Huntsville is home to many unique businesses, sites, industries and people, so it may or may not surprise you to know that the Rocket City is home to the country’s only freestanding cigar box guitar store.
Located in the Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment building, the Cigar Box Guitar Store not only sells these unique musical instruments, but they will also teach you how to play it and show you how to build your own. Check this out:
Cigar Box Guitars
The cigar box guitar’s origins can be traced back to the mid-1800s when cigar boxes became common and people found that the box was the perfect size to build a low-cost musical instrument.
But the prevalence of the cigar box guitar really increased during the Great Depression when money for instruments was hard to come by but people still wanted to be able to play music. A cigar box, a broom handle and some strings made for a pretty effective make-shift musical instrument, and the concept stuck.
The instrument has been used by guitar legends such as Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Roy Clark and more. And guess what? Learning to play one of these unique instruments is pretty easy.
Huntsville’s Cigar Box Guitar Store
The Cigar Box Guitar Store in Huntsville, as we mentioned, is the only known store of its kind anywhere — which makes sense because Huntsville is home to one of the oldest cigar box guitar festivals in the world. The store was started in 2010 by Pat Nickel, and the store remained with the Nickel family until February 2021, when Jeff Mello and his wife Tara took over ownership.
Jeff — who can build just about anything it seems — got interested in building these guitars (although he didn’t know how to play one at the time) and took over the business when Nickel told him he was thinking of closing the store.
Today, Pat Nickel is still very much involved with the store, teaching free lessons at the store every Saturday. The lessons begin at 12PM and last until 2PM. But as Tara says, “You can stay for five minutes or stay for the full two hours. Whatever you want!”
Jeff showcases his works of playable art at the store , including three- and four-string guitars made out of cigar boxes (and other recycled materials such as lunchboxes, shovels and even baseball bats). He also builds other music items from recycled materials including tambourines, amplifiers, Bluetooth music players, bass guitars and washboards.
Building My Own Guitar
I can say with absolute certainty that I am the least handy person I know, and when I discovered the Cigar Box Guitar Store I had every intention of buying one of the fabulous guitars already in the store and built by Jeff, but I felt like the experience of getting into this new hobby would be enhanced even more by building my own cigar box guitar.
The good news is that Jeff does most of the hard part for you: He has already cut the wood, provided the neck of the guitar, gathered the screws and washers and whatnot you need to build the instrument, and even provides the strings and a screwdriver.
Because I wanted mine to be electric as well, I purchased a pickup from him to add to my design.
The entire process took me and my 7-year-old daughter about a day and a half of off-and -on labor, as she handled the design duties and I handled assembly.
The result was not only a new musical instrument that I cannot wait to get better at playing (I have now attended two of Pat’s lessons, and it really is easy to learn!) but also a pretty cool sense of accomplishment having built this completely playable guitar! Plus, I added some extras to make it ours (in addition to the painting, I also bought a sink strainer from the hardware store and cut a hole in the box to add to the acoustics).
That is the beauty of it all. It is such a great DIY project and Jeff will guide you along the way!
Visit the Cigar Box Guitar Store
Are you intrigued? Well, you should be! Go visit the Cigar Box Guitar Store (Studio 106, Lowe Mill, 2211 Seminole Dr. SW). The store is open Wednesday through Thursday from 11AM to 3PM, Friday from 1PM to 5PM and Saturday from 11AM to 6PM.
As I said, lessons are every Saturday from noon to 2PM, and Jeff and Tara are always there to answer questions.
They are also available for private group guitar-building classes and sometimes will hold a public class or two on how to build these marvelous instruments.
As Jeff says, “We want to help you make a joyful noise!”
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