above to view the Historic Plans knowledgebase category.

We have created a new knowledgebase category here on the site, specifically dedicated to historic plans for building cigar box guitars, ukuleles and other homemade instruments. These vintage plans from long-forgotten publications helped keep the do-it-yourself instrument hobby alive through the years, and without them who knows if we’d have a modern cigar box guitar revival!

Click here or on the image to the right to check out the category. We will be adding many more entries in the near future, so be sure to check back often. And if you know of any such plans, be sure to let us know!

You’ve never seen a Cigar Box Guitar quite like this one…

Michael Van Slyke's Aluminum Frame Cigar Box GuitarCigar Box Nation member Michael Van Slyke of Texas recently uploaded this photo of a custom 6-string cigar box guitar he built. Check out that custom-shaped aluminum bar stock outer frame! This is the sort of creative and innovative work is inspiring for builders everywhere.

Click the image to the right to see the full-size photo, or click here to check out Michael’s page on Cigar Box Nation where some of his other creations can be seen. Michael is one of thousands of amazing, innovative folks on Cigar Box Nation creating cigar box guitars and other wacky homemade instruments. If you’re ever short on inspiration for your next build, spend a few minutes browsing through the photos over there and you’ll soon have no shortage of ideas!

 

The next time someone asks you what kind of music can be played on a Cigar Box Guitar…

…tell them to shut up and watch this video. Ben Uke Rouse does an amazing rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” on a 3-string CBG.

Christmas Eve with Uncle Enos

Christmas Eve with Uncle EnosJust in time for Christmas, we’ve just posted a PDF of the 4-page Christmas Eve with Uncle Enos story, written by Daniel Carter Beard (co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America), and first published in the 1884-1885 edition of The Book Buyer.

This is more than just a story though, as it contains full how-to plans meant to get boys building their own 5-string banjos out of cigar boxes. As such it was both one of the earliest published mentions of cigar box instruments, as well as one of the first sets of published plans for how to build them!

Disclaimer: We present the digital version of the original document here in its full, unedited form. Some the terminology used in it in regards to race may be considered by some today to be offensive. We present it here only as a historical curiosity and educational artifact.

Shane Speal plays The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” on the Cigar Box Guitar

This is the classic Beatles song, beautifully rendered by Shane Speal on his stage-beaten and time-worn Macanudo 3-string cigar box guitar. Shane really captures the dark and subtle depth of this simple yet nuanced tune.

Kids can build Cigar Box Guitars – Just keep it Pure & Simple

Tim Ellis and Daughter - Pure & Simple Kit

C. B. Gitty customer Tim Ells recently sent us these pictures of his daughter and himself building a cigar box guitar using Gitty’s Pure & Simple Cigar Box Guitar Kit. This is what it’s all about, and exactly what Gitty had in mind when designing the kit!

Why the Cigar Box Guitar Revolution Really is a Revolution

Back in the mid 1990’s, Shane Speal played a primary role in the rediscovery of the cigar box guitar. Drawn to their primitive, raw sound and power, and how far removed they were from the main-stream musical establishment scene, he declared the start of the Cigar Box Guitar Revolution.

Cigar Box Nation LogoThese days, 20 or so years into the modern CBG revival, people sometimes roll their eyes or scoff a bit when we still refer to this movement as a revolution. I am here to tell you it still is, and I just a reminder of why this morning.

A couple of days ago, I posted a knowledgebase article on Zero Frets, with the goal of introducing cigar box guitar builders to this often overlooked or misunderstood topic. This morning I found in my inbox a comment from a man who is a luthier, and runs a website dedicated to luthiery. I will not name him or his site, that is not the point of this blog post. Suffice to say, it is the sort of site where the subcellular structures of certain strains of Sitka spruce grown in certain soils, and the effects of all of that on tonal quality, are discussed.

His comment on my zero fret article was this, and I quote: “Utterly wrong. Sorry. Indefensibly so. Back to the drawing board.”

Immediately, I thought “what did I get wrong”? Continue reading “Why the Cigar Box Guitar Revolution Really is a Revolution”

Cigar Box Guitar Inspiration from Glenn Watt

Need a dose of cigar box guitar-related humour and motivation? Read Glenn Watt’s latest blog post:

HUMILITY, FRET SAWS, AND A FLAMING CIGAR BOX GUITAR

Glenn is quickly becoming one of the most active and insightful voices of the cigar box guitar and handmade/homemade music movement. His mixture of inspiration and humility, humour and plainly stated how-to information can be useful and instructive for both new builders and veteran CBG-ers.