Lead tech Greg Mitchell mills the frets on the neck for a cigar box guitar at St. Blues Guitar Workshop, in Memphis. Memphis-based St. Blues Guitar Workshop is a boutique guitar maker that operates out of a warehouse and attached storefront space near Downtown Memphis. (AP Photo/Memphis Daily News, Lance Murphey)
September 17, 2013 02:56PM
FROSTBURG, Md. (AP) — Webster’s Dictionary defines a luthier as one who builds stringed instruments. As for Frostburg resident and guitar maker Charlie Kyle, the fact the definition doesn’t specify what type of wood is just fine with him.
Kyle, 38, of Frostburg, builds guitars from scratch using wooden cigar boxes as the centerpiece for his stringed creations.
Although he doesn’t play guitar, Kyle is an avid music fan.
“I saw a guy building a guitar on TV. It was a local craftsman show,” Kyle said.
The spark had been lit, and Kyle decided to give the craft a try. However, he wanted to give his guitars a different twist.
For the body of the guitar, Kyle uses cigar boxes from makers like Perdomo, Partagas, Romeo and Julieta and others.
“The larger the cigar box, the better the sound. I like the size of the Romeo and Julieta boxes,” Kyle said.
Kyle made his first cigar box guitar, complete with an oak neck and head stock and with common machine bolts for the support hardware, about 18 months ago.
“I was amazed at how good it looked and it sounded impressive,” said Beth Kenney, Kyle’s girlfriend.
His first guitar was handed over to his nephew Robert Kyle, a guitarist, who goes by his initials RK.
“I was a little skeptical at first because he doesn’t play,” said RK.
However, RK was impressed after he got to see the guitar and play it.
“It sounded really good. It looks like something you would buy in a store,” said RK.
Although many may find using a cigar box for the body of the guitar to be unusual, Kyle says it is part of our history.
“I learned that in the late 1800s, many were poor and would make their own instruments. They used anything that was available. They used cigar boxes, old gas cans, soap boxes and some used broom sticks for the neck,” said Kyle.
Kyle said he learned more by reading online and from watching posted videos.
“He’s been doing a lot of homework. He keeps getting better at it,” said RK.
Kyle makes both 3- and 4-string models. To take things a step further, Kyle has added a guitar jack and an electronic piezo pickup to many of his guitars so they may be plugged in and amplified.
“Some people want them just for decoration,” said Kyle.
He said that people have approached him, who do not play, to see if he can make them one to display in their homes.
Although his craft is a hobby, Kyle made a guitar for a band bash cancer benefit held at Uncle Joe’s Woodpile in Short Gap, W.Va., in June and it sold for $170.
Using his hands to make the guitars with wood also has sentimental value for Kyle.
Kyle said he and his brothers had built a workshop for his father, Bill Kyle, at his home in Barton. However, the workshop basically fell silent in 2009 when the elder Kyle passed away.
“There is definitely a sentimental connection to making them (the guitars) there,” said Kyle, who utilizes his father workshop when making the guitars.
The only part of Kyle’s guitars to use actual guitar parts are the tuning gears, strings and frets. All of the other parts are made with basic household hardware.
Kyle said it takes about four to five days to make a guitar.
“It’s a nice creative outlet. He really enjoys woodwork,” said Kenney.
As word gets out, people are approaching Kyle about obtaining one of his guitars.
“A relative of a guy who played bass for Tommy James and Shondells wanted to get one for a surprise gift (for the bassist),” said Kyle.
However, Kyle said he prefers to keep his craft as a hobby.
“I don’t want it to seem like a job,” he said.
Kyle said he enjoys hearing them for the first time and also watching others play them.
“You can tell that it makes him happy. He wants to show them to people when he is done,” said Kenney.