A mini-concert by John Nickel at Nickel Cigar Box Guitars, Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment Complex, Huntsville AL (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

A mini-concert by John Nickel at Nickel Cigar Box Guitars, Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment Complex, Huntsville AL (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Making something from almost nothing, then making beautiful sounds from what you’ve created: that’s the magic of the lowly cigar box guitar.

I’d heard of them but never seen one in action until I visited Nickel Cigar Box Guitars in the Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment complex (an imaginatively repurposed historic textile mill and shoe factory in Huntsville, Alabama.) When John Nickel played for us in his shop, I was floored by the rich sound. When I return, I may have to buy one even though I don’t play an instrument or read music; they’re that appealing.

Many of the boxes that used to hold cigars are quite colorful and elaborately decorated; I loved seeing them all shiny and pretty, clustered together in their new life as musical instruments.

Montesino cigar box guitar Huntsville AL (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Too pretty to play? A Montesino cigar box guitar in Huntsville AL (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The appeal of the “CBG” is not only its long history, especially in blues music, but the idea that one can make a truly worthy instrument out of something that people often throw away.

It dovetails nicely with the resurgence we’re seeing in crafting, Maker Faires and do-it-yourself, plus renewed interest in recycling, reusing and spending more time enjoying what we have already instead of always trying to buy more.

Cigar box guitars on display in Huntsville AL (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Lots to choose from at Nickel Cigar Box Guitars, Lowe Mill, Huntsville AL (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

How do you make one? Here are the basics, straight from Lightnin’ Hopkins….

“So I went ahead and made me a guitar. I got me a cigar box, I cut me a round hole in the middle of it, take me a little piece of plank, nailed it onto that cigar box, and I got me some screen wire and I made me a bridge back there and raised it up high enough that it would sound inside that little box, and got me a tune out of it. I kept my tune and I played from then on.”

Acoustic CBGs are only the first step – watch how John Nickel goes electric….(direct link to YouTube if you can’t see the embed box below)

Can’t get enough?

Don’t miss the Flying Monkey Arts Cigar Box Festival in Huntsville in late spring; the 2014 event will be their 10th anniversary.

Clever use of a disc golf basket: instruments for sale at Nickel Cigar Box Guitars Huntsville AL (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Clever use of a disc golf basket: instruments for sale at Nickel Cigar Box Guitars Huntsville AL (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

If you like this post, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS feed or by email – the email signup text link is at the top of the right sidebar above our Facebook Page link. Thanks!

The following two tabs change content below.
I'm a writer and speaker specializing in tourism, travel and social media. NHRA drag racing fan. Co-founder of Tourism Currents. U.S. Navy veteran. Caffeinated.