“So I went ahead and made me a guitar. I got me a cigar box, I cut me a round hole in the middle of it, took me a little piece of plank, nailed it onto that cigar box, and I got me some screen wire and I made me a bridge back there and raised it up high enough that it would sound inside that little box, and got me a tune out of it. I kept my tune and I played from then on.” — Lightnin’ Hopkins
Peter Lake grew up in Placentia Bay watching his father handcraft model wooden boats, and it seems like there’s a familial knack for craftsmanship. He’s likely the only Newfoundlander making cigar box guitars, and he’s quickly turned it into a worthwhile enterprise.
What are cigar box guitars. You ask? They aren’t something you come across everyday. Before being tasked with this article, I’d only heard of them as a footnote in music history; a primitive step in the evolutionary path of what we now readily identify as a guitar.
Homemade instruments of all kinds were integral to the early development of blues, and they were homemade out of necessity. Blame the socioeconomic divide; the rich musical history of the south sprouted from poverty stricken black communities, and any materials that held a sonic resonance could be put to use for more melodic means.
There was a refinement of the craft as time passed, with more and more sophisticated varieties emerging even through the great depression era. The standardization of the guitar began to take hold, however, and the charming handcrafted oddities were left to fade into museums and collections.
But as of late, there’s been a resurgence of interest in the craft. When I first checked out the Heavy Fog website, I immediately thought of Seasick Steve, a modern blues man cut out of a ragged cloth who plays mostly improvised or homemade instruments.
Peter confirmed my suspicions, saying Steve was actually his introduction to it all, “he was playing a guitar made of a hubcap, and a broom stick. I immediately knew that I had to make one of my own.”
After completing the hubcap guitar, he came across the cigar box guitar and began to learn about its past. Having stoked his interest, he dove into the rabbit hole of homemade instruments and began to build one last August. Lake notes that the cigar box guitars “are a little more tedious, and time consuming, so I began to research more about them, and how others went about building them.”
After completing it, Lake did what anyone would do in this day and age; post a picture on social media. From there, it all came together,
“I instantly begin receiving messages from people wanting one built for themselves. Within no time it went from being a pastime to a business.” It was initially friends that wanted one, but word quickly spread. In less than a year since he built his first one, he’s sold over 20 guitars and shipped them as far as British Columbia and even Nashville.
Each guitar is unique; they come in 3 and 4 string varieties, and they usually take between 15-20 hours to piece together. They range in price from under a hundred bucks to close on $400. Lake’s also about to add cigar box amps and stompboxes to his Heavy Fog’s line, cementing this venture as a unique local business to keep your eye on.