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Graham's Cigar Box Guitars

Meet Graham Stewart of Sydney, Australia. Graham's been studying with Keith Wyatt (and previously Andy Hall) on ArtistWorks for years, all while perfecting a secret talent: crafting cigar box guitars. We sat down with Graham to talk about his experience learning online, and how he found his unique hobby. Our conversation has been paraphrased and lightly edited for clarity.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today, how does it feel to be the first student nominated by their peers for our Student Spotlight feature?

I'm pretty surprised to be honest, I didn't realize how much of an impact I was having on the other students. I guess they like the cigar box guitars I make; I'm also never afraid to speak up and ask questions (even if they might seem stupid), and I often use the Forum to help out other students. I'm honored they thought of me, but I was taken aback when I heard the news. 

Looking at how active you are in Keith's school, it's no surprise you were noticed. How long have you been in Keith Wyatt's Blues Guitar school

I actually started off in Andy Hall's school. I've been playing guitar since I was a kid, but like so many other musicians, I abandoned playing an instrument in high school. I decided at 42 that I wanted to reconnect with that lost love of music, and fully committed to learning how to play. I was curious about the lap steel, dobro, style; I thought it was a good place to start. 

How did you like learning Dobro with Andy?

It was great! Andy really took the time to give me direction and help, always being respectful and supportive. I really think VE's [Video Exchange Learning] makes a huge difference. It gives you the opportunity to get critical feedback and learn what you've been doing wrong -- without that, you could just keep practicing bad habits. Honestly, you're probably not as good as you think you are. 

How do you use the feedback Andy, and now Keith, give you? 

I write it all down! Their advice is so important to me. I take their feedback seriously, I integrate it, and I try to show them that I value the time they took to help me. It's not only about the feedback they give me through my Video Exchanges. When I first joined their schools, I would watch Video Exchanges Andy or Keith had with other students -- I learned so much from that too. 

Since you were getting a lot out of Andy's school, what caused the switch to Keith's school

Andy is such an amazing instructor, and I know I could have kept learning and growing with the Dobro. I just kept feeling myself drawn towards learning the Blues. I figured if that was my passion, I may as well dive in and switch to an entirely Blue's based course. It was about finding the genre that was right for me. 

What do you enjoy most about Keith's school?

I love the friends I've made. We connect outside ArtistWorks, through social media and Skype, sharing our love for the Blues. I also appreciate Keith's teaching style- he's direct and will tell you how it should be. I've seen a real improvement in my playing using his advice. I've easily submitted 40 VE's to him and Andy combined. 

Has Keith noticed your unique cigar box guitars?

He has! He's blown away by them and thinks they're very cool. A lot of people thought you couldn't really play on a cigar box guitar, and make any sort of decent sound; I like to think that I proved them wrong. I put a lot of time, over the course of months, building these guitars -- and I love what they can do. 

Why use them, and not just a modern guitar?

It helps connect me with the history of the Blues. Back in the day, Blues "guitarists" would make music using nothing more than a nail, wire, and bottle neck to play. There's a certain purity in that. For a while, I became obsessed with the history of the Blues, and the connection to slavery. A lot of early Blue's songs have a hidden meanings, because artists weren't able to openly express their anger towards their bosses [slave owners]. It's powerful to me. 

It's been amazing to learn a bit about this- so what's next for you? What's keeps you going and studying the guitar?

I just want to soak up all Keith has to teach. I mean, the man's been playing for 50 years - I can't imagine how much there still is for me to learn. I'm just driven by my pure love for the sound, the feeling of playing - there's nothing else like it. 

Learn how to play guitar for beginners here.




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