Introduction: Build an Inexpensive Cigar Box Guitar at Home

Picture of Build an Inexpensive Cigar Box Guitar at Home
Hello. As a birthday present for my brother, I decided to make him a nice cigar box guitar. This is the first one I've ever made so it was a bit of a learning experience.

Before making the guitar, I decided that it should be made from either found or very cheaply obtained materials. Most of the items I used were not originally meant for use in a guitar, I don't think I spent more then $50 for all the parts. It's not a dirt cheap guitar, but it wont hurt the wallet either.

Also, since I don't have any big power tool, I had to be able to make it in my kitchen using handheld tools i already had. (with the exception of the fingerboard which i had cut for me from from a scrap of plywood at a hardware store)

And lastly, I wanted to make this instructable because I wanted to share everything I learned, plus to give back for all the helpful guides I used for this project. There are lots of fantastic cigar box instructables on this very site, just do a search!

This project has a lot of steps, so i tried to divide it up in to logical sections. Hope its not confusing!

Here are some essential tools:
Dremmel (best tool ever)
different sand papers
couple of different files
coping saw
lots of clamps
hot glue


Step 1: The Body

Picture of The Body

The Cigar box! I found this nice box at a cigar shop that sell them for $2 (I'm paying for garbage!) Its important to find a box you really like, it will make your guitar stand out! I liked this one because it had rounded sides, made it really stand out.

Since the neck will be glued to the top of the box lid I first made a cut where the neck will go through. I cut it down with a saw and then filed it down.

Next I wanted two circular sound holes on either side of the guitar, this way i can run the neck all the way down the body. I also wanted to make the rims of the sound holes be metal. So i found a nice chrome metal pipe at home depot that had nice rims at the end. I cut those off with my coping saw.

I also want the option of this guitar being played electrically, so i will install a piezo pickup in a later step. But I have to make a hole for the mono jack. Since the jack is pretty short, i had to grind down the inside of the box were the jack will be installed. check the pictures for what I mean.

Step 2: The Neck

Picture of The Neck

The neck basically will take up 90 percent of your time. I wanted it to be nice and round at the back, have a base where it connects to the body (much like an acoustic), and fretted. For the structure, I wanted to keep it simple and run the neck along the whole body, eventually gluing it to the top of the cigar box. 

First thing first, I cut the neck to the desired length. I didnt use any conventional length, i just picked it intuitively, whatever felt right. Then I cut the hole in the box where the neck will be glued. This gives me an idea where to add the base.

After cutting the neck. I started to work on the heel at the bottom of the neck. I cut out two pieces of wood about 4" long from the remaining neck wood. I glued them together using Titebond wood glue. Using a clamp I pressed them together and let dry for 30 minutes. Then I glued the two pieces on to the main neck board. 

Next I cut the glued heel to the desired profile with my coping saw. And then shaped it using a file.

Next step is the head...

Step 3: The Head

Picture of The Head

I wanted the head of the guitar to be slightly recessed so that the strings get more tension.

First I glued another piece of wood to the back of the head. I cut it from the same wood as the neck, and then cut it in half, so that it was about .25" thick. 

Then i grinded it down with a file to make it nice and curved.

Next I cut 0.25" off the front of the head. Then i filed everything down to make it as smooth as i can get it.

Next I did my best to guess where to put the holes for the tuner. I then drilled them. I dont have power tools so it got a little splintery around the edges. No big deal though, it gets covered up by the tuners.

lastly I put in a decal at the top. I put my brothers name. I used a technique i found at .... basically printing it in reverse on acetate, then glued it on with photo mount. Then later, when i apply the finish, it gets sealed.

ince the neck and is complete, i smoothed out the back with a file to be nice and round.

Step 4: The Bridge

Picture of The Bridge

The bridge I made in two parts

First, to hold the strings in place I used a heavy duty picture hanger I got at home depot (sawing off the peg that is used for hanging). You can get them at home depot.

I used a large screw to keep it in place. The screw went throught the cigar box and in to the piece of wood for the neck. Making it a pretty solid fit.

Then I found in the trash a handle that was attached to some drawer that was thrown away. This turned out to be perfect for the saddle, just needed some shaping.

I chopped off the sides, cut it down a bit so the action isnt so high.

Then added notches for the strings using the dremmel.

and lastly drileld a couple of holes at the bottom and screwed it in to the body of the guitar.

Step 5: Fretting

Picture of Fretting

Now for the fretting.

I got a piece of ply wood scrap cut for me to size at a hardware store, its basically the thickness of the neck. I cut it lengthwise and glued it on to the neck.

Keeping with the goal of using found/cheap materials, I decided to use wire cut from a common hanger. I cut up the wire using big wire cutters (later using a dremmel, so much easier) Make sure to cut them a little long, you will grind them down to shape.

I then glued on the very top fret using epoxy.

At this point i measured very accurately the distance from the top fret to the bridge. This is very important as it will determine the spacing of the frete.

Then I went to stew mac website. They have a very good fret calculator. I inserted the length of the scale and how many frets i wanted. 

using the measurements stewmac website provided I penciled the all in one by one. Remember to always measure from the top fret, dont measure fret to fret, this is a great way to make a mistake and screw up the notes.

After penciling them in i used a coping saw to saw little gutters for the frets. You may need to go in to them using a file as well.

Once done, you can glue the frets in to place using epoxy.

Use a piece of wood and clamps to hold the frets in place white the glue dries.

Once they are glued solid cut the edges off using a dremmel with a cutting attachment. Wear eye protects, sparks will fly.

Step 6: Fret Dots

Picture of Fret Dots

I only decided to add fret marks on the side of the neck. To do this I basically drilled holes on the 3rd 5th 7th 9th and 12th fret (double holes for 12)

Then I hammered in tiny nails in to the holes.

Then sawed them off with my dremmel and filed the down.


Step 7: Peizo Pickup

Picture of Peizo Pickup

The Piezo pickup is a really easy way to get any acoustic guitar play electric. Most of the information i found in this helpful instructable

The one thing i'd recommend is getting one that is easy to disassemble, so you can get the metal plate that acts as the mic out. The one i got from radioshack was sealed shut, and i had to grind up the plastic to get to the piezo element inside. 

After removing it, i soldered two wires to the yellow ones that came with the piezo element. Then it coiled them together. 

Inside the box I added loop screws to run the wire, and soldered it to the mono jack i installed earlier. 

I installed the piezo element using a bit of hot glue from a glue gun to raise it above the wood.


Step 8: Applying the Finish

Picture of Applying the Finish

Applying the finish to the neck is pretty straight forward. I used a clear lacquer for the job. 

I covered the frets up with some masking tape, so that they dont get all sticky. I know im probably doing this backwards, but it is what it is...

i applied a coat and waited about an hour. once dry i used a fine sandpaper to smooth it out. Then i repeated a couple of more times. And thats it.

Step 9: Finished!

Picture of Finished!
And here is the finished guitar. It wasn't too difficult to make, just a bit time consuming. It was a great learning experience, I hope to improve on it in the next one. And i hope it helps anyone else making these fun DIY instruments.

Here it is in action:


and electric:

And one more of it playing on video:



naijin (author)2017-09-30

H there, I tried to print the PDF file but it won't let me, is there something I am missing?


MikeWhitfield (author)2016-05-08

Well done.

JordanC1 (author)2014-12-14

a holesaw could be used for the holes

rmedina110 (author)2014-11-01

Well done! One of the best tutorials on the subject. Very elaborate. The steps and pictures are nicely detailed. I'm gathering my materials along with ideas and this one will serve as my inspiration and guide. Thnx!

Nice work. What song are you playing?

darren wolbold (author)2014-03-10

The artical is very good and the guitar turned out awsome

I have been experimenting with resonators in my cigar box guitars but using a tin can lid

Thought you might like to check it out

check my blog out if you get time

avianoguitarist (author)2014-02-28

Very very very nice build!
One thing, though--no need for fretwire right under the nut. They don't serve as position markers, they are what changes a strings pitch when pressed. That one under the nut serves no function.

duane jameson (author)2012-03-28

I've made a bunch of cigar box guitars but I've always use really hard exotic woods like blood wood and purple heart. I always use a truss rod on them as well, so i am trying to see how others hold up with out a truss rod. I'm starting to think i am wasting my money on truss rods. any feedback on that note?

nickdrj (author)duane jameson2012-03-28

Thanks! The action is really high, you can t really play with without a slide. So maybe a truss would control the action better. I bet yours are probably more durable as well, this ones done on the cheap, but whats fun is even if its made out of a tissue box itll have some sort of sound.

avianoguitarist (author)nickdrj2014-02-28

A truss rod does nothing for the action--it adjusts neck tension.
Raising/lowering the bridge adjusts action.

CBGs were "poor men's" guitars.
They had no truss rods, and were built with whatever scrap was laying around.
Todsy's CBGs are no different.

Rocky Stone (author)2013-11-22

Very good job! You should be proud of the finished product, also bear in mind the Golden Rule of making a CBG; THERE ARE NO RULES! Yes, you can use exotic woods, and yes, you can do many other things (truss rods, etc.), but remember, back in the day, you used what you could get your hands on. I personally have used an old wood ammo box, made my own boxes from scraps, and basically used any and all materials that would lend character, tradition, and that unique flavor that comes only with an instrument you've made with your own hands. Keep up the good work, I encourage you to continue and not be afraid of crafting your style. Bon chance!

valveman (author)2013-04-11

Very nice instructable.
I see the action is kinda high. Is that normally where cigar box guitars are set?

sonipatharyana (author)2013-01-30


duane jameson (author)2012-03-28

Like the tone on yours by the way.

Mrdantheguitarman (author)2010-08-08

An alternate way I have done frets on homemade guitars is to notch each side at the apropriate mesurement for each side and to wrap fishing line or tiewire. simple and cheap

how well does that work? ive heard of it before, but ive never seen/heard it in action

Cool idea, I like it!

chill999 (author)2011-11-13

FINALLY!!! A real explanation on how to wire the pickup!!! THANY YOU!!!!

duckman633 (author)2010-12-04

would it be nice if i dont have an amp on it

Phoghat (author)duckman6332011-08-22

I'm on my 5th guit box (I'm trying to make a Dobro out of a really nice Jack Daniels tin) You can find lots of information at

mushroom1225 (author)2011-01-13

Hey, I'm really confused. I'm definitely not a handy man, but I really want to make it. It would be really helpful if you could give me more dimensions and more details, if you could. Or a video of you making it, if you still make them after that one time for your brothers birthday. Like, you could tell me how deep you cut the hole for the neck, and how big the sound holes are, and stuff like that. Please reply!

Phoghat (author)mushroom12252011-08-22

I'm on my 5th guit box (I'm trying to make a Dobro out of a really nice Jack Daniels tin) You can find lots of information at

C_Maconroe (author)2011-07-06

If I get 4 bass strings and a long enough neck would that be a cigar bass?

FIAT RACING (author)2011-04-24

what strings are you using? E,D,B and e or?

bryandhispup (author)FIAT RACING2011-06-16

great question i am wondering as well...

nickdrj (author)2011-02-23

im sorry i completely forgot, ill reply with the dimensions later today...

nickdrj (author)nickdrj2011-02-25

here are the dimensions, i hope they help

nickdrj (author)nickdrj2011-02-25

but use these as a rough guide, these guitars are what you make them, they will still play no matter what size you make them. And as for the frets, youll have to measure the distance from the bridge to the nut and use a fret calculator to get the distances. here is a good one:

mushroom1225 (author)nickdrj2011-04-09

Thanks a lot dude

Decons-duck-tor (author)2011-01-27

Hey, nice, a good bit of inspiration for me.

Do you reckon it'd work if it was made out of metal? I was going to go an old cake tin for the body... would I get good sound or does wood have special vibratory propeties?

nickdrj (author)Decons-duck-tor2011-01-27

Hey, I think any hollow chamber will do, including metal. I've seen designs around the internet made from all sorts of stuff. The fun of making one of these is you never really know how it'll sound and theres no right way to make them. Believe me it'll make a sound, and it'll be unique and loud. Good luck!

friger (author)2010-12-21

Very well done instructable, and a great looking git. I like the sound you are getting from it, nice and bluesy. I have built about 25 CBG's and am using very similar methods as you, here is a couple of pics from my last commission. keep building!

dirtyroger (author)2010-10-11

Hey man thats a great finish on the build! good work

I've started a blog for my first CBG build here

nickdrj (author)dirtyroger2010-10-19

cool great blog. thanks for sharing.

svend (author)2010-10-18

my piezo buzzer has three wires on the metal disc. what wires do i solder to?

nickdrj (author)svend2010-10-19

Hi. i looked in to it on this forum and it appears its a feedback loop (they say its blue), not sure what that does but i read there that you can just ignore it. Try connecting the other two and see if you pick up sound.

hope that helps

Psycho Chicken (author)2010-09-24

Hey. Did you have to remove any excess epoxy from around the frets? and how did you do it?

nickdrj (author)Psycho Chicken2010-09-26

Hi. I first sawed some grooves for the frets to go in to. I didn't put a lot of epoxy, just enough to hold it, any excess epoxy you can just file off when it dries but i didn't have that issue.

Psycho Chicken (author)nickdrj2010-09-26

Fair enough, Thanks for the help. Cheers!

tiny3o92 (author)2010-08-05

hey! Awesome work done hey! Just one question... I saw you used steel strings... didn't you need to put in a truss rod or did the neck held up? Thanx!

nickdrj (author)tiny3o922010-08-05

Hi! Thanks for the comments. The neck is holding up ok, I think that since the neck goes through the entire body, plus its only 4 strings, it doesnt stress it out too much. The action is a bit high towards the higher frets but i think thats more because i made the bridge a little tall. Hope that answers your question.

tiny3o92 (author)nickdrj2010-08-06

Haha no problem! Thanks for the reply. I want to know if I made a 6 string one do you think that would be a problem with the tension or should I add a truss rod then ? I'm just a beginner though but I really want to start building guitars. So I have tons of questions. Thanks for the help!

Canas (author)tiny3o922010-08-13

I know I keep jumping in on these comments, but mainly because I keep coming back for reference on one I'm building now. If you're a beginner, a 4-stringer is much easier to make. 6 strings is very difficult to work with. I was able to build a 6 string CBG without a truss rod. All I had to do was add a few wood ribs to the inside of the box.

tiny3o92 (author)Canas2010-09-08

okay cool thanx for the help i'll probably start next year when i'm finished with school! all the best

rhysc (author)2010-08-20

Would these be applicable? I live in Australia and we dont have radioshack :(

nickdrj (author)rhysc2010-08-20

Oh yeah, those will work. Good luck!

poopsiedoopsie (author)2010-08-12

i wanna make one with f holes.

Frozen Twinkies (author)2010-08-10

What else can i use besides actual guitar tuning pegs? The only one I have found are like $30. Is there cheaper ones, or something else i can use?

nickdrj (author)Frozen Twinkies2010-08-10

unfortunately i havent thought of a way of making tuners, but stewmac has some for under $15 

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