Arts & Culture

Discover All Things Regional in Central PA’s art and culture scene. Join hosts Cary Burkett and Joe Ulrich as they make artistic discoveries throughout the midstate. From music and visual arts to theatre, museums, literature and more! Listen every Wednesday and Friday on witf 89.5 and 93.3 for features highlighting the best and brightest cultural happenings in the region.

Shane Speal, Cigar Box King

Written by Joe Ulrich, Arts & Culture Desk and WITF Host | Feb 19, 2013 10:10 AM
Shane Speal

Photo by Jennifer Diehl

"It's a wooden cigar box, a 1x2 piece of poplar that I bought from Home Dept, and the stick basically is shoved the whole way through the box and it comes out the back." The object that Shane Speal of West York is describing is a cigar box guitar, an instrument that was integral to the rise of jug bands and blues. These were instruments that were made and used by the poor, an instrument which had a particular popularity during the Great Depression.

Musician Shane Speal was "seduced into carpentry", a quote from Harry Partch, who was an American composer and music philosopher who built his own instruments. Shane was just getting into blues music in college when he was finding that his acoustic guitar wasn't making the sounds that he wanted. After reading a story about Carl Perkins, the man who wrote Blue Suede Shoes, and how his first guitar was a cigar box guitar, Shane knew that that was the missing link.

Since 1993 Shane has been building his own cigar box guitars and occasionally other odd instruments including a Dobro made from a mailbox. Listen to the feature below to hear his story and the sounds of some of his instruments.

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  • Shane Speal img 2013-02-20 07:58

    Thanks to Joe Ulrich for such a great interview and a top notch job at editing a couple hours down to four minutes of concise audio. I've been interviewed several times over the years and this is, by far, the best presentation.

    Anyone that wants to build their own cigar box guitar can check out the website I created, There's free plans and a lot more in there.

    -Shane Speal

  • bluemountainguitars img 2013-02-20 15:15

    No one I know does more for primal homemade american music then Shane Speal! Whenever you can, try catching him as he plays live. I'm honored to carry his homemade CBGs in my small music store at the morningstar market in thomasville just off of route 30. Keep Rockin' Shane, someday we'll name the band after you!