Let me just start by saying that I have no wood working skills whatsoever, let alone luthier skills (or tools for that matter), but inspiration has struck nonetheless.

I have been a guitarist for around 15 years now, but have always been fascinated by eastern and middle eastern music. In recent years I've come across some middle eastern instruments such as the oud, the saz, and the setar (not to be confused with a sitar).

I liked the exotic tones, and was drawn in by the fret spacing allowing for the microtones we just don't get on western instruments. I liked the idea of a bass/drone string coupled with courses of double strings (like you'd find on a 12 string guitar). What I didn't like was the reliance on friction tuners, the extremely light and fragile nature of their bodies, their lack of volume, and the lack of availability of properly constructed instruments of this kind in Australia. Put off by all of this I temporarily lost interest.

Recently though I spotted someone at a local market selling cigar box guitars. I hadn't heard of cigar box guitars at that point, and so I had no idea thats what I was looking at. They were clearly home-made from improvised parts, and from a distance all I could make out was the odd body shape and the fact that they each had only 3-4 strings. I thought at first that I was looking at home-made sazes and setars, and thats when it hit me: I could probably do this!!

My plan is to make a square-ish shaped electric instrument with a round chamber inside. I love the weight, warmth, and sustain of my Les Paul, and was wondering if I could combine these qualities with an otherwise acoustic instrument. 

I'll start with the basic cigar box design, except

- I won't be using a cigar box

- the fret markers will be in different positions

- instead of three strings, it'll be three courses of strings (two of them will be doubled).

 

I intend to have a low D string in the bass end, a course of two A strings, and a course of two D strings an octave higher.

 

The tricky thing about the music I'm into is that it isn't a straight forward 12tone equal temperment tuning (12tet, 12 equally spaced notes to the octave). It includes micro tones which fit between our western notes, bringing it to 17 notes to an octave. Just to complicate things further, its not 17 equally spaced notes (17tet)!

 

One might think you could just measure one of these things up and bung your frets in accordingly, but again it gets more complicated. Frets on these instruments are usually tied on. The main reason is that there appears to be no real "standard" as to where the "extra" notes are supposed to be. Depending on the region you're in and the folks your jamming with, you might have to move your frets around a bit to play in tune with each other.

 

It appears that the most common tuning they're working to is 24tet with a few notes missing. All of the 12tet notes that we know and love are there though.

 

To get around this fretting drama, I've decided not to fret at all. I couldn't be bothered tieing on frets. Instead, I'll cut fret slots into the finger board according to this "24tet with notes missing" formula I've worked out, and then fill them in with some kind of filler which has a colour which contrasts with the finger board. I'm thinking of using a different colour again for the "extra" fret slots, so anyone could pick this sucker up and play on it, without getting put off by the extra frets.

 

...then theres the body. If the hardcore cbg purists amongst you aren't already disgusted with my plan so far, brace yourself for this:

 

Instead of a cigar box, I intend to take two slabs of timber (roughly 40cm x 30 cm X 5cm), cut a large hole in the middle of each of them, and stack them on top of each other.  I'll attach a thin sound board front and back, and carve the neck down a bit where it passes through the body to minimise its contact with the sound board. Sort of like whats been done to this neck:

 

I'm entertaining crazy thoughts about having a floating sound board in there somwhere, but wouldn't know how to mount it without it absorbing the front sound board's movement and therefore losing volume.


I'll be gluing on a fingerboard of sorts to avoid splinters whilst playing, to help lower the action a bit, and to have something for one of these to attach to:


The strings will pass through the bottom of the neck like a traditional cbg tailpiece, and up over a custom made acoustic style bridge. I've been reading THIS for inspiration with the bridge.

 

I'm thinking this will be acousticly louder than your average cigar box guitar, and will hopefully have a fuller tone. I'm not sure how it will sound plugged in, but I'll settle for having it sound like it does accousticly, only louder.

I have obtained some scrap wood to make a mock up. I'll be using thin MDF for the sound boards, and some dry, surprisingly light sleepers from the backyard for the rest. If all goes well with said mock up, I'll buy some decent timber (proper spruce soundboards etc)and maybe refine things a bit.

 

As I said in my opening paragraph, I have no tools nor knowledge of how to use them. For a first build, I may be biting off more than I can chew, but I guess I'll find out. The trouble seems to be getting past the design stage and actually generating some saw dust!

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Looks like a cool idea: I think you are right about getting to the sawdust.

For some ideas on color coding for alternate tunings, you might check out the 21-tone Just Intonation Guitar page.

The Fretfind 2-D web calculator can be used to model some pretty wild keyboards -- maybe it would be helpful for you?
Tres, isn't this 21 note just intonation guy just crazy or what? Kinda like Emmett Chapman and his stuff. Very Avant Guarde.

-WY

Tres Seaver said:
Looks like a cool idea: I think you are right about getting to the sawdust.
For some ideas on color coding for alternate tunings, you might check out the 21-tone Just Intonation Guitar page.
The Fretfind 2-D web calculator can be used to model some pretty wild keyboards -- maybe it would be helpful for you?
Andrew, check out the photos on my page. Many of my builds incorporate double courses of strings, and I have experimented with microtone scales in the past. You might also consider a piezo pick up in your build. Good luck! CHEERS!
Thanks. I appreciate the link to the 21tone guitarist, he seems pretty comfortable with the tuning, like he's been playing it all his life or something!! It takes a fair bit of talent to play something in a different temperment and not have it just sound "out of tune".

As for the fret calculator, I've been using this one . It asks for your scale length, whether you want it in inches or cm, how many equal tones per octave, and whether or not you want to compensate for the fret height.

I'll most likely be punching in 65cm, 24 tet, no compensation, but leave a few quartertones out when I go to mark them on the fingerboard. I'll be using this as my guide: http://www.setar.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article... If you scroll down you can see the photo of the neck with the tied on frets and the notes next to them explaining which ones are quarter tones.

I'm wondering about the shape of the neck. On my guitars they seem narrower at the nut than they do at the bridge. What would be the benefit of this? From looking at CBGs online, it would appear that CBGs don't do this. Why not? This on its own has had me puzzled, but also adds to the confusion of how to line up the doubled courses of strings on the bridge/saddle. Henry, how did you tackle the spacing of double courses on your instruments?

Have any of you guys used under-saddle piezo pick ups? i was wondering how they'd go in a CBG. My main concern with mounting one to the sound board or body as seems normal practice around here, is the noise every time you touch the instrument. I'm worried with an actual acoustic soundboard front and back (around 2-3mm thick) this would be exagerrated more so than on a normal CBG.
Just rescuing this thread off of page 4 of the forum. I'm still curious about my neck shape and under-saddle peizo questions in my previous post. Any takers?
First off I don't know what I am taking about, but this is what I have read. The tapered neck is meant to make it easier to play, narrower strings at the nut makes it easier to put your fingers on the strings for cords etc., wider at the bridge makes for easier picking, more space between for fingers or pick. I think the CBG being a simple instrument does not taper because it was easier to do for the people making them 100 years ago with simple tools and an idea of what a guitar was like. Also the tapered neck is a tactile thing, so you can feel were you are without looking at it ( if you are good, I'm not) As for the piezo they are used commercially in acoustic guitars so it should work, look in the electronic section for good answers to that one.
If you go to my post about the "Chateu Real" build you will see my bridge. It is 2 pieces of wood glued together with a cavity in between them. It uses a piezo that is floating in an acrylic substance in that cavity. It is sitting on a very thin sheet of foam like material which almost kills any extraneous noise. It sounds great plugged in, but sounds better acoustically, when the foam is not there.

I have a fishman under-saddle pickup i've experimented with and it seems to need more string tension to work it's best.

It's kind of a balance thing, for me anyway, the better the acoustic sound, the more noisy the peizo, the better the electric sound setup, the weaker the acoustic sound.

Most 3 string CBG have a little more space between the strings then a normal guitar anyway, so the tapered neck isnt really necessary.

Andrew Fowle said:
Thanks. I appreciate the link to the 21tone guitarist, he seems pretty comfortable with the tuning, like he's been playing it all his life or something!! It takes a fair bit of talent to play something in a different temperment and not have it just sound "out of tune".

As for the fret calculator, I've been using this one . It asks for your scale length, whether you want it in inches or cm, how many equal tones per octave, and whether or not you want to compensate for the fret height.

I'll most likely be punching in 65cm, 24 tet, no compensation, but leave a few quartertones out when I go to mark them on the fingerboard. I'll be using this as my guide: http://www.setar.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article... If you scroll down you can see the photo of the neck with the tied on frets and the notes next to them explaining which ones are quarter tones.

I'm wondering about the shape of the neck. On my guitars they seem narrower at the nut than they do at the bridge. What would be the benefit of this? From looking at CBGs online, it would appear that CBGs don't do this. Why not? This on its own has had me puzzled, but also adds to the confusion of how to line up the doubled courses of strings on the bridge/saddle. Henry, how did you tackle the spacing of double courses on your instruments?

Have any of you guys used under-saddle piezo pick ups? i was wondering how they'd go in a CBG. My main concern with mounting one to the sound board or body as seems normal practice around here, is the noise every time you touch the instrument. I'm worried with an actual acoustic soundboard front and back (around 2-3mm thick) this would be exagerrated more so than on a normal CBG.
Couple of things here, first off is the way the frets are set up. On an oud there are none, on a saz they are movable, as the tunes you play will vary in scale, just like many eastern instruments need to, as the kinds of scale forbid certain jumps in tone, this can be variable, and may seem a little complicated at first shot but in reality is not.
Our conditioning to the western scale has blinded us from many variations...

I play tabla (indian drums) for several sitar players, and thus am subject to many of these variations, so have developed an ear for these kinds of variatins, as well as having read quite a lot of literature on the subject over the last decade or so, but am by no means any kind of expert.

So:- first you could maybe consider creating a fretless instrument with a very low action, does not matter how many strings. Learn to play your scales and tunes on this instrument with some amount of accuracy, then add the fretts (movable) with wire, knotch the ends and use elastic bands or a strong flexible thread to attatch them to the fretboard from around the back of the neck, allowing you to slide them up and down according to the rag or scale which you intend to play. The persian setar works like this, as does a saz.
When adding the frets, you should also consider raising the nut and bridge a fraction to allow for the possible fret rattling to be omitted, but sometimes this effect can actually be desirable.

Second, the bridge you use should be long and flat, allowing the string to vibtate across some part of it, giving lots of overtones. this will take some patience and fine sandpaper or filing, as the slant of the flat bridge to the body will determin exactly how much snarling effect each string will or will not give. Due to the thickness of each string you will need to vary the angle accordingly.

Third, Your bridge should push down on the body of your instrument to create the loudest possible sound, and a variable bridge will not really work unless you are able to allow for a tightest possible fit.

I have just finished a fretless bouzouki, which sounds like a saz (also the tuning, except it has 8 strings), and last summer I did a Vinai from a broken washing machine and some pvc water piping, which worked out really well.

Both of these instruments have taken time and patience, but were very rewarding in the results. Not quite the same as a guitar though....

Making a reso bowl under the bridge may well fit the desired sound....

Good luck, and plenty of enjoyment doing it!
Thanks for your thoughts guys!

I think I'll skip the tapered neck.

I have to ask, what would be the advantage of using a peizo pick up if I've already utilised a humbucker?

DIYDC, we're kind of on the same page. I think I'll stay fretless though. I considered utilising a jivari (the bridge thingy you were refering to) but a couple of things put me off. I'd like to be able to use this instrument for regular guitar music (blues etc) as well as the eastern stuff. Even with my eastern tastes, I'd probably be more middle eastern inclined, and jivaris are unmistakenly Indian. I've only ever seen them used on a sitar to be honest.

The other thing that put me off, was hearing that it can take over 10 years of experience, trial, and error to get even half way competent at jivari construction. I'm just not that patient!!! They do sound very cool though, and I did think long and hard before deciding not to attempt it - on this build anyway.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by a variable bridge?

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