I spent a long time searching the interwebs, doing research on cigar box guitars before the Make Magazine article came out and me and my buddy decided to build one. There never really were many good photos of how the strings, hardware was attached. So here’s some photos of my CBG (Cigar Box Guitar) and some commentary on it’s construction and subsequent modification.
Here’s an overview of the cigar box guitar (CBG), standard Make Magazine construction; 2 x 3/4″ (approximate) red oak which is glued directly on top of the cigar box. I believe six holes were drilled in the headstock, according to the poorly designed tuning system, and another six holes in the tail stock. I’ll be detailing modifications fixing those two design flaws shortly.
Before that, though, I’d like to critique the design choice of Neck-On-Soundboard, rather than going for the Neck-Through-Body design. Really Bad Idea. The noise comes primarily via the bridge making the soundboard vibrate. The bridge is on top of the neck (buffering (muffling) vibration between the bridge and the soundboard), which is then glued to the soundboard,
right down the middle, further muffling the instrument. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still about 3/4 as loud as my classical guitar (when you really push it), but the design soaks up a lot of the tone and volume – character – of the instrument.
By spending 10 extra minutes cutting holes in the side of the box for the neck to slide through, you free up the soundboard to vibrate, and gives you many more options for string height adjustment. If I were to rebuild this, I’d put the neck through the body, low enough so it doesn’t come in contact with the soundboard (top), and then make up the difference in height between the soundboard and top of the neck with an additional piece of red oak as the fretboard. By laminating a fretboard on top you also minimize warping when you put steel strings on.
Here’s the headstock, carved it up quite a bit. The original tuner design involved eye bolts with nuts and washers… yeah. You used a screwdriver to turn the eyebolts… it was pretty ugly. And you couldn’t use guitar strings with that system. So that’s what those swiss cheese holes are in my headstock, vegistal remains of the original tuning system.
I bought a pair of tuners from guitar center for $12. Being a 3 string, I only had to use one of the pair. Drilled one new hole, enlarged two others, ended up cracking the headstock (3/8ths inch drill bit). Tuned a lot nicer now, but since the tuner was askew, I had to carve out scallops on the bottom for the pegs to turn, and scallops on the top, because the tuner pegs are only so high, and the hole you thread the string through is way far down. I would probably get singular tuners next time if I had a larger budget and avoid the scalloping issue. If you buy the singular tuners (pack of 6) online, they can be had for about the same price as what I have, but cost $45 at the store since they don’t carry the cheap singular tunes anywhere retail, apparently.
So here is the underside. You can see that the tuners are all attached in a row. Not much to tell here; they attach with three screws. They’re very durable, and holding the headstock together where it’s cracked. Due to the nature of the crack the middle tuner is at a weird angle and doesn’t tune down well, presumably something warped or bent in the gears or metal they’re attached to.
And then here’s the tailstock, where the strings attach to the other end of the CBG. The original design was so horrible I stopped using it within a day of building the thing. Now strings just wrap around the end and under, attaching to those screws. This has always been the ugly side of stringing a guitar, and acoustics are even more sloppy, but nobody seems to car, since nobody’s ever seemed to had a problem with any of the designs.
Anyways, I figured I’d have this guitar for a long, long time (especially after replacing the masonry twine with real guitar strings), so I grabbed some sheet aluminum I had handy and cut some to size, so the strings wouldn’t dig in to the wood. The aluminum is just held there by the force of the strings; it’s not going anywhere. Unfortunately , the other end of that piece of aluminum buzzes against the strings. A piece of paper (or glue, if you’re so inclined) fixes the buzzing.
So here’s the bridge. It’s literally a machine screw. They’re about $2 for 4. The threads of the screw help keep the strings in place. The screw is actually out of it’s trough for demonstration purposes. I scooped out the bridge trough with a round rasp I had handy. Keeps it from moving around. I find that it buzzes in the trough, where before without the trough the string tension/angle hold it in place better. The trough is there solely to lower the height/action of the strings, which would otherwise be way to high to make it playable. As it sits currently, it plays about as well as an acoustic in terms of string height.
In closing, there’s a few other minor details; one is that there’s no proper sound holes; I did drill six small holes, three on each side, but they don’t seem to do much if anything. Someday I may try and convert them in to f holes, but I’d rather put the effort in to a new guitar. I may yet still add some frets to the fingerboard, as simply holding the string to the fingerboard isn’t half as loud as using a glass slide.
It’s a good design (the make magazine instructions) for someone to build an instrument who has never built anything before in their life, and to inspire them to build it today, like we did, but using some real tuners and strings, and also a neck through body construction, would go a long ways towards helping people build something they may play for more than an hour after building it, at little cost in time or construction cost. Strings and tuners cost $18 together, and took about half an hour to modify. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I use steel electric guitar strings (0.10′s) on this – not nylon strings – they’re much louder. I just completely detune it when not playing it. Only takes 30 seconds to tune it (I use EAE). No warping in 6+ months.