I have noticed people building CBGs with two set ups. One is where the fretboard is flush with the box lid and the other is like Mike Snowden's  with the fret-board and part of the neck a distance above the box top. It looks like the fret board top may be about 3/8" above the box top. Can anyone confirm my thoughts or explain why the two set ups are different? My thought is that with the fret-board above the box top by that much or more would allow more adjustability for lowering the action. Is that true? I figured the set up with the fret-board level with box top would be more of a set up for slide guitar playing. Thanks for any information or advice.

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You will see both approaches used very often. There are many reasons for these variations.

1. The fret board flush approach is commonly used when there is no separate fret board. If there are any frets, then they are cut into the neck wood. You'll see the same kind of thing on some commercial bolt on electric guitar necks (usually in Maple). This approach is good for a fretless instrument since it is pretty easy to build. just notch the neck at the box so it is flush.

2. The fret board above the box is pretty common for fretted instruments. The separate fret board is either glued tor screwed to the neck and usually overlays the top of the box for an inch or so. You are correct that you can lower the action on this type of setup pretty easily. Just lower the strings at the nut and/or bridge.

Which is better? Neither. It all depends on what you want to do. I've built instruments with the neck flush with the box, both fretted and un-fretted. I usually, however build a separate fret board about 1/4" thick. These days I screw it to the neck with brass, slotted flat head wood screws. It looks more old school and allows me to remove the fret board if I ever have a change of mind about scale length or going from an un-fretted board to a fully fretted board. I also like the simplicity of raising or lowering the action with this setup.

The final decision is yours. You are not wrong either way. Better still, build one (or more) of each so you get first hand knowledge.

Thank you Tom for the detailed information. I was not sure because some I had seen on Mr. Snowden's site looked like it was more than just a fret-board thickness above the box lid. it looked like part of the original neck material was above the lid also. They look like the image I attached.


As you surf around this and other cigar box sites, you will see many variations, all viable. The most common phrase I here is "There are no rules" when building your guitar.

Here is one with the neck as fret board.

Here is a slider with a fret board bolted to the neck.

The number of variations to this theme is pretty large. Don't over think it. If  you build one, you will build several more.

Ok. I have heard the same quote referring to anything goes.  I will keep that in mind. I was trying to figure out how to make sure I install the neck to the box that I could build a hardwood bridge with fret wire on top making sure the strings would not be too high of action on the fret board so that I would not be limited to slide playing only. I want to also do finger-picking and chording with a medium to low action.  Are these two units that you made?

These are both recent builds I completed over the summer.

One thing I often do to allow easy action height adjustment is to build the bridge portion a bit shorter than I think I need (say 3/16" short), then use a nice rectangular block (say 3/4" wide by 3" long) and vary the thickness to get the action height I need for fingering frets. It's easy and can be changed quickly if you want to do something else.

That is great. I definitely want to compliment on those two for they sure look nice. I am just trying to figure out my best option to be able to use to cut the fret slots because I want to make a 21" scale length and know no one that sells fret boards pre slotted with that scale length. What do you use to cut your fret slots?

Cutting fret slots is not that hard if you measure twice then cut once.

It's easy to make a fixture that holds the fret board firmly and holds your saw perpendicular to the work. A little 1/4" particle board for the sides and a 3/4" thick piece of anything is all you need to make the jig. Then it's just a matter of cutting on the line to the correct depth.

There are several good fret saws available at a reasonable price.Check Gitty for some choices. I've built a number of fretted guitars, so I sprung for the fret saw from Stew Mac. It cost a bit more, but will last the rest of my life since I only cut fret slots with it.

If you plan on laying out your own fret board I suggest that you do it using a stainless steel ruler graduated in milometers. It's much easier than trying to the 3 and 7/32" mark on a ruler.

I've attached a small spreadsheet that allows you to enter your scale length and it will calculate fret positions in both inches and MM.


Good luck with your build. Post photos when you get it done.

Thanks Tom. Appreciate the calculator also. Yes, I like to work in metric and will take your advice. I will definitely post a photo when done. I just found some nice boxes at a local cigar shop in Albuquerque today and am eager to get the other items I need to do this job.


FWIW, here's the site I use for laying out my frets.  You can use metric or English and then save/print out your template.  Makes life super simple.  I also use the templates for cutting nut/bridge string slots since they show the strings on them.  Just make sure when printing you have your preferences set to print actual size and not fit-to-page or similar. 



   I tried laying out a 23" scale on a board for a neck today and found after using the calculator you had attached that when it was all measured out the scale from the nut to the bridge actually ended up at 23 5/8". Since I was meticulous at measuring in mm and then I was surprised to see how it ended off by 5/8".  I also measured from where the chart showed the nut should be in comparison to the 20th fret. The chart quotes a distance in inches at 15.755" but when I checked the one I laid out the nut to the 20th fret ended at 16.44". Can you explain?  From checking the chart it appears to be correct. The issue is probably my measuring having to use two different rulers(metric) and then using a small ruler(metric) to measure between each fret. If I had used a 3 ' ruler marked off in metric it may work out a little better. I still just have to guess at the decimal places. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.

I've never had an issue with the fret spacing produced from that website.  I do have to make sure my printer's preferences are set to 'actual size' else it will scale the PDF to fit the page and everything will be out of whack.  

FWIW I build all my necks based off metric measurements.  I generally use 630 mm or 650mm which are the pretty much the metric equivalent to the Gibson 24.75" and Fender 25.5" scale lengths.   

Well, I've used that Excel spreadsheet to layout guitars with scales from 18" to 25.5" and never had any error. The 12 is always where it is supposed to be and when I set the bridge at the correct scale length I have to do very little compensation to have the intonation correct.

Without seeing your layout or technique, it's hard to determine where you picked up 5/8", but I'm guessing it is in the layout approach.

Here is how I do a fret layout.

1. Always use the mm scale.

2. tape the scale to the fret board so it can't move

3. measure each fret position in total mm from the nut or zero position. Trying to measure each individual distance from one fret to the next is a sure way to have "tolerance stacking". Never, never try to measure from one fret to the next. None of us are good enough to avoid stacking problems.

4. Use a scribe to mark each fret position instead of a pencil. It gives a smaller line.

If you have any doubts, pick up some white rolled paper from Staples and do a practice layout so you have confidence in all your lines.

I have an 18" stainless steel ruler that I use. That will cover the fret position for almost any scale length.

Like I said, that calculator has allowed me to layout around 40 CBGs and never let me down. Get an 18" scale, tape it in place and mark all from the nut and you'll be in business.


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