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Tampa Nugget Antique Cigar Box Guitar (date unknown)

I'm oddly inspired by this four-string cigar box guitar. To the collector, it's not much; just a cardboard Tampa Nugget box, an unbraced neck that has warped the entire box lid from string tension and hand carved tuning pegs. To a builder/performer like me, it offers ideas for building a different style instrument than my usual stick-through-box cigar box guitars.

Instrument history: Back in January, I received an email from Sharon Litwak after she saw one of my blogs on here. She was downsizing in here house and wanted to find a proper home for this antique instrument. Originally purchased it in an antique store in Danville, VA, she said this instrument was discovered by the antique dealer in an old, abandoned car that was parked in a nearby field.

Dating the cigar box: The tax stamp was removed, so I couldn't date the box. However, lifting up the box lid revealed the price of the stogies: two for 16 cents. (The storekeeper scribbled out the original 15 cents, my guess is due to inflation.) I don't remember when cigars were as cheap as eight cents each!

More details: The builder of this instrument put two bridges and anchored the strings with nails in the back. The larger bridge had string slots cut in it to space out the strings. There is no butt block to hold the string anchors in the back. This instrument probably never held a tune.

The box was painted with a very thin coat of brown paint.

The neck does not go through the body. It is anchored to the box lid with nails. The neck was made from a 19" x 1.75" x .75" piece of wood.

At the end of the wood neck, an additional 5" piece of wood was cut in a scarf joint and nailed to the end, serving as a tilt-back headstock. Hand carved tuners are fitted. Two of the original guitar strings remain. The fourth tuner still has a small piece of kite string.

Fret lines were made by hammering a grooved edge into the fretboard. This could have been a saw blade or something similar.

This cigar box guitar might have been playable if the builder added wood blocks in the butt and neck ends of the cigar box along with some internal bracing of the box. A wooden box would have helped, too.

I wonder if cigar box guitars that are properly built in this style have a different tone than stick-through-box designs. Would the cigar box have more resonance?

Here are the specs of the Tampa Nugget 4-String Cigar Box Guitar

Scale length: 20" or 21" (depending on which bridge is measured)

Materials used:

  • Wood

  • Hand carved tuning pegs

  • Slotted screws

  • Nails

  • Wooden dowel nut

  • Acoustic guitar strings

  • Kite string

Dimensions: 28.5 x 5.25 x 2.5" (72 x 13 x 6cm)

Cigar Box Guitar Museum Catalog # ACB.2022.001

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