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Where there’s smoke…There’s a hot guitar?

Travis Woodall makes guitars out of cigar boxes. That’s right, he creates musical instruments out of real, wooden cigar boxes — and the music he makes with them is as sweet to the ear as some cigars are to the mouth.
Woodall says he got interested in building guitars from cigar boxes because he hates to see useful things thrown away.
“Some time last year, I got interested in Appalachian, old time music,” says Woodall, who is originally from Virginia. “Then I stumbled across cigar box guitars on the Internet, and discovered they have a rich history, most recently from the ‘30s, that most people don’t know about, and some of that musical history was right here in Jonesborough. The music that was made here was influenced by the homemade instrument concept.”
Woodall calls the concept an “underground movement,” but says it is growing in popularity.
“That’s partly because of the economic situation we are in,” he says. “Music is something we, as a culture, have always used to get through bad times.”
Woodall, who markets his guitars under the name ‘Slapjack Guitars,’ went on to talk about other homemade instruments, all of which are easy to play for even the most musically challenged among us. The terms used to describe some of them are charming, such as the can-jo or canned strum stick, which is really just a flat stick with frets and strings inserted into a metal can, and the diddlebow which was a favorite in the mountains, made out of a flat stick with one string and sometimes a can opened at both ends to resonate sound when a slide is run over the string.
“This music has a soul a lot of people don’t even realize,” he said. “It tells a story; somebody lived and wrote that song, and the instruments they played when they sang were often made from old boxes, even cardboard boxes and two by fours and some string – whatever they had.”
Today’s modern guitar boxes still bear a strong resemblance to the earliest instruments. Using found objects to construct and embellish the guitars, there is a deep element of personal involvement with the craft. Each one is unique, and depending on the elements of construction and the size of the box, the sound will also vary widely. Woodall’s cigar box guitars are amplified for today’s tastes, but he still uses odd and interesting things on them such as the metal kitchen drain for the sound hole he used on one, and the smooth neck of a wine bottle he slides on the strings.
Woodall plays to his own creativity when he’s making his instruments, but he also builds them to custom. He gets his boxes from a number of places, one being cigar shops. Some are brightly colored and embellished in typical cigar box fashion while others are plain wood with engraved company names on them. He leaves nail holes, chips and other things that tell of the history of the box instead of polishing everything away, but the wood he uses for the neck of the guitar can be anything from poplar to red oak from a piece of flooring someone tossed out, saying, “It just adds character to the finished product.”
To hear Travis Woodall play his cigar box guitars, go to his blog at www.slackjackguitars.wordpress.com