Sunday, January 29, 2012

Design & Decoration -- 'How To' for Cigar Box Guitar

Limitations associated with decoration for your CBG is in direct proportion to the expanse of your imagination . . . there really are no limits.

I will offer some suggestions for you to expand on, but if you really want to get a feel for what others are doing, go to  The folks down under do some of the most outrageously cool designs you will lay an eye on.

So, what elements make up the basic CBG decorating possibilities?  Not much that will get in the way of your creativity.  And, some of it is optional.

*  Headstock
*  String trees
*  Neck
*  Fingerboard
*  Cigar box body
*  Neck cavity
*  Sound holes
*  Magnetic or Piezo pickups
*  Control knobs
*  Bridge & saddle
*  Tail stock string retainers
*  Resonator

Let's take a shot at items on the list, to see what design possibilities we can come up with.

Headstock -- The shape is usually an individually desired design, which looks good to the builder, and is only limited by size and tuner placement.  It can be left plane without ornamentation, stained or painted, wood burned, or laminated
with wood, paper, plastic, etc., to individualize it.  And the lamination can be in to form of artwork, logo, veneer to cover a scarf joint, etc.  Small geegaws can be glued to the surface or inset to enhance the design.  But, whatever you do, try to incorporate the headstock design into the overall guitar design, because the finished guitar will just look better.

String trees -- Trees can be in the form of commercially available pieces, or they can be the builder's own design.  But, they can be made to look really cool on a headstock, as well as to be an effective way to keep the strings on the nut on a straight-neck guitar.  Trees can be made from metal, wood, plastic, bone, or whatever else you as a builder finds acceptable.  Use your imagination.

Neck -- The neck and headstock are obviously one piece, but the neck can be decorated as well.  And, it can be shaped to fit your overall design.  Will it be a through-body design or a bolt-on neck?  Will you want it sculpted to feel slick when being played, or left with hard edges to give it a more rugged, funky look?  Will is have a 'skunk stripe' to emulate some of the factory jobs?  Will it be painted, stained or left a natural color?  However you decide, try to once again keep the overall design in mind.

Fingerboard -- Will it be fretted with the real thing, or will fret positions be marked with a line?  Either way, a design can be inlaid, painted or laminated on the surface, or burned into it with an iron.  The design can be as elaborate as you want it to be, or it can be as simple as fret position marks only.

The box -- All surfaces on the box can be used for special design, or the box can be left plain.  But, whatever you decide is once again limited only by your creativity.  So, let your imagination wander, or steal an idea or three from someone else's rig . . . don't worry, they got the idea from someone else, too.  You can paint the box; glue on pictures or photos; apply decorations; add enhancements to change the shape;  or you can step away from the cigar box and use something unconventional to make your creation stand out . . . how 'bout and oil can, and ammunition box, a toilet seat, or a bed pan?  That aught to get your neighbors and in laws talking.

Neck cavity -- This is the opening on the leading side of the box, where the neck is inserted into the box.  It is important to think about this when cutting the opening.  You want it to look good, not just to be a hack job.  And, even the most carefully cut opening can be enhanced with some form of decoration to surround it. Again, the design possibilities are endless.

Sound holes -- These are the openings in the box top, which are not only cute, but they are functional in that they let the acoustic sound escape the confines of the box.  So the design should be carefully considered, not only to look good, but to function, too.  They can be as simple as drilled holes left open; holes covered with metal decoration; screened from underneath; or as complex as openings designed so that small files and saws must be used to complete the design.  Keep in mind that bigger is not necessarily better, when designing sound holes.  Sound will bounce around quite nicely from a couple holes the size of a half dollar in the top of the average size cigar box.

Bridge and saddle -- I've used wood, brass rod, bone, plastic, metal objects such keys, and Corian (my favorite nut and saddle material), and I know others who have used bolts and other stuff for saddles, so whatever you decide will be OK.  If it doesn't work for you, you can always do it over . . . 'cause we have do-overs in this hobby.  I like to shape wood for the bridges on my builds, but you may find that something else works better for you, so go for it.

Tail stock string retainer
The string retainer on my bass, the 'Gutshaker' is 'borrowed' from my wife's silverware collection.  Well, what's a fella to do when he needs a special part to complete a CBG build?  She was looking for it the other day, but I didn't have the courage to tell her it was now a piece of art on a guitar.  It worked out perfect for what I had envisioned.

Resonator -- You can purchase a 'real' resonator, or you can get creative, it's your choice.  But, for a CBG, I like the more imaginative approach, such a using a tuna can, a paint can lid, a license plate, a vintage hubcap, or my dog's stainless water bowl . . . the dog might get pissed, but a man's gotta do, what a man's gotta do, right.


Following are a few more photos, which will show you the many possibilities for creating a really cool and playable instrument.  The thing to always keep in mind is that, "There is no right or wrong" way to build a cigar box guitar.

If you want to see more photos of my guitars, go to the right-hand column of my blog and scroll down to the images under the 'TotalRojo' sign, and click on any of the images and it will take you to the full explanation of each guitar, with added photos.

I hope what you have experienced here will be helpful to you.  If so, let me know.  And, you can follow my site for future information, just click on the 'follow' button at the top of the home page.

Thanks for viewing!


  1. Jess, you are making amazing art crafted guitars obviously from the heart. You have a talent that is definitely God given and making it shine. Hats off to you!!

  2. Thanks Gary. It's a lot of fun, and keeps me busy and out of my wife's hair. :-)