You might be accustomed to seeing Evanston photographer David Sutton with a camera in one hand. These days, though, he's just as likely to have a homemade cigar box guitar in the other. Sutton, whose fame as a photographer of people and their pets is such that Forbes magazine has called him America's best, has written a book about his newest passion entitled Cigar Box Guitars: The Ultimate DIY Guide for Makers and Players of the Handmade Music Revolution (Fox Chapel Publishing, 2012). And, as you might expect, it's full of Sutton photos illustrating how to make your own musical instrument ? and your own music. A longtime amateur woodworker who has also played guitar since he was a boy, Sutton said he started thinking about making one around five years ago, when his five-year-old daughter Alisha expressed an interested in his guitars. I wanted to give her one, so she could try it out, but she was so little. I?d hover, thinking, ?She's going to bang it up? ? mainly because they were so big and unwieldy, ? he said. ?Then, out of nowhere, I had this thought: ?Cigar box guitars.? I don't know where it came from. Maybe my dad mentioned it when I was a kid.? Basic pattern Regardless, Sutton looked online and found a site or two with minimalistic plans for making a real, honest-to-goodness, 19th-century/Depression-era favorite, three-string guitar out of a 1 x 2 pine neck, a few old tuning keys, and a cigar box for the body. He made one for his daughter and one for himself and was a little surprised about how much of a kick he got out of playing this thing he?d made with his own hands. Although he?d played guitar most of his life, he said he felt different about the music he made on his homemade instrument. Though he had previously never felt comfortable performing for others, he felt competent and confident playing his cigar box special ? along with a special thrill about the sound it made. After you?ve made your own guitar, making your own music makes simple sense, ? he said. ?It's a great de-mystifying process, making your own instrument. Building one, somehow, makes playing music on it seem more accessible.? Sutton isn't the only one who's made this discovery ? far from it. When he first looked online for cigar box guitar plans, he could find only a couple of modest posts from aficionados. Now, five years later, a full-fledged homemade-music community has grown up on the Internet, with cigar box guitars in the forefront. DIY sites Look up Cigar Box Guitars on YouTube and you will find countless entries by people either explaining how to build or play CBGs (particularly videos demonstrating old-school, gut-bucket, down-home slide-guitar blues), sometimes with tens of thousands of views apiece. In addition, websites such as cigarboxnation.com and handmademusicclubhouse.com have racked up thousands of subscribers. What's behind the sudden rise in awareness about the joys of homemade music? Well, we?re not as rich as we thought we were, ? Sutton said, with a laugh. ?Perhaps because of the economy and perhaps just as a reaction to the idea that only professionals can be artists and entertainers, the idea that you have to buy your fun is petering out. People are realizing you don't have to have the biggest, finest, most expensive stuff to have fun, or make music. If you?ve got a cigar box and some old strings and a few used tuners, and a real desire to play, that's all you need.?
About the Author
David Sutton is a highly successful photographer who says that he enjoys woodworking almost as passionately. His portraits of people and their pets have been featured extensively in national media including the Today Show and Animal Planet, as well as in the Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Chicago Sun-Times and Crain's Chicago Business. He has also exhibited his work in numerous venues including Hermes of Paris and Takishimaya New York. Learn more about his work at www.suttonstudios.com "The best pet photographer in America." - Forbes magazine