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”? I re-read the article. I compared its points to the Wikipedia article on zero frets, and some other resources I had on hand. I made a couple of tweaks to my own article to make a couple of points more clear.

But slowly, it dawned on me… wait a minute. I didn’t make a mistake. I didn’t mess up, and I didn’t do anything wrong.

The reason that the Cigar Box Guitar Revolution is in fact a Revolution is because of attitudes like the guy who posted that comment. The folks who think that musical instruments can only be crafted by sages in ivory towers, which then are handed down to the hushed masses. The sort of people who will arrogantly dismiss and belittle someone else’s work, without adding anything constructive or useful to the conversation. The sort of people who look down their noses at the instruments we create and call them toys, not worthy of attention.

So instead of getting angry, or firing off an e-mail response to the author of that comment, I am taking encouragement and inspiration from him. The cigar box guitar revolution is alive and well!

9 thoughts on “Why the Cigar Box Guitar Revolution Really is a Revolution”

  1. THANK YOU for the zero fret article. One part of making fretted CBGs that is always difficult is getting a nut the right height. I don’t have pro equipment, so it’s hard to get the action perfect. I can’t wait to try this strategy on my next build!

  2. Nice blog… My Three neck Banjukimer has the Zero Fret. I have been playing it for over a year… still no buzz, nothing touching… and I can make bends on the 1st string of the first fret. That usually gets pointed out when Luthiers look at it, but none has ever said a negative thing about it. I like it, what a great way for beginner builders to get introduced to more complicated builds, or help reduce cost so that more people can afford to get a guitar. I’m not going to lie, the newest guitars I’m playing have bone nut, but the necks are a different style… How is the Zero fret style so different of that of a strat??? different material and has the slots cut out ?? but same size, if not the string would buzz…. and then instead of the slots a string tree/screws couldn’t handle the job ??? I thought the blog was easy to understand .. Im excited to see different techniques of doing zero fret…

  3. You maka a great point–elitist arrogance is energy theft. It inhibits the natural tendency of all people to create art and puts it in the hands of the chosen few. I’m not as centered as you Ben–I’d have emailed him with the suggestion that he pull the stick out of his bottom and try it as a cbg neck.

  4. I have been building 3 string fretless slide guitars for about a year and a half. I have had mixed reactions to my work but most has been very favorable.There are people that “get it” and people that don’t. The ones that don’t seem to want me to make my guitars “real guitars”. Put six strings on them. Add frets. My guitars aren’t for them and I don’t try to satisfy their unwillingness to view the 3 stringers as a instrument all its own.Add to this that I strive to use recycled and upcycled parts in my builds and you get a whole other group of people with cocked heads and puzzled looks.A lot of this can change once I can convince them to sit down, slip on a slide and give it a try. Then they see what they are missing!

  5. I just read the Zero Fret article and commented. A real musician, technician, fabricator or fill in the blank needs to look around for good answers that may not be traditional. I am drawn to thinkers like that and so the CBG crowd can be attractive. I know that there are pretty hard and fast rules that need to be followed or no instrument would be reliably tuned. To get the most out of sounds in an instrument you need to be creative both as an artist and as a fabricator. Again I go to Jeff Beck as an innovator in music equipment and playing techniques. Take 5 minutes and listen to this song and see a perfect example of thinking outside of the box to get an unexpected result from a traditional guitar. http://youtu.be/XdCGdL3R0n0

  6. BTW, thanks for the indepth article(s). Keep them coming and keep up the great work.
    Oh and off the subject, you must have a transporter, my products arrived very quickly, thanks a lot.

  7. I just made and sold a zero fret cbg, I also used a small brass rod on a piece of hardwood for bridge, to me it sounded great, and yes string height lowered a bit…blah blah blah and so on, I think you hit the nail on the head.
    Regardless of his skills, some just can’t think outside the box.

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