I just bought a box full of CGB building books, and I must say I'm disappointed. I taught electronics, computers, and networking. I am particular about training aids, and I have high expectations. I am in the process of designing training aids that that meet the standards my employers had for instruction:

People who have no idea how hard instructing is should say "you're just saying common sense things. It's all obvious". If clueless people say that, you have presented all essential information, in the right order, in a clear and lucid manner, and you made it look easy. If you teach a thing well, the person you taught should be able to teach someone else. High quality training is a force multiplier.

I am still in the research stage, so there is no need to ask "If you know so much why don't you write it yourself?". I'm here to make suggestions, and request suggestions, for the encyclopedic textbook that has not yet been written, on the topic of designing and building three string guitars.

if any readers have one or more of the various DVDs that contain the information sought below, please tell me. There are way too many to buy them all and find a vast overlap of material, and an equally vast overlap of overlooked material.




If I had my way, a book about constructing three string cigars would have one each, and in this order:

  • stick on top fretless
    fretless acoustic, neck in box
    fretted with a piezo pickup
    resonator with a single coil magnetic pickup
    Cadillac Eldorado with a single coil, a humbucker, a piezo, an equalizer for the piezo, and a switch that lets you combine them
    a cigar box bass, an ammo box three string and bass, a mandolin and a ukulele would be nice add ons but not core material

a proper textbook would go into detail about things like:

  • how to brace a neck to work with a dog bowl resonator
    where to place pickups
    how to mount pickups
    how to wire pickups in single and multiple combinations
    the purpose of a lid recess
    how to attach the neck to the box
    what size boxes to use
    why there are left and right tuners, and how to tell them apart.
    back angle
    the smallest useful box size, what box to use for a resonator, the effect of box dimensions on sound
    can sound holes be too big?

much of this is available on youtube, but too many CGB youtubers have quirky idiosyncrasies that make think I'm at a family reunion of uncles from way back in the hills.

One book mentions the lid recess in the caption to a picture. The rest, bupkis. Another book shows gluing the lid to the neck, and the neck to the box. not one mention of the difference between a drop in lid and a boite nature, that I have found.

do any readers have any suggestions or requests for this purely hypothetical encyclopedic tome?

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  • That is a long list of topics and it doesn’t even address differing scale lengths, strings types and weights (steel, classical, fishing line, trimmer line, …), string counts (1, 2, 3, …) and tunings all of which affect tone and playability of CBGs.

    That is the cool thing about building CBGs, there is pretty much an infinite number of combinations to experiment with as opposed to just copying Martin, Fender, and other popular acoustic and electric instrument designs. Most of us just go where our imaginations lead us spurred on by the interesting things we see other builders do to inspire us. And typically there are failures along the way, all part of the joy of creative building, often without any real detailed plan.

    it’s just fun trying stuff out to see what happens and sharing it here with others!

    • I have found that once you know your subject good enough to teach it and begin instructing suddenly you start learning it really good,even discovering new things that escaped you before,things that aren’t in the manuals.

    • I agree completely! I have done Intro to Cigar Box Guitars classes for the Seniors program at Spokane Community College and it was a learning experience each time.

  • "the tradition of building Cigar Box Guitars is far less rigid and that’s why we enjoy it."

    Exactly!  This can be/is an art form limited only by one's imagination.

  • Hi,

    I was not going to address this post as I knew that my contribution would be too long. But as other members feel the same as me- I thought they would - have covered, in part, what I wished to say so this post could be shorter.

    1 – Anybody who thinks that one person can have enough skills, experience, and knowledge on any instrument building or repair subject to include it all in one manual, or even two or three volumes, is, I think deluding themselves.
    I have many hundreds of books, saved articles, journals, and publications on the subject, and can tell you confidently you will not get all the full story from even five of those authors/luthiers. The subject is too vast.

    2 – Unlike the building of orchestral instruments, and many other types of instruments that follow strict -ish guidelines based on science and physics, the tradition of building Cigar Box Guitars is far less rigid and that’s why we enjoy it.
    Don’t forget I C P “found materials” is the name of the game. Once you have found them and when you understand the basic principles of construction, find your own solutions. The solutions I think are in the many ideas put forward by many people that stem from their firsthand experience.

    3 – Training… well here’s a subject I could go on about for hours.
    *I have found that just because a person is good at their chosen endeavor does not necessarily make them suitable as a trainer.
    *And, having been a trainer of young teenagers and adults for over 25 years before retiring, in my experience I did not find training hard at all.
    Planning. Once I had itemized the task and broken it down into easily achievable steps, observed the learner, and identified their learning style, it was full steam ahead. I kept in mind that my high expectations for one person may be different for the next. Both will become richer for the training, but one may take longer to get there.

    4 – Haha, too much already. Anyway, that textbook you speak I C P of may have already been written, it's in many volumes by many people…. and still being written.
    Sorry, but wait there’s more…. My son is building full-size acoustic guitars now. He started with a book from Gitty that I sent him, Cigar Box Guitars by David Sutton. He built four CBG’s then moved on to full guitars. There’s more than enough in that one book to get one started.

  • hypotheticaly you should just stick to your "electronic's,computer's and networking",

  • Ok... first off... it's CBG (Cigar Box Guitar).  ;-)

    Secondly, speaking only for myself of course, if I had had the sort of book you are talking about then I wouldn't still be building instruments. I'd have stopped after the first few out of boredom... I'm a tinkerer, not an assembly line worker. lol

    The majority of the joy that I get out of this hobby is from figuring things out through experimentation and using logic to overcome the obstacles of turning junk into music.

    To my mind, having a clear plan to transform a pile of wood/junk/metal bits into a playable instrument kind of goes against the whole ethos and history of the craft.

    The only things I really needed to know at the start was that although "there are no rules" in CGB building, there are Laws(of physics)... scale length, fret placement, break angles, string tensions, etc., that can't be broken.

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