NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) — The empty containers once held Coronas, Queen Bees, Macanudos, and Padrons, but Larry Allen doesn’t smoke.
He doesn’t need cigar boxes for extra Christmas cards or spare pencils.
“Find the wood you like. Find the box you like,” he suggests.
He likes them for the sounds they make when you put them together with spare pieces of wood he collects from construction sites around his garage workshop in Norman.
“Most of the wood we use is either re-claimed or re-purposed,” he insists. “I can just immerse myself in sawdust and strings.”
The creative tradition comes from a mix of poverty and boredom.
The first cigar box instruments stretch back to at least the Civil War and right on through the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma.
“Where people had nothing,” he explains. “But they were still looking for something to give them a little satisfaction, a little relief.”
Homemade music sprang from homemade instruments a lot like these, broom wire stretched between a couple of nails over a cigar box.
Allen started making them about a year ago.
He liked it so much his wife told him to go into business.
Allen recalls her advice as, “You either, A, quit building these things, or, B, we need to go into business and start selling them because we have no more room.”
Larry makes most of his guitars with three strings, a few with just one.
License plates make for a good steel guitar sound.
He puts acoustic pickups on them and away they fly.
There’s something about that sound that seems to bring back memory.
Allen says they’re, “easy to make. Easy to play, and a lot of fun.”
Larry has been too busy in the workshop to learn to play much, but his wife Sharon gives each one a good test drive.
No two are ever quite alike, but that’s a good thing.
The music they play best is homespun and original too, straight from the hearth and the heart of Oklahoma.
Larry Allen’s Twister Strum cigar box guitars are sold from several different arts and crafts shows throughout the state.