Paul Atkinson & Virginia Heath

Cigar Box Guitars


Output: Other

This body of work, consisting of three journal articles, two documentary films, three conference papers and a magazine article, investigates the Do It Yourself practices of cigar box guitar makers, exploring how this practice, defined as ‘performative DIY’, differs from other DIY practices. Amongst other questions, it asks to what level do these makers see themselves as professional or amateur makers and professional or amateur performers?

This study, led by Atkinson, is part of his ongoing enquiry into the relationship between amateur and professional design practices. DIY and amateur making are currently undergoing a huge renaissance under the banner of the Maker Movement. It remains true, though, that while the majority of DIY activity is of huge emotional and social benefit to the practitioner, the vast majority of this particular activity is carried out for the sake of the making practice itself and the social contact that accompanies it and in doing so, it forms an essential part of the maker’s self-identity.

The research involved semi-structured in-depth interviews with makers and manufacturers of cigar box guitars (including Chickenbone John in the UK and Shane Speal in the USA), cigar box guitar performers (Nig Richards and Hollowbelly); ethnographic observation of public cigar box events (individual performances and festivals such as ‘Boxstock’); archival research (Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Tennessee) and secondary research using published texts, and led to participatory ethnographic research through Atkinson making and performing publicly with a cigar box guitar.

The collaboration with Heath in the making of the documentary films “Three Chords and the Truth” and “Cigar Box Blues: The Makers of a Revolution” illuminated the skill and culture of this particular group of makers and performers to a significantly wider audience when it was broadcast by BBC Television in December 2019 and 2020.

Research Output

Cigar Box Blues Trailer

Three Chords and the Truth trailer

This project contains further videos that can accessed via the full case study below.

This collection of images displays the outputs from this project. Find out more details in the full case study below.

Research Method

An overview of how this body of work was created and incrementally built, using a mix of research methods including semi-structured in-depth interviews, archival research, participant observation ethnographic research, netnographic analysis and secondary research.

Key Methodologies:

Full Project Output

REF '21

To learn more about the output, methods and dissemination of this work, explore the full project submission.

Other Projects By

Paul Atkinson & Virginia Heath