120 Year Old Cigar Box Guitar - "The Horse's Bridle"

The following article is excerpted from the book, Making Poor Man's Guitars by Shane Speal ($19.99).  

Measuring in at 30" (76cm) long, 5" (12 3/4cm) wide and 3" (7 1/2 cm) deep, this two-string cigar box guitar sports a body and neck that were crafted from one hunk of wood using hand tools.

The body cavity was completely carved.  A soundboard made of 3/16" (1/2 cm) thin wood from the same stock was attached with nails.  A house-shaped sound hole is carved near the floating bridge.   It is strung with two gauges of fishing line.

The angled headstock has two hand-carved tuning pegs which still work great. The frets are small pieces of nickel and copper (coins?) that have been hammered over the sides and positioned at an approximated do re mi scale, similar to a diatonic fretboard.

To get a better idea on the frets, I called up Derick Kemper, the harmonica player in my band who is also a professional blacksmith.  He said, "the frets are definitely hand hammered of some kind, but the tailpiece that holds the strings is an actual horse's bridle.  I know because I just got back from shoeing horses!"

Take note at the wear marks on the face of the guitar.  The instrument has been played...and played hard.  Whoever built this definitely made the instrument they were searching for.  The neck contains sweat marks and wear.

The guitar was discovered somewhere in New England.  Amazingly, it is still very much playable.

To see this guitar in person, visit the Cigar Box Guitar Museum at Speal's Tavern in New Alexandria PA.  

15th Nov 2022

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