The Cigar Box Guitar Store opened at Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment in 2010. Inspired after attending a local cigar box festival, John Nickel started building and playing cigar box guitars and convinced his father Pat to open a store with him. It is the only brick-and-mortar cigar box guitar store in the world.
The store was owned by the Nickel family until February 2021, when luthier Jeff Mello and his wife Tara took over ownership. Jeff is the lead juried artist at the store and most of the guitars for sale in the store are built by him, including his "playable art" guitars from his Mad Sci Innovations brand.
While Jeff works as the store's chief luthier, Tara manages the day-to-day operations, marketing and the organization of the world's longest-running cigar box guitar festival.
Jeff’s “mad scientist” tendencies emerged in grade school, when he blew up a model spaceship lightbulb in an AC socket, sparking his interest in innovation and art. An engineering career that has lasted two decades (and counting) has continued to feed his thirst for innovation, while hobbies of woodworking, guitar building, electronics and home brewing allow him to express his creativity. He says: “I am proud to have my art displayed in your home and hope that your music-making brings joy to others.“
Both Jeff and Tara can be found every Saturday at The Cigar Box Guitar Store excited to meet the interesting people that are drawn to Studio 106 when they hear the music emanating down the hallway. In their spare time, they enjoy practicing their CBG skills and listening to live performances in Huntsville's ever-growing music scene.
Currently you can find Pat Nickel sharing his love of the CBG with free lessons at the store on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Saturdays from Noon-2:00 pm, which he has done since 2011. Pat has been writing songs, and playing guitar and harmonica since age 16, performing all over world in places such as Denmark, France, Morocco & Saudi Arabia. He has been performing and teaching in Huntsville since 1975 and considers teaching his superpower. Pat is available for private lessons with guitar, ukulele and harmonica at his location in Hobbs Island.
Luke Johnston, is 23 years old and recently graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering. He has always been fascinated with what makes things work. One day, when he helped a friend restring a guitar and thought, “I could build one of these...but first I have to learn to play it.” His inspiration to start building instruments came in early 2021 when he stumbled across The Cigar Box Guitar Store. Ever since, he has been learning everything he can about luthiery and playing stringed instruments through experience. He strives to explore unusual instruments by trying new designs and methods with every project. Luke became a juried artist at Lowe Mill in fall 2022, after apprenticing with Jeff Mello, owner of The Cigar Box Guitar Store. He is also the front man for Lukas Jam & The 106ers, as its lead singer and playing a variety of handmade instruments.
Chris Muller came to Lowe Mill A&E for the first time shortly after moving to Huntsville from Ohio in 2020 and fell in love with the artist vibe. She has been a fixture ever since. She has a passion for music accompanying belly dancers with her drumming, playing in drum circles and leading worship. Chris is also a freelance artist, musician and loves creating unique projects. She is the percussionist for Lukas Jam & The 106ers, and can be found teaching free cigar box guitar lessons in The Cigar Box Guitar Store on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays from Noon-1:00 pm.
Roc Carey is 17 years old and is Jeff’s apprentice. He is the owner of Sipsey Sounds. His interest in CBGs was piqued when he attended a free lesson one Saturday while mom Melissa was taking an art class at Lowe Mill. He bought a CBG in fall 2019 and decided he wanted to start building his own guitars in early 2020. “I like to build cigar box guitars because I want more people to discover these unique instruments and make their own music,” he says. His hobbies include blacksmithing, Tang Soo Do martial arts and wilderness conservation.