Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open - 20
WITH ZAC CHILDS
Grady Martin with his Bigsby guitar.
King of the CBG
n an era of high-tech musical toys, there's
some irony in the fact that the cigar-box
guitar - most primitive of homemade stringed
instruments - is alive and well.
The first examples appeared in rural
America, created and built by musicians too
poor to have a "store-bought." Today, Shane
Speal is the self-appointed "King of the CigarBox Guitar."
"I first used that goofy title in 2003, when I
posted plans for making cigar-box guitars on
the internet, and it's always been tongue-incheek. Who in their right mind would want to
be king of such a s*****y instrument?"
Regardless, Speal has done much to popularize the cigar-box guitar. Solo and with his
Snake Oil Band, he gigs using only CBGs ("I
take six or seven to every show," he said),
organizes festivals and hosts broadcasts
focused on them, promotes other artists who
play them, and makes and sells them via
How did you get to this CBG-centered
place in life?
I've been into music since I was a kid. I got my
first guitar at eight years old and discovered Kiss.
In high school, I played bass in heavy metal bands.
When I hit college, I dove into acoustic guitar
and the blues; I followed the history backward
from Hendrix to Muddy to Hound Dog Taylor,
then the Delta guys. I borrowed Smithsonian
Folkways records from the library and my
favorite music became the earliest stuff, which
sounded creaky and broken - primal - played
with pocket-knife slides. To me, that was the
deepest-sounding music. At the time, I was flogging an old Stella with a spark-plug-socket slide.
The cigar-box guitar was one step deeper,
even. It was imperfect from the beginning.
I built my first in '93 from a Swisher Sweets
box, a hunk of wood, and three strings. As
soon as I tuned it up, I was in love. It was the
sound, the feel, the mojo I was searching for.
Cigar-box guitars buzz, they can be out of
tune, and yet I'd rather play one in concert
over any manufactured instrument.
Is there a feeling among CBG players
that the instruments and those who use
them should remain off the popular musical radar?
No. We all went apes*** when Paul McCartney played one in the Sound City documentary,
then won a Grammy for it.
What's in your collection?
I have over 100, most on display at our family's tavern in New Alexandria, Pennsylvania.
The oldest is more than 100 years old - a
What's it like to play one live?
It'll kick your ass simply by its primitive
nature. It forces you to downshift your playing and take it deeper. There's a beauty to
embracing the art of the American poor. It
comes from humble hearts, giving souls and
a will to live. Hard times make great music.
If you want to play cigar box guitar, don't buy
someone else's. Make it yourself! - Bob Cianci
I watched the Gregg Allman tribute-concert DVD All My Friends, and
was amazed at Jack Pearson's playing and tone. Can you hip me to the
gear he was using? - Randy Hartley
Jack tells us he used a Squier Bullet
Strat with D'Addario strings gauged
.009-.042, a Wegen T-140 pick, an
Ibanez TS-9, MXR Custom Badass overdrive, and a rented Fender Hot Rod amp.
A buddy and I were listening
to Merle Haggard's "Ramblin'
Fever" and we're wondering if
James Burton or Roy Nichols
played the lead. - Jim Stone
It was neither. Ben Haggard, son of
(and former guitarist for) Merle, tells
us the part was played by Nashville
session legend Grady Martin.
Zac Childs is a guitar tech in Nashville. If you
have a question about guitars, anything from
nuts and bolts to historical or celebrity-related
inquiries, drop a line to him at email@example.com
or visit facebook.com/askzac.
Shane Speal: Jennifer Diehl.
I recently bought a used '92 Gibson
L-4CES, and when I got it home I
noticed the case and guitar have a
foul smell. I've sprayed the case with
a commercial odor eliminator and left
fabric-softener sheets in the case and
the guitar's sound holes, but it still
stinks. Any suggestions? - Bill Ruxton
Joe Glaser, who dealt with many
stinky guitars after the Nashville flood
in 2010, recommended airing the case
in sunlight, then putting an open box
of baking soda in the case. For the
guitar, put baking soda in a cloth bag
and hang it in one of the sound holes.