Cigar box guitars are an old American tradition. Since the mid 1860's and up to the early 1950's, it was common for poor people to make their own guitar or stringed instrument out of used cigar boxes and scavenged or found wood.

Many of the pioneers in Blues and Rock n' Roll music also got thier start by playing these homemade guitars.

My name is John McNair, I am from New Orleans but I now have a small work shop in Sparks, Nevada.


These guitars are for sale world wide and I can mail you one anywhere in the world.

I have many types of cigar box guitars for sale, resonators, vintage style acoustic, 3 or 4 string and even left & right hand.

  • Email me for the current price list at john@reddogguitars.com

In the South, it is common to hear stories passed down of those original old school Bluesmen such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Scrapper Blackwell, Little Freddie King and many others who got their start in music by building their own cigar box guitar.

If you wanted to play guitar and didn't have any money - you had to build a guitar yourself. An old used cigar box, reclaimed wood made into a guitar neck, and simple homemade music, That's the history of The Blues.

It wasn't long after the invention of the portable cigar box in the 1860's that people figured out that they were the perfect size and shape to make many types of great sounding instruments. Guitars, banjos, violins, fiddles and more.

Making music on a homemade guitar was just old fashioned ingenuity at work.

Cigar box guitars were usually just simple crude instruments that most often only had a few strings. As long as some kind of "twang" came out of them, to those early musicians, that must have been an exciting new world of possibilities.

This painting from 1868 is of a doc worker named "L. Rupert" at the G.D. Flynn Brewery

- New River Falls - MD

The Cigar Box Guitar is the real story of Blues in early America.

Since the 1860's people of all walks of life have made instruments out of used cigar boxes.

Homemade instruments were popular through out much of the history of early America. Poverty did not stop people from wanting to enjoy music and having fun with family and friends. In fact, it made the desire even stronger. People who were poor just went out and made their own instruments from stuff they found in their house, shed or barn.

Cigar box guitars are part of the past, but still part of the present.

Many times people have emailed me and said that just by hearing a cigar box guitar or seeing a photo of one of these instruments online has helped them find a new direction in life.

Many of these people were coping with serious illness, trauma or some type of sadness. There is all kinds of people, from military veterans to wayward and lost teenagers, upon hearing the music cigar box guitars make, it has helped them find a new path or even break out of the bondage of sadness.

I have seen time and time again the cigar box guitar come into peoples life and led them into a new hobby and pastime that offers a true sense of inner happiness and healing.

- Not to mention all of the people who have wanted to learn how to play a regular guitar in the past but never could learn all that fretboard math and fancy music theory.

Once people discover how easy it is to play a cigar box guitar and create music they never imagined they could, a new spark of excitement happens in their life. There's a guy out there named Shane Speal who is evangelizing the world with that!


These guitars are real simple to understand and easy to play. It's very easy to learn how to play 3 string and slide guitar, more on that topic on the following page of this website.


So, what am I saying with all this?


I've spelled out a clear and good reason to NEVER bury your desires or give up on your dreams of learning to play guitar, Even if you are 75 years old, it is never too late!


This video above is a very simple recording of a 3 string cigar box guitar.

As the old saying goes, "listening is learning," so listen to the video closely.

-BUT, don't just listen passively, pay attention and watch and you will see nothing complex is happening. This type of guitar even a beginner can learn.

When I play, I let the guitar's natural vintage tone work for me. The sound of these guitars have such a powerful impact on people, that you don't have play to much. I let the listener hear the instrument. I don't try to fill the music with constant play or finger movement. It really is a "less is more" approach. It's mostly just strings ringing out naturally in the background with a fretted or slide note played on top here and there to fill the music.

I also use reverb or slight overdrive on my amp settings to help give the music an aged quality. This type of music is real simple for anyone to learn.

Blues music is a primitive form of music and simple by its nature to learn.

If playing a standard guitar has given you problems, you'll enjoy the freedom of playing a cigar box guitar. Instead of spending years trying to learn on a regular guitar, with a cigar box guitar you'll sound like a champ in just a few months.

What is best for a vintage sound? A 3 string guitar or 4 string guitar?

or, How about a resonator guitar?

What's the difference in that type of guitar?

Well, right up front, I can say that both a 3 and 4 string guitar sound the same because they are both built the same way.

The difference is how they play. On a 3 string guitar, to find a "certain note," you will need to slide up or down the neck one or more frets, but on a 4 string guitar to get that "same note" you can access that note on the next string below or above.

The 4 string will just give you an access to any one note at a different position on the neck.

The 3 string guitar has less repeating notes, but as for the actual sound or "tone" of the guitar itself, they both sound the same.

As for a resonator guitar, these guitars were invented and played in the 1920's and 30's before electric guitars were in use. The strings sit on a bridge that pushes down on the body of the guitar and it vibrates the center cone when you strum the guitar.

Instant amplification, No electricity needed!

It does provide a substantial volume boost when playing acoustically. They are great when you want to play without an amp, even better as travel guitars or taking with you places and not needing to bring anything but the guitar.

As far as the sound of a resonator, they have a distinct bell like metallic sound. If you are someone trying to replicate vintage 1920's and 30's music, a resonator cigar box guitar will ring out in your hands.......and plug one in and they come alive.

Just plug in and play, a lot of the guitars I build are strait wired to the pickup.

It's an old fashioned way to send the signal direct from the pickup to the amp.

...no knobs, no frills...just an amplifier and Electricity.

I'm also just trying to declutter my life and the way I see and view the world.

I've decided in 2021 to paint my reality in broad brush strokes instead of fine tip pens.

Does that make any sense?

I build guitars in many styles - 3 string, 4 string, Resonators, solid body and acoustic.

If you are looking for a one of a kind guitar email me to see my new guitar models list

email me at john@reddogguitars.com

Cigar Box Guitars provide a world of recording possibilities.

Watch this short video and let's take a trip down memory lane shall we...


Many Blues and Rock musicians today still enjoy playing these homemade guitars for a more vintage and authentic sound in their music.

Listen to this video below. It is a recording of Ry Cooder's song called "Billy The Kid."

It is preformed by Billy Gibbons of ZZ-Top. He is playing a homemade guitar built by Kurt Schoen.

This song is an excerpt from a Mark Maron interview from Youtube of a previously recorded 2015 Podcast. All Copyrights for this material are the property of their respective owners. Click Play below

Watch this video. Just remember if you get lost just stay on the trail!

- The art was drawn by Dave Lynas, His art is a treasure and so is he

It's a lot of fun to record music at home. You don't have to be a high level recording artist or have a expensive gear. You can just pick up these guitars and start playing and record yourself right away.

Have a listen to this natural acoustic recording, it was made with nothing but an acoustic cigar box guitar and a hand held recorder sitting on the table in front of me.

Native American themes and art is part of the history of cigars and tobacco. It is also a very important and fascinating part of American history. I could build a whole separate website on just this subject only, but I only have one life!

There is so much great art and info out there from the late 1800's - early 1900's. Many antique cigar box labels and brands had really cool Native American art.

For this, Pintrest is a place that has changed the world, your eyes can never see it all!

If you didn't know, tobacco originates from America.

Email me and I can mail you a guitar anywhere in the world

email me at john@reddogguitars.com

I will send you a list of my current guitars for sale.

The Electric Guitar Amplifier - The one piece of the puzzle you don't want to overlook.

There are so many great choices out there, the Vox mini is such a great amp for about 100 bucks, so is the Roland micro cube....and those cheap Fender Mustangs are a steal on ebay all the time for under a 100. Yes under a 100! They are such a great value for what you get.


As for the adventurous persons, did you know that you can hack into the back of many old radios and use them as guitar amplifiers?

Homemade guitar amplifiers built into small radio bodies and other vintage electronics with speakers is another fun avenue of exploration. It is easier than you think.


To learn more check out the website - radio-guitar-amps.com - on that subject alone.


Vintage electronics have such a raspy and scratchy sound that it gives your music a charm and rustic vibe of days long ago that modern amps just can't produce. Long before digital chips took over our lives, it was glass tubes & radio transistors that ruled the world.

The history of homemade instruments are really worldwide. In most peoples family history there is usally someone in thier past who had a passion for music, yet didn't have any money for a proper instrument. They did what everyone else did a 100 years ago, they made thier own.

Check out these Russian soldiers from 1917 - World War 1

Since the 1990's and the invention of online forum and auction sites, these old homemade guitars have been turning up in many countries around the world. As attics and barns are searched, lots of new history is uncovered.

It's exciting to see new stuff when it shows up for sale online. Ebay is king for finding old instruments.

email me at john@reddogguitars.com

I might have the perfect guitar for you

I ship guitars Worldwide. If you've got a house I will get it there!

Meet Diamond Dave. He likes listening to obscure 60's Jazz records and reading French poetry. You can hear him playing his 3 string guitar down at the Cuban Street Cafe.

These are the sounds you hear when you see Dave walking down a 1930's street to his favorite Jazz club in downtown Chicago ...on the ruff side of the tracks....usually after 12 mid night.

When Dave takes the stage and plays his guitar, it sounds like an out of tune sax solo!

Have a listen to this old public domain recording from the 1930's.

This is the history of homemade Americana.

The oldest known photo of a Cigar Box instrument is actually hand drawn art by Edwin Forbes

It is of Union soldiers at a Civil War encampment 1863-64.

This engravers print is dated 1865 at the "Siege Of Charleston."

Cigar box guitars are built with just a few basic hand tools that most people already have.

This photo is of my shop table. These guitars are mostly built with screwdrivers, a few drill bits and some pliers, odds and ends and a pocket knife. You do not need many tools at all to build a cigar box guitar.

On the flip-side, it's kind of liberating if you think about it?

Hey, the body is just a cigar box and already done for you!

That is what's so fun and interesting about these homemade guitars, they are simple by nature.

These guitars can be built using old or used guitar parts or you get creative and make your own parts with stuff from around your house. If you have read this far you should give it a try, you should try at least once to make one, you will have a blast.

Well, I am officially at the bottom of the page. I do sell fully built guitars, and also pickups for your own projects and other cigar box guitar stuff, it's all on the next page.

The current guitars and prices I have for sale are listed at the bottom of the page.