Tagged with "how to"
BUILDING A BOX GUITAR Tags: box guitar cbg cigar box guitar how to build building


I build and sell "cigar box guitars"-- or as I prefer to call them: "box guitars"... because they can be made out of just about anything. I've built guitars out of cigar boxes, cardboard boxes, license plates and even Altoids Mint tins. I've seen them built from silverware boxes, wine boxes and more. They have all sounded great. The trick is: it's not so much what they're made from, as how they're made.

I enjoy helping people learn how to build their own instruments. If you're going to build it yourself it's good to know the pitfalls ahead of time. If someone can't build one (for whatever reason) or doesn't have the time or tools, that's where my store comes in. Either way, the idea is to get music in the hands of the people.

In addition to instruments I also offer the popular FlatCat guitar pickup as well as other accessories. People buy these to put on guitars they have built themselves. Some are experienced builders, some are just getting started. For those getting started, here are some basics of building a box guitar-- a list of suggestions and things to watch out for so that your build is successful. I hope this helps in your guitar turning out just the way you want it to. If you decide to employ a FlatCat pickup in your design it will enhance the natural tone of your instrument, producing rich, vibrant results.


One of the most often-made mistakes is setting the neck too low to the surface of the guitar. Here is an illustration of what many have in their mind when they start:


In this concept a 1 x 2" piece of wood is run through the box, attached to the lid. A 1/4 x 2" fret board is placed on top of that. This makes for a nice, solid neck with all of the string tension on the stick, not on the body.

THE PROBLEM: Since the main stick sits just beneath the lid, the clearance beneath the strings is extremely shallow. Most lids are at least 1/8" thick, which means by the time you get that 1/4" fret board on there you have less than 1/4" clearance between the bottom of the strings and the lid. This barely leaves room to strum without hitting the box top, and no room for a pickup (not even a flat pickup).

To compensate some raise the bridge, but that brings the strings too high and makes fingering painful. There has to be a better way... and there is!


In this design a 1 x 2" board is run through the box and about 3" beyond on the neck side. The neck is glued and screwed to the top of that stick. This method allows you to measure the position of the stick-through exactly and raises both the neck and fret board much higher above the surface of the box. This leaves plenty of room both for strumming and installing a pickup.

An added advantage is that the bridge is higher, causing greater tension on the strings, which improves their sound quality. It doesn't really matter whether you run the stick out the end of the box and anchor your strings there, or use metal eyelets to run your strings through the box and anchor them within; both methods work equally well.

A wood platform directly underneath the bridge (inside the box) transfers the vibration directly to the stick, which keeps almost all of the stress on the stick-through and not on the box. It allows more open space on the surface-- which means better vibration from the box itself.

Using this method it's very easy to get an ideal clearance of 1/2" between the strings and your box surface. If you're using the Wishbringer FlatCat pickup all you need do is drill a small hole through the box and stick and run the pickup wire down into the box and over to your controls (shown in the diagram as the black rectangle with blue wire). The FlatCat itself is only 1/4" thick and adheres right to the surface of the box, providing wonderful sound.

If you wish to use a standard pickup you'll need to cut an opening in the top of the box for the pickup to fit through and make sure you leave enough clearance above the stick-through for the pickup to drop down into the box. Whichever method you choose, the stick-through method is a great way to insure you have enough room between the strings and your box surface.


Poplar is often spoken of as a "good" neck wood for box guitars. It is readily available, inexpensive and easy to work with. It both cuts and sands more easily than harder woods.

I encourage re-thinking that choice. In my experience a good piece of poplar is okay if you have a 3-string guitar and 2 of the strings are trebles (un-wound plain metal wire). But if you're using heavier strings or are making a 4-string guitar, you may wish to opt for stronger wood. Although hardwoods are a bit more expensive and more difficult to cut and sand than poplar, the durability will be well worth it in the long run. Just ask yourself the question: Do I want this guitar to last for one year or 100 years? All Wishbringer guitar necks are made from hard wood-- oak, hickory, ash, mahogany, walnut.

If you're building a 6-string guitar you'll want to add a truss system to your neck. Quite a bit more work, but absolutely essential. Many builders who tackle a 6-string guitar will buy a pre-built neck and add it to the box. In my opinion there's nothing wrong with doing so; it's no different in concept than buying store-bought tuners, strings and electronics. You're still building your own guitar, with your own hands, from a box. The results can be very rewarding


The quality and type of strings you choose will make a difference. You can choose electric strings or standard guitar strings, both will work. The resulting sound and playability will be different depending on string brand and size. I can't say which string is best for you because sound is a very subjective thing... as well as playing style. Some folks prefer one kind of string, others prefer another.

The one thing I can state is this: it takes a little time for strings to set in... usually two or three days at least. I have consistently found that a guitar sounds far better a week after I've built it than the day I finish it. So once you've built your git, give it some time. Tune it daily, 2 or 3 times a day, play it a bit, give your strings time to set in. Once they've "set", you'll likely notice a greatly improved quality of sound. Of course, the better the strings to begin with, the better the potential sound. I often suggest trying different brands over a period of time to see if you prefer one brand over another. Once you find your favorite... that brand and type of string will likely continue to work well for you.


The main thing to remember when building your guitar is this: there is no need to rush. Enjoy the building as much as you can, because once it's built, it's built. What's left after that is the playing. Poor quality from a rush job will be heard in every strum. Taking your time and using quality materials will produce much better tone and provide far greater satisfaction in a creation of your own hands.


How to Play a Cigar Box Guitar Tags: how to play

Wishbringer music store: http://Etsy.com/shop/Wishbringer

HOW TO PLAY A CIGAR BOX GUITAR in ten minutes or less!

What first attracted me to cigar box guitars was how easy they are to play. I have played 6-string classical/folk guitar for years, written dozens of songs, produced and marketed three CDs... yet the simplicity of this instrument fascinates me.

I was browsing YouTube one day and came across this video:

(Go ahead and watch it. It's only 4 minutes long.)

So the CBG is an instrument that just about anyone can play regardless of musical background. This delighted me because we've all heard someone say "I wish I could play an instrument but never learned how." Maybe you've said that yourself. The CBG offers an introduction to music without years of practice... and encourages improvement of skills as you learn more songs.

Cigar box guitars are a foot in the door that can bring years of playing enjoyment without requiring rigorous study. They are truly the heart of folk music... but versatile enough to play any style from blues to jazz to rock n' roll.


Most of us have seen a dulcimer, a lap-instrument that is played using a wood peg and a pick. I've always liked these instruments, but they use a diatonic scale (7 whole notes). The CBG is chromatic (all musical notes) and can have from 1 to 6 strings (most have 3 or 4). These are tuned so that a "chord" can be played by placing a finger across all strings at the same place (called "barring" the chord). The instrument is so versatile that almost any song can be played using this method.


This method is so easy that CBG players often "write" their music using numbers rather than notes or chords. No matter what your git is tuned to, you can play a song literally by the numbers. On the neck we start with the nut as zero, followed by fret 1, 2, 3 and so on.

This in mind, see if you can figure out what song this is by playing it on your CBG (answer at the bottom of this post)

** means pause, 0 means open string

9-9-7 ** 9-9-7 ** 9-9-7-5-3-3-3-3-3 * 0


It is easy to pick out songs by ear. Just sing the song and bar different frets until it sounds right, changing chords as the song seems to need a change. It can seem tricky if you're just starting out, but gets easier as time goes along. For those who suffer from being tone deaf, there's always guitar music---


You can tell what chords are on the CBG by the fret number. In the key of G (where the thickest string is a G note) these are:

O 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

G G# A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G

Most guitar music has chord signatures above the music. These signatures will look something like this:

C D G7 Am C D F Em C

All of these represent full chords that are played on a 6-string guitar.

On a CBG however, because of the harmonic tuning you can drop the secondary signature (7, m) and just play the main chords:


It usually still sounds right. So that simplifies things to start with.

When you know where the chords are on the CBG (it doesn't take long to learn them; there are only 12), you can actually read and play standard guitar music books... without the months or years of practice necessary to learn standard guitar chord fingering. Just place your finger across all the strings at the positions shown above, and there are your chords. It's like a dulcimer on steroids!


Now that you have the bascs, you can expand your tuning and playing skills with one little, fantastic trick:

Tune your guitar to D-A-F. Alternate tunings are C-G-d# or G-D-Bb

Here is a really neat video that shows why this works. It's well worth watching. The link below starts playing at 2min 16sec to avoid the unnecessary stuff. Note this video is in regard to 4-string tuning, but can be just as easily used for 3-string. It is my personal favorite tuning and playing method.



There is of course a lot more you can learn about playing a CBG. You can learn fingered chords and rifts and all sorts of things as you gain experience. But to get started, to my knowledge there is no easier stringed instrument in the world. Not only that... but cigar box guitars sound wonderful (especially when amplified), they are great conversation pieces, and they're just plain fun.



* The by-the-numbers song shown above is "Proud Mary" (Rollin' on the River).


This website is powered by Spruz