Do Write Songs On Your Cigar Box Guitar?

Do you write entire songs on your cigar box guitar?

Listen to the spoken version of this article here.

Whether with a slide or fingered notes (or both),

whether with lyrics or not,

and whether with multiple parts or a simple three-chord progression throughout,

do you write entire songs on your CBG?

I don't.

Once in a while, I'm inspired to write a little riff that's fun to play.

Kinda like the one in this video.


It'll have a few notes strung together with a beginning and an end, but that's about it.

But writing a song?

Forget about it.

Songwriting is Intimidating

The whole idea of

thinking up a story,

writing lyrics for the story,

creating a chord progression and melody that fit the story,

and piecing it all together for an entire song is bananas, to me.

Bananas because of how complicated it all seems.

Plus, as someone who doesn't sing but in the most private moments, the thought of performing a song with vocals for anyone else is terrifying.

And all I really want to do is have fun.

Playing Should Be Fun

Sure, it'd be awful nice if I played like so many of the guys and gals with videos here on the Nation and beyond.

You know the folk (perhaps you're one): despite whatever hangups they may have once had, these performers have worked hard to improve their playing, their songwriting, and their singing.

Some of them write their own songs, too.

Since the rest of us get to enjoy their songwriting, hopefully the performers enjoy sharing their work. 

Every day new videos, featuring all sorts of folk with varying tastes and styles, are uploaded to numerous internet platforms. 

While I love seeing what other people are capable of doing -- creating and sharing their own art, even if it's a song they haven't written -- part of me watches those folk with envy.

Envy, as you know, is a slippery slope.

Once on it, slipping to a place where I'm not enjoying the guitars I've built is pretty quick.

Now, for the most part, those performers I can envy seem to be having fun.

And isn't that the point? 

Define Fun for Yourself

I mean, isn't the reason why the majority of us cigar box guitar builders and players do what we do is because it's fun?

So while I sometimes enviously watch a CBG performer, I try not to convert his enjoyment into expectations of how I should enjoy playing my cigar box guitar. 

Perhaps my version of fun is exactly what I need:

little riffs, here and there;

little bits of music created as an expression of whatever I felt in a particular moment. 

There's nothing deep about this subject, just an honest admission that perhaps writing entire songs isn't what I need to have fun.

Perhaps all I need is a little riff.

Just a little something to enjoy the guitar I've built.

What about you? 

Do you write entire songs on your cigar box guitar?

Last thing --

here's tablature for the riff played in the above video

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Comment by the anonymous pick on Tuesday

Cheers Donkey , it's posts like yours that  allow  this stuff to  come out . or even self realize   ;-)

Comment by Donkey on Tuesday

Don Craig,

Thank you for reading this post and the comments, and especially for responding with your own thoughts.

I appreciate what you mentioned about having to think outside of the box built around you in your school years.

That idea, I think, fairly represents what most of us in the cigar box guitar community are doing: thinking outside the box (no pun intended).

Contrary to the impoverished people who built their own musical instruments out of necessity, most of us contemporary builders do so out of DIY leisure, or at least that was likely the impetus for most of us starting to build. 

And it's thinking outside the box that, in part, is what makes building such a challenging, and therefore fun and satisfying, endeavor. 

Good on you for writing your own riffs, itself a challenging thing. And if you do record yourself, I hope to hear it hear on the Nation, Don.

the anonymous pick

I love what you shared here and can't even begin to unpack all the awesomeness contained therein. 

But I can say this -- I agree wholeheartedly with your perspective on community and what it can mean to anyone willing to engage with, learn from, and teach to other members.

Although I've popped in and out of this particular website-community over the past few years, it remains the one that is clearly head-and-shoulders above all other online communities for education, support, encouragement, and inspiration.

It really is a special place, virtual or otherwise.

About the other point you made -- with the number of hats many of us wear -- I simply hadn't thought about that before now, and really dig your thoughts on it.

Especially for those who are as involved in building as some here, who perhaps even rely on income from building, playing, and/or teaching, the number of roles an individual takes on really is impressive.

I, for one, relish the opportunities to try on different hats, albeit as someone whose livelihood isn't dependent on a solo entrepreneurial effort. 

For those who must spin numerous plates in order to make a living, I have the deepest respect. 

Thanks for your insight, pick. Yours are thoughts that are always good to read.

Comment by the anonymous pick on Monday

Responses here  indicate another  good  reason and use of the " community " here. Some folks  play .. and don't sing , some sing  but can't play at the same time , some write and don't play ,  some play and don't  write.. etc etc .. Get together  with others that  do what you don't , and  colab  a masterpiece  from combined efforts . ,  Heck . it's the true essence of a "band ".  We can't all be expected to be one man bands . or every riff to sound like a full backed guitar solo.  ;-)

We wear enough hats as builders .  we  also  have to be , shipper/ receivers , artists , makers , wood workers , luithers , hobbyists , painters ,  recording artists , marketers , bloggers, email secretaries , product quality control inspectors , photographers , videoagraphers, video producers , / editors,    public relation reps , etc .. etc .. and that's just building and selling ,  ;-) It would be hard to fit  "one man rock star" in there too ;-)

Comment by Don Craig on Monday

Great thread, a little late but I'd like to chip in.  Donkey, your post shows you have an ability to write and so does everybody else who responded.  Same goes for discovering riffs and remembering them the next day, done that.  I find I have to get my head out of the box they built around me in school.  I remember that some well known tunes are extremely simple or even nonsensical - "I wanna hold your hand..."   "You got to move"  "3,6,9, the goose drank wine..."  Beethoven's Fifth seems to me to be a simple riff turned every way but loose.  I've worked out a few riffs, wrote words for them, likewise wrote words for songs when I can't remember all the original lyrics, none of them bear repeating in polite company.  But it gets me out of the box and keeps my creativity going.  I haven't tried recording yet, but thought about it.  Anyway, keep at it, don't be intimidated by writing something long, write something short.  Cheers.

Comment by Donkey on Sunday

Hello, Dennis.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject. Like you, I may conjure a short riff for an instrumental song (again, it's best if I don't sing) but, unfortunately, I may forget it. And I'm not in the camp that thinks the riff couldn't have been that good to begin with if I can't remember it. I'm just forgetful as the days go on. And I too, after years of noodling with a six-string guitar, am having a blast playing the simple CBGs I build.

ILL GREEN,

I really dig your perspective. I reckon I need to put a little more time into experimenting, just to push the boundaries of what could be fun. And no matter what, after pressing record, I too will blame the guitar any time I can't get through a simple riff I've played a hundred times, otherwise. It's some sort of strange black magic that trips me up.

Thanks to both of you gentlemen for joining this conversation!

Comment by ILL GREEN on Sunday

For me, its where it all begins. I don't think about it or consider it playing, its more of doodling dreams on the strings and recording it when to going gets good. Toss it in the sampler and construct a song in there, then it goes into my 8 track to finish with vocals or whatever until its mastered. 

Its not easy, but I try to maintain that flow. Thats why I agree with Dennis and Anonymous when they say its the guitar. Sometimes, I have played stuff thats just not my lane, but you go with it and see where it goes. Music is music, keep experimenting and dream with it.

Comment by Dennis "Denbo" Goodinson on Saturday

I'm with Pick & your thoughts are mine too. It's like mind block when you press record. I can't sing to save my skin so complete songs are out of the question. It's mostly about fun. I like riffs, I like mixing & improvising riffs by everyone else. If I have a long session basically just jamming with myself I might come up with a riff to use a a basis for a full instrumental,. I record it then & there so I'll come back to it or I'll forget it. Like you I admire those who can do their original stuff. Also I admire the few on here that can take a well known song & change it completely making it their own, & develop their own style. One thing's a fact, I've spent 50-odd years playing (copying) mainstream artists' music on 6 stringers but I've had more fun the last few years building & playing home made instruments.

Comment by Donkey on February 13, 2019 at 7:32am

the anonymous pick,

I couldn't agree with you more. 

Unfortunately, every guitar I've played has forced me to spend at least double the amount of time I had planned for recording a riff. 

CBGs, it would seem, enjoy my mounting frustration as I try over and over again to get one serviceable recording.

There must be some sort of black magic involved.

Riffs that seem otherwise effortless pre-recording become Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 immediately after touching the large red "record" button on my phone.

*sigh

Such is life with cigar box guitars. 

That there are players who write their own stuff and successfully record performances of it all never ceases to impress me.

Comment by the anonymous pick on February 12, 2019 at 12:03pm

Wanna make your guitar laugh ,,, tell it exactly what you are going to play  when  you  click   "record" .  ;-)

In  building  as in playing , many times.... the guitar decides . 

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