Selling Cigar Box Guitars at Festivals: Things I've learned. by Shane Speal

These guitars pictured above were just a few of the 75 guitars I built just for the 2015 festival season. This batch of six served as a higher-end line to round out my selection.  They were nearly identical to each other...same box, same lipstick tube pickups; a trait that allowed me to optimize my time and resources during construction.

I've learned some rather good lessons about vending setups and scoping out festivals. If you enjoy building these instruments as much as I do, then you can find a festival or two (or more) this summer to sell your creations.


Lesson #1: You should be building cigar box guitars right now in anticipation for the summer.

In the past, my first fest would start on May 1.  By this point in the year, I had already been building for weeks. I've been at that first festival several years in a row and know that I should be able to sell 20-35 guitars during the three-day event.

There are probably many festivals in your area that occur in June, July or you have enough time to prepare if you start now. But first, you need my biggest secret, Lesson #2...

Lesson #2: Build several guitars at a time. 

If you want to optimize your time and resources, consider building guitars in 'batches,' much like baking cookies. For me, I have a particular guitar design that I developed and I strongly believe in. If I keep with this design, I can prepare 5 or 6 necks at a time and then move on to boxes. I can also wire up a bunch of piezo pickups in a separate step and keep them stored in my shop until I'm ready for them.

Building guitars in batches doesn't mean you're stifling your creativity. Each one can be unique. You'll just be optimizing your time and resources as you work on different areas of the guitar.

Lesson #3: Buy parts in bulk. 

You'll save money and always have the parts you need when you're ready for them. In this weeks' C. B. Gitty Blog, I have listed my essential bulk parts for building.

Most of C. B. Gitty's bulk parts are sold in lots of 12, which means you can buy one of each bulk part and have enough items to create a dozen guitars for your first festival.



Community arts and crafts festivals are a great place to sell cigar box guitars. Music festivals are even better because they have music lovers attending. Both are ripe for selling.

Tip #1: A great resource for finding fests in your area is That website not only gives you dates, locations and times, but it also gives you contact and submission information for many of them.  I've used it to book fest and even shows for my band.

Tip #2: You should be booking fests right now for this summer. Craft vendors are a well organized militia and always getting their applications early in for the next event. Because space is limited, you should be applying now.

Tip #3: Ask the event organizer if another cigar box guitar vendor will be selling. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that cigar box guitars sell great when you're the only one selling. If there are two or more CBG tents at a fest, you'll see your profits plummet. The simple fact is, people spend too much time comparing one guitar maker to another...and then suffer "death by overchoice" and walk away without purchasing. I just don't sell at events where other cigar box guitar venders are set up.


In addition to cigar box guitars, start thinking about extra items you can upsell to people who buy. These can be gig bags made from old denim jeans and cigar box amplifiers made from Gitty kits.

Here's a tour of my 2015 vending tent including many extra items that were for sale:

Selling your cigar box guitars at festivals is a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun.  You'll meet thousands of people, get to play in front of big crowds and most importantly, you'll make some money doing something you love.

I never got rich from vending, but the income certainly helped my family in tough times.  If you do things right, you'll find some success and personal satisfaction of your own.



  1. Smartphone and a credit card reader such as Square.  At the end of each fest, I discovered 50-60% of all my sales were via credit card.  Make sure your cell phone is fully charged, too! 
  2. Old fashioned credit card receipts:  When you work a heavily attended festival, sometimes cell phone service suffers and you can't connect.  Learn how to take down all credit card info the old fashioned way and take the slips home.  You can then enter them into your cell phone app when you get home. 
  3. Signage: I made my signs huge and handwritten, giving a homemade look to them.  Whether you go the primitive route or get the professionally printed, make sure they're nice and big so they draw attention.
  4. A Roland MicroCube amp (or other battery powered amp) to demonstrate your instruments.  If they don't have pickups, bring a microphone or stick-on pickup to plug in.  Fests get loud and you want people to hear your instruments.
  5. Cooler filled with ice, water, sandwiches and snacks:  Food at fests can get expensive.  Also, you may get so busy that you just can't leave your tent.  Bring a cooler.  You'll thank me later.
  6. Proper weights to secure your tent:  Don't rely on the puny stakes that come with your tent.  Bring some cement blocks or other types of weights to keep the whole store from blowing away.
  7. Extra pens, pencils, sharpies, price tags, zip ties.
  8. A positive attitude is a must.  Grumpiness loses sales.  Trust me.

Got tips of your own?  Post them in the comments below!

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Right on man!

Festivals can be loud- bring and use a battery-powered amp so customers can hear the CBG.

Most of the Music Festivals I've been too have the vendor sales scheduled well into the evening hours. Don't forget to invest in some drop lights and low watt LCD bulbs.

I used battery powered Coleman lanterns when there's no powere at the fest.  GREAT TIP!

From a customer point of view,

First there is a very delicate line between:

A) Hovering over your customers / coming across way too eager to sell / not allowing them to feel free to browse and pique the interest or just be curious to see what's there and wander away without buying.

B) standing back / off / aloof so that when a customer does have a question or is interested and they want to ask you a question or want to pick up an item, and they can't find you, or feel intimidated/self conscious about interrupting your book reading / smart phone gaming / private conversation with co-workers and decide to walk away rather than interrupt your more-important-than-the-customer activity.

Be readily available without coming across as over-eager. 

I can't tell you how many times I left a brick-and-mortar store or vendor booth at a craft festival / wine festival / renaissance faire / etc because I was curious and had a few questions to ask and no one to answer it, or felt overwhelmed by TOO MUCH Attention when I was still at the browsing point.  Sometimes I know what I want and want assistance immediately and other times I'm looking and may want help after something strikes my fancy.

Learn to Read People.


CLEARLY MARK ALL PRICES.  customers will gravitate to items within their comfort zone of prices, and if they can't easily figure out which things are in that price range, they will walk away rather than going through the frustration of asking "how much is this?" "how much is that?" "how much is this one?" over and over and over and then feel self conscious about not buying whichever item they asked about after the 3rd iteration and walk away rather then continue the predictably fruitless pursuit.

Also, as you book venues, think about tailoring your inventory to match the theme of the show. For example, Car Shows are Fabulous if you are selling License Plate guitars and Oil Can canjos.

Hey !.... Don't forget Hubcap Geetars :-)

If you are at a fest where music is being played, it would be impolite for a potential customer to be jamming on one of your instruments through an amp while someone is performing.

Having an amp that has some headphones plugged into it makes it easier for the customer to try out your work without disturbing  the person who is performing.

Thanks Shane. I'm an old art fair vender as a potter for many years. Your tips will help a lot of builders.

Bring a good supply of your business cards...and a fishbowl to get cards from those who visit your booth.  A notebook also for those who don't have cards--just jot down their email addr, name etc..   This is more of a B2B concept but it should work for B2C too.  Those who share their contact info:   put them on a email newsletter subscription so they can keep up with what you do, new models you sell, etc.   Repeat business is good business.

YES!!! This will be your #1 income source for Christmas sales.  Save all those emails to promote your stuff as mailorder in Nov/Dec.

The only point that I disagree with is Tip #3.

If you are in my situation, you will quickly find that over the last 8 years or so, many hundreds of folks have jumped into hand crafted instruments. Having an exclusive sounds great, but honestly folks it's a "pipe dream". In my last show, I was one of 4 instrument vendors. I still made money because I insist on having the best quality instruments at competitive prices. Sure, it hurts profits, but so does sitting out a show because I can't be the only vendor. Capitalism Works! Be competitive, constantly increase value to your customers, and you will survive. I have yet to be in a show that I was the only cigar box vendor. Sure, I do get my applications rejected because someone else is already in the vendor area, and has convinced the organizer that they need to limit the field. Be warned, I'm hungry, I'm not a hobbyist, and I'm not afraid of bringing my best! Game On!


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