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The ghost of Robert Johnson comes to Toronto

January 24, 2013
By MARK J. MILLER - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

TORONTO - The ghost of blues legend Robert Johnson will surely be smiling during the Handmade Music Extravaganza set from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Main Street Gallery, 212 Main St.

The show will feature bands playing cigar box and oil can-made guitars, inspired by African-American bluesmen from the Mississippi Delta in the early 1920s and '30s who created their own instruments out of found and common materials, giving birth to country delta blues. The free event also will include Brian Saner, owner and founder of Saner Cigar Box Guitars, as well as the critically acclaimed, roots-rock band Turchi and the one-man band Secret Devil Tuning, performing. The event also is a way for people to view and see his cigar box guitars in action, said Wheeling resident Saner.

"It's a free show," said Saner, adding he's a Toronto native. "People can come down, get out of the weather and enjoy the show."

Article Photos

Brian Saner gets ready to kick out the jams in front of the Main Street Gallery in Toronto. Saner and other artists will be rocking cigar box guitars and other handmade instruments during the Handmade Music Extravaganza set from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at the gallery, 212 Main St. Also scheduled to perform are southern-based band Turchi and the one-man band Secret Devil Tuning. -- Mark Miller

Saner said he got into creating his own cigar box guitars after a becoming fascinated by a friend's homemade oil can-made guitar.

"My friend makes these oil-can guitars," he said. "I just thought it was a really cool thing how he made these guitars out of oil cans and how good they sounded.

"I used to play guitar, and I thought it would be fun (to make one)," continued Saner. "I made one and kept on going."

Saner said he goes to a Wheeling-area mill to get the wood he needs, while he also uses cigar boxes, license plates and other "found" objects to create the guitars. He uses local woods, including oak, ash, poplar and cherry for the necks, while screws, bottlecaps, radiator hose clamps and other items are used for the guitar bridges and tuners.

"I assemble everything at my shop at home," Saner said, adding he creates four-string guitars designed to be used with a bottleneck slide. "I did some research on the Internet. I built a few. After a few failures I kept going."

Most of the guitar bodies are made of cigar boxes, "although the license plate guitar is made out of poplar (wood) we reinforce," he said. "The guitars are wired up just as any regular (electric) guitar. The first guitar I made I took a transducer from an older telephone and used it for a pickup."

Saner said Reed Turchi, leader of Turchi, and founder of the Devil Down Record label, will be bringing his own raucous roots-rock sound with his southern-based band. The label caters to hard-edged blues newcomers in the tradition as well as re-releases by older blues artists, including the legendary delta guitarist and singer, the late Mississippi Fred McDowell.

"(Turchi is) the president of Devil Down Records, has his blues band and is music director at Ardent Records," Saner said. "He's coming to play, and it's going to be like a coffeehouse show. He's also going to hang out and encourage people to buy these guitars."

Stephen Moore of Wheeling, better known as the one-man band Secret Devil Tuning, also will perform, Saner said. The "devil" references go back to the legend of Robert Johnson having acquired his prodigious blues guitar skills by meeting Lucifer at a Mississippi crossroads and selling his soul, Saner added. He also said cigar box-created guitars are part of the American experience and history.

"There are photos of Civil War soldiers playing cigar box guitars," he said. "It's amazing the history goes back that far."

Refreshments and hors d'oeuvres will be served. For information, call (740) 537-3451. For information on Saner's guitars, go to

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