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Five Things Bluesmen Used for Homemade Guitar Strings

Five Things Bluesmen Used for Homemade Guitar Strings

We thought we'd look back to the cigar box guitar strings of the past... those found-objects that were used by the great blues legends when they were just starting out.  Sure, C. B. Gitty is always developing and improving our cigar box guitar strings to be the best in the world.  However, it's fun to see what they used back in the early days. Here's our top five favorites.  (Try them at your own risk!) 

Robert Johnson's Broom Wire - Many blues legends, including Robert Johnson and Albert King, started on a broom wire "diddley bow."  This one-string instrument was made by pulling the wire off an old broom, nailing it to a wall and using a bottle to play it like a slide guitar.  

Lightnin' Hopkins' Screen Wire -  Lightnin' talks of his first instrument:  “So I went ahead and made me a guitar. I got me a cigar box, I cut me a round hole in the middle of it, take me a little piece of plank, nailed it onto that cigar box, and I got me some screen wire and I made me a bridge back there and raised it up high enough that it would sound inside that little box, and got me a tune out of it.”

Albert Collins' Baling Wire -  The Master of the Telecaster once told Guitar Player magazine about his first homemade guitar and his unusual string choice.   "[I made my first guitar out of a] cigar box. People back in them days coudn't afford no guitar, man.  I took a hay-baling wire, and it was rough, man!  You couldn't do nothing with it, so I just be banging it!"

Little Freddie King's Horse Hair - In an interview with Shane Speal, New Orleans guitar hero, Little Freddie King described his first cigar box guitar.  His father's horse provided the much needed strings.  King said:  "I went out to the horse and he looked at me. I said “I ain’t gonna bother you. I just want to take a hair and see what it will do on my guitar.” So I pull one strand out. I put that on [the guitar] and it made a sound. So I went back to the horse and he looked at me again. I said, “I’m back again and I want five more strings from you, horse.” So I kept pullin’, pullin’, pullin’ till he had a great big bald spot in his tail!"

Buddy Guy's Broken Guitar Strings - Chicago's reigning Legend would tie knots in broken guitar strings to use on his guitar when he was first starting out.  "You had to remember where that knot was so you didn't cut your finger," he said. OUCH!  (See the photo at the top for an antique cigar box guitar with a salvaged low E string.)

Robert Pete Williams' Copper Wire - The blues shouter taught himself how to play guitar by first building one out of a cigar box. His crude instrument had 5 copper strings.  This was in 1934 when Williams was 20 years old.

15th Sep 2022

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