How to Make a Basic Cigar Box Guitar: Shaping and Sanding the Neck

Before painting the neck and adding logos, we have to round over the corners on the back edge of the neck to make it more comfortable, cut the nut slot and sand the whole piece down to a uniform finish.

Rounding the corners

Grab your router and fit a round over bit into it, the one I’m using is a ¼ inch round over bit.

Router with round over bit installed.

I like to clamp two pieces of wood to the back of the neck to act as router stops, one just after the nut line and one just before the neck enters the cigar box. Adjust the router so the end of the round over bit just about touches the neck edge and start routing. Take it slowly as you don’t want to chip any of the edges with the router, move the router up and down the length until the desired round over has been created.

Neck bottom has been rounded over.

Cutting the nut slot

I’m using a bolt for the nut and this needs to be recessed slightly so that it will be the same height as the bridge. I clamp a piece of wood across where the slot will go and use a round file of a similar size to my bolt to make the recess.

Cutting the nut slot.

The finished nut slot.

Sanding the neck

Now it’s time to sand the neck so that the finish can be applied. Start with a coarser grade of sandpaper (something like 100-120 grit) and sand using a sanding block; be careful not to sand the round over to hard or you might have to do it again.

After the rough sanding has been completed move onto finer grades of sandpaper 200, 400 and 600 and do the exact same thing; this gets rid of the scratches and provide a smooth surface for the finish.

Sanding the neck.

The sanding has been finished.

Side note: The better your prep work in this step the better the finished piece will look. It’s pretty tedious sanding with all of the different grits, but the finished result will be worth it.

How to Make a Basic Cigar Box Guitar: Cutting the Sound Holes in the Cigar Box

The type of sound holes and their placement in the cigar box is entirely up to you, but I would recommend that you place your holes towards the top of the box because holes at the bottom tend to make the guitars sound too bassy.

People use all sorts of sound hole covers, from sink hole covers to grommets and even mesh. For this cigar box guitar I have chosen to use some brass grommets I purchased from a local hardware store for a couple of pounds. There are 30 grommets in the pack, so you can do a few guitars out of them.

For this guitar I am placing 3 grommets on each side which are slightly offset. First thing to do is mark where you want the sound holes to go, I like to lay out the grommets on top of the box to check that they are in the right place before cutting.

Mark where you want the sound holes to go.

Laying out the grommets to check if they are in the right place.

Drilling the sound holes

The grommets I have are around 15mm, so I grad a 16mm auger drill bit and fit it into my drill. Make sure to use a scrap bit of wood under the cigar box lid before you drill to protect your work surface; I use a wooded chopping board.

Drilling the sound holes; notice the wooden chopping board underneath to protect the work surface.

The sound holes have been drilled.

Fitting the grommets

You can fit the grommets in various ways, I use ordinary wood glue as I had that to hand, but you could use superglue or epoxy. Put a small bead of glue around the lip of the grommet and place onto the box. Once all of the grommets have been placed wipe away any excess glue and place a weight on top to hold them in place while the glue dries.

The grommets have been glued in place.

When I’m drilling the sound holes I also drill any other holes that the guitar needs like a jack socket hole or volume and tone holes.

8mm hole drilled in the bottom of the cigar box for the jack socket.

Next we’ll be finishing the neck.

How to Make a Basic Cigar Box Guitar: Cutting the Neck Slot in the Cigar Box

Measuring and cutting the neck slot

Now that the neck is nearly finished it’s time to move onto the cigar box. First thing to do here is mark out and cut the neck slot so you can fit both pieces together.

First, measure the neck recess, on my neck it was 40mm x 17mm and make a note of it (add on the depth of the cigar box top, in this case its 4mm, so the neck slot should be 40mm x 21mm). Grab yourself some painters tape or low tack masking tape and tape up the top edge of the cigar box where the neck slot is to be cut.

Mark the centre of the box and measure out the neck slot like the picture below.

Neck slot has been marked out.

Cut the two vertical lines with a razor saw or fret saw making sure that you stay inside the lines; a Stanley blade can be used if you don’t have access to a thin saw.

Cutting the vertical lines with a razor saw.

The two vertical lines have been cut.

Use a Stanley blade to cut the bottom line; use several passes of the blade and when your about ¾ of the way through the wood lightly rock the piece backwards and forwards until it snaps off.

Cutting the bottom line with a Stanley blade.

The wood has been removed.

Test fit your neck in the hole to see if it fits, if it’s too tight use your Stanley blade to slowly remove the excess wood until the desired fit is reached.

Test fitting the neck.

In the next post we’ll be cutting some sound hole in the cigar box.

How to Make a Basic Cigar Box Guitar: Making the Neck Part 4

Marking and cutting the headstock recess

The headstock recess is slightly different from the body recess, it is cut in the same way with a saw or chisel, but instead of the end being straight it is angled similar to the way a Fender guitar neck looks.

Mark out the headstock recess in the same way as the body recess, but measure down 9mm from the top instead of 8mm. This will leave the headstock with a depth of around 16mm which is perfect for most machine heads.

Headstock recess has been measured.

Next grab your mitre saw; mine has a handy 45 degree horizontal angle and this is what we are going to use. Line up the headstock angle line with the 45 degree horizontal angle on the mitre box and saw down to the 9mm depth line; keep checking your progress on both sides to make sure that you don’t saw too far.

Cutting the headstock recess angle.

Cut the rest of the recess as described in the previous post with either a chisel, hand saw or bandsaw, and finish off with a coarse file and sandpaper.

Finished headstock recess.

You are now finished with the neck for the moment and can turn you attention to the cigar box.

How to Make a Basic Cigar Box Guitar: Making the Neck Part 3

Cutting the body and headstock recesses

Both the headstock and body portion of the neck need to be recessed to fit the machine heads and provide proper sting alignment for the finished instrument. The headstock will be thinned out by 9mm and the body recess by around 8mm, meaning that the fretboard will stick out above the cigar box by around 4mm.

Marking and cutting the body recess

First find your line where the cigar box will join the neck and draw a line down the height of the neck. Then measure 8mm from the top of the neck down the line you’ve just drawn and at the end of the neck as well. Joint the two marks and you’ve got your recess size.

Body recess size has been measured.

There are a number of ways to cut the body and headstock recesses, but by far the easiest is to use a bandsaw. I am lucky, as I have a friend who has one in his garage and lets me use it from time to time.

If you don’t have access to a bandsaw there are two ways in which you can cut the recess.

Alternative 1: Cutting the recess with a chisel

Start by sawing notches about ¾ of an inch (19mm) apart down the length of the recess (see picture below) to a depth of around 8mm; do not cut lower than 8mm.

Cutting notches down the length of the recess.

Once all of the notches have been cut, use a 1 inch (25mm) chisel and a hammer to slowly remove the wood. Work from each side to the middle then turn the neck around and start the other side; this will prevent damage to the edges of the neck.

Using the chisel to remove the wood for the recess.

The wood has been removed, now repeat that all the way down the neck.

Remove as much of the wood as you can then clean up the recess with a coarse file and some sandpaper.

Finishing it off with sandpaper.

Alternative 2: Cutting the recess with a saw

Using a chisel to cut the recess provides good results, but is very time consuming. Another way to do it is to use a saw. Make sure your saw doesn’t have a lip at the top, like a dovetail saw; this will make it harder to control the further down the neck you saw.

Start at the end of the neck and saw just above the line you drew for your recess. Slowly work the saw down the length of the recess checking both sides to make sure you haven’t strayed over the lines.

Saw just above the line you have drawn for the recess depth.

The further down the neck you go the more resistance you will feel through the saw, so I like to cut off the excess every once and a while to make it easier.

Sawing off the excess makes it easier.

Carry on sawing down the neck till you reach the end line and cut off the excess.

It’s not pretty, but a coarse file will see to that.

Use a coarse file to level out the recess and sandpaper to finish.

Using a coarse file to level out the recess.

Finished recess.

Now on to the headstock recess.