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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.



The above method provides some space between the stick-through and the box surface.  Some feel this allows more of the box surface to vibrate and creates a "better" sound.

The reality is that sound is subjective, and "better" is actually simply different.  If you want to avoid using the 1/4" braces inside the lid, you can glue the stick-through directly to the box.  On the downside this raises the fingerboard about 1/4" higher... and you may not want that for your design (depending on your design concepts).   On the upside though-- that stick glued directly to the box transfers a lot of vibration to the box surface on both sides of the neck.

The result is a pleasantly rich sound that is surprisingly robust.   Having used both methods I can say you will get "just as much sound" from an attached stick-through as a separated stick-through.   For a prime example, look at the photo at the very top of this page.  That is a "neck over" CBG... which means the neck itself is extended and runs clear to the bottom of the instrument.  That is an old CBG design that predates the SlickStick itself.  It's time-tested and proved to work just fine; the SlickStick produces terrific sound.  

So imagine that stick running inside the box instead of on the outside, and attaching the neck to the top of the stick through as shown in the above design.  It works just fine. 

Either method you choose, you'll wind up with a totally-functional, awesome-sounding CBG that provides plenty of space between the surface of the box and the strings.



    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.   (Note:  for a mag pickup and amplifier, electric strings are required, not phosphor-bronze.)

    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.







Customer Photos Tags: customer photos

"Battle Axe" 4-string FlatCat-based guitar by Lucas Melton

CBG-model pickup. Customer appraisal:  "Excellent pickup. Sounds awesome!!!"   I take it he plays this guitar very carefully.  : )


FlatCat on a "Gretch 1883" guitanjo by Lee M.

Notice the common-sense installation methods in the photo below.  The FlatCat wires were run through the guitanjo head and over to the control pots, which are installed in the upper top side of the instrument.  The outer drum tuners are grounded (good choice) as are the strings.  The wires running to the extended, through-body jack are wrapped around the central metal support to reduce RF/EM interference, significantly cutting potential hum and noise. 


FlatCat on a Traveler Bass-- a guitar that has hardly any room to add a pickup.  Customer reports: "This pickup worked very nicely for me on my traveler bass. Solved the problem where the old piezo pickup was too quiet and wouldn't work with my Rocksmith guitar game. Looks nice as well!" - Greg


FlatCat Bass Assist on a Gibson by Phillip Krzankowski

Phillip used a CBG FlatCat to emphasize the lower three strings on his Gibson guitar by offsetting the smaller-than-normal pickup to one side.  He reports being very pleased with the results.


FlatCat-based Shovel Git by Rockets Instruments

This dandy guitar uses a Molten Iron FlatCat and cranks out some amazing sound. 


FlatCat on Jim Hillis CBG

The Molten Silver color goes well with the palm rest.  Beautiful job.  Cigar boxes can be difficult to come by in some areas; Jim uses a cake pan for the back of his guitars.


Brook Williams with his FlatCat-based resonator.

Here is a video from this fine performer, using a FlatCat-based CBG:



4-string CBG by Kevin.  - Old canning Ball Jar opener for the tailpiece (handy bottle opener at the end!), drawer handle for the bridge, walnut neck, skeleton Key nut.



Shovel-based guitar by Ken C.


John Sime's FlatCat-based Michale Messer Blues Resonator


FlatCat Altoid Pickups on shovel guitars by Jeffrey

These antique collectors-item tins were supplied by the customer and turned into guitar pickups.  Customer review:  "This pickup is perfect for my slide shovel guitar, fit like a glove n extremely clear n loud, lowest setting on my Peavey Amp will wake the dead."

Shown:  Standard 3-string and bass 3-string


Vintage 1960 National Gutiar with FlatCat by Mike


I'd like to thank these customers for taking the time to photograph their finished instruments so we could all see the results.  Fine looking work.  There's just nothing like personal creativity to enhance an instrument... or create something totally new!




History of FlatCat™ Pickups Tags: flatcat history pickups


From the owner of Wishbringer Music

    Around the end of 2014 I became aware of flat pickups when I noticed a brand called Thinkbuckers.   Looking further I found another brand called FlatPup, another by the Lace company, another brand by National.  I was already building guitars by hand and was fascinated by the concept, but could find very little information on how they were built. Even the cigar box guitar communities seemed very secretive (at the time) as to the process.

    Research revealed that flat pickups were nothing new; they'd been around for decades.  Lace and National produce off-the-shelf models, but they are very pricey.  There were no patents; the concept of a flat pickup could be made by anyone... if a person could figure out how it was done.

    Gaining little or no cooperation from the community in understanding flat pickup design, I went to the Net and did some research.  Very little was found there. So I started experimenting by the seat of my pants, beginning with only a slight inkling of how these were made, based on non-specific photos.  Existing pickups were wax potted and wrapped in cellophane packing tape-- a process that didn't appeal to me. I wanted something sturdier and more resistant to environmental changes.

    Factory-made flat pickups were pricey, starting at $145 each.  I wanted to build a pickup that was especially sturdy and had a wide-range of sound ability, but at a price affordable to the everyday guitar player.

   Over a period of several months of extensive research and experimentation building pickups by hand, I started developing an unusual design, significantly different than prior designs I had seen.  Not a quick process.  Hundreds of hours were involved in basic R&D.  Detailed records were kept on all attempts-- gleaning the best features.  Eventually, the FlatCat pickup was born.


    By mid-2015 that R&D session had accomplished several things:

    * Considerable improvement over existing design concepts both in construction and resulting sound.  Testers stated it sounded better and was more versatile than other pickups.

    * FlatCats are fully potted and encased in solid PolyResin, which makes them very sturdy and more immune to elements and the environment.

    * Because of their design I was able to create and offer the first low-cost 6-string flat pickup on the market, intended for use on standard electric guitars.  Where factory-produced pickups started at $145 and up, FlatCats are priced at $50 to $55.   FlatCats had extended beyond the realm of cigar box guitars. 

    *  Despite surprising gain in power, FlatCats remained wonderfully rich in tone.  Now the pickup could range from mellow sound on the low end to a terrific natural-distortion grit on the high-end, making it the most versatile flat pickup ever made.  From mellow blues to jazz to country to rock-- a single FlatCat could cover them all.

    *  FlatCat was released in  Cigar Box Guitar and Humbucker footprints.  Both models are aboout 1/4" thick and designed to be mounted to the surface of a guitar.

    * In the electric guitar field a FlatCat could be used to replace an existing pickup (mounted to cover the existing pickup cavity), or if no pickup was present it could be mounted directly to the surface of the guitar without need for carving or routing.  The only mounting requirement was drilling a relatively small hole for the wire, making installation of FlatCats very simple, even for beginners.  (Full mounting structions are included with each FlatCat pickup.)

    FlatCats were released to the market and over the next several months earned solid 5-star reviews.   They were purchased by professional luthiers, cigar box guitar builders and customers  modding their own off-the-shelf guitars.  Repeat purchases by existing customers proved their effectiveness.  

    FlatCats are often specified as the "pickup of choice" by people who order custom guitars from Wishbringer, with those guitars receiving top reviews as well.  

    Today the FlatCat is available in a variety of colors.   Their sturdy composition assures their continued function over decades-- the wonderfully unique sound available to you for your special guitar projects.



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:

C   D   G   A   C   D   F   E   C

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).



June 2018 (1)

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