From Garbage to Guitars: An interview with El Cerrito Creative ReUse Artist Residency Awardee Steve Zwetsch

Finding new life in unwanted goods

Carrying two guitars in hand (made of upcycled cigar boxes), a small amp, a collection of guitar slides, while wearing a brimmed hat with an assortment of handmade jewelry, Steve Zwetsch puts style in sustainability.

Originally from the East Coast, Steve is now rooted in the Bay Area where in August 2022, was awarded the El Cerrito Creative Reuse (ECCRU) Artist Residency for his collaborative project, Cigar Box Nation, where he creates playable Guitars made from repurposed, upcycled, and found objects.

Further than just creating these guitars, Steve connects with local artists to have them contribute to the process. It is here where you see the amazing intersections of his work, from oil paintings, collage, photography, spray painting, and so much more. All these collaborations and interdisciplinary mediums go into each guitar.

“It’s really magical to find something that’s really cool to add onto an instrument. It’s just a matter of opening up your eyes, looking around and seeing what can be repurposed into something else”.

Seve Zwetsch 

An artform historically established using recycled items

From bed pans, crutches, pool ball racks, and highway signs, each guitar is a unique, creative work of art that has a history and shows the relationship between consumers and the well-used items they no longer need. Steve’s work not only gives new life to these products, but shows us that art, music, and creativity can come from all places, even the dump!

Steve explains that a majority of his influence comes from the music of the rural south, where individuals who could not afford manufactured instruments would create amazing songs and music on instruments made with materials much cruder than the ones Steve is working with.

“In some cases it was a coffee can with a stick running through it and a couple of strings on it. Or they would even hammer a couple of nails to the side of the house and then put a string or a wire through it and bang it with a knife or a bottleneck, and this is how they played music.”

-Steve Zwetsch

An artistic advocate to one of human civilizations longest struggles

The messaging and hope from Steve’s work is one that calls out to reconsider what is waste, and recontextualizes what can be used in new and different ways to keep things out of the landfill. Whether it’s upcycling, swapping, donating, or trading, we can all work together to find new uses in old items.

“We need to move away from being such a throwaway society. We only have so much space and we are running out quickly. And you can have a lot of fun making upcycled things.”

-Steve Zwetsch 

To learn more about Steve Zwetsch, his work, and Cigar Box Kitchen, you can visit his website or his Instagram page @CigarBoxKitchen. You can also find his Channel 7 News Segment, Art of imperfection here.

Steve’s work will be held at the El Cerrito City Hall Gallery Space until December of 2023.


View the playable upcycled guitars in action, CLICK HERE, or select the video below:



Photos and video courtesy of Webster Ngoc Nguyen of RecycleMore.