History of the Cigar Box Guitar

It is said that the Cigar box guitar was invented in the mid 1800s, they came about as folk who wanted to play music and dance, mainly black people working in the cotton fields had no instruments to play nor could afford any. Cigar boxes started to appear in the late 1840s when cigars started to be shipped in smaller boxes of 20-50 cigars, prior to this date cigars where shipped in larger crates and barrels banjos food.

It appears that the origin was in fact a cigar box banjo, the African slaves that now lived in the USA made instruments based on a traditional African instrument called the ‘Banjar’. This is thought to be the precursor to the American ‘banjo’. The ‘Banjar’ was a single stringed instrument and the basis of the body was a cigar box. The earliest illustrated evidence of a cigar box instrument is in 1876, the etching depicts two civil war soldiers at a campsite playing what appears to be a cigar box fiddle.

Cigar box guitars and fiddles where really important in the rise of the Jug Bands and Blues music, they were accessible to everybody and for all that could not afford a real instrument they were a great way to create music. Some instruments as simple as a box, broom handle and string where enough for some people to find inspiration within the instrument and create great music by simple means. Some of the great pioneers of rock n roll started with this instrument, pioneers of rock n’ roll such as Carl Perkins, blues greats like Lightin’ Hopkins, B.B. King, Blind Willie Johnson and Charlie Christian all started with this simple instrument. The great B.B. King did not start with a Gibson but a homemade cigar box guitar that his father made for him in his shed.

In the USA a group of musicians from the east coast under the name of “Masters of the Cigar Box Guitar Tour” travel the states of America, these musicians cover some of the modern greats such as Dr Oakroot, Johnny Lowebow and many others. Recently most famously Seasick Steve has recorded and used a Diddly-Bow. In the UK as I mentioned in my previous post ‘Hollowbelly’ has been performing well all over the UK and has done great work as an ambassador to this great instrument. This instrument has such a raw sound and modern musicians are looking to move away from the overly expensive guitars that create the same tones and want something different, a primal sound.

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