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The DIY Musician: Schoen Guitars, Homemade Ethos for Highbrow Guitars

The first guitar Kurt Schoen ever built was a simple cigar box guitar.

If I remember right, it was a project he did with his kids when they were young. Now Schoen builds amazing high-end guitars for the likes of ZZ Top, Jackson Browne and Hollywood movies using the same DIY spirit he discovered with his first cigar box guitars, and he’s utilizing antique crates, skeleton keys and other found objects to build them.

Each guitar built in Schoen’s Walla Walla, Washington, shop is a piece of art, handcrafted with found objects and traditional guitar parts. Schoen likes to use antique woods such as rafters from old houses for the necks and antique shipping crates for the bodies.

Schoen says, “not only did the wood originally hold something of value, but it’s so dry, it won’t move!” A fine example is the Cotton Club guitar he built from an antique 1930s soda crate from the legendary New York club. (See Photo 1 in the gallery below.)

It’s the little details that make Schoen’s work so striking. Photo 2 in the gallery shows detail of a headstock from his Hercules guitar where he overlays part of the crate branding on top. Tuning keys have been modified with antique skeleton keys, giving a convincing vintage look.

Schoen also creates amazing resonator electric guitars, using hand-spun resonator cones and hand-pounded/etched reso covers. Photo 3 shows his “Turbo Diddley #133” electric resonator guitar that is on the showroom of Emerald City Guitars of Seattle. (See the official guitar listing here.)

Schoen’s guitars have been heard and seen in several Hollywood movies. Los Lobos used a Schoen resonator for the animated movie Rango, and one of Schoen’s electric guitars appears at the end of Tomorrowland. Skip to the :30 second mark to catch it.

Unlike the big players in the guitar industry, Schoen keeps his output to a minimal, crafting only 15 to 20 instruments per year, preferring to keep it as his art muse when not working his regular job as a pilot for UPS. You can see more of his guitars at

Shane Speal is the "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.

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