Adam Sikes: Gas Can Guitars.

I first saw Adam Sikes’ work on his Instagram and was captivated by his mastery of up-cycling gasoline cans into his guitars. He explained that previously working in the metal industry meant this came naturally to him, and he has now made 150 instruments with varying styles and forms.

I rode with Adam to his home amongst a maze of pine trees, where he showed me around his creative space and explained the driving force behind his work.

Meeting Adam has proven to me that you don’t even need to be a guitarist to enjoy making instruments like these. He had no experience in woodworking, and still prefers to play the drums over guitars, but yet he gains satisfaction knowing that he’s built something that can be used so creatively, with endless possibilities.

Day 11: Firebirds Vintage Guitar Museum

This morning I caught a bus heading south east on route 24 through the shadows of The Appalachian mountains, passing placid blue lakes and charming little waterfalls, taking me right into the heart of Chattanooga, Georgia, where I was met by local guitar builder, Adam Sikes.

After a chat over lunch we visited the Songbirds Vintage Guitar Museum at the iconic ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’ Station, which is home to an unparalleled collection of guitars from the 1920’s right up to 70s. It was interesting to see the history and conformity behind conventional guitars and compare it with the development of unconventional handmade instruments.

A collection of colourful Fender Telecasters,
Chuck Berry’s Gibson ES355, and Bo Diddley’s Fender Jazzmaster.

An Impromptu Interview… from Keith Crumbley’s Car.

Featured image shows two Keith Crumblys Cigar Box Guitars

Whilst pottering around the Two Old Hippies in the Gulch of Nashville, I couldn’t help but notice somebody wearing a Cigar Box Guitar t-shirt. This turned out to be Keith Crumbley from Alabama.

After I explained my project to Keith, he told me about the cigar box guitars he builds and that he’d like to show me his latest ones that are in the back of his car just up the road.

Whilst I was asking a few questions about the ethos behind his work, another gentleman approached us with a keen interest as he’d never seen these instruments before. He was instantly hooked! Keith kindly explained to him what they’re all about and showed him how they’re built.

 
During my interview in London for this Fellowship, a member of the panel asked me: “So what exactly does the cigar box guitar movement look like, and how do you know when it’s around?” Well, there’s their answer: It’s in the back of Keith’s car.

Keith was first introduced to cigar box guitars by his son Matt Crumbley who encouraged him to try building one, since then he has built over 50 guitars which he either sells or generously donates to good causes.

Me: So what is it that you enjoy about building cigar box guitars? 

Keith: I love to build them to see how they are going to turn out. You never know how they’re going to look or sound until it’s a finished product. Each box is different in shape and size!

Me: Would you say there’s some sort of community spirit surrounding these instruments? 

Keith: Yes there’s a community spirit. There are several groups of ‘CBG’ folks that get together to share ideas and play together. There are cigar box festivals that bring a lot of folk who have never heard of cigar box guitars and it also brings together a lot of builders.

Me: Do you think the ethos of cigar box guitars could benefit the youth of our societies? 

Keith: Yes it could. It would give our youth of today more knowledge of how the CBG was used as a part of our musical culture. It could also teach them that their hands are capable of making something they can use.

Me: Is there anything else you’d like to say about it? 

Keith: George, I think what you’re doing is great by helping to spread the word of this art, building and playing roots musical instruments. Myself along with all the other roots instrument builders would like to thank you for helping keep a heritage alive.

Keith Crumbley gave an impromptu interview from his car

How To Play The Shovel Guitar with Justin Johnson.

When I first saw the shovel guitar, I began to doubt its integrity and worried that it was just to be another internet gimmick. However, as Justin explains, the shovel is made up of two elements that distinguish it as a truly genuine roots instrument.

The body is made from tempered steel which provides strength and a similar level of sustain found with high-end steel resonator guitars, and being combined with a hard wood neck, he says, makes it resonate “sometimes more than a conventional guitar.”

Justin humbly shared his knowledge about these kinds of instruments and also explained the basics on how he plays the shovel guitar:

 

Roots music with Justin Johnson.

Justin Johnson is a prominent figure amongst the current homegrown music scene, and is recognised as the Slidestock International Slide Guitar Champion. With his vast experience playing handmade instruments and an incredible knowledge on the history of roots music, it was an honour to meet him at his beautiful home in Tennessee.

After a brief tour around the house he introduced me to his extensive collection of handmade instruments and recalled the history of each one. They range from one string ceramic diddley bows, 3 and 4 string cigar box guitars, an ironing board lap steel, and of course the recent viral sensation; the three string shovel guitar.

We took a couple of guitars out onto the balcony where Justin began sharing his comprehensive knowledge on roots instruments, in between playing unearthly music on his guitars.


Justin has set up Roots Music School which is a culmination of his thorough research that’s now accessible to anybody that wants to learn more about it. He’s also organised workshops through school curriculums which were aimed towards the youth in particular.

“I’ve been really grateful that I can help inject some of that roots music knowledge base into schools… it’s so important to look for other ways to make music something that’s relevant to education.
If you build a simple instrument in school with a teacher who’s willing to learn how to do that and make it more accessible to kids… then they can create their own instrument and their own music. Then they start thinking that nothing’s impossible.”

Third Man Record Store

I had some time off today so I went to Jack White’s Third Man Record store on  7th Avenue.
Jack White has been known to play a cigar box guitar made by Daddy Mojo, and has undeniably made an impact on the rock n’ roll music scene not only in Nashville but worldwide.

I first came across him in the 2008 documentary “It Might Get Loud” alongside Jimmy Page and the Edge,  in which he builds a ‘guitar’ out of a block of wood with a hammer, some nails, a glass bottle, and a string.
After a raw performance, he says “who says you need to buy a guitar?”

Third Man Records is home to the only public 1940’s voice-o-graph in the world, which enables you to record your own sounds on a 45′ vinyl in a small wooden booth in the corner of the shop. I couldn’t resist, and thought there would be no better song to record than The White Stripes’ ‘I fought Piranhas’ which also features in the documentary. 

Check out my cover:

 

 

 

One Man’s Trash- William J Jehle

“William J Jehle, detritomusicologist and cigar box guitar historian, has collected more fragments of these forgotten instruments to create the first written history dedicated to these humble instruments. Mr. Jehle’s fascination with cigar box guitars led to a wide-ranging search for any and all artifacts to learn more about these instruments, and this research has yielded a wealth of information that you now hold in your hands. ”

“Now in its second edition, spanning over 150 years of artifacts, this book is an updated collection of the history of the cigar box guitar, its origins and its changes in value and perception from the mid-1800s to the present. Mr. Jehle assembles the disparate parts, snippets, one-line mentions, newspaper and magazine articles into a cohesive whole, and, deciding to share his discovery, shares this information with others, so that ultimately guitar players and makers of all skill levels may grow through their own experience of producing sounds with their fingers on strings, working with their hands on the instruments they play. May you enjoy learning more about these instruments, and may your own experience be enriched by this book.”

Day 4: Lucky Box Guitars.

The rain stopped falling this morning just in time for my ride with Jonathan Greiner of Lucky Box Guitars.

We left Raymond street at 10am and headed straight for the local ‘bins’ over at the Good Will Liquidation centre where Jonathan finds some of the junk he uses for making his creations. $1 for a lb of pure junk!

After digging for a while and finding a couple of wooden boxes, we headed over to Jonathan’s place.

The tattoos on his knuckles reading “pure luck” are synonymous with his company name. He thanks his luck for the ability to find junk that can be repurposed and turned into real, functional instruments, and for the chance that allowed him to learn more about the world of cigar box guitars in a time of need.

Since making his first one string guitar eight years ago using no more than a butter knife, a pocket knife, a screwdriver, and one piece of 180 grit sandpaper, Jonathan has now made over 500 cigar box guitars to this day.

Unlike a lot of other makers, he takes pride in strictly using hand tools only. Throughout the day he takes me through his whole process and explains how this choice has created controversy amongst the cigar box guitar community, though he continues to carve each neck with a humble bunch of rasps and files.

We spent the rest of the evening on the porch carving necks and reflecting on the idea of how this movement could benefit more people. With plenty of insight on the local community, I can see how the movement has already helped open the minds of many individuals here in Nashville!

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