WIUM Tristates Public Radio

The Art of Cigar Box Guitars

Jul 13, 2014

John Draws is making a lot of noise – literally and figuratively – with three-string guitars made from cigar boxes and other bits and pieces.

John draws makes guitars from old cigar boxes, tin cans, and a other re-purposed materials.
Credit Rich Egger

The McDonough County man is not alone in the craft.  The website Cigar Box Nation is devoted to it. And Draws said it has a long tradition. “These go back to the early 1800s.  Down south a lot of instruments were made out of a broomstick handle or a piece of barn wood, some nails.”

John Draws sold cigar box guitars from a booth during Heritage Days in Macomb. He'll also sell them July 18 & 19 during the Spring Lake Bluegrass Jam & Festival at Spring Lake Park in Macomb.
Credit Rich Egger

Draws learned the craft a couple years ago after attending a workshop.  He made 44 cigar box guitars and “canjos” (guitars made with tin cans) last year. “I'm not like a master craftsman. I'm not a carpenter. I don't build cabinets.I have some basic tools out in the garage. With a little bit of time and some basic tools, I can make a working instrument.”  The cigar box guitars cost $55 - $75.  Canjos and instruments for kids are a bit cheaper.

A cigar box guitar, soup can microphones, and percussion made from gourds.
Credit Rich Egger

Draws also makes amps out of cigar boxes and old radios.  And he makes microphones out of soup cans. “It gives an old-timey sound,” he said of the microphones.

As for the cigar box guitars, Draws said, “Sometimes (people) think it's like a toy or something, or a decoration for the wall. And some people use them that way. People buy them and tell me, ‘I can't play but this looks cool.’ People a lot of time are amazed that I'll pick one up and play it.”

Draws playing a cigar box guitar during an interview in the Tri States Public Radio news studio.
Credit Rich Egger

Draws was a music teacher in the Griggsville-Perry School District. But the district just dropped its music program so he’s looking for a new teaching job.If there are any principals out there listening who want a good music teacher who makes instruments with kids…” Those principals just might find Draws in his garage making more cigar box guitars.