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Cigar boxes making music

LIMA - He certainly was thrilled to get his first guitar 20 years ago, but today Eric "Joker" Baker admits it's just collecting dust.

Instead, he'd rather pull out one of the many guitars he's made from cigar boxes.

"For less than 20 bucks, I could build an instrument that is very playable and one that guys are playing today," said Baker, of Cincinnati. "For the performers playing on stage, it's not a craft or hobby, it is a real instrument."

As part of the Blues Committee's annual Blues in the School program, Baker is spending the week teaching Lima North Middle School arts magnet pupils the history of handmade guitars and how to play one.

Pupils recently completed their own cigar box guitars. They followed Baker's lead and personalized their instruments. One of Baker's guitars fittingly has a joker card painted on it. Jonas Brothers and vampires are a few ideas pupils used.

Eighth-grader Bryson Tarbet went with a deep red with multiple holes cut into the guitar. The holes are for aesthetics and sound quality.

"It's really cool how you can do it out of something like a cigar box," he said.

Cigar box guitars date back to the Civil War when soldiers made instruments from the boxes. Children in the south in the 1930s often used their father's cigar boxes as a cheaper alternative to a guitar.

Today, it just takes a wooden cigar box, wood, strings and toners. Basic hand tools will do the trick, Baker said.

There is a new movement of cigar box guitars, including a museum and people playing around the country, said Baker, who has made about 30.

"Every cigar box guitar I make, each one sounds a little different, depending on the size of the box and the shape of it," he said. "I think that is the uniqueness of it."

Baker has both acoustic and electric guitars, and has a cigar box amplifier and stomp box. He will perform at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Allen County Museum, 620 W. Market St.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Cigar boxes making music