Handmade Music Clubhouse

Cigar Box Guitar Headquarters - CBG HQ

from Parade Magazine

Family Fun: How to Make a Guitar Out of a Cigar Box 

APRIL 30, 2013 – 3:01 PM


 Photo by: steve_lodefink via Flickr

With almost 200 kid-friendly step-by-step how-to guides, timelines, and lists, UNBORED: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Funteaches practical knowledge (like how to search for a lost pet), life lessons (like how to get your friends to go green), and hands-on ways to have fun—like how to make your own cigar box guitar.

Building a guitar is a complex process, so it’s more fun to do it with your grownup than alone. Even working with a grownup, it’s unlikely that you’ll build an instrument that you can use to perform; to do so, you’d have to thoroughly understand how intonation (always being in tune) and equal temperament (a complex tuning system) operate. Instead, why not build a guitar that is fun to play, makes some really cool sounds—and looks awesome.

Illustrations by Mister Reusch  (Illustrations by Mister Reusch)

You’ll need:

• A cigar box. Tobacco stores will often give you one for free, or for a small price. Pick one with heavy wood and a thick cover; if you find more than one box that will work, pick the coolest one.

• A piece of wood for the neck: 12″ by 3′ long. Use poplar or another soft wood; doing so will make the job easier. Also, the finished guitar will feel more balanced.

• 3 guitar tuning machines (also known as pegs). To save money, look for them on eBay.

• 3 acoustic guitar strings, gauged .024, .016, and .011; or gauged .042, .032 and .024.

• 2 large bolts

• 3 small screw eyes

• Wood glue

• Dust mask and safety goggles

• Sponge brush or old cloth (to apply stain)

• Drill with different size bits

• Router (or wood file)

• Saw

• Sandpaper and/or power sander

• Clamps

• Optional: 6 small nails

WARNING! It’s always important to use safety goggles or safety glasses when operating any power tools. Work in a well ventilated place and wear a dust filter to avoid breathing in particles. Grownup supervision is a must when using power tools.

1. Shave down about half an inch of the neck’s top 4 inches—to make room for the tuning machines. (They have to be lower than the neck so the strings can lie flat.) Some guitar builders insist that you use a wood file; but a power router makes doing this part easy.

2. Drill three holes for the tuning machines. If the tuning machines you buy don’t specify what size hole to drill, or how thick the wood needs to be, use a ruler to measure how wide and thick the tuning machines are, then guesstimate.

3. Sand down the entire back, front, and sides of the neck thoroughly so it won’t give you splinters when you play. If you can, round the edges on the back of the neck for a more professional look.

4. Decide whether or not you want frets—the skinny metal bars that tell you where the different notes are. If you do, you’ll have to do some serious math and woodworking to place and pound them in; the websitecigarboxguitars.com offers some pointers. An easier route is marking frets along the neck with a wood burner or permanent marker. An even easier route is going fretless.

5. Using a power saw, hand saw, or wood file, cut out the parts of the cigar box where the neck will fit. This is a tricky procedure, because the neck must fit snugly; so “measure twice, cut once,” as they say. When you’re measuring, remember that the neck will go through the cigar box, and stick out about an inch from the box’s bottom end—to hold the strings. If the lid of your cigar box closes on the inside, you may have to router out the neck where it goes into the box.

6. Attach the neck to the box; if you have a snug fit, this is pretty easy to do. Put wood glue wherever the two surfaces touch, close the box, and clamp everything down to dry overnight.

7. Once everything is dry, you might want to ensure that the neck doesn’t separate from the box by hammering in a few small nails around the edges of the box, and also in a few places where the neck touches the box.

8. Attach the tuning machines to the neck. Also, to hold the strings in place, screw three small screw eyes into the bridge (the part of the neck that comes out of the bottom of the box).

9. Using the large bolts, string the guitar. Place one bolt on the part of the neck where it drops down for the tuning machines (this is called the nut). Place the other bolt on the top of the bridge. To ensure that the strings sit at an even height the whole length of the guitar, you’ll want the height of the bolts to be approximately the same. Thread one string through each screw eye (guitar strings have a “ball end” that will catch on the screw eye) and attach its other end to its corresponding tuning machine; tighten the string.

Tuning your cigar box guitar

There are many ways to tune your cigar box guitar.

• Try D-G-B, which are the three middle strings of standard guitars that when strummed together create a major chord.

• For other tuning possibilities, do a web search for “cigar box guitar tuning.”

• Use a guitar tuner, or an online guitar tuner.

Did you make a fretless guitar?

Try using a slide (a metal cylinder worn over one finger); it makes a great sound.

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