Tony Walker turns cigar boxes into guitars

Tony Walker is Blythewood’s cigar box guitar man. | Barbara Ball

BLYTHEWOOD – While Anthony (Tony) Walker of Blythewood was recovering from back surgery in 2015, he had time on his hands and watched a lot of You Tube.

“One day I saw this woman named Marley Maxwell with a guitar that was made out of a cigar box, and singing a song written by Art Smith, a guy from Chester,” Walker said. “And I started thinking, I could make one of those cigar box guitars for myself.”

And so he did.

Today, Walker is not only a locally recognized cigar box guitar maker, but he sells his well-crafted, sought-after instruments at Soda City and at cigar box guitar festivals around the Southeast. Being a left handed picker, he named his business Southpaw Cigar Box Guitars.

“But it took me a while to get here,” Walker said. “That first one didn’t turn out very good because I didn’t know anything about constructing a guitar,” he said, with a laugh.

A retired wildlife game warden who also spent some time working in law enforcement, Walker said he always had a love for music, but wasn’t really a musician.

“I can play well enough to demonstrate my guitars, but that’s it,” he said, modestly, during an interview last weekend at Doko Manor where he was selling his guitars at the Blythewood Artists Guild Holiday Market.

“From the time I was little, my mother played the piano and was always buying me records by singers like Brook Benton, a 60’s singer who was from Lugoff. She took me to Harry James, Artie Shaw and Count Basie concerts. A friend of hers, Johnny Williams, was a member of the Count Basie Orchestra. Later in my life, I was influenced by accustical guitarist Earl Klugh and Chet Atkins.”

 Walker also had some well-honed woodworking skills in his back pocket, and those skills plus his passion for music came together in his ability to successfully craft cigar box guitars.

“After that first one, which was awful, I kept building them and researching them and learning more and I figured out how to do things a little better,” he said.

“After about a year, I had made about 15 of them, and my kids suggested I try to sell them at the Big Grab sale. That was in 2016. I sold five,” he said, still relishing the satisfaction he felt at the time from the sales.

Walker said he is intrigued with all aspects of the cigar box guitar – the intricate wood carving, the construction, the sound and the history.

“Cigar box guitars were a product of poverty. People who loved music but couldn’t afford to buy a guitar made their own,” he said. “They might pull a picket off a fence, find a cigar box which, years ago were easy to come by, and nail them together. They would unwind the wire off an old broom, string it down the picket to the cigar box, and that was their guitar.”

There were also cigar box fiddles and banjos.

Today, cigar box guitars are electric and amplified. Walker said his guitars are made with real guitar parts – real frets, pickups, etc.

“The only thing I use that’s not a real guitar part is the cigar box. But cigar boxes are not that easy to come by now, and when I can’t find them, I have to make my own,” he said. “I use hardrock maple, paduak and other hardwoods for the guitar neck.”

He also makes Dulcimers from Honduras mahogany and cherry wood.

“I don’t sell the dulcimers I have on display,” he said. “I take custom orders for dulcimers.”

Walker’s guitars start at $245 and dulcimers at $325.

For more information, contact Walker at 803-338-0011, email [email protected] or visit his Facebook page at southpaw cigar box guitars.