I didn’t even know cigar box guitars existed until a few years ago, and even then I found them a bit of a silly novelty. But listening to an Amazon playlist of acoustic blues music recently, I discovered that I really liked the sound.
This unlocked my interest in cigar box guitars, something that has been building over the past few months.
Some of you may know I play guitar, but it’s safe to say I don’t play as much as I should. My peak was probably 1994-1998, when I played a lot, really got to know the neck, and wrote a lot too. In fact, I quit bothering with the noodly stuff at this time as I found writing was more satisfying.
I can definitely describe that as a mistake, and a particular regret.
Over the past few years, I’ve played a bit more, thanks mostly to my modest ukulele connection. But of course it’s a very different instrument, with a completely different texture and voice. Good fun, though, which is probably what I have been looking for.
Cigar box guitars looked fun!
As I explain in the video, I was tempted to build (not, as I say, “buy”) my own, perhaps with an eBay-bought cigar box and a spade handle. Fortunately, local guitar shop Steven James Guitars in Saltburn just started stocking a quartet of cigar box guitars. I went down to try them out, and ended up leaving with one.
It’s the Cask Punchcoal (cigar box guitars have odd names) from JN Guitars, and is just 33.85 inches long. The box is sapelli, the neck mahogany, and the fingerboard walnut.
Since then, I’ve picked up a pill bottle slide and a Black Mountain Pick (a plectrum that clips onto your thumb) and I’ll soon be living off spatchcock chicken, baked beans, and beer (in a hut on a hill) if the sounds I’m developing are anything to go by.
The default tuning is an open G (GDGB), which I’m mostly happy with although I have considered a couple of the alternatives. Many cigar box guitars have just three strings; this one has four, as do most commercially available instruments of this kind.
The open G tuning is similar to a standard EADGBE six-string tuning. This means that barre chords on a guitar can be played on the cigar box simply by barring all four strings at the same fret. For example, a D barre chord on the guitar is played with DGB at the 7th fret and A at the 5th. But with the cigar box, you simply barre all four strings at the 7th fret
Overall, I’m really happy with it. It’s fun to play, which I think is important, and I’m enjoying finding new sounds. The addition of the slide has really helped, and is easier than the steel slide I’ve had for years. It’s far better than I could have hoped (and built!) and I love the sound. Well worth the money!
To end, here is a brief compilation of pieces I’ve been working on since buying the Cask Punchoal.