Building a Cigar Box Guitar 101

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Building a Cigar Box Guitar 101

This group is for discussing the basics of CBG building for newer builders - where to start, what to do, common pitfalls, tips and techniques.

Keep in mind that new builders can find other great informative articles on CBG building, as well as most of the parts you'll need, over at C. B. Gitty Crafter Supply!

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Comment by Andy Dobbs on November 7, 2019 at 1:54pm
I started out by making a 3 string Strumstick. A great primer for me when I got started. Good luck !
Comment by Mark Bliss on November 7, 2019 at 1:37pm

To be honest with you Rich, that's probably a better approach in the long run anyway IMO.

It can be a hassle finding Cig Boxes in large enough sizes, and you get better choices in materials, thicknesses, etc.

I would suggest beginning with choosing an instrument type, (Number of strings, slide or fretted, etc) and a scale length. Design and build from there. 

Draw up a plan. I personally like to place my bridge at about the 1/3rd point, not centered. Design a headstock plan. Leave room between the closest tuner and the nut. I like about 1.5" factor in the tuner shaft length for your head thickness, and devise a plan to have some string break over the nut.

I use a combination of neck set angle (I like 3 deg.) and offset at the box to allow some room under the strings in the playing area. About a 5/8" tall bridge is a good starting point.

Draw a scale plan, top and side view and the ideas will begin to flow. 

Jealous of your access to Mahogany in Thailand!

Comment by Rich Butters on November 7, 2019 at 7:20am

Hi John Mark, thanks for the very in-depth response.  I live in Thailand so I cant get cigar box's and to import will be a 'nightmare' getting tobacco products through Thai customs.  I know there empty box's but the mention of cigars would raise a red flag

I will be building making my own boxes from Mahogany or Rubber Wood boxes and necks and fret boards

Thanks for the responses

Cheers

Rich

Comment by John Mark Perchalski on November 7, 2019 at 6:48am

One other thing to add, Rich, that I guess we all sorta know but maybe don't like to say out loud (at least not where the box on our workbench can hear us), focus on/remember or possibly that we all just take for granted:

There are gonna be mistakes (or happy accidents if you're a disciple of Bob Ross) and it's gonna be a learning process. I don't remember any of the videos I've watched that said 'Don't start with a rare hard-to-replace custom cigar box that you're gonna regret accidentally messing up.' but I'd say that's something to have a bit of a think about.

They aren't 'hard' to make -- folks made them by railroad tracks and campfires with scavenged tools from whatever was available, after all! But your second will probably be better than your first, and your tenth will probably be better than your ninth, and so on.

So you might want to save that rare fancy Louis XIV cigar box you bid-fought for up for $880 on eBay for a later project when you've got some confidence about how you'll handle the inevitable tool slips and sunk ships and have a better understanding of what exactly you want out of your 'dream' CBG and how to put it together. :)

I like Shane Speal's attitude about this: they're temporary things, they were never intended to be holy grail of musical instruments, they're not meant to sound 'perfect' (although our definition of 'perfect' probably changes a bit when we get hooked on the little darlings!), and you'll probably wear one out in a half-decade or so of heavy playing if you've got a heavy hand (he just posted a great video about the 'wear time' of MDF versus plywood tops).

But that doesn't mean you can't have a blast with them and all their little moles and freckles while they last. 

So don't get hung up on perfection too much (unless you're building a commission, perhaps). It'll strip a lot of joy out of the process.

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard given to any kind of crafter/artist was: 'Give yourself permission to fail, give yourself permission for things to not be perfect, embrace every mistake as a learning experience and every flaw in the work as a mark of character and love.'

Comment by Rich Butters on November 7, 2019 at 1:11am

Hi Brian Q thanks for this.  I have the fret template and have watched the video

Cheers

Rich

Comment by BrianQ. on November 7, 2019 at 12:51am

If you do go with the simple 23” Shane Speal standard slider:

if you scroll down there’s transcription?

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pmzvfyOizV8&list=PLQoYJG1ht92f3gc...

then get this printable template for the fret placement: 

https://poormansguitar.com/template

Comment by Rich Butters on November 7, 2019 at 12:23am

Hi All, thank you all for the advice.  The things I 'take away' from your feedback is:

  • Enjoy yourseldf and just go ahead and build
  • Use your first builds as part of the learning process
  • Keep it simple but watch the online video's 
  • Concentrate and focus on scale, intonation, and neck fitting
  • Early mistakes?  Neck/fretboard height from the soundboard/box.  Paying attention to scale length (distance from nut to bridge) and fret placement within the scale.

Thank you to all

Rich

Comment by Tony Pistilli on November 6, 2019 at 1:01pm

I would suggest that you just build the simplest one at first and once you see how fun it is and how good these guitars actually sound and play, you will be hooked! Don't be afraid of messing the first one up so don't get too elaborate

for your first one.

Comment by MadGomer on November 6, 2019 at 12:26pm

Rich - sound advice below from John, Brian, and Tim.  Based on whatever you have to build upon (be it a cigar box, tin, ammo can, license plate, etc) you will be able to develop a design and build it successfully once you have the basic understanding of scale length/fret spacing, headstock angles, etc.  It may seem intimidating at first but I can assure you it's far more simple than you can imagine (I'm living proof).

Comment by John Mark Perchalski on November 6, 2019 at 12:14pm

Rich,

I'd strongly suggest that you watch a few (dozen) videos on cigar box building, with a focus on scale, intonation, and neck fitting. As every cigar box is a bit different, the understanding you will gain from watching others build experiences will help you adapt plans to your own particular situation, tools, and experiences.

There are a LOT of phenomenal makers out there who've uploaded videos showing builds and explaining the quirks and how to deal with them, but off the top of my head I'd recommend Shane Speal and Puckett Cigar Box Guitars videos on youtube. There are doubtless many other builders out there, and I'm probably doing some brilliant luthier educator somewhere a disservice by not mentioning them, but those two I know have extremely lengthy video playlists on how-to-build and how-to-adjust-to-suit which are extremely useful.

I believe that you will find that having this visual how-to reference and the explanations of experienced makers will greatly enhance what the plans will give you.

I myself would not buy plans on the internet, as there is a huge community with a wealth of helpful folks (many of whom have made videos explaining how to start from scratch). You can always tip those folks or thank them if they're helpful, but should you end up with a set of plans that don't fit your experience/toolset/workspace/cigar box you might become more discouraged rather than less.

John

 

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