Instructables
Picture of Building an Electric, Cigar Box Ukulele
In this Instructable, I will be documenting my first attempt to build a Cigar Box Ukulele. It's a work in progress, so I will be updating this Instructable along the way. Feedback is appreciated. My Cigar Box Uke will actually be built from a wine box not a cigar box, but Wine Box Ukulele just doesn't roll off the toungue as well. This is a wood box that held two bottles of wine, not a box from a box of wine. Cardboard just wouldn't sound the same (although... having a spigot on my ukulele might be something to think about for next time...) I think I'll call this one a "Winolele" due to the source.
 
The origin of cigar box instruments is in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when around the time of the Civil War there were many people seeking to express themselves through music but could not afford to buy real musical instruments. Later, home built, Cigar box instruments where especially important in the rise of the Blues as they provided an accessable means to create great music. Instruments as simple as a box, broom handle and string were enough for some people to find inspiration and create great music by simple means.

Some of the great pioneers of rock n roll started with a simple cigar box instrument, pioneers of rock n’ roll such as Carl Perkins, blues greats like Lightin’ Hopkins, B.B. King, Blind Willie Johnson and Charlie Christian all started with a Cigar Box Guitar. The great B.B. King did not start with a Gibson but a homemade cigar box guitar that his father made for him in his shed.







Step 1: Part Sources- The Box

Picture of Part Sources- The Box
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I got this at the Liquor Barn. $13 bucks for the box and two bottles of wine! I was ready to pay this much for a cigar box on ebay until I saw this. The box even has tounge and grooved corners for added strength. Plywood, not solid wood, but it is about 1/4" thick on all sides and acts like it will have a good sound.
 
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Why two piezo discs instead of just 1?

freeza362 years ago
yeah a video would be nice...
FOUL! You can NOT post an instuctable concerning an electric ukulele without an accompanying video of you jamming on it. ....It's in the instructables by-laws, dude, or at least, it ought to be.
snworks3 years ago
I'm puzzled by your talk about choosing a scale length. You purchased a fretted fingerboard - the frets are spaced for a specific scale length which the supplier would have given you. You have to use this scale length or the uke will not play in tune as you go up the neck. Even a small deviation from correct scale length will mean higher notes will not be in tune with lower ones.
paulbsa (author)  snworks3 years ago
Even when using a pre-built fretboard you still have to determine the correct scale length when placing the bridge. A tenor scale length is, according to most sources, between 17 and 18 inches so I wouldn't call going with a 17 3/8" scale length a deviation. If I was building a high end, all solid wood, traditional style Koa ukulele and not a cigar box uke built from a plywood wine box, I might have been a little more particular on getting exact intonation issues worked out.
snworks paulbsa3 years ago
Hi Paul, I'm a pro woodworker and luthier - with all sincerity and respect I think you are missing something in the scale length concept. When they say "between 17 and 18 inches" that is the range for the instrument. Three Ukes with 17" , 17 ½" and 18"scale lengths will each have a different fretboard. Between the shorter and longer, the location of the 12th fret is different by half an inch. Yes, you need to determine the saddle location, but the determination doesn't come from the typical range for the tenor - it comes from the fretboard you are going to use! No reason that the funkiest of homebuilt ukeleles should not play in tune. If it's off by 1/4 inch, it's WAY off. To locate the saddle, you measure the distance from the nut to the 12th fret, and double that, plus a little extra for compensation - maybe 3/32" .
The compensation is to allow for tension added when the string is squeezed down. That gets you the basic location. For those who want to get particular about exact intonation, you shape the top of the saddle, if necessary.
To test an instrument that is strung to pitch, you play a harmonic at the 12th fret by lightly touching there and plucking the string, then you press down on the 12th fret and pluck. The harmonic and the fretted note should be the same - if you mostly play chords down near the nut, then "close" is close enough.
paulbsa (author)  snworks3 years ago
I appreciate your input. You are correct. This is my first build, and for a chord strummer like me who is usually near the nut most of time. It sounds pretty good. Next build I'll get more exact. I'll have to measure the nut to 12th location tonight to see how close I actually am, but I think it's definitely in the ballpark.
BobCat3 years ago
I'd love to hear you play it - can you make a video?
paulbsa (author)  BobCat3 years ago
I'll try and get a video posted this week. I've got a cigar box amp I built that I need to post the Instructable for, so maybe I'll do a two-fer.
WireMySoul3 years ago
This is really brilliant! I sure would like to hear it played though! How 'bout a video or sound byte?
paulbsa (author)  WireMySoul3 years ago
I'll try and get a video posted this week. I've got a cigar box amp I built that I need to post the Instructable for, so maybe I'll do a two-fer.
jackg3 years ago
very, very nice,

love the 'face' on the instrument
paulbsa (author)  jackg3 years ago
Ha! I hadn't thought of that, but now if I ever build a steampunk robot, I've already got a head for it.
snworks3 years ago
Great build! Kudos for jumping in and doing it. Wine box is great idea and I like the crumb cups.
For those following in these footsteps, i would encourage going the "bolted only" route for the neck. Years down the road there may be a reason to take it apart for repair. If gluing, go with hide glue, which can be steamed off. Even high-end guitars like Taylors use a dry, bolted neck/body joint.
paulbsa (author)  snworks3 years ago
This is a great suggestion and one that I had already decided to use on future ukes.
Yeah, nice job ! but as same as friger, i think that home made parts are better. Also for pick-up wich is really simple to make (see on instructables, many tutorials. An sorry for my english, i'm french.
friger3 years ago
Bravo, well done! For your next build, and you know there will be another, try making your own neck and bridge. You get so much more satisfaction when you build the majority of the parts.

I really like your choice of tuners too.