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 customers who are building their first CBG, here are a few hints to help avoid "beginner errors". I hope these help.

* The neck should be no thicker than 1" total (3/4" + 1/4" fretboard), A standard 1x2 board works fine for the neck base. (A 1x2 actually measures 3/4" x 1.5")

* The neck is the most important part of a CBG. If you're just making a 3-string guitar and two of those strings are trebles, poplar wood can work okay for the neck. But I recommend using oak, hard maple or similar hardwood. Although poplar is common for use on CBGs because it's easy to carve, drill and finish out... it can warp over time. If you're using heavier strings or making a 4 string CBG, you'll definitely want hardwood. If you're building a 6-string, you'll need a pre-built guitar neck or make your neck with a tension rod inside.

* If you want to make a basic CBG, try the design at the top of this page. It is easier to build than a neck-through-the-box design but still sounds great

* If you decide to run a board inside the box.. make sure the bottom of the fretboard is level with the box top... and a full 1/4" above the surface of the CBG. Otherwise you won't have room to install even a flat pickup. Your aim is to have at least 3/8" string clearance above the box. If you glue a 1x2 board to the underside of a cigar box lid and place the fretboard directly to that, it will be too low for proper string clearance. There are many ways to bring the strings 3/8" above the surface of the box. Neck placement and level will be the most important design element on your guitar.

* If you're installing a FlatCat, you can run the neck through the box, and then cut a hole in the top of the box the precise size of the FlatCat, so the pickup sits on the neck instead of the box top. This is fairly easy to do: draw an outline of the FlatCat on the box lid, then use a Forster bit and hand file to perfect the edges of the hole. However this isn't necessary if you design the neck ahead of time to run the strings 3/8" or more above the box.

* Make sure the tuning gears are facing the right direction.Otherwise the pull of the strings can pull the two gears apart and make tuning difficult. The string peg should be toward the bridge, with the tuning key toward the top end of the neck. That way when the strings pull on the peg it connects the gears rather than separating them.

* If you use volume and tone controls, make sure the holes are drilled far enough away from one another. Consider the size of the pots inside the box and the total size of the cord jack, and position the holes accordingly. It is a common mistake to drill holes too close together, so think carefully about parts placement prior to drilling.

I hope these tips help. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. I enjoy helping people and advice is free. : )

-- Best wishes from Wishbringer


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 13), 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).


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