Born in the USA: The geographical, temporal and cultural displacement of the cigar box guitar

ATKINSON, Paul (2018). Born in the USA: The geographical, temporal and cultural displacement of the cigar box guitar. In: Design and Displacement, Parsons School of Design, New York, 6-8th September 2018. (Unpublished)

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The cigar box guitar—a very basic, homemade instrument—is undeniably American in origin, dating back to the Civil War in the middle of the nineteenth century. Made from whatever materials came to hand, cigar box guitars were a manifestation of a can-do mentality in the face of adversity; an authentic object that fulfilled a basic human social desire to create music. For many influential Folk musicians that emerged from the dustbowls of the American Midwest or Blues musicians from the sharecroppers of the Southern States, a cigar box guitar was their first instrument. Throughout the twentieth century, the cigar box guitar became a popular American DIY project, disseminated through books, newspapers and magazines, with many being produced as part of a bonding activity between father and son. It was, though, never taken forward as a serious performing instrument in its own right until the early twenty-first century, when it was popularised in the US by DIY activists such as Shane Speal ( and Ben ‘C. B. Gitty’ Baker (C. B. Gitty Crafter Supply) and in the UK by the American Blues player Seasick Steve. Through processes of temporal, geographic and cultural displacement, the cigar box guitar has now become a part of the global maker movement; a simulacrum of an authentic object; a subcultural signifier of a reactionary music scene across the United States, the UK and Northern Europe. Through interviews and documentary filmmaking, this research reveals the motivations and attitudes of the makers and performers involved, as its practitioners gather to perform, revelling in a newfound freedom and refusing to accept the conformity, cost and limitations of overpriced, factory-produced instruments.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Cultural Communication and Computing Research Institute > Art and Design Research Centre
Departments - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Faculty of Science, Technology and Arts > Department of Art and Design
Depositing User: Paul Atkinson
Date Deposited: 13 Sep 2018 15:37
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 07:46

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