Building a cigar box guitar is not difficult, because anything you do is OK. There are no rules. It can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish to make it.
If you do a little research, you'll find that the current interest in cigar box guitars is a re-generation of the creativity and skills developed more than a century ago out of necessity, by folks whose musical opportunity came from the simple instruments they created from cigar boxes, broomsticks, and discarded wire or string. Today's creations are often more complex, but the basic concept is the same . . . producing beautiful music with a simple instrument.
I'm a relative 'newby' at CBG building, but I've developed a few nice and playable instruments following a few basic steps, which I will share with you. So, let's get started.
CBG Building Steps
Determine the basic design and style of the guitar you wish to build (3- or 4-string).
Choose the cigar box you will use (check out your local smoke shop or go to eBay).
Determine tuners that will best fit your needs (available at your local music store or on eBay).
Craft the headstock, neck, and tailstock to fit your design (take a look at what others have created, for ideas. I generally use 1x2 inch oak available at Lowes).
Determine design of string retainers on the tailstock (holes drilled in the tailstock, or an attachment which will retain the strings.)
Determine tuner positions and drill holes in the headstock.
Finish (shape and sand) the neck.
Stain or paint the neck if that is your intention.
Cut the fingerboard to length (determined by the type instrument you're building).
Mark the location of the fingerboard on the neck, allowing for the headstock and 'nut' (the thingy that elevates the strings off the fingerboard and spaces them properly).
Locate and mark fret positions (measure any commercial guitar, or go online for a guide).
Cut fret slots with a narrow saw (I use a coping saw and a small mitre box, or you can use finish nails or even toothpicks).
Stain the fingerboard, if that is your desire.
Laminate the fingerboard to the neck in the predetermined position . . . see #10 ( I use Titebond glue and clamp in place).
Cut small openings in the cigar box to accommodate the neck (this may require some careful forethought and planning depending on the box you're using).
Fit the neck to the box and measure the 'bridge' location on the box (24-1/2" to 25-1/2" from the nut).
Locate and cut sound holes in the box (again there are no rules, so be as creative as you wish).
Finish the sound holes appropriately.
Finish the box (stain, paint, decorate, or leave as it is . . . again, no rules).
Locate 'key' fret positions on the fingerboard or leading edge of the neck and mark as you wish (inlays, cutouts, drilled markers, etc. . . these are the 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, and 15 positions).
Laminate the neck in position to the box (I use Titebond for this, too).
Create the 'nut' and 'bridge' and attach in position (I use super glue).
Attach frets to the fingerboard (cut and file to fit . . . this can be tedious, so take your time so as to not screwup the edges of the fingerboard).
Locate a strap button on the back of the box.
Drill a hole in the back of the box for an output jack, if you are going to amplify the sound electronically.
Design a plate to hold the jack securely to the box, if the material is too thick to accommodate direct attachment.
Varnish or paint the finished guitar.
- For amplified sound, I use a Piezo transducer (available at Radio Shack) for a sound 'pickup'.
- Remove the metal transducer wafer from the plastic housing (carefully using a pliers to break the housing edges) and sandwich the wafer between two pieces of balsa using small droplets of CA (cyanoacrylate) glue (better known as super glue) on the corners of the balsa pieces. Be careful not to get glue on the transducer, and to not damage the wires in the process. Mark the outside of the balsa enclosure to denote the side of the wafer that has the circular white ceramic conductor.
- Attach (solder) the transducer (pickup) to the output jack (you may need to add wire for the proper length).
- Locate the pickup position on the inside of the box lid, left of the bass string and slightly forward of the bridge location.
- Glue the 'marked' balsa side to the inside of the lid in the position described in #31 above. I use CA glue for this.
- Attach tuners to the headstock.
- Attach strings to the tailstock string retainer and to the tuners; tighten the strings (I use inexpensive medium gauge acoustic strings, #5-4-3 for my 3-string guitars, and #5-4-3-2 for my 4-string guitars).
- Tune to your desire (I tune 3-string guitars G-D-G for a nice 'bluesy sound; and 4-strings D-F#-A-C; but, you can tune your 3-string to A-E-A; A-E-G; E-B-E; E-G-E; or you can simplify the process by using Knott Lenny's method -- tune to "say, you, see" -- sing the National Anthem, 'oh, say can you see, and you have a very playable tuned instrument).