Handmade Music Clubhouse

Cigar Box Guitar Headquarters - CBG HQ

Due to the fact, there is no standard for CBG construction regarding the number of strings or the tuning, I am writing this information to help builders who are new to music, and offer suggestions that will make their builds function better from a musical stand point.

Guitar Tuners

The easiest way to tune your CBG is by using a headstock "clip-on" electronic tuner. They are very inexpensive. They come in two different models. A standard model that only tunes the standard 6 string guitar notes, and the one I suggest, the Chromatic model, that can tune all the possible notes.

Use standard guitar strings (medium gauge)

Guitar strings are designed to produce a certain pitch (note) when they are tuned to a specific tension. Using an average scale length (the distance between the nut and bridge) of about 24.75 inches, from low to high, the 6 strings are tuned:

E  A  D  G  B  E (numbered low to high 6 5 4 3 2 1)

Use Open Tunings

A standard guitar uses a compromised tuning that allows the guitar to be extremely versatile. It can play in all 12 different keys of music. Another method used in Folk and Blues music, Open Tuning, simplifies the instrument by tuning to one key and using a basic three note chord.

Open G Tuning (Spanish Tuning)

The Major Scale notes for the key of G are: G A B C D E F# G (Tones numbered 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8)

Open G Tuning on a 6 string guitar low to high is: D G D G B D

It contains tones 1,3,5 (G, B, D) from the G Major Scale that are required to make a G Major Chord.


Using the configuration of the full 6 string guitar Open G Tuning as a guide, CBGs with various numbers of strings can be tuned so they utilize the same finger positions on the fretboard. This becomes a very practical approach because the same understand of the fretboard can be applied to any instrument, regardless of the number of strings. Uke, tenor guitar, banjo...

1 String

The simplest instrument utilizing only one string is called a Diddley-Bow

Tone 1: String 5 (A) tune down to G or

Tone 1: String 3 (G)

2 String

A partial Major Chord can be formed by using:

Tones 1 / 5: String 5 (A) tune down to G / String 4 (D) or

Tones 1 / 3: String 3 (G)  / String 2 (B)

3 String

Know as G5 Tuning, only two tones, but three strings

Tones 1/5/1:

String 5 (A) tune down to G / String 4 (D) / String 3 (G) or

A full G chord

Tones 1/3/5: String 3 (G) / String 2 (B) / String 1 (E) tune down to D

4 String

Tones 5/1/3/5:

String 4 (D) / String 3 (G) / String 2 (B) / String 1 (E) tune down to D or

Tones 1/5/1/3

String 5 (A) tune down (G) / String 4 (D) / String 3 (G) / String 2 (B) or

Tones 1/5/1/5

String 5 (A) tune down to (G) / String 4 (D) / String 3 (G) / String 1 (E) tune down to (D)

5 String

Standard bluegrass banjo tuning (use banjo strings)

Tones 1/5/1/3/5: gDGbd

6 string

Tones 5/1/5/1/3/5 Open G Tuning DGDGBD


Video Lessons


CD1 Vestapol Tuning (Open D) for 6 string & 3 string cigar box

CD2 Spanish Tuning (Open G) for 6 string

CD3 Comparing Vestapol and Spanish Tuning for 6 string

CD4 Cigar Box Guitar for 3 string (GDG) 

CD5 Cigar Box Guitar for 4 string (DGBD)

CD6 Cigar Box Guitar for 3 string Part 2

Fretless info and fretted Devil's Tuning Method. The same strings tuned GDG (CD 4), retunes to ADF# (Open D) provides a "Moveable Chord Method" that fuctions very similar to the method used on a standard 6 string guitar.

Questions? kenileeburgess@aol.com 

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Theres a cool trick to playing minor without retuning Sam, I do kinda like open minor tunings, but this is cleverer cos u can make both major and minor chords right across with the slide without dropping that third ill make a video sometime. There's lots of cool jazzy things about gdgb ;)



Extending this concept to a 3 string CBG, I have my fav. fretted 3 stringer tuned G-D-bflat.  It's just like the 4 string format, but dropping out the second "G" string.  This gives you a true 3 note chord, plus the advantage of playing Major/minor chord progressions.


Since this is only 3 half-steps above the "G", I simply tension up the string.  That makes the CBG more flexible and not having to restring for this tuning.


the best,


Wichita Sam

Thank you Kid and Sam for sharing.

Yes, if you use an open tuning with a minor third, it is easy to fret that note to return to a major third. This is what the old Blues masters called "Cross note tuning". Instead of Open D (DADf#ad), they tuned Open D minor (DADfad). This gives you the same advantage as standard tuning, when playing for example  an E chord. The open third string is the minor third  - G, playing the chord adds the major third - G#. By playing between them, you create that typical minor / major tension found in the Blues.

As for three string CBG, I found a 513 works out really well for movable chords. This is the subject of my instructional video #6.

A 153 tuning is actually quite unique in regards to the usual open tuning tone arrangements. 

Thanks for sharing some more of the endless possibilities. Enjoy your practice, Keni Lee 


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Great book by Clubhouse Member David Sutton

Great book by Clubhouse Member Mike Orr

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