Meet the DIY guitar makers who are creating a Cigar Box Blues revolution

A documentary made by two professors from Sheffield Hallam will tell the story of how “hairy guys in sheds” have created their own identity through building “cigar box” guitars.

The half-hour film, Cigar Box Blues – The Makers of a Revolution, directed by Virginia Heath, Professor of Film, and written by Paul Atkinson, Professor of Design and Design History, portrays the passionate makers and players of these instruments.

As Paul explains: “Although the cigar box guitar has a long history in the USA, where it formed part of the culture of traditional blues music, it has only recently become popular with musicians in the UK.”

The film’s director, Virginia Heath said: “After factory and mine closures, makers like the ex-miner from Barnsley featured in the film, have finally been able to pursue the creative path they always longed for.

“This film reveals how just three chords, played on their unique, DIY, instruments, hand-made from recycled materials, connect them to their truth.


“As a filmmaker, it’s intriguing because the guitar makers see their DIY movement as part of a wider resistance against the way in which our culture has become so mass produced and standardised.”

Many of these craftsmen and musicians are from post-industrial British towns, and have created a self-identity through making these unique three-stringed guitars.

The starting point for this collaboration was a research article, Hairy Guys in Sheds, written by Paul Atkinson, which explored the phenomenon of the cigar box guitar and the DIY revolution that has accompanied its uptake in the UK.

Emerging as a side project from research into a book on the design history of electric guitars, which will be published in September next year, the article used a series of in-depth, semi-structured interviews to piece together the history and current state of the cigar box guitar movement.

Paul said: “It is a particular form of DIY culture which entails many people (mainly hairy guys) working in isolation in sheds across the country to create their own instruments out of recycled scrap and upcycled components.

“The instruments and the resulting maker’s music are then shared among virtual communities of practice through extensive use of social media, and among real communities of players and audiences through public performance at concerts and festivals.

“This raises questions about their self-identity and their perceptions of themselves as being either amateur or professional as makers and players.

“There’s an interesting dichotomy between the simplicity and authenticity of hand-made instruments and the use of the internet to exchange ideas and grow the global movement.”

Cigar Box Blues – The Makers of a Revolution will be broadcast on BBC 1 West Midlands on Monday December 16th at 7.30pm, after which it will be available on BBC iPlayer.

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