Reproduction 19th Century Tack Head Fretless Banjos

The Banjo Factory

I had always wanted to build a guitar from a cigar box, but just never got around to it.  The discovery of this old banjo put the thought back in my head. 

The original cigar box guitars from the early 20th century typically had three strings, but I installed 4 strings on this CB guitar to the upper right. 

This guitar has a 25 inch scale length (I made it to match my Hound Dog Dobro).  I used a 6 " ukelele National Resonator cone and cover plate installed in a "Lost City" cigar box.  The neck is maple with a rosewood fretboard.  I installed a Fishman passive resonator pick up so I could play it amplified.

I was amazed at the acoustic volume without amplification.  I am quite pleased with the result and this is definitely my new travel guitar.

If you want me to build you one, depending upon your selected features, I would estimate the price to be between $300  and $500.  (Fretless is less expensive.)

Cigar Box Guitars

In the 18th and 19th Centuries, plantation slaves created string instruments from the materials at hand; gourds, horsehair, sinew, animal hides and sticks of wood.  They created a uniquely new American instrument and strongly influenced a new genre of American music.  In the early 20th Century their descendants once again created a new American musical sound, this time with steel strings and a guitar - the blues.  They did not invent the guitar, but they invented a new way to play it.    

With my interest in American roots music and the blues, it was only natural that I would eventually get around to cigar box guitars.  Black musicians in the 1920's and 30's still pretty much shunned the banjo and in many cases turned to the guitar for musical expression.  When the expense of a store bought guitar put it beyond reach, it was not uncommon to improvise with what was at hand.  The cigar box guitar was one result.

I made my first cigar box banjo about 35 years ago. I recently one in a trunk that I had forgotten about for almost  20 years. It was a crude little banjo that I had made while at a primitive Mountain Man rendezvous in Felton not far from Santa Cruz, CA using only a pocket knife, a rat tail file, an eighth inch iron rod heated in a campfire to burn the holes for the pegs, and the piece of discarded palette wood for the neck. The body is a "La Habanera" box and although difficult to tune because of the hand-whittled pegs, it is still completely playable.