How to Play a Two-String Cigar Box Guitar

by Jack Hugo

The cigar box guitar -- referred to by enthusiasts as a "CBG" -- is a primitive stringed instrument that has experienced a limited resurgence on the American music scene. The roots of the guitar reach back to the American Civil War. Troops on both sides of the conflict crafted CBGs in the field when traditional guitars were not available. A basic CBG consists of a cigar-box body, a 1-by-2-by-36-inch wooden neck and standard guitar tuners and strings. Blues great Lightning Hopkins and rock legend Jimi Hendrix both stated that the first instrument played by either was a CBG.

Items you will need

  • Two-string cigar box guitar
  • Guitar slide
  • Guitar pick
Step 1

Tune both strings of the CBG to the same note, one octave apart. This results in an open tuning. The CBG is typically used to play blues; the most common tuning for a beginning player is the key of G.

Step 2

Insert the guitar slide over the ring finger of your nondominant hand. Hold the guitar pick between the thumb and first finger of your dominant hand.

Step 3

Strum the strings of the guitar with your pick. When strummed open -- without the slide touching either string -- you are playing a reasonable facsimile of a G chord.

Step 4

Lay your slide directly on top of the first fret, and strum the guitar. The note you are playing is G sharp. When playing a two-string guitar tuned to G, the scale is a standard, chromatic progression of G, G sharp, A, A sharp, B, C, C sharp, D, D sharp, E, F, F sharp and G.

Step 5

Press your slide very lightly against the string. The string must not touch the fret. Wobble the slide back and forth over the fret. This produces a vibrato sound common in traditional slide and blues renditions.

Step 6

Listen to a favorite song, and attempt to play along. Most CBGs are played by ear because music is rarely written for a two-string instrument.

About the Author

Jack Hugo has written professionally since 1984 for publications such as "Playboy," "Missouri Life" and "USA Today." He is the former owner of five restaurants, and the author of two travel guides published nationally by WW Norton. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Missouri-Columbia.