A dozen years ago, David Sutton’s young daughter expressed interest in playing the guitar. Sutton, a Chicago-based photographer and amateur musician, owned some beautiful vintage guitars, but he thought he should start his daughter off on something smaller–and less valuable.
“I’d had some experience in woodworking, and I had vaguely heard of these things called cigar box guitars–these three or four-stringed instruments made from cigar boxes,” he recalls. “So I decided to see if I could build one myself.”
After doing some Googling, Sutton found some basic information on building a cigar box guitar. “The biggest issue was locating the right boxes,” he says. “But once I located some nice cedar boxes, I was off and running. I really enjoyed the process.” So much so that he built two models, one for his daughter and the other for himself.
It didn’t take long for Sutton to become a passionate cigar box guitar aficionado, and he discovered that there was an underground community of enthusiasts. So he decided to spread the word: His first book, Cigar Box Guitars, published in 2012, is a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to cigar box guitar building. A year later, he followed it with the photo-packed An Obsession with Cigar Box Guitars, a lovingly detailed look at over 120 unconventional, handmade stringed instruments. (The book’s second edition, titled Obsessed with Cigar Box Guitars, was published in 2019.)
“It’s a whole wide world out there of cigar box guitars,” says Sutton. “Some people make simple diddley bow-type instruments, while other folks get really elaborate with their electronics. You’ve got people who play them on their back porches, but there’s even big-time guitar stars who play them in concert. I just enjoy building them. You don’t have to be a master craftsman to put something together with your own hands–and it’s something you can play! What could be better than that?”