Field Test: Vintage 47 Cigar Box Guitars

Resourceful pickers have been building cigar box guitars since as far back as the mid 1800s.
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Resourceful pickers have been building cigar box guitars since as far back as the mid 1800s. And besides being an amazingly cost-effective way to get your rock on, cigar box guitars strike a primordial chord in the maker and player that celebrates form, function, and a funky D.I.Y. aesthetic. Vintage 47’s handmade cigar box guitars come from the hands of Mezzy Hiles, a cat who has been making wondrous, if not gig-able, cigar box concoctions for a few years now. Sporting sturdy necks, lacquer finishes, adjustable saddles, and a singlecoil pickup with Volume and Tone controls, these guitars (direct prices are $198 for three-string models, and $245 for fourstring models), are an absolute blast to play, and take the artistry of cigar box guitars to the nth degree.

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The Vintage 47s sport a “convertible” nut that allows you to jack up the action for slide, or keep it low for regular fretting. In true cigar box fashion, this conversion works by simply squeezing a little brass roller under the strings to raise them up. Be careful, though, because this little piece of metal is easy to lose!

Whether set up for slide or standard playing, the Vintage 47s played remarkably in tune up and down the neck. The Volume and Tone controls are sturdy as can be, and facilitate getting different amplified shades from these one-pickup wonders. Still, how does a cigar box with a pickup up in it sound? Well, in the case of the Vintage 47s, pretty cool. In fact, these guitars are shockingly full-bodied sounding, and ready to snarl at the drop of a hat. Plugging into a ’52 Fender tweed Deluxe, I tuned a four-string “Victor Sinclair” cigar box to E, B, E, G# and immediately lost myself in the funky growl and honky howl. With tones that are happening enough for stage or studio, these boxes definitely sound more primitive than your regular weapon of choice, but not in a cheap way. Think raw. Think slinky. Think out of the box, so to speak.

Perhaps the coolest thing about these guitars is that you will play differently when you pick one up—something about a cigar box with a 3-string neck that has more in common with a broom handle will do that. But that’s cool and inspiring. No two are alike, and each one comes with two glass slides. Couple that with their extreme affordability, and you have something really special.

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Kudos Funky, hip-looking, one-of-a-kind instruments that inspire visually and musically.
Concerns None.