Build an Inexpensive Cigar Box Guitar at Home




Introduction: 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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:

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    12 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    Reply 2 years ago

    Hi there, I finished my first cigar box guitar last year. It was built with found items including most of the functioning guitar parts. The only set information I used was for the. Frets. Sound hole was the size of the hole cutter I had handy. I have 10 cigar boxes at home and all of the boxes are different. Wood size for the necks are pretty consistent but this kind of project is about doing what you can to make the guitar work specific measurements are in some ways not possible. I would suggest buying the Brits you need and if you find your self falling short somewhere ... Just improvise


    11 years ago on Introduction

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


    Reply 3 years ago

    You would need a larger body as well. The tuners would need to be meant for a bass though.


    4 years ago

    I am no expert but from the other instructables they say measure distance from nut to bridge for the calculation


    Question 5 years ago on Step 9

    Would you call it a Bass because it only has 4 strings, or would you call it a guitar?


    Answer 5 years ago

    I don't think the number of strings defines the type of instrument, it has more to do with tone. Its pretty high pitched so I wouldn't call it a bass, it resembles a guitar or ukelele more I think. I've seen people make these out of trunks that produce a much deeper tone, I would call those a bass.


    5 years ago

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



    8 years ago on Step 1

    a holesaw could be used for the holes


    8 years ago on Introduction

    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!

    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
    duane jameson

    11 years ago on Step 9

    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?


    Reply 11 years ago on Step 9

    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.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

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


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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
    Rocky Stone

    9 years ago on Step 9

    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!