News Column

Making their own music

August 15, 2014

By Amy Peiffer, The York Dispatch, Pa.

Aug. 15--It's a funny-looking instrument to some.

To Casey Baron, it was a curiosity he saw on the Internet that he wanted to try for himself.

"It's not real intimidating, you know" he said. "It's a box, it's four strings, not six."

Baron, 14, of New York state, saw a video online of how to build a cigar box guitar. He said he found it intriguing and decided to try his hand at constructing one himself.

His first attempt, he said, was not exactly destined for a national tour.

"It was a mess," Baron said.

With some work and more practice though, he said he was soon building and playing the homemade instrument.

Making his debut: Baron teamed up for a one-song guest performance with local cigar box guitarist Shane Speal during last year's annual Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival. This year, Baron will take the stage by himself, debuting with a one-hour set.

"I should be getting started around 10:30 (a.m.)," he said.

Baron said he's not nervous -- he's reviewed and practiced his set list frequently, a lineup he said draws on American blues figures such as Robert Johnson.

"I play Delta blues," he said.

The primitive sound of the cigar box guitar and the ease of playing the instrument make it a favorite in his musical repertoire.

Veteran festival performer Al Hamilton is hoping more artists share Baron's interest in building the instrument.

Build your own: The cigar box guitar master builder has created a 60-minute instructional documentary that takes the viewer through the steps of building a simple, easy-to-craft 3-string cigar box guitar.

Hamilton has been building handmade instruments for more than five years, according to a news release, and has built more than 500 guitars.

He said he wanted to publish the DVD because of a lack of easy-to-follow instructions for building a cigar box guitar.

"How to Build a Cigar Box Guitar" will be released in conjunction with this year's Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival, kicking off at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 23, at The York Emporium.

Performances will be held throughout the day until 6 p.m., followed by a concert featuring Shane Speal, "King of the Cigar Box Guitar," and his Snake Oil Band.

He promised the concert will include costumes, confetti cannons and rubber chickens launched into the audience -- his signature accoutrements.

Workshops, demonstrations and hands-on activities will be held throughout the day.

"We're not just going to perform and sell you a guitar," Speal said. "So for the 2015 annual Cigar Box Guitar Festival, we're going to have hundreds or thousands of people showing up with their own instruments that they've built. So more than just entertaining, we are going to bring people into this movement and show people how."

Drawing a crowd: This year's event also coincides with the annual Yorkfest Fine Arts Festival.

Event organizers said they anticipate the festivals will draw between 3,000 and 4,000 people to downtown York City.

Baron said he's looking forward to meeting other musicians with an appreciation for the simplistic instrument.

"Talking to (other musicians) just makes me feel good," he said. "I don't know -- I'm not real nervous to perform."

-- Staff writer Michael Tabb contributed to this story. Reach Amy Peiffer at


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Source: York Dispatch, The (PA)

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