HALLOWELL — Burton Philbrick came across his co-worker’s empty Altoids can and accepted the challenge. From this, he made a guitar.

Cigar box guitars, or CBGs, are not necessarily made from cigar boxes. Steve Richard made one with an oar and an empty baked bean can. 

“I eat beans anyway,” Richard said. 

The craft of guitar and instrument making, including CB

G-making, was celebrated this weekend during the third annual Luthiers Showcase. A luthier is a person who makes or repairs stringed instruments.

Music from Tom Dube’s electric CBG filled the old fire station on Second Street. He performed on a CBG made with a wooden box topped with a Maine chickadee license plate. 


“It is all expression,” Dube said. “You have notes and things to play with, so they are fun. And I think with the slide and stuff, you get to manipulate the sound. It is simple (to play), but it is complicated at the same time,” because it has three strings instead of six.

“I like the challenge,” he said.

Ramus Horn, 6, of Hallowell checks out Burton Philbrook’s cigar box guitars Sunday during Hallowell’s third annual Maine Luthiers Showcase. Kennebec Journal photo by Abigail Austin

Dube was the first of two performers during the Sunday morning demonstration. Fat Knuckle Freddy also performed. During their performances, Philbrook and Marty Tauber, both professional CBG luthiers, exhibited guitars and demonstrated how they make pickups. 

“There’s an antique feeling about it,” said Sara Sounier of Hallowell, who had played a guitar made by Tauber with wooden materials from a 150 year-old bar. “It sounds good with nostalgic, classic rock sounds.”

At the whim of the of the crafter, these guitars can be anything from anything, it seemed. CBGs at the demonstration made by Philbrick and Tauber were constructed with a shovel, gourds, a bread pan, candy tins and other items, including cigar boxes.

Philbrick, of Norway, said he makes a lot of his guitars by repurposing items from flea markets. His business card for Burt’s Blues Boxes, which he owns, reads, “I turn junk into guitars.”


The wood, Philbrick said, should be a hardwood, such as maple, walnut or oak, while the components are the same as traditional electric and acoustic guitars. The number of strings, meanwhile, is up to the builder. Three and four strings are common, but there is also a single-string instrument, known as a diddley bow. 

With cigar box guitars having fewer strings luthiers often struggle to find pickups, the transducers on electric guitars.

“The strings are messing with the magnetic field, creating like an electrical current,” Philbrick said. “That current goes down to the amp, and the amp turns it into sound.”

Both Philbrook and Tauber demonstrated hand-wound pickups.

Tauber, who owns Maine Made CBGs, started making cigar boxes eight years ago, and when he struggled to find pickups, he started making his own.

“It was a natural progression,” he said.


Now Tauber sells them both privately and through C.B. Gritty, a crafter supplier. 

Tauber said his ultra-thin pickups, branded Wicked Bucker Pickups, are the only ones sold in the United States. He has also sold them internationally, including in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. 

Tauber said his simplest guitar took about 20 minutes to make, excluding making the pickup. 

This guitar pickup decorated with the likeness of a girl was made by Burton Philbrook and shown over the weekend at Hallowell’s third annual Maine Luthiers Showcase. Kennebec Journal photo by Abigail Austin

Without frets, Tauber played the diddley bow with a glass slide, a hollow cylinder he placed on his finger. The music was created by sliding the strings, not picking.

But just because a guitar has fewer strings does not necessarily make it easier to play.

“It is easier because there are fewer strings,” Richard said. 


Dube shook his head, disagreeing.

“As a guitar player that has played for many years,” he said, “I have to think harder on those things.”

Marty Tauber of Maine Made CBGs plays a diddley bow Sunday at Hallowell’s third annual Maine Luthiers Showcase. He made the instrument out of a board. Kennebec Journal photo by Abigail Austin

The program was the first event Sunday, the third of the three-day festival. This is the third year of the festival, and Town Manager Nate Rudy expects this year’s attendance to be the best yet.

“This festival is about recognizing what music, musicians and instrument makers contribute to the state’s economy,” Rudy said.

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