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Don’t Call It A Banjo

By Joe Madsen, art supervisor, Draftfcb New York

People often think I invented the cigar box guitar, but I can only wish I was the originator of such a cool instrument. Cigar box guitars date back to the civil war era and were very popular during the Great Depression. When people couldn’t afford to buy an instrument, they would build their own. The guitars’ humble beginnings inspired me to try my hand at building one — and I haven’t stopped yet.  
Last summer I created and launched Blue Rebel Cigar Box Guitars. ( The name was inspired by the type of music traditionally played on a cigar box guitar and the type of people who first built them.  The first cigar box guitar builders were often rebellious by nature, but their rebellion didn’t begin and end with the political or social issues of their time. By building these instruments, they were rebelling against their circumstances. It’s the perfect example of taking what you have and making the best of it.
While most of my customers buy them as a cool art piece, my guitars are fully functional instruments. Whether played acoustic or electric, they have a very distinct bluesy sound that can only be achieved with this type of instrument.
Starting my own brand has allowed me to combine everything I love doing into one project. My responsibilities range from art directing and writing all the advertising for the product, to creating a one-of-a- kind work of art. The guitars have become an excellent outlet for my creativity.
I love the work that I do in the ad industry, and my creative mind doesn’t stop when I leave the office. Building these instruments allows me to create for the sake of creating and to create something that can be highly functional. I’m always looking for ways to evolve the sound and look of the instruments. This keeps my problem-solving skills sharp, which is always a good thing for a professional. A fresh mind directly translates into better creative thinking in the office. I have a passion for building these instruments because each new build gives me a very fulfilling feeling— plus they look really cool!