Handmade Music Clubhouse

Cigar Box Guitar Headquarters - CBG HQ

It's your first CBG build.  You have a cigar box and your tools are pretty much limited to a saw, drill, file and sandpaper.  How can you build a CBG with such limited tools?

Actually... it's easier than you might think.  Here are the plans for building a nice-playing, nice-sounding CBG with very little tool work.  Here are the supplies you'll need:

 

PARTS & EQUIPMENT LIST

TOOLS:

* Saw

* Drill and set of bits

* A file and sandpaper

* Some kind of pressure devices... either clamps or several heavy books

STUFF:

* Some kind of wood box (cigar box is best, of course, but a Hobby Lobby craft box will work just as well)

* Four straight 1.5" x 1/4" wood slats (I prefer oak).  Note:  not the typical 1x2 (which is in reality 1.5" x 3/4"), but the thinner 1/4" slats.  Saw them to 36", 36", 30" and 20".

* Wood Glue

* Some 3/4" wood screws (three of them should do the trick)

* Set of 3 guitar tuners, and maybe some extra washers to act as spacers

* Set of guitar strings (you'll use the A, D & G strings)

If you want to fret your guitar you'll need either finishing nails, brad nails, square-shape toothpicks, long bobby pins, wire or even... gasp... classical guitar frets (they're flat and work well on CBGs).  If you don't want to go to the trouble of fretting, all you need is a pencil or pen to mark the fret lines and some kind of slide... or even just your fingers.

That's it.  Pretty short list.

 

BUILDING YOUR GIT--  HERE'S HOW

THE NECK

Start with the neck.  That's where the 4 slats come in.  Cut two of them to 36", one of them to 30" and the fourth 20".  Wood Glue them together as shown in the following diagram and clamp them together... or set a bunch of heavy books on top of them.  Works just as well.  Leave overnight for a good glue cure.  Make sure it's on a straight surface so it dries straight.

By laminating the neck like this out of four pieces of wood you make it extra-strong.  The four pieces all have their own grain pattern and will re-enforce against the weaknesses of one another, not to mention the strength of the glue itself.

Once the neck is cured drill holes in it as follows (shown from the top):

The holes at the heel should be about 1/16"... just big enough for a guitar string to go through.  The holes at the head should be just a teensy larger than the diameter of your tuning key shanks.  Be sure to leave enough room between the head holes for your tuners to fit and not collide with one another... and the correct distance from the edge (measure the edge of your tuner to the center of the shank).

When you've got your holes drilled, use a file and sandpaper to round out the back of your neck behind the fingerboard. You'll want it to feel good when you hold it.

 

ATTACHING THE NECK TO THE BOX

This is the "easier than you thought" part.   Simply lay the neck on the top (or bottom) of the box, right down the center, drill three holes from the inside of the box through your neck... a bit smaller than your screws (be careful not to drill through the neck entirely), and screw the neck to the box from the inside of the box.  This is easiest if you drill and screw the center screw first, then two outer ones:

Note that as of this point the only tools you've used is a saw, a drill and a file.  Nothing special or expensive.  Will the sound still be good with the neck screwed to the box like that?  Yes. See the end of this article for the answer why.

FRETTING OVER YOUR WORK

Mark the center of the box.  That is where your bridge will be.  Measure 24" or 25" (your choice) up from that and mark that on the neck for the nut position.  Mark a point exactly halfway between the two for your 12th fret position.  Now you have your references set.

At this point you have to decide whether to add frets or not.  If you decide to add frets, see this article for a basic way to add "found item" frets:

Fretting Your Git -- Simple and Cheap

If you decide to not fret it, just mark lines where the frets are supposed to be (or put dots on the side of your neck) and you're ready to go.  (For a good guide on where to put fret lines check out FRET CALCULATOR.

An easy way to fret your git is to use the Zero Fret method-- using an extra fret as your nut.  The following diagram shows one method of doing so (there are others, but this is easy and it works):

FINISHING UP

Believe it or not you're now very close to done.  There are only 5 things left:

1. SOUND HOLES. Drill three or four or six 1/2" holes in the face of the box to allow for greater sound volume.  You can put these holes just about anywhere you want.  Space them nicely so they look good.  You can decorate them if you like, but nice clean holes will do.

2. NUT. If you haven't already done so, add a nut to your neck in the proper position.  A simple nail glued in place will do (you might want to file a shallow slot for it).  If you've fretted your git, you're probably already there (especially if you use the "zero fret" method... using your "0" fret as a nut).  Make sure there are three string-slots filed somewhere, either on the nut or fretboard above the nut, so the strings don't slip sideways.

3. TUNING KEYS. Install the tuning keys on the head of your git.  Depending on how the gears are made you may need to add a 1/16" thick washer to make them fit the head properly.  The head where the keys fit is 1/2" thick, made of two pieces of wood.  You may need to thicken it a bit for your keys to fit, depending on the keys.  Washers are usually the easiest way to do that.  Alternately you can use a thin piece of wood, plastic or whatever, cut to the size of the head and glued on.  Your choice. 

Be sure to istall the keys this way to prevent gear stripping:

4. BRIDGE.  Install your bridge.  For a bridge all you need is something that will hold your strings up at the proper height for the strings to rise above your neck / frets. This may take a bit of trial and error, but you can make a bridge out of a brass bolt, a piece of hardwood, metal tubing, or anything that's hard.  It doesn't have to be fancy... it just has to hold the strings.  It's good to have notches in the bridge at the proper spots so the strings don't slip.  Your tenacity and care with creating the proper bridge height will determine the action (easy playability) of your strings.  So work slowly and well on the bridge.  It's a very important part of your git.  As a starter point: your bridge will probably be around 3/8" to 9/16" tall. Start with 1/2" and you'll have some wiggle room to file it down. 

Here is a good basic bridge design that's easy to make and great for a first project:

5. STRINGS. String 'er up!   Run the strings from the back of the tail holes up the neck and into the tuners.  You've probably done this before on a regular guitar.  Tune the strings to G D g.

 

YOU'RE DONE!

You are finished.  Honest, it's that easy.   The question you may have at this point is, "Doesn't nailing the neck to the box cut down on sound?"  The answer is: Not really.  It changes the sound, but it will still be plenty loud and sound plenty good.   The wood to the sides of the neck will pick up the vibration from the neck and still vibrate like crazy.  How do I know this?  I experimented (see photo).  It's been done by lots of folks for a long time.  It works well.

Mind you, the SlickStick is a bit fancier than what I've described above (it has electrics, wood burning, string grommets, sound hole grommets and the neck is made from a 1x2)... but the principle is the same.  The SlickStick sounds good. 

 

The above method works if you're wanting to build a simple, first-time CBG.  You can move on to more advanced plans with progressive builds.  But if you only build just one git... this sounds great and plays well.

 

I hope this helps you get started if you've felt intimidated in beginning a CBG project.  This method works and uses only a minimum of tools and supplies.  By using slats instead of a solid piece of wood you eliminate having to cut indentations for piezo disks, carve into the headstock  for tuning key height, brace the insides or do other things that can make a project complex.  If you want to you can still add piezo pickups and a volume control and jack to your git (as you see in the photo above).   But if not... your CBG is ready to play as it is.  Have fun!

--o--

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