Local guitar maker keeps old tradition alive

Thorne: making beautiful music the old-fashioned way

Local musician and cabinetmaker Peter Thorne holds one of the 20 cigar box guitars he's built over the past three years

Local musician and cabinetmaker Peter Thorne holds one of the 20 cigar box guitars he's built over the past three years

Local musician and cabinetmaker Peter Thorne first heard about cigar box guitars when he was seven. Little did he know that one day he would be building them.

“I wanted a guitar, and my grandfather handed me a wooden cigar box and said people made guitars out of these. I pounded away at it, but just cracked the wood.”

Cigar box guitars date back to the middle of the 19th century when people who couldn’t afford to buy a guitar began using empty wooden cigar boxes as resonators.

Thorne says he became interested in them three years ago, when local singer and guitarist Candace Copley visited him at his home recording studio. She mentioned a book she’d seen about the history of the cigar box guitar, and Thorne, who wasn’t doing much at the time, was intrigued.

“Candace knew I was a musician and a woodworker, and figured this was something I should check out, and I had always wanted a smaller project to make.”

Although wooden cigar boxes are still available, they’re often the wrong size, so he makes his own resonators out of mahogany.

His guitars are either three- or four-string, which is traditional for cigar box guitars.

“The three-stringers are the most common. They’re more simple and are preferred for blues music.”

Thorne says there are no real rules when it comes to tuning and playing the instruments.

“You can tune them any way you like. Four-stringers can be tuned to sound similar to a ukulele or mandolin.”

He estimates it would take three eight-hour days to make one basic guitar.

He hopes to get other people interested, via a demonstration at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School on Oct. 30. If he can get five to 10 students interested, he will hold a workshop and supply the materials needed for students to build their own guitars.

Thorne says he’s built around 20 cigar box guitars in the last three years, most of which he’s sold. He plans to build more over the winter, to sell at music festivals next year, and will also be branching out.

“I plan to make two cigar box ukuleles. That’s my winter project.”