This is a DIY cigar box guitar. It’s basically an acoustic guitar you can make out of stuff that would otherwise go to waste, including cigars, wood scraps, and other random junk. The cigar box creates the soundboard for the instrument while the guitars strings connect with tuning pegs attached to it.
The “cigar box guitar kit” is a DIY project that allows you to create your own cigar box guitar. The best part of the project is that it doesn’t require any tools, and it’s easy to do.
Note from the editor: This is a guest article by Luke Brown.
A little history of the cigar box guitar should provide you with enough motivation to make your own. The cigar box guitar started out as a makeshift instrument for those who couldn’t afford to purchase a real guitar. Because of pervasive poverty, the tendency gained up in tiny African-American towns in the late 1800s and subsequently during the Great Depression.
If you didn’t have any money at the time and wanted to learn to play an instrument, you’d need easy-to-find equipment and materials, as well as a knack for resourcefulness and inventiveness. Most of the necks were built from broom handles and had just one string. Indeed, it was reportedly said that playing a cigar box guitar hurt just once. The kids would disassemble Mom’s broom and insert the handle into a cigar box while she was gone. They’d then stretch the wire holding the bristles in place over the broom handle until they could make a sound. Mom would give the kids a hard thrashing when she came home, but she couldn’t put her broom back together… As a result, the kids had fun, and it only hurt once.
I knew I had to make a cigar box guitar the moment I saw one. I hadn’t done much woodworking before, but it appeared to be a project I could handle. I noticed that they are fairly easy to construct and can be done with common home items. Furthermore, the price is low, and the possibilities are endless; no two cigar box guitars are alike. When you’re feeling really inventive, your guitar might reveal a lot about your character. Take it and make it your own.
The majority of the equipment required to construct a guitar are readily available in most houses. Check with your family, friends, or neighbors if you don’t have any. Most hardware shops have all of the tools and timber you’ll need. I’ve discovered that the best place to acquire guitar parts is online from C.B. Gitty Crafter Supply (www.cbgitty.com). Most tobacco stores that sell cigars for less than $5 will have a cigar box.
The Parts List may be found by clicking here.
You are not limited to the components list I’ve supplied in any way. Tuners, strings, and other accessories come in a variety of styles. I’ve included dimensions for the pieces I’ve mentioned below. If you pick various components, your dimensions may vary. To ensure that each element fits perfectly, use a ruler or caliper to measure it.
The first step in learning about cigar box guitars is to understand the vocabulary.
The guitar’s neck is the first item to construct. Although “neck” refers to the guitar’s central section, our neck will reach all the way through the cigar box, making it longer for the time being. The neck must be made of hardwood since the stress of the strings will cause it to bend over time. In the components list above, there are a few solid suggestions. The board should be 1′′ X 2′′ X 36′′ in size. After you purchase the board, you’ll find that the real dimensions are 3/4′′ X 1 1/2′′ X 36′′. The measures below will not be affected by this discrepancy. If the neck isn’t 36 inches long, use your coping saw to shorten it.
Decide which end of the wood you want to be the head by looking at the pattern and writing “head” on the end of the neck. The next step is to carve a slot in the end of the head to accommodate the tuners. Mark 4 1/2′′ from the end of the neck and 1/4′′ from the fret side (on the 1′′ side of the board, you’re marking 1/4′′).
It’s now time to remove the head-piece. Cut the piece out with your coping saw. When you’re finished, smooth it out using a file and sandpaper. I prefer to keep the edges of these guitars a bit rough to give them some character when I create them.
I left the ding in rather than start over since it was caused by my dog.
The Human Body (Cigar Box)
It’s time to stow the neck and grab the cigar box. The sort of cigar box you have will determine how you cut it. The lid of most paper-covered boxes fits snugly within the box’s edges. Many non-paper cigar boxes feature a sturdier lid that sits on top of rather than within the sides. The next step, regardless of the cigar box, is to indicate the location where the neck will pass through. Make a mark in the middle of the cigar box’s width.
Now, take a measurement of the neck’s breadth. Measure out 3/4′′ (half) to either side of your mark and make another mark if the neck is 1 1/2′′ wide. This will keep the neck in the cigar box centered and tight.
It’s really simple to use a coping saw. By adjusting the handle and the blade’s orientation, you may guide the course of the saw. By holding the c-shape and moving the handle counterclockwise, you may adjust the blade inside the coping saw itself. This will release the strain on the blade and enable you to spin the wing on either end.
If you’re working with wood, use your coping saw to cut the lid through the lines you’ve drawn until you reach the point where the box’s face meets the lid’s sides. (A line will appear where the box’s face is glued to the sides.) When you’re finished, there should be a nice level area where the neck will rest from end to end. Now is not the time to cut into the bottom part.
If you have a paper box, measure 3/4′′ from the top of the box and draw a line between the two lines you made before if your neck is 3/4′′ deep. Cut the portion out with your coping saw. For the time being, ignore the lid.
It is preferable to cut a hole that is too tiny rather than too large. You may easily expand the hole with your flat file afterwards. The neck will rattle and tremble within the box if the opening is cut too large. Cigar boxes are also delicate, so proceed with caution.
This cut should be made on both ends of the box.
Creating a Neck-to-Body Fit
Make sure the neck fits snugly in the slots you cut out after you’re finished. Now, take the length of the cigar box and the depth of the lid that’s left over. (If you’re using a paper box, measure the depth of the lid instead.) Take your neck and measure 4 inches from the tip to the base. Make a notation on your neck’s fret side. Beginning at the four-inch point, measure up the neck to the length of the cigar box measurement you just obtained and make another mark. Measure down from the markings you just made by turning the neck on its side. The depth of the lid will be determined by this measurement. Make these markings on both sides of the neck and use a ruler to join them.
The next step is to cut off the part you just indicated with the coping saw. To make things as smooth and flat as possible, use the flat file and sandpaper. Fit the neck into the cigar box and make sure the neck and cigar box are flat across the top when finished. If you’re using a wooden box, you’ll need to add one more step: determine how much of the neck is still preventing the box from closing. Using the coping saw or file, cut away more of the box using the markings you established previously so that the lid can shut tightly.
Creating a Guitar
Get your door hinge out of the closet. This will be the guitar’s tailpiece, which will keep the strings in place. Drill three holes with a 1/16′′ bit in three different places. This should be done on top of an old trash board to allow the drill bit to pass through without damaging anything.
After you’ve drilled the holes, place the hinge on the guitar’s tail. The end where you drilled the holes will point towards the guitar’s head. Make sure the end you didn’t drill the holes in is centered by laying it flat on the end of the neck. Two holes should be marked and pre-drilled for the screws that will hold it in place. (Just drill the holes; don’t really connect it yet.)
Pre-drilling the screws makes them more precise and simpler to install. This project requires pre-drilling of all holes. Some of the screws are very small, and if you don’t pre-drill them, the heads may break off. This will assist you in determining how deep you want the hole to go. Drill down 1/4 inch by measuring 1/4 inch up from the drill bit’s tip and wrapping masking tape around it. You may then drill down till you reach the tape and then stop. Always use a drill bit that is a fraction of an inch smaller than the screw.
After that, it’s time to drill holes in the guitar’s head for the tuners. Always mark the middle of the hole as you’re drilling. The center of the tuner holes is determined by the dimensions below. On the fret side of the head, mark the holes. Important: If you have a set of three tuners, you must identify whether you have two right-handed or two left-handed tuners. When looking at an upright guitar from the front, left-handed tuners are on the left side of the head, while right-handed tuners are on the right side. The tuner is left-handed, and the shot below shows the rear of the head. Two right-handed tuners and one left-handed tuner are shown in the figure below.
The following section is a bit more difficult. Two drill bits are required: 1/4′′ and 5/16′′. You’ll need to drill down the depth of the tuner bushings on the side facing you (image above) (diagram below). Mine are 3/8′′, so I used masking tape to mark the drill bit at 3/8′′ and drilled till the 5/16′′ bit touched the tape. Take your 1/4′′ drill bit and drill the rest of the way through the head after they are done. It should look like this when you put the tuner in from the bottom and the tuner bushing in from the top:
Now it’s time to work on the nut and bridge. If you can’t find them on the internet, you may get a 1/4′′ or 5/16′′ bolt from any hardware shop and sawing off the head.
Make a 1/4-inch mark away from the head on the edge of the neck board where the neck meets the head. Make a groove for the nut to sit in with your round file. Making the groove half the diameter of the nut works nicely.
Simply place the bridge in the narrow groove where the guitar’s tail meets the cigar box. You can get a larger bolt/bridge to get the strings at the height you desire depending on how the neck fits into the box. The nut and bridge provide space between the strings and the neck, as well as a “scale length.” The distance between the center of the bridge and the center of the nut is known as the scale length. After you’ve determined the scale length, you’ll need to use a fret calculator to figure out how far apart the frets are. This webpage is where I get my fret distances. You may set as many frets as you wish in the first slot. I simply type in 24 and then decide how many I want as I work my way up the neck. It all depends on how high you want to go. I seldom play above 15, so that’s generally where I stop. Enter the distance between the bridge and the nut in the scale length box. Make an effort to be as precise as possible. Choose an acoustic guitar as your unit of measurement. It should produce something similar to this:
Use your caliper to mark fret to fret after you have your fret scale (starting from the nut). You’ll need to be really precise here. If you measure the first fret incorrectly, the rest of the frets will be incorrect as well. Make a circle between frets 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, and 11-12 to denote the usual blues scale frets (double circle). (My first fret was 1.543′′ in the photo below.) The fret scale shown above is only illustrative.)
After you’ve marked all of the frets, you’ll need to permanently mark them. The simplest method is to buy a wood-burning stove and use it to burn them. When I didn’t have access to a wood stove, I burned them in using a gas stove and a pliers-held nail. With the pliers, carefully hold the nail above the flame until it’s hot, then burn the wood along the line you’ve drawn.
It’s time to pierce the cigar box with sound holes. This is a place where you may let your imagination run wild. You may create a hole in any shape or size you like. F-holes were my choice for mine. You may either freehand draw your sound hole on the box or draw it on a piece of paper and cut it out. Because I was creating two holes, I traced it to ensure that they were the same. Drill a hole in the box where the hole will be once the markings are on the box. Remove the blade from your coping saw by unscrewing the handle. You may now cut out your pattern by pulling the saw back and forth through the cover. Wear your gloves if you have them… It’s possible that your fingertips may suffer as a result of this.
After you’ve cut them out, sharpen them with your flat and round files.
Adding a Personal Touch to Your Cigar Box Guitar
This is where you can really personalize your guitar. You may either draw anything on the guitar or select a picture you like and convert it to black and white using a photo editing application. Print the picture in many different sizes. Cut these out and experiment with them on your guitar. You may use the back of the guitar as a giant canvas or any vacant spot on the front. I choose to utilize the Art of Manliness emblem in the upper right corner on the front side for mine. You’ll have to sand the finish off the wood wherever you decide to install it. Trace the picture onto the wood and try to fill up the shaded spots as best you can.
Burn the dark areas of the picture using your wood burner or hot nail approach. You can always sand it down if you make a mistake.
You may start building the guitar right now if you want to leave the wood raw and unpainted (skip ahead to the next section). Now is the moment to stain or varnish the guitar, if you desire to do so. If you wish to stain it, now is the time to do it, or sand down any rough edges. Start with a lower grit (rougher) sandpaper, such as 100-grit, then work your way up to 320-grit. Sand with the grain of the wood rather than against it (sanding “with the grit” implies sanding with the lines in the wood rather than against). I like to have the neck edges smoothed so that I may play it gently without fear of being sliced. Cutting a strip of sandpaper about an inch wide and dragging it back and forth over the sharp edges is the best method to achieve this.
I occasionally add markings in the wood that make it appear a bit banged up to keep with the rustic character of the cigar box guitar. A knife, screwdriver, or hammer may be used to do this. If you dye it, whatever markings you create will be darker with the stain.
Oil-based stains have shown to be the most effective. Find an old rag and a stain color that you prefer. You may also stain the sections in various colors; I used one color for the box and another for the neck. The tuners, screws, and tailpiece must all be removed. Remove the lid and shake the stain can for approximately a minute. To protect your hands from the stain and dangerous chemicals, put on latex gloves. Rub the stain into the wood with an old cloth dipped in the stain. After 30 minutes, reapply the stain if you want it darker. Set the neck and box out to dry overnight if you’re satisfied with the color.
Using a can of spray lacquer to finish the cigar box guitar is the simplest option. You have the option of using either a glossy or a satin finish. Satin will look more subtle, whereas glossy would appear bright and thick. Shake the can for a minute before holding it 12 inches away from the wood. To avoid lacquer getting all over your equipment and workplace, place the wood on some plastic or newspaper. Spray back and forth while holding the nozzle down and releasing it at the end of each sweep. If you spray too much, the paint will run. It’s better to apply too few coats than too many, since you can always add more afterwards. Flip the project over and spray the opposite side when the first side has dried. To avoid bugs and dust becoming lodged in the lacquer, do this inside a garage. You’re ready to build your guitar after the lacquer is no longer tacky.
Putting the Guitar Together
Install the tuners, tailpiece, nut, and bridge after placing the neck back into the cigar box. Remove your strings and thread them through the tailpiece’s holes. The biggest string goes on top, followed by the smallest. Pass the strings over the nut and bridge. Make as many wraps as you can beginning from the bottom when you bring the string to the tuner. Run the remaining thread through the hole in the tuner and draw it tight when there’s an inch or two left. Turn the tuner until the string has some strain. After that, you may slide it about on the bridge and nut ridges to make sure they’re appropriately spaced.
You may tune the strings by using an internet tuner, purchasing a chromatic tuner, or downloading a tuning app on your smartphone. The manner you tune your guitar is determined on the strings you purchased. My strings are adjusted to G-D-G since I got low open G strings. The strings will quickly fall out of tune as they pull everything together. When tuning a guitar for the first time, it normally takes 4 or 5 attempts to get it to remain in tune.
Last but not least, grab a guitar pick and a slide. A slide may be purchased or made by breaking the top off a glass bottle or cutting a piece of copper tubing to fit your finger. The majority of the slides are 3 or 4 inches length.
Learning to play might be frustrating at first, but with practice, you will improve. On YouTube, there are a plethora of how-to videos from which you may learn. They’ll instruct you on songwriting, theory, and style. Mike Snowden is a guy who delivers excellent courses and tutorials. You may find his YouTube account here.
There are four crucial frets in the little instruction I’ve supplied. The 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 12th grades are included. These are the major frets in the blues scale, and playing around with them can teach you a lot of tunes. You may retain your beat by using a free metronome from a website or an app on your smartphone. It may seem stiff at first (like in the video below), but after you get the hang of it, it will sound lot more natural. When you’ve mastered the tunes, you may stomp your foot or improvise to personalize them.
Your next guitar will be even better now that you’ve mastered the art of guitar construction. Examine many guitars on the internet, pick out features you like, and incorporate them into your future instrument. Cigar box ukuleles, banjos, and even violins may be found if you search hard enough. You may electrify your guitar, change the head design, add steel frets, and even add extra strings.
Get to work, and if you create one, post a photo of it in the comments section.
Get to work, and if you create one, post a photo of it in the comments section.
In Western South Dakota, Luke Brown is a rancher and self-taught carpenter. Luke started the Cedar Horse Workshop with his ambition to disseminate and teach the skills of craftsmanship, based on his expertise as a carpenter.
Cigar Box Guitars are a great way to make a guitar for yourself, and they’re easy to build. They’re also cheap and portable, so you can take them anywhere. You can find cigar box guitar plans free online, or just follow the instructions in the video below.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you make a simple cigar box guitar?
A: You cut a circular sheet of plywood for the body, then attach two sheets of hardboard to it with screws. Attach one end cap and your guitar is ready to go!
How do you make a 4 string cigar box guitar?
A: a. Take a cigar box and cut it down to 5 inches wide then punch 4 holes in the top of the lid, 2 on each side b. Cut two pieces of wood that are 1 inch wider than your cigar box with 3/4 inch thickness for sides c. Glue or tape together both bottom pieces using medium-grit sandpaper
Are cigar box guitars easy to play?
A: Cigar box guitars are difficult to play, since theyre usually made with cheap wood thats hard. However, many people recommend that you start by learning on a more standard guitar before moving onto this style of playing.
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