Custom Lowebow Cigar Box Guitars by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Posted on 4/12/2010 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

(Memphis, Tennessee) I am on the road with the Reba Russell Band this week playing blues festivals and clubs in Tampa and Jacksonville Beach, Florida, but stopping for a bit to write a few lines before my long drive back to the Home of the Blues. Thanks to all our friends in Florida for their kindness. They love the blues in Florida as much as anywhere I have ever been. We'll be back soon to play again.

The band goes to Florida, image by Donna Donald Design

Many years ago, I was honored to take my band to play at the wedding reception of John and Beverly Lowe. These two wonderful and friendly intellectuals became good friends over the years and I frequented their super cool bookstore called Xanadu, which they started in East Memphis in 1987.

In 2000, Xanadu moved to 2200 Central Avenue in Memphis across from the delicious food at Central Barbecue and John has expanded his offerings to include lots of stuff for guitarists and musicians. At the zenith of his creative endeavors is his love for the cigar box guitar. After experimenting with many designs over the years he has become famous as the author of the Lowebow guitar. It is named after him and the diddly bow, the original one stringed instrument of the Delta, sometimes made of a broom wire and played on the wall of a wooden building. John's instruments expand the idea of this instrument and take it to the limits of imagination.

Johnny Lowebow also performs with his guitar and he has always prized vintage tube amps, loving the old Orange amps and other esoteric musical paraphernalia. Listening to one of these guitars in the hands of a creative player is quite an experience. I remember hearing my friend, Richard Johnston, playing one when I went to Brad Webb's studio to cut a couple of tracks on his first big CD, Foot Hill Stomp.

The Lowebow makes some wild tones when amplified and you have to hear it to believe it.

Here's Johnny Lowebow explaining and playing this crazy and fascinating instrument:

Bobblehead of our buddy, Microwave Dave, playing the Lowebow

Cateye Resonator Hill Harp Lowebow #1

Typical selection of guitars for sale at Xanadu

Masonite Johnny Lowebow Personal model

More Lowebows

Jukka Juhola plays his Lowebow Underslide

John was quoted in the Memphis Daily News, "It was a major breakthrough because it enabled you to play the bass parts as well as the guitar parts. With the addition of foot drums, it became a one-man band."
- John Lowe
Xanadu Music and Books owner, on his Purgatory Hill Harp

John uses red oak, maple and mahogony for the necks and cigar boxes from a local tobacco store and can make a one-string cigar box guitar in a day. Those start off at $140 and can be set up as a guitar or bass, depending on the size of the strings musicians use. Multiple-string guitar box guitars can take two to three days to make. Some of the double-neck guitars can sell for up to $700.

Lowebows are a magical instrument that is accessible to beginners and professionals alike. They make an excellent teaching instrument and playing technique is as individual as the player. You will have a hard time finding something more fun and rewarding to play. Thanks to John Lowe for all the photos of his fine guitars.

To get your own custom Lowebow, call my friends Johnny Lowebow and his wife, Beverly, at Xanadu 888-838-9885, in Memphis Call 274-9885 or send an e-mail to

Here's a video of my friend, Richard Johnston, playing the Lowebow:

Check out my website:


©Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms, 2010

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

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Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
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Jim Stick in Colorado
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