Introduction: Cigar Box Guitars

Cigar box guitars have been around for hundreds of years as a poverty-driven alternative to traditional guitars.

Some people couldn't afford guitars, but they generally had a piece of lumber and a wooden box sitting around.

It is my goal to teach you how I make cigar box guitars.

Materials Needed:

•A 1”x2” straight plank about 30” long

•A wooden box

•Guitar strings

•Eye Bolt


•3 Guitar tuning machines

•Wood glue

•Super glue

Tools Needed:

Safety goggles

Drill press

Table saw



Sand paper


Step 1: Preparing the Box

Find a good wooden box to use as a body for your guitar.

The guitar's neck will pass through the top of the box, so we need to cut the lid to allow for this on opposite sides.

I used a 1"x2" (.75"x1.5" actual size) piece of red oak for the neck.

This will take some trial and error when doing by hand, so keep troubleshooting until you can close the lid all the way around the neck as pictured.

Step 2: Preparing the Neck

The neck is the area of the guitar which the strings will rest above.

Measure out about 3-4" at the end of the neck to cut out a head stock as pictured.

I saved the head stock scrap to test wood finishes on later, but that is optional.

Place the neck inside the box, then mark off where the edges of the lid touch the neck.

Measure in 1/4" from those edges, and cut 1/4" relief cuts about 1/8" apart from one side of where the neck touches the lid to the other. I marked off this section with dark graphite so I would know where to cut to.

Once you have these cuts, tap out a couple of the relief cuts with a hammer and flat head screwdriver. You do not need to hit hard, just enough to break the pieces.

Once you have about 1" tapped out, you can cut out the rest with a table saw.

This section does not need to look pretty, as it will be inside the box and out of view.

Drill three 1/16" evenly spaced holes on the opposite end of the head stock. This is where your strings will pass through.

Step 3: Installing the Nut and Tuners

The nut is the piece which holds the strings in place before feeding to the tuning machines in the head stock.

Find a flat screw to use as a nut. I like to use screws because the threading holds strings in place snugly.

Draw guide lines the width of the screw, then cut down into the neck about half the width of the screw.

Place the screw into the cut you just made, then smack it hard with a mallet.

This will imprint the threading into the wood, and make it hold in place firmly.

Superglue the nut into the cut and clamp it down on both ends until dry.


Your hole size will vary by tuner, but the diameter of mine worked out to 7/16"

Mark on the headstock where you want your tuners and drill.

I didn't like the placement of my hole closest to the nut, so I moved it a bit farther from the nut.

Put your tuners into their respective holes and screw them into the headstock.


Step 4: Fretting is your best resource when fretting.

Fret scale is the distance between the bridge and nut of the guitar.

Simply put the amount of frets you want and the fret scale of your neck. This website calculates the rest for you.

You can buy fretwire online which makes this process really easy, but for my guitar I used the blades out of my old windshield wipers. Simply cut them to ~1.5" segments and they're ready to go.

My neck wasn't quite tall enough to sit flush with the lid of the box,
so I added a layer of 1/8" wood on top of the neck. This was enough to make my fret board flush with the box lid.

I used a laser cutter on cardboard to make a template for my fret placement. If you do not have access to a laser cutter, you can just as effectively place frets by hand with a ruler.

Use a miter box and a saw to cut down equal distance into the fret board at every fret location.

Apply superglue to the cuts you've made one at a time, and tap the frets into place with a mallet.

Allow your frets to dry before doing anything else.

Now that your frets are sitting pretty, use a dremel with a grinding bit to round off the edges of the frets. This will make it so that your hand doesn't snag on jagged metal while playing. (Ouch)

Step 5: Cleaning Up the Neck

Once everything has been installed, the fretboard is sure to be pretty grimy looking.

Take some fine-grit sandpaper and lightly sand inbetween the frets.

Really try to get the superglue off of the fretboard, I ended up using a triangle file to get to those hard to reach places right up against the fret.

Step 6: Finishing Up

Now that your neck fits in your box and looks presentable, it's time to shape the neck and finish your guitar!

As you know, generally guitar necks are not square. They are rounded to be ergonomic to the player.

I used a power sander to take the corners off of the back of the neck, then hand sanded until I liked the shape.

Once you have the neck to your desired shape, rub the neck with a damp (not soaked) cloth and allow it to dry for 10 minutes. This is called "raising the grain," and makes all the loose wood fibers stand up.

Sand off the fibers that are sticking up with a really fine grit sandpaper, or just a brown paper sack.


Allow the wood to dry completely, then apply stain *IN WELL VENTILATED AREA.*

I applied 3 coats 30 minutes apart from each other.

I then mixed an epoxy to clear-coat the neck.

For the back of the neck, I rubbed on the epoxy with a cloth. This provided a very bad, very gritty finish. I did not like the outcome, and the finish felt sticky to the touch days after drying. I ended up sanding the coat partially off, which made the neck really smooth and gives it a neat worn look.

I did like this coat for the fretboard, as I wouldn't really be directly touching it.

Paint on the epoxy very sparingly with a small brush. Do just enough to coat the wood and no more.

Allow it to dry, then place the neck into the box.


You're finally ready to string your instrument and play!

Three string guitars are commonly tuned to open G, which mimics a G barre chord when all strings are played open.

Which strings out of a pack of 6 you use is completely up to you, though I recommend using the A string for your low G, D string for your middle D, and G string for your high G.

Tuning: (lowest string on bottom)

--------Middle G (G3)

--------Middle D (D3)

--------Low G (G2)

There are numerous other tunings, this one is simply the most common.

I use an iPhone app to tune called "insTuner."