Horrifying Tale Sets Fuming Cigar Box Guitar Builder Straight

Blown 30 feet high by an improvised explosive device, United States Marine Jake Schick suffered collapsed lungs, multiple fractures, burn holes over his body, and significant ligament and bone loss. All the while, he never lost consciousness.

Listen to him tell his story, as I did on the Jocko Willinck podcast, and you’ll hear him sum up that awful event as “A bad day at the office.”

To recover from his horrifying experience, Jake underwent 46 operations and 23 blood transfusions. Then he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Through years of rehabilitation, learning to live with physical disabilities and mental, emotional, and spiritual duress, Jake fell into depression. And as with so many unfortunate souls, he became addicted to the prescribed medications intended to ease his pains.

Yet looking back now, after years in recovery and sobriety, and moving forward in life by helping other struggling military people, Jake refers to that day he was blown through the roof of the vehicle he was driving as “a bad day at the office”.

Given his tragic-turned-triumphant story, how could I, in my right mind, ever complain about mistakes I’ve made while building a cigar box guitar? Lord knows in less self-aware, and more self-absorbed moments, I’ve lost that perspective.

Building cigar box guitars is a personal thing. They’re folk art, man, and the artist puts a bit of him or herself into each build. So mistakes, while inevitable, can really rile a builder.

I’m guilty of that short-sightedness.

My building flaws are ultimately inconsequential and getting upset over them is borderline offensive: a failed building-idea execution or poor design is a privilege I should be honored to experience.

And on the cigar box guitar in this post, there was no shortage of flaws to experience.

Pick the guitar up and give it a strum and what you get is a sound akin to strumming a strung-up, solid 2x4. So, as an acoustic musical instrument, it’s quiet. For sure, the lid is too thick and perhaps the neck can be notched differently, allowing for a more active soundboard. Adding to the frustration, given the current setup, the guitar can’t be heard over a casual conversation.

Thank goodness I installed a pickup.

About that…

There are holes in the box-top/soundboard that lead to nowhere; not the roughly cut f-style soundholes but the drilled holes by the neck that were intended for a flat-mount pickup. Because the neck is flush to the box and because of my desire to keep the string action low -- even for a fretless CBG -- the flat-mount pickup simply wasn’t a good fit.

So off it came and in went the disc piezo.

For the accessibility and ease of use, disc piezos are awesome. However, I’ve built with them enough to know that my wacky, errant strumming hand creates too much unwanted box-thumping noise while playing a plugged-in, disc piezo-electrified CBG. Really, installing a rod piezo under the bridge in a bit of of the notched neck, a la Shane Speal, would’ve been a better bet.

My lack of foresight and eagerness to finish the instrument quickly resulted in the quiet, un-plugged guitar that quacks when plugged in.


Still, no reason to be upset, because my “bad day at the office” is really a gift to be cherished. At the risk of coming off too hokey, I’m blessed by the opportunity to build cigar box guitars; even the ones that turn out less-than-perfect.

While building the guitar pictured here, there were moments when my blood began to boil; when I realized an error in judgement produced an unwanted result. Yet as I stepped back to review my work, those moments passed. Rather than get too steamed-up about the project, I embraced the good fortune that allows me to build and play handmade musical instruments.

Gratitude for my circumstances is, in part, made possible by those whose bad days are of the sort I don’t wish for anyone.

There are men and women serving the country in which I live -- one of the most admirable pursuits in life -- having much, much worse days at the office than me. Listening to that Jocko Willinck podcast interview of Jake Schick made certain to remind me of that.

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Comment by Jim Morris on May 11, 2018 at 4:21pm

Thanks Donkey. I'm also a vet (Army) I was drafted back in 1969 and even though I never saw active duty I certainly have strong feelings and support for those who were wounded. A bad day at the office for most of is messing up a build as opposed to what Jake Schick went through so I'm real thankful to be able to do what I do and appreciate the service members who defend our freedoms.

Comment by Donkey on May 11, 2018 at 11:24am

Jim Morris

I'm an admirer of your art and flattered you gave this post a look. Thank you.

Comment by Jim Morris on May 11, 2018 at 9:19am

Thanks for sharing all of this.

Comment by Donkey on May 10, 2018 at 7:52am


God bless them, indeed. At seventeen years of age, I signed up for early-enlistment with the Marines. The decision to do so wasn't thoughtful so much as it was from the gut. Unfortunately, before I turned 18 and signed on as an adult -- thereby fully committing to the Corps -- I began making horrible life-choices that dissuaded me from that commitment. Rather than serve my country, I chose a life of selfish and self-destructive pursuits. Although. years later, I'm grateful for what I now have and the life I've lived, I still feel regret for not following through to serve. The Corps is a proud institution, as is the entire military; something I look at with deep respect and gratitude.

Richard Dean  

God bless you for your service, Sir. Thank you. Thank you also for offering how someone can make a positive contribution to veterans in their area. Recently, I read a small bit about a counselor who works with military personnel, and some of the struggles she faces in getting them to open up. The counselor has a handmade musical instrument in her office to which some of her clients are drawn. After noodling around with the instrument (a canjo, if my memory serves me well), turning it over, talking about and playing it, those clients often are more inclined to open up a bit and improving their mental and emotional healths. It's a beautiful thing, really. That someone crafted a simple piece of musical folk-art that then facilitates another person's well-being is truly beautiful. Good on you for doing your part to help others through your own art, Richard. 


Thank you for reading this and for your kindness. God bless you.


Thank you for sharing a terrific example of perspective, and how it's within our powers for each of us to shape our own. Life is a thorn bush that has loads of roses, each coming and going, and each blessing our days. It's up to us to see and appreciate 'em. Thanks again, Jim.

Comment by Jim_N on May 9, 2018 at 9:17pm

"a gift to be cherished," indeed. Thanks, Donkey.

Comment by JB on May 9, 2018 at 6:01pm

Awesome read!!! God bless!!!

Comment by Richard Dean on May 9, 2018 at 2:16pm

Being a disabled Army veteran, I'v heard many a similar tale, sometimes from the horses mouth, you never get use to it.

I contacted my local Guitar for Vets chapter, but they're still getting things organized over there, as they are a new chapter, but I'm hoping in the future, I can find time enough maybe to build and donate some 3 string instruments either one a month or a few all at once.

If your looking for a place to try out your chops for the first time or a seasoned player, there's almost always a Nursing home rehab center for the VA near one of their hospitals, I'm sure they would enjoy it. That's my goal.

God Bless the US Army!

Comment by BeetleJuice! on May 9, 2018 at 1:33pm

God Bless the United Staes Marine Corps!

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