After suffering four heart attacks, Thom Allen retired from his stressful sales job and started making cigar box guitars.
“The doctor said you need to quit or you’re not going to be here,” Allen recalled.
After retiring, the Georgetown resident needed something to do and turned to music. Allen loves blues music and has been playing the guitar since he was 12. Eventually, his love got him interested in the history of the blues and guitar making, specifically cigar box guitars.
“My first one was absolute junk,” said Allen, who stuck with it and, with time, honed his craft. Allen said a friend encouraged him to try to sell some of his creations at a blues festival.
“I went out, sold a bunch of guitars and kept going from there,” said Allen, who later founded Outta the Box Guitars.
Cigar boxes are becoming harder to come by and Allen has had to look in alternative places for inspiration.
“My wife and I do a lot of thrift store shopping to look for what I call unborn guitars,” Allen said. “If its a box of some nature, I’ll try and make it work.”
Allen has used metal lunch boxes, Altoid [breath mints] tins, “I’ve used VW beetle hubcaps, anything that I can get a pick up in to electrify it,” Allen said.
Playing the finished product is Allen’s favorite part, but it can also be a source of frustration especially if it’s not working and he has to start over from scratch again. In the beginning, Allen said he smashed a few of the guitars.
“I do it when I feel like it,” said Allen, who pointed out that making guitars is pleasure not work. “I tell everybody if this ever becomes a job, I quit.”
Allen has been making guitars for about seven years now and is proud to say he has never had an unhappy customer. If there is a problem, Allen said he will be more than happy to fix it.
“I don’t want somebody out there saying I bought this guitar from Thom Allen and it’s a piece of junk,” Allen said. “When somebody buys one, first of all, I want them to enjoy it; second of all, I want them to be happy.”