Musicians — and guitarists in particular — will go to varying extents to get the sound that they want. Some simply use a guitar’s natural sound, while others drench the instrument’s sound with timbre-altering pedals and amps.
But some go even further. In the case of guitarist Steve Arvey, altering the sound through external means wasn’t enough. He threw out the typical concept of what a guitar is, and the end result was his own cigar box guitar.
“When I got my first one, I didn’t know what to do or how to tune it, so I came up with the tuning, and then I learned there were no instructions,” Arvey said. “I didn’t know what I was doing, but I created an interesting sound from what I drew out of my mind.”
Arvey’s guitar is just as it sounds. Its body is composed of a cigar box filled with the usual electronics, with a typical neck and head. Most of these types of guitars have two or three strings — with Arvey’s having the latter.
But if you’re one of those people that needs to see it for yourself, you’re in luck. Arvey and his cigar box axe will be on full display Sunday, Aug. 19, at the Blue Bamboo. Starting at 8 p.m., Arvey will put on a two-set show — which will feature an intermission — of his bluesy style take on both the cigar box guitar, as well as the acoustic guitar.
This upcoming show isn’t the first time Arvey and his cigar box guitar has made an appearance at the Blue Bamboo.Before putting on his first show there in March, Arvey approached Chris Cortez — owner and president of Blue Bamboo — about doing a show at the center. Cortez was hooked once Arvey mentioned his cigar box angle to blues music.
“The thing I look forward to in an act — and Steve is just dripping in this — is authenticity,” Cortez said. “He has paid his dues in this genre and he is above reproach. Everyone knows who he is; he’s got credibility. I love that. I’m always looking for that kind of act regardless of what kind of style or genre they play.”
Blues from the beginning
Blues is something that Arvey has known since he was a kid.
Growing up in a suburb of Chicago — a city known for its blues music scene — Arvey found a passion for music at an early age.
“I heard a lot of blues music, and I just started jamming with these guys, and the next thing that I know, I’m doing gigs with those guys,” Arvey said. “I started in Chicago pretty much playing bass. I played some drums, but there was more demand for bass players.”
Arvey played around at some of Chicago’s blues clubs before making his way down to the Sunshine State to go to school at the University of Florida.
That year — 1978 — Arvey met delta blues guitar player Ben Andrew and Bo Diddley — who would become a major influence on him as both a musician and a player of cigar box guitars.
Despite the years of playing blues since those early days, the cigar box guitar was something Arvey didn’t truly discover until 2005, when he decided to dive into the instrument that dates back to the mid-1800s, when poor musicians were looking for a means of creating cheap instruments.
Since then, Arvey’s collection of cigar box guitars ranges from about 30 to 40 — many of which he either made or was gifted by other musicians and amateur builders.
But of all the things that makes his cigar box guitars and music worthwhile, it’s the medium’s ability to keep Arvey on his toes that really keeps the musician going.
“I’m 60 years old now, and I’m always learning to ways of attacking music,” he said. “That’s the great thing about the cigar box — there is something always new, and I’m always learning. It’s a sense of purpose, it’s a goal … it doesn’t matter what other people think or anything like that, you have to just keep advancing as a musician — it never stops.”