Pike Place Market cigar-box guitar maker ‘can’t believe I fell into this’

Dean Moller is a blues guitar player and cigar-box guitar maker.

The former professional woodworker was injured on a job site, ending his career in carpentry.

He turned to making wooden bowls available at the Fremont Sunday Market.

“But, they weren’t selling,” he said.

Then he saw a rough cigar-box instrument online, and decided to make one for himself. The first one he turned around and sold for $200.

Eureka!

He could make these and maybe a living selling them.

That was eight years ago.

Never a cigar smoker, he began buying wooden cigar boxes for their size and artistry.

He embellished them with metal saddle-trim features including Conchos and gold-colored corners.

Dean Moller plays his custom made cigar box guitar in Pike Place Market. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

The cigar-box guitar dates at least to the Civil War; an etching of two soldiers shows one being played at a campfire.

Moller once spent $50 to get a box that was piano-shaped. He turned it into a six-string guitar and it sold for $900, “the most I’ve sold one for.” At other times he spent $20 to $50 dollars for Montechristo boxes that used to hold Dominican cigars made with tobacco from Cuban seeds.

His guitars range up to 12 inches by 8 inches, have mother-of-pearl inlays and all have electric plug-ins for those wanting amplification.

You can play the “dirty blues on it. That old Delta style [that] has a growl to it.”

He says, “Eddie Vedder has one.”

The four-string guitars have G-D-G-B strings, also called “good dogs get bones.”

“There’s a lot of precision work in each piece.” A 10-degree angle to the neck that tapers and is curved in the back. His “Soul Cat” logo features his late cat Lionel sporting sunglasses.

Unlike many woodworkers, all of his fingers are intact, but for a couple of scars, with a modification atop one. He super-glued a fake French fingernail from Walgreens and uses it to pick the strings.

Moller sells his guitars as well as amps he makes at his stall in the Pike Place Market.

“I can’t believe I fell into this,” he says, adding his guitars “will change your life if you let them.”

Beside playing well, they are works of art.

Credit: Pike Place Market cigar-box guitar maker ‘can’t believe I fell into this’