September 2022 3-D Featured Artist Chuck Koucky
Four years ago, Chuck Koucky received a cigar box-style guitar for Christmas from his daughter. It was a favored gift and he played it daily. Eventually, he began thinking that he could make his own variation of this three-stringed instrument. He began collecting cigar boxes from local stores, garage sales, and other guitar makers. After building a number of guitars he narrowed down his choices: usually older wood boxes or current boxes from higher-end cigars
that are still made in wood, usually cedar. Some of the boxes are simple, to those Chuck adds unique odds and ends to create design elements which can range from a drawer pull to a shower strainer. For the necks, he likes combining different woods with unusual or strong grains. The fret markers can be anything from the head of a screw to abalone shells. Each one of Chuck’s guitars is unique and represents a design adventure for him.
To most of the guitars, he adds a pick-up and has been known to make their companion amplifiers from other cigar boxes. The origin of this style of guitar is far from these contemporary, amplified versions. The origin of cigar box-style instruments dates back to the 1840s. It was a low-cost way to make music. Etchings, dated in civil war times, depict soldiers playing cigar box instruments by a campfire. In 1890, Daniel Carter Beard, co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America, published plans for a cigar box banjo in his American Boy’s Handy Book. During the Great Depression, there was a resurgence of this DIY instrument most likely
due to the high cost of ready-made instruments. Early instruments were simply made with a cigar box, broom handle, and screen wire. For decades henceforth, it appeared that this style of instrument was relegated to history books. That is, until the past decade when there has been a creative revival of this historical, simple-to-play, decorative instrument.