Sounds from Cigar Boxes

Cigar Box Guitars from Tommi Kuokkanen

Exhibition in the Lobby Gallery of the Craft Museum of Finland 16.12.2017 – 15.4.2018

The Craft Museum of Finland presents cigar box guitars from Tommi Kuokkanen (b. 1977) 16.12.2017 – 15.4.2018. The guitars are made by using different cigar boxes and other recycled material. Kuokkanen saw pictures of cigar box guitars in the Internet and was inspired to build his first guitar in 2011. Cigar box guitars have been built as early as in the mid-19th century to substitute real and expensive chordophones. Today, the unique raw sound of the cigar box guitars attracts many musicians who seek to enrichen their music with the original tones of blues from the past. Cigar box guitars are also in connection with the do it yourself (DIY) culture. The instruments are inexpensive and fast to make and making them is often a good way to practice building instruments. In the exhibition, there are more than 20 guitars and the audience can listen to their unique sounds from the tape. In addition, the visitors can play with one of the guitars.

The cigar box guitar is a primitive chordophone that uses an empty cigar box as a resonator. It originates from the United States. The earliest instruments had one or two strings; the modern models usually have three or more. The neck of the guitar has often been made of an end of a broomstick or plank of wood, from where the strings are attached to the cigar box.

The roots of the cigar box instruments date back to the mid-19th century when cigar manufacturers started using smaller boxes instead of larger crates and barrels meant for transporting large quantities in ships or horse-drawn carts. The smaller packing size improved resale and soon the cigar boxes became a common sight in card game tables and saloons all over the West of America. The African slaves working in the plantations could not buy instruments and that is why they would make them out of discarded cigar boxes, broken broom handles, wires and twines.

The predecessor of the cigar box guitar was a single-stringed instrument Diddley bow. It consisted of a single string of baling wire tensioned between two nails on a board over a glass bottle, which was used both as a bridge and as a means to magnify the instrument's sound. The African musical heritage and self-made instruments played a central role, for example, in the development of the blues sound. In the early 20th century, it was common that the buskers’ instruments were largely homemade: violins, banjos, mandolins, ukuleles and guitars with sounding boards that were made of old cigar boxes and biscuit jars. The years of the Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s further increased the popularity of homemade instruments and imaginative musicians made use of all the available materials in the instrument making. During the hard times in the American South sitting on the front porch, singing and playing blues sounds was a popular pastime.

Tommi Kuokkanen – Builder of Cigar Box Guitars

Tommi Kuokkanen (b. 1977) from Jyväskylä is a locksmith. When young he tried playing guitar but was not completely satisfied with his skills. Growing up Kuokkanen explored blues music and especially the slide playing pleased him. In the Internet he saw pictures of cigar box guitars and believed to be able to build one himself. He finished his first cigar box guitar in 2011. It was made of metal and he built it in his friend’s garage, the next one was wooden and built by the kitchen table. Nowadays he makes the guitars in his own workshop in the garage.

Kuokkanen has sold guitars to professional musicians in Finland, Canada, Italy and the United States. The Internet is an important communication tool for instrument builders. It is a channel to find ideas and instructions as well as to discuss with other people in the field. He finds the materials innovatively from his own circles. Microphones, other electronic devices and, for example, machine heads can be found from shops. Kuokkanen gets empty cigar boxes from his friend and by ordering them through the Internet.

Free entry to the Lobby Gallery

More information

Information about cigar box guitars in English:

Building instructions in English:
More guitars from Tommi Kuokkanen:

Tommi Kuokkanen: 7mattock7.cbg (at)