Skip to main content

The DIY Musician: The Art of the Cigar Box Guitar — Halloween Edition

Why should the death metallers have all the fun with their pointy guitars, blood-splattered paint jobs and skull inlays?

The DIY instrument community recently got their freak on, too, with a wild Halloween guitar build-off.

The guys over at hosted a contest challenging its members to build Halloween-themed stringed instruments. Rules were quite generalized, and just about anything was fair game, whether the guitar was made with a cigar box or the door of an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus.

The grand prize went to Donald Jack of Inverness, Scotland for his twisted, gnarled and strange-looking invention, the Ivy Vine Guitar (below).

Jack described his creation: “I was given a large piece of Ivy taken from a tree trunk and challenged to make a guitar. Well, nothing was straight, but then why should that be a problem? All that is needed is a fingerboard, tuners, a bridge and strings, so I attached a piece of thicker-than-usual fingerboard in two places, mounted an old set of tuners behind and, using the cuts made already by the chainsaw, managed to build a platform to mount the bridge on. It worked and plays well.”

Since the instrument had no resonating chamber, Jack stuck a piezo under the bridge. "It certainly has its own sound but has been well received at gigs,” he says.

Here’s a video of Donald Jack playing "Shenandoah" on the Ivy Vine Guitar. (The video is hosted by Facebook. It might not play in your browser if you aren’t signed into the Facebook network.)

The Ivy in action playing Shenandoah

Posted by Cigarbox Don's homemade music on Wednesday, July 15, 2015

  • Second prize went to Cigar Box Nation member “The Anonymous Pick” of Swamp Witch Guitars in Ontario, Canada, for his three-string, cigar box-inspired slide guitar called “The Dead Ringer.” It was chosen not only for the disembodied hand that doubles as a slide holder, but also because of his fascinating description that inspired the parts involved.

Anonymous Pick says about his winning submission, “the term dead ringer is often related to an old English fear of being buried alive. Cemeteries started tying a string around the wrist of the corpse and attached it to a bell. If the bell rang, the graveyard employees had to dig ‘em up. They even employed someone to stay there all night and listen for bells (thus the phrase 'graveyard shift').”

The Dead Ringer is made up of many macabre found-objects:
· Eyes are vintage flash cards from Cracker Jack box prizes. They change from opened to closed depending on angle of view.
· Real coffin nail to use as a capo or slide
· Silver plated bell on headstock that is tied to the hand
· And even a mortician's yard stick for the fret board.

Third prize went to “Ray K III” of Vancouver, Washington, for “The Grim Reaper Coffin.” Ray says, "I built this last year and had been wanting to build a coffin guitar for many years. This build to me was kind of a challenge in a sense trying to get the right look design to the coffin shape.”

The instrument is made from ½-inch-thick pallet wood. The neck is maple with a light sapele wood fretboard. The Grim Reaper is woodburned into the top of the body and coffins burned as the fretmarkers.

“The Voodoo Bass” by Adam Kovarik of parts unknown snagged fourth prize. Kovarik says, "I built this about two months ago. I worked on this for over three months designing how to create a cavity to conceal the voodoo beater. It is an actual beater that has been used in ceremonies. It has a thing about it when you hold it. The pickup is a Bob Harrison custom, which really brings the whole thing together.”

The Voodoo Bass also includes cowhide on the back and a real snake head on the headstock.

The voodoo theme continued with the fifth prize slot in the “Black Cat Bone V” by Andries D. Eker of Balkbrug, Netherlands. Andries' homemade flying V entry is filled with hoodoo chicken feet, skulls and other magic along with lights and a wild paint job. Pictures didn’t do it justice, so we’re posting the video demo above.

To see all the entries, see the full contest submission thread here. Happy Halloween!

Shane Speal is "King of the Cigar Box Guitar" and the creator of the modern cigar box guitar movement. Hear the music, see the instruments and read about his Cigar Box Guitar Museum at Speal's latest album, Holler! is on C. B. Gitty Records.

Image 1 of 4

Image 2 of 4

Image 3 of 4

Image 4 of 4