Cigar Box Guitar Maker : "Along the Way"

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What do cigar boxes, aged red oak wood, and a retired man have in common?
Most of the time, probably nothing.
But we found a place where that trio flows like sheet music, "Along the Way" in the Northern Hills.

What do cigar boxes, aged red oak wood, and a retired man have in common?
Most of the time, probably nothing.
But we found a place where that trio flows like sheet music, "Along the Way" in the Northern Hills.

Downstairs in the basement of a home up in Spearfish

(We hear natural sound of rasping or filing wood.)

75 year old Richard Rutherford, retired from construction management,

(We hear natural sound of rasping or filing wood.)

still manages to build.

Cigar Box Guitar Maker Richard Rutherford says: "I think making anything out of wood is beautiful but to make it sing is wonderful."

He makes guitars out of cigar boxes,

Richard Rutherford says:, "I acquire these at the Deadwood Tobacco Company and when they sell the cigars out of them, then they sell the boxes to whoever would want one."

and wood,

(We hear natural sound of rasping or filing wood.)

Rutherford says, "This is roughing it with a rasp."

with a small note of mystery to it's history.

"I finally decided on Red Oak for it's look, it's grain and it's strength and I found at Kellogg Sawmill here in Spearfish, they had a bunch of recleaimed Red Oak that had come from I think somewhere around Custer, " Richard says.

He actually gets a lot of his cigar boxes online as well.

Rutherford says "A company buys the bulk from Central America or the Dominican Republic."

Each wooden box, with it's own melodious look. It all started when Richard was looking at a magazine and saw an ad for Cigar Box guitar.

Richard says, "I bought the kit, built it, was really impressed with the sound it had out of the little thing, and said, I think I can do better than that. So I started buying parts"

And he began making his own Cigar Box Guitars.

Richard says, "The significance of this one is it's the first custom I made after building the kit."

He's now made about 45.

Rutherford plays each string and says "G, D, G and that's considered a straight G tuning."

And he can make 'em anyway he wants.

"But the sound on it is definitely brassy," says Rutherford.

He makes 1 string, 2,3,4 and 6 string guitars: so far no five stringer. The kit guitar had the wooden neck on top of the cigar box. Rutherford would rather have it go through the box.

He says, "And that takes the tension off the cigar box, the boxes aren't strong enough to take the tension of the strings.

While he makes them, he cannot play them, atleast not yet.

Rutherford says,: "The last time I'd been serious about making music was over 45 years ago."

And while Richard is learning, his friend, 65 year old Steve Barna, plays like he was born with a guitar in his hands.

Musician Steve Barna says, "You I mean (plays guitar) I can do (plays guitar) or I can do (plays music). So I can do Hank Williams or Cream."

Rutherford says: "I would say the whole genre of the Cigar Box Guitar is homemade, homegrown, hillbilly music."

Turns out, cigar boxes, aged red oak, and a retired man fit together like the strumming strings of a handmade guitar.

He says he's given away about a dozen of his guitars.
But he also sells them at places like the Jacobs gallery in Deadwood.

He's been making them for about 18 months and is calling his business: "Beetletune Guitars".

If you've met someone cool "Along the Way" please call us or e-mail me at stevel@blackhillsfox.com to let me know.