Cigar Box Guitar

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: 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.

Designing a Cigar Box Guitar Using Computer Software

Designing your cigar box guitar on a computer not only provides you with an accurate plan, it also makes it easy to tweak and change depending on which supplies you have purchased.

There are many different types of drawing software packages out there, from free packages such as Inkscape to commercial packages like Corel Draw, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.

I use Adobe Illustrator as I have access to it through work, but most drawing packages have the same functions so adapting this guide to your chosen software should be easy. If you don’t have access to a commercial drawing package then I would recommend Inkscape, it’s easy to use and will create a great looking design.

Let’s get on with the tutorial:

Open a new document and set up work area 50cm wide and 100cm high.

Draw the scale length

After deciding which scale length you’re going to use draw a rectangle the same width as your neck and the scale length. The scale I am using is 25 inch, so my rectangle is 50mm wide and 25 inches (635mm) long. The top line is where the nut will be positioned and the bottom line is where the bridge will go.

Draw a rectangle the length of your scale and the width or your neck.

 Add the headstock

Draw a second rectangle approximately 140mm high and 50mm wide. Place this rectangle at the top of the guitar scale rectangle.

The headstock is added to the top of the scale length rectangle.

Add the angle cut line

The headstock depth has to be thinned out to about 16mm to fit the guitar machine heads and I like to add a 45 degree angle (see pic below).

Side view of the headstock showing the neck angle.

To add this simply draw a rectangle 50mm wide by 5mm and place it on the top of the guitar scale rectangle; this will designate your neck angle cut line.

The angle cut line has been added.

Lay out the headstock

Next start laying out the headstock (plans of this are available on the plans page). Draw three 8mm x 8mm circles and place the first one 35mm from the top of the headstock and 13mm from the left hand side. Place the other two circles at intervals of 35mm, both 13mm in from the left hand side.

I add a cross through each of the circles; this makes it easier to centre punch your timber for accurate drilling.

Machine head mounting holes have been added.

Drawing the frets

If you have chosen one of the fret scales on the plans page or are building a fretless guitar you do not need to do this next part. You will however have to decide how many ‘imaginery frets’ the guitar will have so that the guitar intonation is in tune; the guitar neck I designed will join the cigar box at the 21st fret, which on the 25 inch scale is 446.213mm. Draw a rectangle from the nut line to your chosen length; this will be where the cigar box will start.

If you have chosen a custom fret scale then start by downloading the scale using a fret calculator. Once you have you measurements choose how many frets you want; standard guitars range from 20 to 24 frets, but I like 20 frets with the 21st fret measurement being the end of the fretboard. Start from the nut line and draw rectangles 50mm wide and the height of your measurements (I like to number mine too).

The frets have been measured and numbered.

Add the cigar box

Measure your cigar box and draw a rectangle the same size as the box, mine is 254mm long and 200mm wide. Place the centre of the top line at the end of the fretborad. Now you can get an idea of what the guitar will look like, if it looks in proportion and you’re happy with it then you can move onto adding the sound holes.

The cigar box has been added, it’s all coming together now.

Adding the sound holes

It is entirely up to you what type and size of sound holes you choose and even where to place them. To get inspiration why not head over to Cigar Box Nation and have a look at other peoples guitars; there are tonnes of styles, shapes and sizes to look at, or you could always make your own custom shape!

I am using some ½ inch grommets for my sound holes, with three on each side. Add your chosen sound holes to the cigar box and you’ve finished your cigar box guitar design.

The cigar box guitar design is finished!

Side note: I would recommend that you keep your sound holes towards the top of the cigar box as holes at the bottom tend to make the guitar sound muddy.

Print out your design, then it’s time to start building!

How to Make a Basic Cigar Box Guitar – Part 1: Get Your Supplies Together

Because cigar boxes and timber come in a variety of shapes and sizes, it is a good idea to purchase these first even before you start designing your cigar box guitar.

The Cigar Box

When it comes to cigar boxes for guitars the bigger the better, I usually try to get a box that is between 220mm and 250mm in width, 180mm and 200mm in length, and 30mm and 50mm high; you can use different sizes and still get a good result.

There are plenty of places to purchase cigar boxes and one of the best is online. This includes auction sites and dedicated cigar supplier websites. Alternatively, if you’re lucky enough to live near a tobacconist just pop in and see if they have any empty boxes. Charity shops and boot fairs can also unearth suitable boxes, and remember there are no rules in this sort of guitar building; you can use whatever you want, an ordinary box, a wine bottle box or even a biscuit tin, the choice is yours.

Cigar Box

Neck Timber

For the neck you will need some kind of hardwood like maple, walnut, oak or mahogany as the string tension will tend to bend softer woods. You will need a piece of timber approximately 35mm to 50mm wide, 1000mm (1 meter) long and 25mm thick.

Again, there are plenty of places to buy neck timber from, including auction sites, timber merchants and even guitar wood suppliers, but I would try to source your timber locally; that way you can look at the wood to make sure that it isn’t warped, is free of knots and gouges and has nice looking grain.

Try your local DIY store or local timber merchant, but if you get stuck head on over to the Cigar Box Nation website, join the forum group ‘The Brits Are Coming’ and ask the friendly guys on there, someone will help you out by either selling you a piece of timber or pointing you in the right direction to a supplier.

Neck Timber

Tailpieces, Bridges and Nuts

The tradition of cigar box guitar building is one of making an instrument out of what you have laying around, so the bridge and nut are usually made from bolts and the tailpiece from a door hinge. These items are available in most DIY stores.

Alternatively, you can use proper guitar parts and these can be purchased in your local music shops or online, but will inevitably cost you more money.

Guitar Machine Heads

I have seen guitar machine heads made from eyelets and butterfly nuts that work really well, but for your first build I would stick to standard guitar tuners. These come in a variety of styles and if you buy a full set of six you can make two cigar box guitars with them.

Guitar Pickups

Again, guitar pickups come in a variety of different styles and designs including single coil and humbuckers, but the vast majority of cigar box guitar builders use piezo transducers; these are wired directly to the output jack of the guitar and placed inside the cigar box under the bridge.

Piezo transducers are cheap, usually between 50p and £1.50 each and because they are mounted inside the cigar box there is no cutting involved making them easier than standard pickups to install.

Hardware – Piezo Pickup, Hinge Tailpiece, box screws, bolt bridge and Machine Heads

Once you have decided on all of your parts and have your cigar box and neck timber it’s time to design your cigar box guitar.