Tutorials & How-To’s

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.

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.

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.

How to Make a Basic Cigar Box Guitar: Making the Neck Part 2

Drilling the holes for the machine heads

Now that the machine head holes have been centre punched they can now be drilled. The way you drill the holes depends on the type of machine heads you have. Some have the same size shaft all the way down and only one hole is needed (usually 8mm), but the ones I have, have an 8mm shaft and a thicker 10mm base.

This can be drilled in two ways; either you can drill one 10mm hole through to whole piece or step the hole from 8mm on the front to 10mm on the back.

Side view of the machine head.

Both ways of drilling are ideal for machine heads, but I prefer the stepped hole because it looks neater and means that you can omit the washers for a cleaner look.

If you are going to drill just one hole then fit your drill with a 10mm bit and drill a hole all of the way through the timber as straight as you can; put a piece of wood underneath your neck (I have an old wooden chopping board that I use), this will protect your work surface and minimise the frayed edges you sometimes get when the drill bit pops through the bottom of the timber.

For the stepped hole, first you will have to drill a pilot hole; fit a 3 or 4mm bit in your drill and carefully drill a hole all the way through the neck making sure that you keep it as straight as possible.

Drilling the pilot hole.

Next grab your 10mm bit and measure 10mm down from the drill bit end, get some painters tape and wrap it around the drill bit at the 10mm mark; this will act as a depth gauge as you only need the hole to be 10mm deep to house the bottom part of the machine head.

Drill bit with painters tape as depth gauge.

Flip the neck over so you are drilling from the bottom and drill the three holes to a depth of 10mm using the pilot holes you created earlier, again try to be as straight as possible.

Drilling the 10mm holes

Now that the 10mm holes have been drilled, fit the 8mm bit to your drill and flip the neck back over so that the front is facing you. Drill the 8mm holes right through the timber again using the pilot hole to line the drill bit up; be sure to keep the drill as straight as possible.

Drilling the 8mm holes.

Check that your machine heads fit nice and snugly and that they are flush with the bottom of the neck; if the machine heads are slightly raised then use the 10mm drill bit to deepen the hole a little at a time until they fit flush.

Test fitting all three machine heads.

Once all of the machine heads are sitting flush with the bottom of the neck it’s time to move on to part 3 – notching the headstock and body ends of the neck.