Keni Lee Burgess

Musical styles: Mississippi delta blues, Roots, Folk, Americana

Handmade instrument played: cigar box guitar

He dabbled in guitar as a teenager, playing in a band and partying with friends. In his youth, artists like Led Zepplin, The Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix opened his eyes to the blues. It was then that Keni Lee Burgess got hooked on the bottleneck slide.

Like so many beginner guitarists, Burgess cut his teeth with the likes of Happy Traum songbooks. Later he learned from listening to newfound heroes, such as Robert Johnson, Sonny House, and Fred McDowell.

As with anyone seeking to master a given craft, Burgess took to the art of diligent practice. He studied with internationally renowned guitarists like Bob Brozman and Woody Mann. And as he puts it, “I have studied with some fine players, but it is really the time you spend alone working on skills and songs that brings the lessons into performance.”

Burgess’s deep dive into his studies led him to cigar box guitars. The Foxfire series of books introduced him to cake tin banjos. From there Burgess had a cigar box guitar built for him by a luthier friend. As Burgess recollects, “It is more of a miniature guitar than a simple stick through a box.”

His love for playing the blues led Burgess to busking. Videos of his performances, ripe with soul and skill, can be found on YouTube. After posting some of his videos there, viewers began asking for lessons.

Burgess then created a series of videos on how to play bottleneck slide guitar. The response was so good that he continued producing lessons, ultimately creating a DVD series that includes how to play 3 and 4 string cigar box guitars.

A love for the Mississippi Delta blues and the likes of Blind Willie Johnson, Charlie Patton, and Muddy Waters continues to fuel Burgess’s love for performing music. He has released 3 CDs in addition to his instructional DVD series, and continues to play live, delighting the public with his bottleneck blues.

Find Keni Lee Burgess on Facebook and Cigar Box Nation.

Legal Considerations of Repurposing Branded Products (like cigar boxes) for Resale

jack-daniels-old-7-sign-1312This post recounts my own experience with one particular facet of United States trademark law, and recounts some of the legal advice provided to me through paid consultation with a Trademark attorney. This is NOT meant to be legal advice, and is not meant to condone or recommend any particular course of action. If you are facing your own questions of trademark infringement and legality, you need to get your own professional legal advice about your situation.

As far as I know, all of this only comes into play if you decide to sell a product – if you are just making something for personal/non-commercial use, then (in my opinion) you don’t have much to worry about.

Late last month I received a certified letter from a lawyer representing the Jack Daniels company. It was a Cease and Desist notice, in which they were asking that we stop building, selling and marketing one of our “advertising tin guitars” that featured a 12-inch round painted “Old No. 7 Brand” design, which is one of Jack Daniels’ famous registered trademarked brands.

They claimed that by doing so, we were infringing their trademark, diluting their brand and potentially confusing customers into believing that Jack Daniels had produced or licensed this guitar.

My initial reaction was to be incredulous – this was just another big corporation trying to strong-arm and scare a little guy into compliance. These were fully licensed reproduction tin signs that I had purchased from an authorized reseller. How could they decree what that sign could or could not be used for after purchase? I had not agreed to any sort of license or terms of use when I bought it. My belief was that repurposing an item like this was covered under the Fair Use doctrine, or was at least in a solidly gray area, and that doing so was a legal activity.

Turns out, I was wrong. Here is what I learned:

First, I learned that Trademarks are different from Copyrights. Trademarks are created purely to protect commercial brands, whereas copyrights protect creative works like books, articles, photographs, artwork, etc. As such, the case law for trademarks was in some ways different,  and more restrictive, for trademarks.

Second, I learned that the Fair Use Doctrine applies primarily to Copyrights, not really to trademarks. You can read more about the Fair Use Doctrine in detail here: Wikipedia Fair Use entry. Basically, it  says that portions of works or entire works can be reused and reproduced under certain circumstances (educational, parody, etc), even if they are copyrighted, with out permission from (or royalties being due to) the creator.

Third, I learned that the other portion of trademark law at work in this particular case is the First Sale Doctrine. There is a great article explaining this that you can read here (I highly recommend this one). Basically, this is the part of trademark law that allows you to resell genuine trademarked goods (be it a Tiffany lamp, a Coach handbag or a Jack Daniels tin sign) as what they are.  It states that once the original trademark owner releases their product into the marketplace, they lose the right to control its distribution and/or prevent its resale. At first this sounds good for the case in question… but there’s a “but”… see below.

Fourth,  I learned that the First Sale doctrine limits its protection to reselling the item in question IN ITS ORIGINAL UNCHANGED FORM. From the article: “That limitation protects against confusing consumers into believing a “materially” changed good was made by the trademark owner. If a good is modified, it can’t be sold bearing the original trademark.”

Learning this about the limitations of the First Sale doctrine was pretty much the death knell for my claims in regards to the Jack Daniels tin guitars, and I had no choice but to comply with their cease and desist order and stop building and selling the guitar.

But what really worried me was the bigger question was that if Jack Daniels could claim this about their tin signs, what would stop a cigar company from claiming it about their cigar boxes being made into guitars, or oil companies from claiming it about their oil cans being made into canjos? In short, was this cease and desist letter calling the whole cigar box guitar/homemade music movement into question?

To answer this, we get into a much more gray area of the law. The key point in regards to the JD tin was that it was a licensed reproduction being sold to be used for decorative purposes – that was how Jack Daniels had licensed it to the sign-making manufacturers. By taking that branded tin and using it in another way, and then attempting to sell that new product under another brand name, their trademark rights were being infringed. According to my attorney, established case law firmly supports that point and the chances of winning a case would have been very small.

However, when it comes to repurposing/upcycling branded items which have already been “used up? for their intended purpose (like holding cigars), and after being used up are basically garbage (think cigar boxes, oil cans, cookie tins, wine boxes, beer cans, etc), the law is much less clear. According to my attorney, there has not really been a case in the courts which has considered this question – so it remains a “gray area” of trademark law. So for now, all of us who build and sell cigar box guitars and other such items operate in this gray area.

So far, to my knowledge none of the cigar manufacturers have attempted to crack down on CBG builders, or beer companies on canjo builders… but the day may come. As the repurposing/upcycling movement has gained steam, and more and more people are building and attempting to sell their creations, the big companies are more and more likely to notice that that money is being made off of their brands, and take action. Inevitably there will be a court case that considers the question, and the results of that case will affect all of us who build and sell CBGs.

Of course some of you might already be thinking of examples of more or less gray areas – what if scenarios, what-about-this-or-that questions, etc. All I can say is… it’s called a gray area for a reason. Some of these companies (think Jack Daniels, Harley-Davidson, Coke, Disney, etc) have HUGE merchandise marketing and licensing agreements. They make a LOT of money off of their trademarked brands being put on all sort of products… companies like this are likely to be a lot more protective in regards to people using those trademarked brands in ways they haven’t licensed. Whereas cigar companies focus primarily on selling cigars, and there is a long history of the empty boxes being used for all sorts of purposes… we can hope that there is an inherent benevolence or tolerance there that will keep them from going after anyone.

So my attorney’s advice to me was to stop all use of trademarked, licensed stuff (like the JD tins) that I was buying new from resellers for use in building musical instruments for resale, but that it was reasonably safe to continue using  cigar boxes, oil cans, beer cans and the like that could be considered repurposed/upcycled “trash” items… until such time as the question is settled in court.

For my part, you can bet I’ll be keeping a close eye on any developments in this area, as it affects the very core of my business. As one of the most widely marketed and visible companies operating in this realm, there is a decent chance that if a cigar box related Cease and Desist ever does show up, it will be at my door. If that ever happens, I will throw everything I have into fighting it in the courts, on my own behalf and on behalf of the entire movement. I firmly believe that our particular form of repurposing and upcycling “trash” into new products is, and should be, protected under the First Sale/Exhaustion doctrine of U. S. trademark law.

Microwave Dave (Dave Gallaher)

Musical style: Blues, Blues-rock, R&B, Originals

Handmade instrument played: cigar box guitar

Microwave Dave is a Chicago-born and southern raised man. His life growing up was steeped in music, beginning with singing in a children’s choir and rambling through a host of instruments including trumpet, French horn, ukulele, guitar, and a bit of accordion. Dave’s early musical experiences include playing drums in a dixieland band featured by the old Houston Oilers of the American Football League.

In college, Dave played in an R&B band that toured colleges, was hired for some session work, and appeared with a young Aretha Franklin. Unfortunately for him and his mates, members of the band, including Dave, were called to serve in the Vietnam War. Even in wartime Dave found a way to play in a soul band.

After serving his tour in the war Dave committed to working as a full-time musician. He played with a band named Cameron for twelve years, recording three albums with them, and playing over 300 dates a year. Post Cameron, Dave set off into a three year stint playing in a gospel group before moving to Huntsville, Alabama where he more deeply celebrated his Blues and R&B roots.

It’s in Huntsville that Microwave Dave formed the Nukes, a deep south Blues band, in the late ‘80’s. His musical career didn’t stop at performing as Dave also produced and hosted (and still hosts) a Blues program on the radio, earning him a nomination for a W.C. Handy award in ‘95.

Dave continues to play his soulful Blues with the Nukes and for solo performances. In addition to that Dave can be found giving his time to local organizations to promote Blues music. The mayor of Huntsville even signed a proclamation honoring Dave with his own day, Microwave Dave Day, in 2015.

Find Microwave Dave at:

One Hand Dan (Dan Russell)

Musical styles: Delta, Deep South, Swamp Blues
Handmade instruments played: Banjukimer, cigar box guitar, license plate guitar, ukulele, Lowebow…

Texas-born, Alabama-raised Dan Russell was presented a particular challenge at an early age. This one challenge, that ultimately helped to give him his stage name, is also what helps to set his music apart from the rest of the blues performers that can be seen busking southern city sidewalks. One Hand Dan has used the namesake of his challenge to enthusiastically roll through life, performing with grit and gusto.

Despite his mono manual operations, as a youth Dan learned how to succeed in sports like football and studied several martial arts. Taking his flair for the competitive a bit further, Dan worked as a professional wrestler for thirteen years, incorporating some ukulele and banjo performances into his act. Being bitten by the bug to perform in a different capacity, Dan found his love for playing music stoked by trying his hand at bottleneck slide guitar.

Dan began busking the streets of Florence, Alabama and across the Tennessee River in Muscle Shoals. He brought his love for the Delta Blues to the sidewalks and his unique personality to his music. Knowing how to play multiple stringed instruments and incorporating them into his performances proved to be problematic in the event that a speedy exit sometimes needed to be made from his spot on the sidewalk. Dan solved some of his gear issues by getting himself a three-necked cigar box guitar. In doing so he carved out a spot for himself in not only the blues but also the handmade musical instrument community. This iconic instrument which came to be known as a Banjukimer (built by John Nickel and Jason Maaz of Nickel Cigar Box Guitars).

His collection of instruments has grown to include ukuleles handmade with various tins, license plate and cigar box guitars all played with Dan’s unique style and aplomb. He continues his street performances, playing in various venues across the country, and has released an album on C. B. Gitty Records.

Visit Dan’s website:

One String Willie (David Williams)

Musical style: Blues
Handmade instrument played: Diddley bow

The diddley bow, some would have you believe, is an entry level instrument; one that a bluesman may start out on but would later grow out of in favor of a full size guitar. One String Willie turned that notion on its head. He has pursued his passion project of exploring the limits of the primitive one string instrument and rekindled a style of play relegated to history.

David began playing guitar in 1964 and picked up bottleneck slide guitar in ‘76. His early musical interests included ragtime, blues, rock, and jug bands. In high school while playing in a jug band, David built a washtub bass. With this a seed had been planted.

In 2004 the seed sprouted when David, a Pennsylvania native, read an article about a fellow Pennsylvanian, Shane Speal, who was curating a cigar box guitar museum. From the article David found the impetus to make his own cigar box guitar.

A year later David met Shane who recommended that David check out Eddie “One String” Jones. David was deeply moved by the raw, powerful music that Eddie Jones made on his diddley bow. The sprout of passion for DIY music, and diddley bows in particular, had blossomed.

From Eddie “One String” Jones CD liner notes, which included a drawing and photographs of Eddie’s diddley bow, David made his own. With some broom wire, wood, a jar, and a can, a diddley bow was built and One String Willie was born.

One String Willie first performed at the Huntsville, AL, 3rd Annual Cigar Box Guitar Festival in 2007 and has been performing ever since. A unique twist to One String Willie’s performances is that he will walk the audience through the history and construction of a diddley bow, from start to finish. Then he’ll break into his percussive, soulful performance.

One String Willie continues to test the boundaries of what a diddley bow can do using these questions (quoted from his website):
What kinds of sounds can be made on one string, and what techniques can be used to make them?
How can those sounds be integrated into a piece of music?
How can the apparent limitations of the instrument be overcome with ingenuity and novel technique?

One String Willie’s website:

Purgatory Hill (Pat MacDonald)

Musical style: Goth blues, stomp-rock
Handmade instruments played: cigar box guitar, Lowebow

Pat MacDonald originally took the name Purgatory Hill as a solo artist, before using it for the hypnotic, hard-edged duo he formed with singer/songwriter melaniejane.

A long time performing artist, who as one half of the band Timbuk3 was nominated in 1987 for a Grammy as Best New Artist, Pat has deep roots in the recording industry. He is an acclaimed songwriter who has collaborated on songs with artists like Cher, Keith Urban, and Peter Frampton. Pat also has credits on songs performed by artists Aerosmith, Night Ranger, and Billy Ray Cyrus to name a few.

One night after Pat’s performance, a fan handed a cigar box guitar to him and told Pat to keep it. The cigar box guitar was a Lowebow, the brainchild of artists John Lowe and Richard Johnston. That guitar helped to shape the direction Pat moved in the music he created.

The Lowebow, which in its early inceptions was given the name Purgatory Hill Harp, has one bass string and three guitar strings which enable Pat to get the deep, growling sound he is fond of. His knack for playing dark, thumping grooves made possible by this CBG, were fitting music for his poetry.

Much like the deep drones of Mississippi Hill country music that seem to influence Pat’s style, the cigar box guitar gave Pat a medium through which to express his dark art. From the name of his newfound instrument, and with John Lowe’s blessing, Pat took the name Purgatory Hill.

Pat then teamed up with melaniejane who plays electric cello, accordion, percussion, and sings to complement Pat’s own talents. Along with melaniejane the Wisconsin musical duo tours and records, receiving national press coverage for their craft.

Check out pat and melaniejane at

Richard Johnston

Musical style: Hill country blues
Handmade instruments played: Cigar box guitar, Lowebow

As a ten year old boy Richard Johnston was given his first six string guitar. The gift, being strung with only four strings, presented Richard with his first taste of playing droning notes, something that later in life re-emerged in his style of hill country blues.

Richard was introduced to the open G tuning and playing style of Robert Johnson while in university in southern California. He was smitten and incorporated what he heard into his own guitar playing. Richard continued his education in Japan for a spell, playing his Robert Johnson influenced blues guitar at a local watering hole.

His passion for playing slide guitar stuck with him and he stayed in Japan, eventually finding a regular paying gig. That gig got him noticed by a writer from Memphis, TN who encouraged Richard to come back to the States to play his first blues festival in Memphis.

There Richard found and fell in love with Beale Street. With that Richard moved to the Music City where he found a living busking. Busking in Memphis put Richard in close proximity to the north Mississippi hill country blues with its driving drones that would ultimately shape his playing style.

Memphis also put him close to John Lowe. John was making unique handmade instruments and selling them in his Memphis store. After playing a couple of his instruments, Richard asked John make a custom cigar box guitar. This eventually turned into a creative collaboration that produced the storied Lowebow.

By this time, Richard had become accustomed to playing percussion with his feet while busking. He took the double stick-necked cigar box guitar that Lowe had made and won first place in the 2001 International Blues Challenge along with the Albert King Guitar Award.

Richard has gone on to play his foot-stomping brand of hill country blues in 13 different countries at some of the biggest music festivals in the world. Along with establishing himself as a soulful singing one man band Richard has also been the impetus for an instrument that helped to change the way music on the cigar box guitar is played.

You can find Richard at

Samantha Fish


Musical styles: Blues, Rock, Roots, Americana, Hill Blues, Originals

Handmade Musical Instrument Played: Cigar Box Guitar

Hailing from Kansas City, Samantha Fish is a blues guitarist and singer that has broken the mold of cigar box guitar performers. While she has spent years honing her craft on six string electrics in various venues across both Europe and North America, Samantha has done something that few others have; she has put her cigar box guitar and the skills to play it on stage for massive audiences.

In her small, carefully curated arsenal of blues axes, Fish has a CBG built by Stogie Box Blues she bought while in Helena, Arkansas, playing at the 2012 King Biscuit Blues Festival. That year turned out to be a big one for Samantha as she won Best New Artist at the Blues Music awards in Memphis, TN.

Samantha started playing guitar at the age of 15 and haunted a local club for the next three years watching all the touring bands that rolled through town. At the age of 18 she began to take that same stage performing with various artists.

The next few years Samantha continued to perform and record which eventually led to her award in 2012.

The next year Samantha was given the opportunity to play with Buddy Guy who was initially a bit skeptical of Samantha taking the stage. However Buddy was so impressed by her playing that he was heard to have said, “When this kind of s@#! happens, I’ll play all night!”

Continuing to play and to grow as a musician has led Samantha to expand on her blues-rock style incorporating more roots rock and the fabled hill blues. She has released her third album as of 2015 and is still tearing up venues with her skillful performances and commanding vocals.

You can find Samantha Fish on her website:

Seasick Steve (Steven Wold)

Musical Styles: Blues, Rock, Boogie, Americana, Roots, Originals

Handmade Instruments Played: Hubcap, Washboard, Cigar Box Guitars, Diddley-bow

Seasick Steve is a blues guitarist and singer who lived the long, hard life of a performing artist many years before gaining notoriety. At one point, his entire living was made busking. It took over forty years of performing before he ultimately got his break.

Steve is a native of California whose rocky childhood led him to find his own way early in life. At eight years old he was introduced to playing blues guitar. At 13, he began hopping freight trains to find work elsewhere in the States. Steve worked as a farm laborer, a cowboy, and as a carnival worker, often living as a hobo.

In Steve’s words, “Hobos are people who move around looking for work, tramps are people who move around but don’t look for work, and bums are people who don’t move and don’t work. I’ve been all three.”

Steve began touring and performing with fellow blues musicians in the 1960’s and over time found work as a session musician and recording engineer. In the ‘90’s he continued working as an engineer and producer leaving his fingerprints all over several indie-label artists.

It wasn’t until 2001 when, after having moved to Norway, that Steve released his first album, and 2006 until he released his first solo album. Shortly after that solo release Steve broke out on the British stage. He quickly became a favorite son of the United Kingdom, winning awards and playing more festivals than any other artist at the time.

Steve has since toured the world, playing countless venues. He’s been featured on numerous television programs and continues to perform and release new, original music.

Seasick Steve’s website:

Shane Speal

Musical styles: Blues, Rock, Punk, Americana, Roots, Originals
Handmade instruments played: Cigar box guitar, Chugger, Mailbox Dobro

There would very likely be no modern cigar box guitar revival without the work of Shane Speal. In 1993 Shane saw an article on Carl Perkins in an old issue of a guitar magazine. He was excited by the primal nature of Perkin’s instrument, made from a cigar box and a broom stick. Shane set out to build an instrument using a cigar box of his own with a wooden plank from the family barn. This was the beating wings of a butterfly that would lead to a tsunami.

For the next six years Shane built and sold his cigar box guitars locally while performing his own brand of raucous blues-rock on his handmade instruments. In 1998 he started the first known internet site for cigar box guitars. In 2003 Shane started an online community for cigar box guitar builders that ballooned to 3000 members by 2008. Later that same year he started what is now the largest community of cigar box guitar builder and players,

To add to his already impressive list of credits, the King of the Cigar Box Guitar, as Shane is widely known, has also:

  • Founded a cigar box guitar museum in his home state of Pennsylvania
  • Has been featured in a documentary about the CBG revolution called Songs Inside the Box
  • Helped to establish C.B. Gitty Records; a label that features artists who build and play handmade instruments
  • Has been featured in many cigar box guitar festivals across the United States
  • Created the documentary, Chasing Steam, about musical history in York, PA
  • Has played on stage with Mike Watt of Minutemen and Firehose, Horace Panter of The Specials, and Chris Ballew of The Presidents of the United States of America
  • Is a regular contributor to Guitar World magazine, with articles focused on DIY instruments and the people who build and play them

Shane continues to encourage and inspire cigar box guitar builders the world over with his unending appetite for people to build, and most importantly play, their cigar box guitars.

You can find Shane at:

Shane Speal, King of the Cigar Box Guitar

Shane Speal is largely responsible for the modern cigar box guitar revival. From the time he first discovered this forgotten folk instrument in the early 1990’s, he has been tirelessly spreading the word, organizing communities and performing with them onstage. This article by Glenn Watt tells the story of the man who took the title “King of the Cigar Box Guitar” many years before the instrument would start to gain public recognition.

Shane SpealA man hunches forward, growling into the microphone. Sweat from impassioned performing rolls down his forehead and soaks his shirt but does nothing to stop his growing momentum.

One finger jammed into a stainless steel socket has the three strings of his cigar box guitar singing soulfully while his leg hammers up and down, keeping time by thrusting, pounding, sonically kicking you in the chest.

He plays his cigar box guitar with a measured fury. Playing like a runaway freight train, chugging mercilessly, but not recklessly, through his own art of storytelling.

With this style of play, Shane Speal, the King of the Cigar Box Guitar, has done more than position himself as a must-see performing artist. He has single-handedly resurrected an integral part of American roots music.

In ‘93 Shane first discovered the cigar box guitar through a Guitar Player magazine feature on Carl Perkins, whose first guitar was made from a cigar box and a broomstick. If Perkins could start on such a crude instrument, Shane thought, “Why can’t I?”

Already experienced with storebought instruments, but with no experience building one, he took  an old Swisher Sweets cigar box and weathered plank from the family barn, and built his first cigar box guitar.

He didn’t know it then, but he was starting a revolution.

Shane Speal“I was obsessively looking for a sound that was grittier and more primal than the 1920’s Delta blues.  I grew up on a diet of thrash metal and punk, so by the time I discovered the blues, I craved stuff that was perfect in its imperfections.”

For the next six years Shane built and sold cigar box guitars locally, spreading the word of roots music through human connection. In 1998, he created  the first known website for cigar box guitars. The King of the cigar box guitar was beginning to take his message global. Later in 2003, Shane created a new website on Geocities, posting plans for seekers of hand-built instruments to construct their very own cigar box guitars.

This new site opened the flood gates to a worldwide audience, with people clamoring for more info on what it would take to build their own unique handmade instrument. Up to this point, budding artisans had been unknowingly bound by the chains of corporate music, and Shane Speal was stirring people to break those restraints. The word was spreading and the revolution was on.

The chains were being broken.

Shane SpealThe overwhelming response, and having to personally answer hundreds of emails, moved Shane to create a Yahoo! group, which he titled “Cigar Box Guitars”. This platform allowed people to connect and empower, sharing their creations and answering each others’ questions.  By 2008 the community had reached 3000 members worldwide.

Shane’s vision for the revolution was for it to grow and take hold on a far larger scale. In order to enable that, he moved the community to a robust online platform to support the vast amount of content that the people were thirsting for. Late in 2008, was born.

“It’s weird for me to hear my obsession labeled ‘an online community.’ I just wanted to see people discover this forgotten instrument that changed my life.  The vehicle for sharing the information may be an online community, but if I’m responsible for keeping people online and not out starting a band, then I’ve failed.”

Throughout the process of founding the modern cigar box guitar revival, Shane has been performing his bombastically unique brand of chest-pounding cigar box guitar blues/rock.

Most often he took the stage alone in front of audiences who had no idea what on earth was in his hands. It didn’t take long for those in attendance to realize that Shane’s hand-built instruments could produce music as soulful as a lone mournful voice and as raucous as Motorhead with something to prove.

“I’m a musician. I want to make the best damn concert you’ve ever seen.  I want to write songs that make peoples’ heads explode.”  

Along with his groundbreaking actions that have helped to restore the cigar box guitar to prominence in the American roots music movement, Shane also has these notches in his guitar neck:

  • He has played onstage with legendary punk bassist Mike Watt, Ska bassist from The Specials Horace Panter, The Presidents of the United States of America, and many other musicians
  • He’s been featured in the documentary, Songs Inside the Box, and heralded as being the gravitational force that brought together the artists for that production.
  • Recently, Shane began penning a regular column for the online version of Guitar World magazine
  • He created the Cigar Box Guitar Museum in New Alexandria, PA
  • Shane also joined forces with C.B. Gitty Crafter Supply to form C.B. Gitty Records; a label that features artists who build and feature handmade instruments.

Shane Speal“I’d like to see this whole idea of “build-your-own, do-it-your-damn-self” music take off. There’s still 99% of the population that has never heard of [the cigar box guitar]. But most of all, I want to keep playing concerts. I have the greatest band of my life (Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band).  We’re tight, vicious and we can rock any stage you put us on. When we come off stage, we feel like nobody can touch us.”

While the future of the cigar box guitar revolution is unknown, its wild growth to-date and its influence in the roots music movement are undeniable. As more people gather to enjoy the beauty of heartfelt, home-grown, anti-pop music, the future looks bright.

Through it all, Shane continues to bear his slide down on the strings, leaning into the microphone, thumping his leg to the time of his grooves, and sweating out his passion for the cigar box guitar. One performance, one community member at a time, he fiercely spreads the word.



Photos courtesy of Shane Speal

Glenn Watt is a cigar box guitar builder and writer residing in Rochester, New Hampshire. 

Stacy Mitchhart

Musical styles: Blues, Jazz, Latin, Rock, R&B

Handmade instrument played: cigar box guitar

Consummate showman and captivating performer Stacy Mitchhart has been rocking Nashville for over twenty years. He’s played from coast to coast with several bands and been leading them since a young age.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Stacy was raised on a diet of soul and jazz. As a child while looking through the paper for movie listings one rainy day, he ran across an ad to learn how to play guitar. Without ado he was soon going to lessons and taking well to the instrument; so well, that by the age of nine he taught his father how to play guitar.

Over the years as a young adult Stacy worked his way up through the Cincinnati blues scene, leading bands and creating a name for himself. By ‘93 he had started his own music label and released his first CD. His career thus far includes 14 CD’s.

In ‘96 he took his talent to Nashville and hasn’t looked back since. Stacy has won the Albert King Award and been inducted into the Canadian Blues Hall of Fame. While in Nashville he has led the house band/headliner at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar for more than 18 years.

Through his work solidifying himself as a must-see blues showman, Stacy has included the use of cigar box guitar in his performances. “The secret is to find the voice of each particular instrument and translate it through your playing,” said Stacy in an interview with

Even though he has long been sponsored by a major guitar manufacturer, Stacy still understands and appreciates the value and beauty of cigar box guitars. “Homemade instruments are tied directly to the Blues by the nature of their existence. If you don’t have the means to purchase an instrument, you try to make a version of it to play.”

Stacy Mitchhart’s website: