Introduction: Beginner Cigar Box Guitar

This is more of an uninstructable than an instructable, but hopefully my mistakes will benefit other beginner makers.

I’m part of a small group of beginner makers in Atlanta, GA called AHWIG. For our most recent meeting, we decided to make cigar box guitars using Discontinuuity’s excellent instructable. However, since none of us knew what a coping saw was, much less how to operate a power tool, we were befuddled by the instructions. This instructable that assumes the reader knows NOTHING AT ALL about making stuff.

Many thanks to Discontinuuity for inspiring a new crop of makers.

Step 1: Parts & Tools

Parts You'll Need:
  1. Cigar Box
  2. 3' length of 1"x2" poplar board
  3. Guitar tuning pegs (You only need 3, but they come in a set of 6.)
  4. Guitar strings (Get a pack from any music store. Some stores even sell individual ones. You only need 3 strings.)
  5. Bridge - part A: Something to anchor the strings at the top - anything you can drill 3 holes through. I used a small hinge which already had 3 holes, but a piece of scrap metal would also work. One of us used a tiny antique key with 3 holes in the head.
  6. Bridge - part B:  I used a small piece of trim. Discontinuuity used a bamboo chopstick.
  7. Something to make the nut. I used the same trim that I used on the bridge, but in retrospect, I should have used something with a thinner profile. Discontinuuity used a nail with the tip cut off.
  8. Random chunks of wood. An old 1 1/2" thick  deck rail that is angled on one end is perfect. (deck rail = skinny piece of wood that runs vertically.)
  9. Random hardware. The tuning pegs & hinge came with their own screws, but I needed a spare screw to attach the tailpiece.
  10. Wood glue

  11. Tiny hinges for your box if yours doesn't already have them. (heh, heh. I said 'box.')
Tools You'll Need:
*Note: You don't absolutely have to use power tools, but some of us had them, and we were all thoroughly over-excited about getting to use them.

  1. 1/4 sheet palm sander (You can sand by hand - but an electric sander sure saves time.) & 1/4 sheets of sandpaper in various grits
  2. Drill
  3. Dremel tool with sanding barrels and cutting wheels (Mine was the cheapest, cordless version. A couple of the others had fancier ones with up to 10 speed settings. This is probably the most optional of the tools. I mainly used it for sanding the f-holes.)
  4. Clamps (2 or 3)
  5. Chisel
  6. Pencil
  7. Utility Knife
  8.  Snips (You only need these if you're working with metal for your bridge piece.)
  9. Small keyhole saw
  10. Ruler
  11. Hand Saw

Step 2: Notch the Cigar Box

Your 1"x2" poplar board (the neck) needs to pass all the way through the cigar box. To make this happen, you have to cut a notch. Here's how:
  1. Open the cigar box.
  2. Hold the neck up to one end
  3. Mark the width and depth
  4. Clamp the cigar box to hold it in place (I used the hand rail on my deck as a work surface.)
  5. Use the keyhole saw to make the 2 vertical cuts.
  6. Use a utility knife to score the wood horizontally between the 2 vertical cuts
  7. Use your hands to snap out the little notch of wood
  8. Close the lid. Your guitar neck can now pass through the notch you've created.

Step 3: Chisel the Neck

So, slide the neck through your brand new notch, all the way until it touches the other side of the box. Cool, right? Except, chances are, your lid won't close anymore. In order to get the box to close flush, we need to account for the thickness of the lid.

In case it's not 100% clear, your neck needs to fit all the way through your cigar box so that you can drill the bridge into the neck at the top of the box.

  1. Measure the depth of your cigar box lid and mark it on your guitar neck.
  2. Measure the length of your cigar box and mark it on your neck.
  3. Saw several cuts into the top of your neck, using the guides you've just drawn.
  4. Stick a chisel in between these cuts and apply pressure. The wood between the cuts should pop right out.
  5. Safety tip: Always chisel AWAY from yourself
  6. The chiseled-out surface will be lumpy and uneven, but this doesn't matter much because this part of the neck will be hidden inside your box.
  7. Still, if you're a perfectionist like me, you can use the palm sander to smooth out the rough surface.
  8. If your lid still doesn't close flush, sand a bit more around the edge that butts up against the notch you made earlier.

Step 4: Cut the Sound Holes

A sound hole can be any shape you fancy. You can buy a round attachment for a drill in various diameters and simply drill a big round hole in the center of your cigar box. Or, you could just drill random holes in whatever pattern you choose.

I decided to attempt to make the same, superfly, violin-style f-holes that Discontinuuity used.
  1. Draw the f-holes onto your cigar box lid. I freestyled it, so my f-holes ended up looking...well...hand-drawn and sloppy.
  2. Use a utility knife to score your cigar box lid along the shapes you've drawn.
  3. I intended to use my dremel tool with a cutting wheel to carve out the shapes, but I have a cheap cordless dremel, and the battery died. So, I kept working with the utility knife to create rough cuts of the shapes.

Step 5: Blocking

 I'm not sure if this step is 100% necessary, but I I wanted to make sure the neck had plenty of support, so I cut down an old fence rail to make a couple of blocks that would fit underneath the neck inside my cigar box, giving it a bit of extra support.
  1. Open your cigar box and measure the depth from the base to the bottom of the notch you created in Step 2. Mark the fence rail.
  2. Next, measure the width of the notch. Mark the fence rail
  3. Use the hand saw to cut 2 chunks off the fence rail the same width as the notch.
  4. Then, clamp each chunk and saw it to the depth you marked in #1.
  5. Sand them smoothish.
  6. Place the chunks at either end of the cigar box & fit the neck on top.
  7. If the lid doesn't close flush, sand the chunks down a bit more.
  8. Paste the bottom of the chunks with wood glue, then clamp them in place for at least 30 minutes (or whatever the instructions on your wood glue say...)

Step 6: Cut the Tail Piece

To give the guitar more stability, I created a tail piece using the angled end of the fence rail.
  1. Cut a 3" piece of fence rail that includes the angled end
  2. Then, using the same score-and-chisel method you used earlier, cut that piece down to the right depth.
  3. This is your tail piece
  4. Sand the edges of the angled end so that they are a bit rounded.
  5. Fit the neck through the notch you made in step 2 so that it is sitting on top of the 2 blocks you made in step 5.
  6. Underneath where the neck is sticking out of the notch, butt the square end of your tail piece up against the cigar box.
  7. Mark the neck where the tail piece hits the cigar box.
  8. Glue the tail piece to the bottom of the neck in the spot you marked.
  9. Clamp it and let the glue dry.

Step 7: While the Glue Dries...

  1. Refine the edges of your sound holes. I used a dremel tool with a small barrel sander attachment, but you could also use a file. Because I freestyled the design, my f-holes turned out kind of lopsided and sloppy looking. If you want perfection, use a stencil.
  2. Once the glue is a little dry, you can also start sanding the edges & end of the neck. Be careful not to put too much stress on the joints. You want to round the edges off so that the guitar is easier to hold and play.
After you've permanently glued in your neck, the bridge should screw directly into the neck. I haven't attached the neck yet, but I went ahead and tacked on the bridge. I used a small 3-hole hinge.
  1. Line up the middle hole on the bottom flap of the hinge with the center of your cigar box
  2. Mark the 3 holes on the bottom flap of the hinge on the cigar box
  3. Drill small holes through each of the marks
  4. Screw in the right and left holes of the bottom flap of the hinge.
  5. The center screw will need to pass through the neck, so wait on that one.
  6. The top flap of the hinge doesn't get screwed in. You tie your strings through the 3 holes.

Step 8: Tuning Pegs & Tragic Errors

  1. Create the headstock (ie: shape at the end of your neck that will hold the tuning pegs.) I decided to just leave the board as is, but your headstock could be any shape big enough to house the pegs. An example. And another. And one more.
  2. mark 3 places for the tuning pegs about 1 1/2 inches apart on the headstock
  3. Drill holes for the tuning pegs to pass through
  4. The pegs I bought came with little metal "sleeves" that fit down in the holes on the top side of the guitar.
  5. I made a mistake: The sleeves were wider than the tuning pegs, so I kept drilling larger and larger holes until the sleeves fit. This was probably a mistake. Maybe you are supposed to hammer in the sleeves like grommets?
  6. I made an even bigger mistake: I drilled my tuning pegs in a straight line. You should angle them a little. Otherwise, all 3 strings will bunch up at the middle of the nut, like mine did.
  7. Oh well, carry on.
  8. Pass the tuning pegs through the drill holes, then screw them into the underside of the neck.

Step 9: Glue & Screw

This is the big moment, where everything comes together.
  1. Screw the tailpiece to the neck with a long screw. (Yes, it's already glued, so maybe this is overkill, but whatever - if you're reading this, you are a novice like me and can probably stand to screw in something else, just for practice.)
  2. Put some glue on the pieces of the neck that will rest on the blocks.
  3. Lay the neck on top of the blocks and clamp it into place until the glue dries.
  4. Once the glue is dry (at least 30 minutes), you can screw in the middle screw of the bridge.
My cigar box didn't have a latch, so I also bought a couple small 2-hole hinges (maybe 2"?) so that I could screw my lid shut. You could also staple it shut, or use some sort of latch so that it isn't permanently closed.

Step 10: The Nut and the Bridge

The Bridge
If you have no clue what a "bridge" is, look at this picture. For cigar box guitar purposes, it consists of 2 parts:
  1. The part that anchors the strings (in the bridge pictured here, there are little black pegs holding the strings in place.) I used a 3" hinge.
  2. The part the strings pass over (in this picture, it's that thin white line.) I used a small piece of trim.
To anchor my strings, I used a 3" hinge predrilled with 3 holes. For the other part of the bridge, I used a 2.5" piece of trim - similar to quarter round, but it had a 90 degree angle on one side and the other side was curved.

I carved notches in the trim piece for the strings to fit through. The notches should be in line with the holes in the hinge.

The strings tie through the holes in the hinge. Technically, the other piece of the bridge doesn't even need to be glued in because the string tension is supposed to hold it in place. But I glued mine in anyway.

The Nut
Here's a diagram of an acoustic guitar. The nut is on the neck, near the tuning pegs.

I used the same type of trim for my nut as I used for my bridge. This was a mistake. But - the nut is supposed to have a low profile..probably not even a 1/4" off the fretboard. My nut was way too tall, which holds the strings really high off the fretboard.(ie: the "action" is really high.) A high action is good for slide guitar, or even for bowing with a violin bow, so maybe I'll try that before I replace my nut with something thinner.

Discontinuuity used a nail with the end cut off as his nut, which seems to have worked out great.

Attaching the bridge & the nut
Just glue them into place!

Step 11: The Strings & Finishing Touches

So, now your cigar box guitar is basically built. You just have to add the strings. How you'll attach them will depend on what sort of materials you used to make your bridge. In my case, I just tied them through the 3 holes on my hinge with a simple loop.

This site has a free video that shows you how to wrap them around the tuning pegs. It's simple, but hard to describe with words.

Finishing Touches and Final Thoughts

I didn't stain or mark frets on my guitar neck, but by all means do both of these things if you really want to do the job properly. Since this was a first attempt, I didn't want to go to all of that trouble until I was sure the whole thing was going to work out.

I need to fix some of my mistakes before my guitar will be truly playable. Most notably, I need to reposition the tuning heads at an angle. Then I also need to sand down my nut or use something different for that part. The bridge might be a little high too.

It took me most of a Sunday to finish this project and write this instructable. I'm a little peeved at not ending up with a workable instrument, but it's getting dark outside, so I guess I'll have to fix my mistakes some other weekend. Hopefully YOU, by now, having avoided my mistakes, will be rocking out on a fully playable cigar box guitar.