Cigar Box Guitar, Take 2

Guitar Neck Cross SectionSo Otto and I built cigar box guitars from the tutorial in make magazine… The main problem being that it’s a Neck Over Body design…. which nobody else has ever suggested because it’s a terrible design that dampens a huge amount of the soundboard. Granted, even the Tahitian Ukulele makes some noise, and it doesn’t even have a resonating chamber.

Turns  out, most Cigar Box Guitars (CBGs) use the classic neck-through design, and really, that’s the design we should have gone with. The neck goes through the cigar box, not over top of it. Unfortunately, it takes a 2 hour project and turns it in to a 4 hour project (or 8, in our case, since we would have had to share the saw/sandpaper). So Round Two, instead of a wimpy 3 or 4 string guitar that can only use nylon (plastic) strings, I’m making a six-string cigar box guitar with laminate, steel-reinforced neck to prevent excessive neck warpage, for the full Cigar Box Guitar Experience.

Lots of pictures, theory and diagrams after the jump…

Right now I’m waiting for the epoxy to cure, and then I need to disassemble the neck some. In my haste, I epoxied one too many square dowels to one side, and not enough on the other, so I’ll have to take it apart to some extent, and glue a new dowel on the other side

.Neck, Version A

I think my design is fairly innovative – it uses entirely parts from the hardware store, and requires no fancy tools (On hand I have a wood rasp, a handheld wood plane, hacksaw, and drill). Laminates are stronger and greater resist bending, so that’s what I went with in this situation (and allows me to be modular with my materials, minimizing actual machining of materials).

So, list of materials, we have

  • Three 1/2″ square  wooden dowels (36in)
  • One 3/8″square wooden dowel (36in)
  • 1/2″ Angle Iron (36in)
  • 1/4″ Thick x 2″ wide Red Oak ‘plate’(36″)
  • 1/4″ Thick x 3″ wide Red Oak ‘plate’(48″)

The 2 and 3 inch red oak plate is called a “scant” on the receipt. Also, like all lumber, it’s not actually 2″ wide, it’s closer to 1.5″ wide, so you end up buying larger than you need and whittling it down to the size you need. I’ll be gluing on additional dowels to the sides of the headstock to create a Gibson style ‘paddle’ headstock, but for these illustrations I’ll be ignoring that fact.

Guitar Neck Cross Section
This  is the basic idea. Laminate of Red Oak on top, sandwiching three 1/2″ square dowels and one 3/8″ dowel. The 3/8″ dowel fits perfectly in to the 1/2″ angle iron, so all you have to do is epoxy them together, and epoxy the angle iron to the piece to it’s immediate left, and the outer two sections attach to the ‘core’ with regular wood glue. At the bottom is another 1/4″ strip of Red Oak. The angle iron serves as the truss rod. While it’s not adjustable, it is a fairly stout piece of metal and should prevent any excessive bending over the life of the guitar. Additionally it being angle iron, should help arrest any twisting of the neck. I’m a little curious how the offcenterness of the angle iron will create any twisting due to slight unevenness in the reinforcement, but my hope is that there won’t be any issues. Additionally, the laminate top and bottom should equalize the pressures.

Neck crosssection 2
And now we just whittle away the excess, giving us the profile of a guitar neck, 1.25″ in thickness and 2″ wide.

Neck crosssection 3

This is my first time doing anything like this, but I’m hoping that the red oak will really stand out against the popular “filler”, creating a sort of fender-esque skunk stripe once it’s been stained and sealed.

In other news, I made a Piezo Transducer pickup that’s surprisingly loud… Now I have to go buy a volume knob for my guitar… Used the standard internet instructions for a $0.75 (at this price I bought three!) radio shack model 273-073A, crunched around the edges and the gold piezo thing literally fell out. Soldered the red wire to the shortest tab on my guitar plug jack ($3 at guitar center), and the black wire to the tallest and works great simply taped to my existing cigar box guitar.

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7 Responses to Cigar Box Guitar, Take 2

  1. Dr. Mojo says:

    Excellent into — I’m trying to improve on the two guitars I’ve built and came across your site. I would greatly appreciate a bit of help, if you don’t mind. In the past, I just attached the piezo in the casing itself to the guitar top from inside, the side with the writing on it facing up. If I was to take the thing apart for the next one, how did you handle attaching it? I realize it’s glued, but does that mean just the ring around the transducer or the entire face of the transducer glued? Which side up?


    Dr. Mojo

  2. admin says:

    To be perfectly honest I never tried gluing it. You may try making a didly bow out of some scrap plywood and see what works best for you. I would imagine you can just glue the entire thing, probably resulting in better pickup overall compared to taping.

  3. Many people have found building instruments to be kind of addictive.

    If you get hooked, I can recommend the MIMF forum (‘Musical Instrument Makers Forum’) for lots of mainstream advice. Of course, for myself as a musician who plays two-handed touchstyle on specialty instrument, I prefer Tappistry.Org forum, where there are quite a few home-builders.

    I actually build instruments for a musical instrument company, and you know what? It’s still fun.

  4. David says:

    Steel reinforced neck??? Six strings?? You’re totally missing the point!!! Your CBG needs 1) a box 2) as stick 3 tuners and strings (steel, 3 or 4) a bridge and a nut. That’s it! it’s a four hour project, tops.

  5. mark says:

    can you give me the total lenght of the neck from the tip of the headstock to the end of the box? i have an 11″ box and when i put the neck in it seemed short, i would like a 14 fretter. thanx

  6. admin says:

    from top to end of box it’s 36″. the reason it seems short is that regular guitars have an additional 8″ of “stuff” beyond the bridge – but the bridge is the end of the buisness part of the guitar. anything beyond that just adds flexibility (volume) to the soundboard. my friend and i made two cigar boxe guitars from a single piece of 1x3x6′ red oak. as long as the distance between the nut and the bridge is 23-24″ long you have a standard sized guitar.

  7. Jeff says:

    We are a small husband/wife company that handcrafts custom CBG’s and other unusually primitive instruments. The size of the Piezo (mm) seems to be important, we’ve purchased in bulk from a music/electronic bulk supplier piezo(s) that seemed to be the same (as RadioShack 273-0073) when infact they were slightly smaller and didn’t seem to work as well (though, the tech specs on them were identical)…anyone know why this is and what the optimum mm is?

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