~ Early American Folk & Blues music~

There is a long forgotten fact in America, that is that in the 1880's this type of music was NEVER played on Resonators, Fender, Gibson or any of those store bought guitars, not only did they not exist, but at that time if you lived in poverty, there was no way to buy a nice guitar, so most people made there own. If you want to see that absolute most authentic Delta Blues & Slide guitar, watch this complete video above. It is played with simple home made 3 string guitars, these are the real thing, there is no mass market music store guitars, this is Primal Americana, this is the Delta Blues!

A few words about this site

About this site, my name is John McNair. I love American History and Folk Music. I really enjoy learning about not only the music, but the instruments the people made it on. One thing I've noticed in my research of the 3 string guitar, is that there is a rich and long history in America. It has come in many forms over the years, but there is not much information out there on these guitars. For many years now I have struggled to obtain answers to all my curious questions.

Since there is not much information or any books on the subject of this instrument, I have tryed to gather and record as much as possible the history of these wonderful and often quirky instruments and its players. I have put this website up for all to enjoy and to perhaps further your own research.

If you would like to learn more on this subject, check out my other site Red Dog Guitars.com

This is but a tiny tip of the surface. So, Bookmark this site and check back often..... This blog runs backwards so when you visit be sure to scroll past the intro photos and videos.

Lastly, a quick heads up. I am the worst speller and far to busy in life to double check grammer and spelling on everything I post. Also I end just about everything with an exclamtion point like this!!!!...the reason is because I don't even waste my time posting something unless I think it's absolutly cool, therefor I will usualy be so stoked I'll be like..."hey check out what I found!!!! Wow!!!"

If you are reading this and wondering just "What's all the Hub Bub Bub with a Three string guitar???" I could ramble for days and show you countless photos that would dazzle your senses, but like they say, "If a photo is worth a 1000 words" than surely a video is worth a million???

If you only ever see one video of a 3-string cigar box guitar in action, watch this one, watch it till the end WITH AN OPEN MIND before you decide if you like the type of sound a primitive 3 stringer will produce. I promise it will change everything you thought you knew and it will explain the truth about the origin of the Delta Blues.

Like most people, I am sure your first thought is "Why use only 3 strings, isn't adding a 6 string neck better???....You're going through all the effort of building a guitar, why not just put on 6 strings??" Well, when you add a 6 string neck, it sounds like a regular guitar no matter what you do or how you play. You'll never achieve that dirty south, raunchy Delta sound on a 6 string guitar or with a 6 string neck.

I once heard that as consumers we are constantly bombarded with advertising unconsciously all day no matter where you go...billboards, product labels, fliers and TV adds....and yeah, a little of that goes on around here too! Yes, some people buy guitars from my site "Red Dog Guitars.com", but IT IS NOT MY GOAL TO SELL YOU A GUITAR, I only build a few guitars a month.....I could never supply the demand for these fun guitars to everyone who visits this site. I hope that it inspires you to make your own, if you feel you might not be up to the task of making one, there is many great builders out there who make them, look around and I know you can find one really well made...just google "Cigar Box Guitar."

My main goal with this website is to share this wonderful form and lost art of playing homemade and 3 stringed instruments, to invite you to take a step back in time, and if you are bored with playing a regular guitar or tired of the continued invasion of Chinese made products and just can't seem to have fun making music, then what you need is to go back to the roots of how music is made. Try something simpler. This form of guitar will take you back to the lost early days of Blues and Folk music...still confused about how easy and fun a three string guitar is???

I will just cut-copy-and paste this strait from the "horse's website"

If you would like to play Delta Blues it's "airiness" that you hear comes from the music's simplicity, it is STRIPED DOWN, I am sure you have heard you only need 3 notes in a chord???? well, that's not true for Blues, you only need 2 notes! ...they only need to blend well (such as A and E) and most Blues music is based off one note at a time (most often slide guitar is one note ringing, everything else dampened)... folk music is not suppose to be complicated, over refined, lickity split fretted notes, complicated jazz chords and scales, beefed up high power, or masked with computer effects...it's just strum'n acoustic slide or plug n' play with lite power on a small amp....plus, for the guitarist, what more could be easier than playing simple slide guitar with a pluck here and there??? It's basically one finger guitar! Just connect the dots up and down the strings as you play, add slide and you've got that sound you've been after all those years but just couldn't ever find it no matter what 6 string guitar you've played.

That is the key and link to the Delta Blues that has long been forgotten in the mass market guitar world.

Early Delta Blues & the Cigar Box Guitar

Many of the legends of early Blues got there start on simple homemade guitars.
This is the oldest know photograph of one "in action"
this photo is dated 1891, there is similar paintings of them that pre-date this photo
but this is the orginal photo and is the oldest known. 
more history can be explored at reddogguitars.com
  Over 70 years ago, it's been documented that BB King got his start on guitar when his father made him a cigar box guitar, He is still a fan of them, so what are you waiting on, have you made one yet????

  Yes, in those small towns deep in the South, Juke Joints are still open and doin' well....a ruckus good time, dancin', drinkin' and the Blues....sometimes they put ol' 45's on them crank driven record players, sometimes Bluesmen just hop up on a stool and play away the night. Check out "Sonny Boy" playing his cigar box guitar 3-stringer. Grab a beer and enjoy the night!

Now that is good Old' fashioned Americana!

Hey, speaking of good Old fashioned Americana, How about the coolest thing ever made by an American craftsman, yes I am talking about the Liberty Bell!

 ....well OK, both Bells? Amazing, a 3 string pickup for a cigar box guitar as "The Liberty Bell"  That is so cool!

The Craftsman who makes these is Bob Harrison, he makes the FINEST 3 string and cigar box guitar pickups on PLANET EARTH!

visit his website at   harrisonguitarpickups.com

I bet he could make you something special!

Check out his latest
1937 Stars And Bars

Authentic Delta Blues Music

 In recording this all 3 string guitar- Delta Blues album, I set out to record only authentic Delta Blues music, no high powered electric or amped up guitar, no backing tracks or electronica, NO MODERN music, if you listen to this album you will believe you have been transported back to the 1920's and 30's...each and every song I recorded to sound and feel like times of the past, no overdrive pedals or rock riffs (I do like to use them) but in this album I wanted it to be a snapshot of American Life long ago. I wanted to capture a long forgotten part of America and I believe you will really enjoy it, it sure was alot of work.

   If you love three string guitars and cigar box guitars in general this is a MUST LISTEN to CD...it will change your life and take you back to a time long ago. Great to study and absorb to help you get that vintage sound in your own playing.

All new tracks, and it is a really fun album. if you want a CD click here

watch this video and enjoy

click here to get a copy in the mail

That Boy should Sue!

This is an orignal advertisment for Fender Guitars from 1961

It says "the most imitated guitar in the world"

Shane Speal was quick to say, "I knew that guitar looked like something, that boy should sue!"

(you can click on the photo to see the large version, as with any photo on this site)
look close, it's a Three string cigar box guitar : )

Cigar Box Guitar Fest

The Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival will take place soon at the grounds of the York Emporium bookstore in downtown York, PA.
There is gonna be lots of vendors and musicians playing cigar box guitars, this is the place to be!

You'll have a blast if you can make it! There is one every year, you have no excuses.


Blues in Schools program

 Many schools are now adopting "Blues in schools" programs in both art and music class and in my opinion this is the greatest thing since bubble gum...holy cow!
 I was the worse student, I use to skip class all the time and when I was there I did poorly. I just didn't like going, but I can tell you what, if they let me play and have a cigar box guitar at school, I would have so been there!

I think it is a great way to help kids learn about American history and culture.

3 String Blues Legend

Meet Mac Arnold, an American 3 string guitar Icon. In late 1966, at age 24, came the opportunity of a lifetime to join the Muddy Waters Band and help shape the electric Blues sound that inspired the rock and roll movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s.
  Regular guests of the band included Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, and Elvin Bishop. The Muddy Waters Band (as a unit) shared the stage with the likes of Howlin’ Wolfe, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, Junior Wells, Big Joe Williams, and Big Mama Thornton just to name a few. During this time, Mac played on John Lee Hooker’s live album, Live at the CafĂ© Au Go-Go, as well as Otis Spann’s classic recording "The Blues is Where It’s At."

Playin' guitar "by ear"

Watch this video and pay attention!

This is what 3 string cigar box guitars are all about, not the guitar, but playing by ear, it's much easier than you think, once the concept is grasped you can play just about anything.
with or without frets, 3 stringers are a joy to play!

this is a must watch Video, click and see

The Chief is gonna getcha!

What Kind of Guitar would a cigar store indian play????
.....an Indian Three string!
I found this photo on a music forum,WoW! how cool is this?

here is something cool



At 3500 years old, this is the ultimate vintage guitar!

It's called a Tanbur and was found in the tomb of Egyptian singer Har-Mose. It is thought to be about 3500 years old and had three strings and suspended from the neck by cords.
 It belonged to the Egyptian singer Har-Mose. He was buried with his tanbur close to the tomb of his employer, Sen-Mut, architect to Queen Hatshepsut, who was crowned in 1503 BCE. Sen-Mut built Hatshepsuts beautiful mortuary temple, which stands on the banks of the Nile to this day.

Written in "A Brief History of the Guitar", the first, primitive guitar appeared on clay plaques unearthed in Babylonia circa, 1850 B.C. The plaques show figures playing guitar like instruments that have a distinct body and neck.
The oval shaped, sound box was made of polished cedar wood with a rawhide soundboard stretched over it.  The neck passes through slits in the soundboard and the guitar strings, usually made of gut or silk, pass through three other holes to the neck. This ancient three stringed instrument is on display today at the Archaeological Museum in Cairo.

Chariots of FIRE!

Nothing wrong with lovin' your ride and missin' your guitar!..or is that the other way 'round?

Cruzin' with your guitar and missin' your ride!

Hey, whatever the case, this guitar is from Oz, the land of the Tasmanian Devil, digerrredoos and drivin' Hot Rods with steering wheels on the right hand side, man, they sure do have cool three stringers down under. Glenn Reither's Australian 3 string is one cool guitar!

How To Play 3 String Cigar Box Guitar

The most complete Lessons on Playing 3 string guitar
covers Slide and Fingerstlye

Click here to get a DVD copy

The Cat In the Hat

It's a definate 3 stringer, when the photo is full size you can see it's some kind of homemade guitar can-banjo canjo thing or another....OK, you caught me....I wasn't looking at the instrument!

arrrrr...arrrrrrr....... aroooooooooo!!!!!!!

*Ford Model-T horn Blows*


Homemade vintage three string dulcimer

Homemade ingenuity at it's Primal best! WoW...what can I say, Brian Kehn found this old dulcimer or "Tennessee box" dulcimer at a flea market at Aylmer Ontario...3 string history uncovered!
What amazing craftsman was behind this? I truly wonder. Check out those homemade crank tuners! If only it could tell us it's story!

3 string cigar box guitar for sale

Time for some of that shameless advertising!
Bo Diddley built his own guitars in the begining of his carrer
you can do it to!!!
But, if building is not your thing
visit my website reddogguitars.com
 or email me john@reddogguitars.com 
I make them in 3 or 4 string
 For me, it's always a good time to break out the Gold Paint!

Johnny Deep's Guitar!

OK, So it's a 4 string guitar...so sue me!
One thing's for sure is that it's totally cool, Yes that's Johnnny Deep with a Matty Baratto Cigar Box guitar!
If you are into cigar box guitar, you might have already seen this photo in some form or another as it was in the New York Post and is now all over the net. This is so cool, It's not some boring and tired old news 6 string!  I just have to repost it here too, I mean come on, could this be any cooler?????
 It's a cigar box guitar and one things for sure, It's Primal Americana.

3 scoops of sugery tone in every ear bite!

This is it, a resonator cigar box guitar can't get any better!
100% hand crafted and made for Shane Speal from old recycled wood and the guitar neck is setup to twang like the heavens. Made By Kurt Schoen, one word...AMAZING!

Here in this photo is a 3-string Resonator Bass guitar also made by Kurt. Now that's Three String Bass Americana!

The Next 3 String Master

The next Blues masters are starting young, but hey you could always build your own 3 stringer and try to catch up....nothing like learning something new!

This guy is like the perhaps the Coolest Grandpa ever!  To enjoy family and create a close bond by building a three string cigar box guitar together, man that is cool!

Sir Charleston Mojowski The 3rd

Sure the Queen has knighted him, for he is a Legend of The Royal Court, but some say late at night he roams the street Buskin' and Blues'n like a pauper of the land!

Check out Charlie Mojo's "Poppy Reso," It's a super cool 3 string with a homemade square cover and rusticly royal!

HollowBelly ~The 3 string Delta Punk Prodigy~

Have 3 string... will play!

3 string Cigar Box Guitars are Fine in Finland

Risto Sipiläinen's 3 stringer is as cool as they come!

3 string Banjo!

This is an old photo with the kid on the right holding what looks like some kind of homemade coffee tin banjo thing? It's only got three strings...and you know what? That's all you need!

Snarls In Charge!

 This goes to show you can find anything on ebay. In my quest to make guitars as rustic as possible I search thru countless cigar boxes. I only see about 1 out of every 50 boxes that I can use to make a guitar....and of that, only about once or twice a month do I see a box that just defines "Americana" and what Folk music and homemade guitars are all about.
 This box is one of those rare jewels. You can buy them for about 5 or 10 dollars, but I would put a value of at least 50 dollars due to the fact it's Mahogany ( a killer tone wood, but just so happens used for flavor for cigars.) You have to look hard for these. I go to all the cigar shops in town and I am always looking online. A great box like this only comes once a month or so and is worth a stack of regular boxes the exact same size and brand. It's all about the snarly and rustic wood patterns and its age.
 I found it randomly on ebay as some lady was selling it along with a stack of children's toys and clothes. It's not so old its an antique, but not it's not new either.(probably sold in the 70's or 80's) You can tell the age it has no smokers warnings on the lower corner ( they branded Govt. warnings in the 90's and up.)
 Keep your eyes open, these great boxes are out there you just have to have the patience to look. A great box is the key to a great guitar!...Now, get out there and build your own cigar box guitar!
Looking for the ultimate Box? Search ebay for "Ashton cigar box" or try "Punch cigar box" If you look around you'll find your own Snarls in Charge!

Here is an example of how cool a Snarly Box can look, it has a big effect on the eye.
I know it's a 4 string :-) ...but that's still a nice guitar paw-paw!

1965 Domra Three string Mandolin lute type thing

This is a Three string Mandolin/lute type instrument called the Domra. It is tuned in 4ths.

It is marked inside

"1965 B. USENKO. Highland Park, New Jersey, USA"

check out the craftsmanship!

Cigar Box Guitar Lessons on Three String

Three string lessons are easy to learn, easy to play, and best of all, they sound great with low power amps. If you are looking for something cheap and that sounds great, try a Pignose, it will become your favorite amp!

click here for video lessons

Delta Blues and the Cigar Box Guitar

Just like McKinley Morganfield, Kevin M. Kraft enjoys a day buskin' his three string guitar outside.

So, your wondering who is McKinley Morganfield?
OK, I'll give you clue...study the center of the photo and you will see where his name originated.

McKinley Morganfield got his start playing cigar box guitar on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi. He is better know as "Muddy Waters"
  Try this sometime, build yourself a cigar box guitar and head on out and be with nature, I promise you'll find inner music and enjoyment you could never get on a store bought 6 string guitar... go ahead, Try it!

Cigar Box Guitar Lady from down Under!

bright smiles and sunny in the land of OZ!
Kate Ceberano on Blind Gee's 3 string

Perhaps one of the coolest songs ever played on 3 string, lay back and listen to this!

Lady Three String

Make your own three string guitar...it will bring a smile to all that see!

Cigar Box Guitar Contest!

Just about everybody knows about the Daddy Mojo cigar Box guitar contest, It was cool they gave away a free guitar! Wow! His guitars are off the charts cool!

Ok, I wanted to have me a contest...but hey, it's little old me over here, and there ain't no way I would give a guitar away, they are just too valuable, but I want to drum up some excitement somehow...and it got me to thinkin', I'll have me a contest.... but..... I will give you what you REALY want....a "Fistful of dollars!"

How does that sound?????
  whelp, It's all up to you, I've got Clint "Red Dog" Eastwood to explain all the details of this super fun contest....Go ahead....click n' win!

~3 strings too many~ Cigar box Guitar Music CD

Hot off the presses is an all Cigar Box guitar Blues Compact Disc album. If you liked the movie Crossroads or the guitar playing from Ry Cooder, you will enjoy the vintage 3 string blues and cigar box guitar playing that has been recorded on this album.
   To record this album with vintage tones and early Blues, I used 60's tube amps that are naturaly overdriven, and of course, like the movie I used the legendary Pignose that was used while in the deep south and on a lot of the recordings.
 I also record a few songs with some Retro "Radio Guitar Amps." The music and songs are sounds that are southern in flavor, perfect for study if your trying to learn early Americana Bottleneck guitar, or just enjoy it as a relaxing way to step back in time.

Trying to 'explain' what something sounds like is like trying to discribe a color....so, instead of me trying to explain music, you can hear the first track right here right now....Is this something that would interest you?

This CD is all songs of homemade Bottleneck guitar with NO singing, No regular guitars, and only music played on cigar box three string guitars.
 "3 strings too many" is a escape from today and a journey into the Delta Blues and America's past.
 You can buy it here below or
visit the full list of music click here

$15.35  USD
shipping worldwide $2.15 USD

yes! anywhere in the world same price, 2.15!

Shipping in the USA (8 to 12 days) First Class Mail
Overseas & Worldwide (14 to 21 days) Stamped "Air-Mail
Questions??? email john@reddogguitars.com

Rodney's cigar box guitar

...is it just me or are three string guitars really cool????

Roosterman's Trytone Slab-tar

This was a custom ordered three string guitar for a chap in Germany who wanted something that looks like 'It was built out of stuff found in a shed in the 1920s', with a touch of rustic charm.

How To Build the Ultimate Cigar Box Guitar

Hi my name is John, I have spent well over several hundred hours filming and editing the most complete How to Build a cigar box guitar DVD available. If you would like to take your guitar making not only to the next level but far beyond to get the sound you have always wanted in your cigar box guitar, I will show you how and what to do, everything is covered from start to finish, If you would like me to send you a copy in the mail or learn more click here.

No matter if it's your first time or 10th, this is the DVD you need to make a great guitar.
How to build a Cigar Box Guitar DVD


3 string bass Upright history

I read some fascinating stuff in a book this weekend "The evolution of the Double Bass"

A few centuries ago 3-string basses were the norm.

Here is what the book said,

"During the 17th and 18th centuries the bass family diverged into two lines the four string and the 3 string with the 4 string version being used in Germany and the 3 string version being used in France, Italy, and England. It was thought that the 3 string version had better tone. Then around 1800 there was a migration away from the three string version and then an abandonment a generation later when the old teachers died off.

An example of this was in the Paris Conservatory where all first year students were required to use the three string version, then when the masters died thier replacements made it optional then as they died thier replacements dropped the three string version all together.
There were several tunning schemes for the three string version while the 4 string version was the EADG we all know today. From 1800 to 1850 English Bass players were looked on with great favor, note that this was during the time Dragonette (sp?) was in England (1795-184?) and the original tone of a 3 string bass was likely the reason."

1919 Fair Maiden on her 3 string thing

Here is a photo that is almost a 100 years old. I can't tell what it is?  Looks like some kind of breadbasket box harp thingamajig. I scored it off of ebay from some lady in Iowa. One thing is for sure, It's a three string!

This is a photo of a young woman who immigrated to America, it shows her playing some kind of 3 string instrument. It looks to be fretless and also have dulcimer string spacing with the top string used as a drone and the bottom 2 as melody lines. I wonder what this Fair maiden sang?

Ragtime Omar 1909

Here is a photo of  "Ragtime Omar" as the people of Charleston called him, he was so famous for playing his home made 3 string banjo in front of the court house for "pennies and nickels" that the town's paper decided to do a front page story in the local newspaper on his "jubilant and festive music."
 His family said "it was the best thing to happen to Omar"...now that's Americana!

Homemade Resonator cigar box guitar

It seems I am always ending every post with a exclamation point!!!

Well, finding great stuff like this keeps the "shock button" in business!
no need to tell you the bairfoot cajun made it.
Look how cool this is, It's a three string reso something or another, but coolest part is it's all stuff you have lying around in your kitchen or garage. Study this photo and head out to your garage or kitchen spare drawer. I'll bet you already have everything. Try to build one, there is lots of easy to do cigar box guitar plans out there, you'll have a blast!

man, how cool is that center cover from the actual box itself. This is homemade Americana!