ROCKPORT—Musician/artist Jon Friese’s cigar box guitar art exhibit is still up at the Rockport Public Library in case you haven’t caught it yet, and it’s worth a walk-through before it comes down at the end of this month.
These unusual pieces of functional art date back to the Civil War, according to Friese. During the early days of the pandemic, he got inspired after viewing one being played on YouTube, and it spurred a desire to go find a cigar box and make one of his own.
“I was always interested in building guitars,” he said. “I built one with my grandfather back in sixth grade.”
To start, he began sourcing beautiful vintage boxes wherever he could at yard sales and thrift stores. Customizing each box, he built out the electronic work in them and inserted pick-ups, circuitry, and volume and tone controls. He has made hundreds of cigar box guitars, amplifiers, and combinations of both, called “amplitars” since 2020. He also sources unusual candy boxes and makes guitars out of them as well.
Friese’s pandemic hobby has turned into a money-making side hustle since then, having sold 143 amps and 127 guitars to people all over the world.
“It’s been so much fun; progressing and each one just gets better and better,” he said, “I learn a little more after making each one.”
Friese comes by his hobby naturally, having always been interested in music and instruments. In the 1970s, he was just a rock n’ roll kid living the life as a drummer in several bands. In 1975, he landed a warehouse job at the biggest music store in Miami in 1972 called Ace Music, which was only a few doors down from multiple music studios of major rock bands who were about to start their world tours.
Famous musicians such as The Rolling Stones and The Eagles used to wander into Ace all the time, sometimes to rent an unusual instrument, other times, to shoot the breeze, as they knew the music store was where they’d find their “people.” Some of those photos with Friese and various rock stars can also be seen at this Rockport Public Library exhibit.
“I was working in the warehouse one time when Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh from The Eagles came in,” he said. “We had about 250 Fender Stratocasters and they wanted to go through every one of them. So I spent the afternoon showing them each one and chatting with them.”
The library hosted Friese on November 18 for a little meet and greet so that the public could physically handle the guitars and amps and play with them. “I just sat and jammed with people all day,” he said, “It was so much fun.”
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com