By John Lauritsen


MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Sometimes thinking outside of the box can be beneficial. For a Minneapolis man, it was life-changing.

Gipson Shoemaker’s shop is full of all kinds of knick-knacks and random things, and when they come together they create beautiful music.

Eight years ago, Gipson made his first cigar box guitar. He had been inspired by a documentary, but there may have been another motive. The recession had left Gipson without a job.

“I lost a house over it. I lost pretty much everything,” he said. “I was back to square one. A lot of people look at you and say- that’s really adventurous of you to look at a cigar box guitar and think you are going to make a living out of it. You know what though? I’ll tell you: When you have nothing and you’ve lost everything, nothing is scary anymore.”

That includes turning wood and strings into working works of art.

Boxes made of Spanish cedar that once held coveted Cuban cigars struck just the right chord. So did diddley bows made of ancient beer cans.

And Gipson even converted a Minnesota classic into “Spamjos.” But as the new owner of Lucky Devil Guitars, his opening act didn’t go so well.

“So we didn’t sell anything the whole day, right? And my kid looks at me at the end of the day and says, this is going to be really big for you,” Shoemaker said. “You’ve done a lot of other stuff but this is what’s going to be cool, this is going to work. When you impress a 15-year-old, you know you’re on the right path.”

He was right. Their State Fair booth brought better luck. People from 8 to 80 were buying and playing.

“And I’ll go to plug it in and they’ll go- it plugs in? And I’ll go yeah. That’s kind of the whole point of this thing is that they plug in,” Shoemaker said. “I had guys sitting there for an hour playing Metallica on some of these things. My mind was just blown- I didn’t even know it was capable of it.”

They’ve become popular with musicians too, including renowned country blues artist Reverend Peyton.

Shoemaker has become his own one-man-band in business. The biggest challenge? Making the necks is a pain in the neck.

“We spend about 3 weeks covered in sawdust, making necks. Once the necks are done, that’s kind of when the fun part begins,” Shoemaker said

He’s turned lunch boxes, shovels, and even bedpans into guitars. The more beat up they are, the better. Gipson doesn’t claim to have invented the wheel, but he makes a pretty cool wheel just the same. And even though the name of his business suggests some luck, his family disagrees.

“I feel lucky, but the minute I say it my wife hates it,” Shoemaker said. “She says, you have worked way too hard to be lucky. At the end of the day, I do feel lucky whether she likes it or not.”

It takes Gipson about 10 to 12 hours to make a cigar box guitar.

Prices range from $300 to $400, but Spamjos and canjos cost around $30 to $40.

To purchase one of Shoemaker’s creations, click here.

John Lauritsen

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