Five-String Cigar Box Guitar by Michael Cain of Mercury Lab Guitars

Five-String Cigar Box Guitar by Michael Cain of Mercury Lab Guitars

This gorgeous five-string sports a handmade box that was crafted from exotic wood off-cuts.  From the screened in F-hole to the hand-machined Mercury symbol on the headstock, everything is beautifully made. 

C. B. Gitty presents the first runner-up in the 2024 New Orleans Cigar Box Guitar Build-Off, Michael Cain of Mercury Lab Guitars.  We had a chance to chat with him to learn all about this gorgeous instrument and also about his other guitars and interests.  Here's his story in his own words.  

Above: Michael Cain and his award winning cigar box guitar.  (Note: All photos courtesy of Michael Cain)

I am a career-long visual artist and I learned studio photography so I can shoot my own work. (Lord knows, I couldn't afford to have someone else do it.) It was actually the New Orleans Cigar Box Guitar Festival that inspired me to build guitars. I never heard of them before, so it intrigued me. I was broke and I had an accident which left me with limited mobility in my fretting hand. But, I missed playing. So, a cigar box guitar seemed perfect. I checked out the fest and then I did some research. 

Above: a close-up study of Cain's 5-string cigar box guitar.

Granted, I ended up starting to build resonator guitars because of how fate lined up. But, it was definitely the festival that got me to start building. 

Above: Two of Cain's handmade resonator guitars.  See more at

As far as this specific guitar goes, as I said, I am a career-long visual artist. But, my skills were mainly metalworking. Thus, the resonator guitar building. I was good making metal bodies, but I was outsourcing the necks until a year and a half ago, and I didn't do my own fretboards until this year. 

Above: A closeup of the beautiful box wood and the piezo-equipped, adjustable bridge.

I really got into the woodworking of it all and I had the trimmings of these really beautiful woods. I was scheduled to play the festival again this year and wanted to build a better cigar box guitar than what I had already made, so I decided to use all those scraps to build the box. 

Above: Headstock detail

As far as the neck goes, it was one of the first ones I did myself, and it ended up a bit too narrow at the nut for a resonator. At the same time, it was wider than a typical 4 string guitar. So, mostly as a joke in relation to Keith Richards taking the sixth string off his Tele, I made a five string. It is actually pretty darn useful:-). 

Above: Full view.

I started [building guitars] around of 2014, but, it was mainly the resonator guitars. I finally made an effort to get back to the cigar box guitars last year, because, quite frankly, there is a heck of a lot more creative freedom in building them and it is one of the other reasons I was so drawn to the process. There aren't any rules. 

Cain was awarded 2nd Place in the 2024 New Orleans Cigar Box Guitar Build-Off and a $100 C. B. Gitty gift certificate.

Learn more about Michael Cain and Mercury Lab Guitars at

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31st Jan 2024

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