Drowning Man Saved: Depression-Era Guitar Celebrates Group Effort

Drowning Man Saved: Depression-Era Guitar Celebrates Group Effort

Cigar box builder and performing artist William E. W. built a C. B. Gitty part-filled guitar, featuring "the drowning man hand" from a play poster for a production in which he acted. 

The depression era-style guitar was a cast-signed gift to the director of the play, set during America's Great Depression.

William was kind enough to share his work and take us on a ride through how he built this masterful instrument.

Drowning Man Hand Guitar

For my latest build, I wanted to create an heirloom-feel instrument to commemorate a play that I just acted in as a gift from the cast to our director. 

The play was "The Diviners" which takes place in 1932, right at the height of The Great Depression; a time we as builders in the Cigar Box Nation tip our hats to everytime we build something, reminding ourselves that "Hard Time Make Great Music"

So I decided it had to have that reused-materials, "Hobo Fiddle" feel to it.

I did a variation on the old Uncle Enos design and used an oak dowel for the neck through a pine cigarette carton display box.

On the face of the guitar, I did a reverse image transfer of part of the play's poster - a drowning man hand - an image that figures prominently in the show. 

I felt the hand reaching up for one last 12-bar crying blues really sets the tone of this build.

From the Flying Kay black walnut bridge, up the walnut fretboard that used narrow/low fretwire, with a Jumbo zero fret, to the wooden string retainers, the antique copper tuner ferrules, and the three bass side economy tuners, the business parts of the build are all C. B. Gitty stock.

Strung with the 1st, 2nd, and 4th from a set of ball-end nylon strings, the instrument really settle in nicely at open E-B-E for some warm blues goodness. 

I had my castmates sign the back of this custom heirloom gift for our director as a remembrance of our time together, and that hard times do make great music.

The Diviners play poster

For the face of this 18-inch scale hobo fiddle I did a reverse transfer image with Modge Podge of the main graphic of the "Drowning Man Hand" from The Diviners play poster. 

The box itself was a pine wooden Camel cigarette carton with the label sanded off.

The transfer process resulted in a weathered look, which gave an old-timey, heirloom quality to this build. 

I used an 18-inch scale for a Hobo Fiddle feel, with nylon strings, using the 1st, 2nd, and 4th strings, which allows it to comfortable be tuned to anything between D-A-D up to G-D-G, although it really sounded perfect tuned E-B-E.

The "Drowning Man Hand" looks like it is reaching out of the water to grab a hold of the strings for one last blues riff. 

I did two sound holes on the top, the larger bass side hole I trimmed out with a wooden celtic knot. 

The bridge is the "Flying Kay" C. B. Gitty bridge in black walnut. 

The tailpiece is a brass heavy-duty picture hanger. 

The build also features a disk piezo pickup, with the jack on the lower right hand corner of the guitar face.

I used a postcard version of the play poster to create a laminated headstock, displaying the show's title. 

I trimmed out the headstock using antique copper 1/4-inch ferrules from C. B. Gitty, and the bass side from a set of C. B. Gitty economy tuners for an inline look.

Finished commemorative The Diviners Drowning Man Hand Hobo Fiddle

The neck itself is a variation of the "Uncle Enos" design, using an oak 1-inch dowel that went through the box. 

I used my C. B. Gitty scarf joint jig to marry the dowel to some 1-1/2 inch by 1/2-inch thick oak to create the headstock.

The neck was then topped with a black walnut fretboard from C. B. Gitty, which also used a Jumbo fret wire for the zero fret, and narrow/low fret wire (all from C. B. Gitty) for the 19 frets. 

I used a laser cut C. B. Gitty wooden string retainer at the top of the fretboard.

- William E. W.

Standing Ovation Finale

William's handmade gift demonstrates the thoughtful, selfless-giving that connects the entire cigar box guitar community. 

With a few repurposed items, a handful of C. B. Gitty components, and a whole heap of kindness, William brought together a group of people to express their gratitude through the magic of a handmade musical instrument. 

We're proud to play our small role in assisting William on his journey with C. B. Gitty components that include...

And with the saved drowning man's hand from The Diviners forever memorialized on this gift, another true work of DIY craftsmanship has blessed this world. 

Has there been a time when you've gifted one of your cigar box guitars?

9th Apr 2019 Glenn Watt

Recent Posts