Guest Post: Cigar Box Ukuleles with Jon Spencer

Editor's Note: So, on Twitter I was contacted by a friend who's husband makes Cigar Box Ukuleles and, let me tell you, he takes it pretty seriously. After seeing some of his Cigar Box Ukuleles (or CBUs, as he often calls them), I asked him to write a guest post and he happily obliged me. You should also know that he makes custom cigar box ukuleles (and mandolins, dulcimers, guitars, etc) and he's currently taking orders. I'm also trying to convince him to sell some on ebay. But, for the time being, if you want one, you should contact him at "cornfed-groove at". (Just replace the " at " with the @ symbol. I didn't want his e-mail to get harvested by spammer robots or something).  NOTE: Jon is working on a website as well at

I think we can all agree that it just doesn't get much better than the ukulele.  Not only is it a beautiful and versatile instrument, but when you buy an ukulele, you get more than just an instrument.  When you purchase a ukulele, you not only become part of a rich culture, but you become part of a family.  That's my official, well-written intro...

Cigar Box Ukuleles built by Jonathan Spencer
Cigar Box Ukuleles built by Jon Spencer

Now, I wanna take a few minutes to talk to you about cbu's...that is cigar box ukuleles.  Cbu's are the bomb!  Not only can you have a great sounding instrument, but you can have a really cool, off-the-beaten-path piece of rustic American culture.  Take all the glory of Hawaii in one hand, the historic wonderment of American music in the other, then put your hands'll find that what is born is the raw, screaming beauty of brand new cigar box ukulele.

I own a lot of nice instruments... acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, mountain dulcimer, strumstick, congas, bongos, djembe, harmonicas, and Irish whistle.  The point is that despite all these great instruments, and except for my guitar (which I get paid for), I never play them.  Anyway, there is something really tasty about the old-skool flavor of a quality homemade instrument.  Although they aren't professionally manufactured, if made well, they can be comparable to a good manufactured ukulele in both volume and tone.

I've made a lot of cigar box instruments: ukuleles, mandolins, stick dulcimers, 3 and 4 string guitars (some with magnetic pickups), even a one string cigar box diddly bow...but the ukulele is my favorite.  Everyone has a different style or twist, from the hack hobbyist to the aspiring luthier, and although some are better than others, you have to appreciate people's love of music.   A lot of people buy old ukes, using the tuners, bridge and various parts while bolting the neck onto the box...this is a great way to start.  Yet with basic tools, a little money, and some extra effort, you can make everything except the box.  Myself for instance, I craft the entire neck, headstock, make my own fretted fingerboard, electronics,  etc.   There are a lot of variables in building, and because of that, like traditional ukes, cbu's range in price and quality.

It is my opinion that everyone should own a cigar box instrument whether they make it or purchase it from a craftsman.  Cbu's can be great instruments with unique style.  They make amazing conversation pieces and if you got the guts, I imagine they'll always love you at the local Cracker Barrel!

If anyone is interested, I am always taking orders on ukuleles and other instruments.  I also teach classes on how to do make them, and I am even willing to travel!  Being laid off for 9 months has afforded me the opportunity to travel to scratch a few dimes together.  I offer this class for free to whomever can host and provide a few paying students.  You can contact me for further details.