Stringing up a Cigar Box Guitar

Now, I could write a huge post about how to string up your cigar box guitar, but to be honest there is a wealth of information on the internet and thousands of videos, so check out the video below by fordummies on how to string an electric guitar. The process is similar to stringing up a cigar box guitar except you will be using 3 strings instead of six.

What strings to use and tuning

I use medium gauge electric strings on my guitars as these seem to stay in tune better and give a richer sound. For most of my builds I use the thee lowest-pitch strings (E, A and D), but you can also use the A, D and G strings or the G, B and e strings. The trick is to experiment and find out the sound that you like best.

Experiment to with the tuning of the guitar, there are many different tuning option out there that provide a variety of different sounds. Common cigar box guitar tunings are:

D, A, d
G, D, g (my preferred tuning)
C, G, c
E, B, e

There are also a number of open chord tunings including:

G, B, D
D, F#, A
C, E, G
E, G#, B

Try different tunings and strings gauges till you find the best one for you.

Bridge placement

The bridge placement is key to getting the guitar to sound in tune all of the way down the fretboard. The first thing to do is measure the fret scale from the nut and place the bridge as near as you can to the measurement. Next tune the guitar to your desired tuning, then locate where the 12th fret would be and hit your string. If the note on the 12th fret is sharp then move the bridge further away from the nut and if it’s flat move the bridge closer to the nut. Only move the bridge small increments and when both the open and 12th notes are the same then your bridge is in the right place.

Now you’re ready to play your cigar box guitar.

How to Make a Basic Cigar Box Guitar: Adding the Hardware

We’re rocking and rolling now, all we need to do now is add the guitar hardware, attach the neck and string it up.

In this article we will be fitting the piezo pickup, machine heads and hinge tailpiece as well as attaching the neck to the cigar box.

CBG Hardware, piezo pickup, hinge tailpiece, mounting screws, bridge bolt and machine heads.

Attaching the piezo pickup

The piezo pickup is positioned on the bass side of the cigar box underneath the bridge. It is held in place on the lid with some tape as the neck will permanently hold it in place when it is attached to the cigar box.

Piezo pickup in place.

Adding the machine heads to the neck

Push the main body of the machine head through the bottom of the neck and use the hexagonal threaded nut through the top to attach the machine head. Once you have your machine heads aligned tighten the hexagonal nut down with a spanner, be careful not to over tighten it as you might mark the timber, once that is done fit the mounting screws.

The machine heads have been fitted to the neck.

Attaching the neck to the cigar box

Fit the neck into the pre-cut slot in the cigar box and fold the lid over slightly; now is the time to screw in the piezo pickup jack socket. Close the lid fully and make sure the neck is aligned properly; screw in the neck mounting screws a little at a time until they are all tight.

Attaching the neck to the cigar box.

Attaching the hinge tailpiece

For this project I am using a hinge for the tailpiece. To mount the hinge place some painters tape across the bottom of the box and mark the middle. Take your hinge and make sure that the middle screw is lined up with the middle of the box and that the hinge flaps over the top of the box. Mark the three hole positions with a nail punch and screw the hinge on.

The hinges screws will go through the box and into the neck making the whole guitar stronger.

Hinge position marked.

The cigar box guitar is nearly finished; all that you need to do now is string it up and tune it 🙂

The cigar box guitar just needs strings now.

How to Make a Basic Cigar Box Guitar: Adding Logos and Finishing the Neck

In the last post I talked a little bit about a Wood Art Transfer technique I read about on the internet. It is a fairly straight forward technique to do, but you must take care when removing the paper, so you don’t ruin your design.

Step One – two coats of lacquer

Before sticking your design to the neck it is recommended that you give the neck two thin coats of clear gloss lacquer and leave to dry; this gives the design a better surface to stick to and is less likely to be rubbed off later.

I have tried this technique without two coats of lacquer before with mixed results.

I am using some clear gloss nitrocellulose lacquer which is specially designed for guitars, but automotive and model making spray lacquers should work too.

Clear gloss nitrocellulose lacquer from the Manchester Guitar Tech here in the UK.

Two coats of clear paint have been sprayed onto the neck as a base coat.

Step Two – Print your design

Print out your design on a laser printer making sure that you mirror the images and text beforehand and cut to size.

Logo design and side markers have been printed out.

Step Three – Glue your design to the neck

Grab your gel medium (I’m using Liquitex Gloss Gel Medium) and spread a thin layer over the designs. Carefully place your designs in their preferred location and smooth out using an old credit card; an ink roller (or brayer) works very well too. Remove any excess gel medium with a lightly dampened cloth as it’s harder to remove after it has dried.

Leave the gel medium to dry overnight before moving onto the next part.

The designs have been glued.

Step Four – Removing the paper

Once the gel medium has dried get a cup of water and some paper towels. Thoroughly soak a paper towel and place over your design; you should start to see the paper become translucent.

The paper starts to go translucent when water is added.

Once the design has been thoroughly soaked take a dry finger and start rubbing at the corners of the design. It shouldn’t take much effort to begin to start rubbing away the paper. This is the most crucial part of the technique, don’t rub too hard or you might rub the design off. Keep the surface soaked at all times.

Keep rubbing the design until all of the paper has been removed; the design will look slightly dull compared to the lacquer finish, this is ok and will be covered over with further coats of lacquer.

The finished design successfully transferred onto the neck.

The finished fret markers and side dots.

Step Six – Adding the finishing touches

Wipe the whole neck down to get rid of any paper debris and leave to dry out thoroughly, (I leave mine overnight) then spray a further 4 to 5 thin coats of gloss lacquer over the whole neck; this will protect your design and give the neck a uniform gloss finish.

Don’t worry if you mess up during the process, simply let it dry out, sand the offending pieces back down to the lacquer and repeat. All you’ve wasted is a sheet of printer paper and some time.

Wood Art Transfer Technique for Cigar Box Guitar Necks

This step is entirely up to you, but I like to have some sort of branding on the guitar neck whether it be a logo or a name, or both.

I have used many different types of guitar decal in the past, from self-printed transfer paper to custom made decals and although the finished product looks good, it is expensive and if you don’t get it right first time its money down the drain.

Now, the whole philosophy of cigar box guitars is that it’s meant to be about using stuff you have lying around your house, or that you can easily pick up from a hardware store. Spending up to £20 on a custom decal, when the guitar itself costs about that is a huge waste of money, so I decided to look for an alternative.

Looking around on the internet I came across a technique of transferring images to wood that doesn’t break the bank and can be repeated again and again. Wood Art Transfer has been used in the arts and crafts scene for many years and uses something called gel medium to transfer your image onto the wood.

What you’ll need for a Wood Art Transfer:

Gloss Gel Medium – I use a brand called Liquitex, but similar brands should work. I got a small tub (237ml) for around £7.50 and it will literally do hundreds of transfers.

Laser Printer – For the wood transfer to work you have to use a laser printer; I have read somewhere that using a photocopy works too, but I haven’t tried it.

Cheap printer paper – Cheap printer paper is better to use instead of high quality paper as its thinner and easier to remove.

Clear Spray Lacquer – Use the clear lacquer to protect the design and give the wood a nice gloss look. You can use automotive spray lacquer, but I prefer to use nitrocellulose lacquer as it sprays thinner and is more controllable.

Your design – Whether it’s a name/logo or both, you must make sure that the image is mirrored (most drawing packages have a mirror option) before it’s printed or it will be the wrong way round when transferred to the wood.

Once you have all the supplies it’s time apply your design to the neck.

How to Make a Basic Cigar Box Guitar: Drilling the Mounting Holes for the Neck

I like to secure the neck to the lid of the cigar box using screws; you can use glue, but it will be harder to dismantle if you need to fix something.

Start by drawing a line down the centre of the underside of the cigar box lid and onto the sides (see Pic below).

Centre line has been drawn on the underside of the cigar box lid and the sides.

Next, draw a line down the centre of the neck at the end of the fret board and the end of the actual neck. Attach some double-sided tape to the neck and stick it to the underside of the cigar box lid, making sure that all the lines meet up; double check that everything is in line and that the neck is parallel to the cigar box before drilling your mounting holes.

Neck has been taped to the cigar box lid.

Fit your cordless drill with a 3mm drill bit and drill your mounting holes through the cigar box lid and neck making sure that you stay as straight as possible. Placing a scrap bit of wood underneath the neck will prevent your drill bit ruining your work surface.

You can put your mounting holes wherever you think looks good, I have put mine at the top and at the bottom to give the neck stability.

Mounting holes have been drilled.

Now it’s time to finish the neck before screwing the two pieces together and mounting the hardware.