You are here

It Got Loud: Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival Recap and an Intro to Cigar Box Guitar Pickup Building

It Got Loud: Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival Recap and an Intro to Cigar Box Guitar Pickup Building

This year's Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival, to put it simply, was a blast!

We got in to York, Pennsylvania, late the night before and decided to venture downtown and see what the nightlife was like. Even for a small town, York has a bustling music scene.

It seemed every bar or brew pub we stopped into had someone rocking a cigar box guitar. In fact, completely by accident, we got a sneak peek of the festival headliner Glenn Kaiser at one of our stops. What an awesome show it was; just a man, a CBG (cigar box guitar) a mic and someone wailing on a harp. Music in its rawest form. It was amazing.

The next day, waking up early proved to be a little difficult, but once we arrived at The York Emporium, we were greeted by one of the co-owners and festival planner Jim Lewin. Lewin describes The York Emporium as “a used-book and curiosity shop sprawling over some 19,000 square feet in downtown York, Pennsylvania, just between Harrisburg and Baltimore.:

The atmosphere is relaxed, eclectic and rather bohemian. “We don’t have a lot rules in here,” Lewin says, noting that the shop has been reorganized and reset, and the offerings have expanded beyond books to include “stuff” -- antiques, movies, records, comics, military and space-age artifacts, campaign and protest buttons and all manner of pop culture memorabilia. In fact, the folks I was with stocked up on their collection vinyl while they were there. It truly is a hidden gem in Central Pennsylvania.

As soon as we got our tent, guitars and gear set up for sale, the first act took to the main stage. As the day went along, I had a chance to catch a few of the acts. The first one I caught was 7 Hills Stomp, a two-piece lo-fi punk/blues band out of Cincinnati. They had some rocking tunes.

The next act I had a chance to catch was Voodoo Highway, a two-piece blues/rock band that had some sweet tunes. I had a chance to talk to them for a while after their show.

Then I heard Justin Johnson. He played some smoking blues and jazz licks on a four-string CBG into a loop station and building on top of that. You'd never know it was just one man creating so much sound. I had a chance to interview Justin, and he is going to share some of his tips, secrets and background with us as we go along this series. If you get a chance to see him play, do it! You won't be disappointed.

Below is a clip I found on YouTube from the festival of Justin playing Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Swing” live:

A little later in the day, I had a chance to catch Shane Speal, "King of the Cigar Box Guitar." He had a great set, and the crowd was electric. You might recognize Shane from some of my previous articles on building a smoking guitar for around $25.

I had a chance to talk to Shane before his set, and he's a cool guy. He's a friend to anyone wanting to know about his music and cigar box guitars. Shane also agreed to share tips, secrets and background with us as part of this series.

Below is a mini-documentary from Randy Flaum of The York Dispatch about this year's Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival.

Late in the day, the crowd files in to catch Glenn Kaiser. It was an awesome performance: just a man, a mic and a CBG. His CBG was howling with his voice ringing a sweet melody above it. I had a chance to talk with Glenn before his set and he, as well, will be sharing his world of cigar box guitar. He's an extremely talented musician and a very kind and humble man. He is a must-see!

If you missed it this year, don't worry, The 4th annual Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival has been scheduled for Saturday, August 24, 2013. I'll see you there!

It seems I am forgetting something.

Oh yeah, we're going to build some pickups! Our first project is going to see if we can conquer the myth that you can turn one of those clunky wall plugs (wallworts) into an electric pickup. We also will build a handmade three-pole CBG pickup with some guidance from Elmar Zeilhofer at

Stay tuned. It's going to get loud!

Brian Saner owns Saner Cigar Box Guitars, which makes custom handmade guitars and amps using local dry-aged wood in every guitar. These guitars are handmade and might have imperfections, but that's what makes them unique. Once you hear the howl of a CBG, you might not want to play a Fender or Gibson again. Get one at, and Main Street Gallery. Check out his Facebook page.

Brian May, Battling “Persistent Illness,” Scraps Remaining 2016 Dates