Introduction: Cigar Box Stomp Box

About: I like turning boring things into awesome things! Usually on video.

A cigar box stomp box is a simple percussion instrument that can add some really awesome rhythm to a solo performance. The construction is easy, so it's a great beginner project for anyone that plays music and would like to work their way into the realm of DIY instruments. I have some tutorials for making cigar box guitars elsewhere on my page that this stomp box goes great with, and the electronics used in this project can double as electric pickups in cigar box guitars and other instruments.

The embedded video at the top of this article provides a video tutorial for this project, and a written version will follow below. If the embedded video does not work for you on mobile here is a direct link to the video on YouTube.

Step 1: Items Needed

The electronics I used in this project consist of:

  • 1 Mono Audio Jack (1/4")
  • 1 Piezoelectric Transducer (this will act as a microphone)
  • 1 Potentiometer (must use one with a 5 Meg Ohm rating or better)

Other parts and tools required:

  • Cigar Box (or other wooden box)
  • Copper Wire
  • Solder
  • Soldering Iron
  • Drill
  • Wood Glue (and/or hot glue)

You may also want to add some sticky back furniture pads to the bottom corners of the box so it's not sitting directly on the ground. That may or may not matter depending on what surface the box is played on.

The cigar box selected should be sturdy enough to withstand the abuse of being stomped on repeatedly, but there are no real requirements to it's shape or size.

Step 2: Installing the Potentiometer

A potentiometer (also called a 'pot') is what is used as the volume control that limits the signal of a microphone or pickup in most instruments. The type of microphone used in this project is quite demanding on a potentiometer, and so not just any will work properly. A potentiometer rated at 5 Meg Ohms of resistance should be adequate. It is completely possible to build a stomp box without a potentiometer to control the volume, so don't worry too much if you can't find one with the correct rating. More on that later.

If using a potentiometer, a hole is drilled through the cigar box wherever you would like the volume knob to be placed. It could be either on the top or on the side of the box, so long as it won't be in the way of using the instrument properly. The plastic knob should pull off with little resistance, allowing the potentiometer to be inserted into the hole drilled from the inside. A nut and washer usually come included so these are used to then secure the pot in place and the knob presses back on top.

Step 3: Installing the Audio Jack

The audio jack I'm using for this project is a standard 1/4" jack made to work with 1/4" guitar cables. The threaded portion of the jack is not very long, so I ran into a bit of an issue in mounting it to the side of my box. Rather than mounting it directly as was done with the potentiometer, I drilled completely through the side wall and mounted the jack to a much thinner scrap of particle board. This scrap was then glued to one half of the inside of the box, making the jack accessible while still allowing the box to open and close.

Note that in drilling a hole on a seam there is a high risk of the wood chipping as you can see in the final image of the above set. To minimize that risk, it's important to securely clamp the box closed so no movement is possible. I failed to do so and the hole ended up a bit messy because of it.

Step 4: Wiring

In the first image above you can see the layout of the circuit we'll be using here. It's difficult to explain each step in words but should be quite clear by studying the images. The audio jack is wired first to the potentiometer (wires secured with flux core solder), and then on to the leads of the piezoelectric transducer.

Any exposed connections that are at risk of contacting each other should be covered in electrical tape. At this time, the wires can be glued to the box to keep them from moving around, and the piezo glued to the underside of the box's lid. The placement of the piezo should be right in the center of the lid where the wood will experience the most movement, and thus more vibrations for the piezo to convert into an audio signal.

Step 5: Project Complete!

With the wiring completed the stomp box is fully functional. It can be plugged in to a guitar amplifier or PA system and should produce very accurate wood tones. I most often play my stomp boxes in socks as the tone is softer than with shoes, but you can experiment with that for yourself. For audio samples of what the stomp box sounds like be sure to watch the video at the start of this article.

Though the project is now complete, some additional steps will follow to make note of various modifications.

Step 6: Wiring Without a Potentiometer

As I said earlier in this post, a potentiometer is not entirely necessary. The piezo can be wired directly to the audio jack and it will work perfectly fine, just with no internal volume control. Volume must be controlled from the amplifier that the stomp box is plugged into in this configuration.

Step 7: Using the Stomp Box Circuit As a Guitar Pickup

The same circuit used to pick up the sound of the stomp box can just as easily be installed as a pickup in cigar box guitars or any other instrument. The audio jack and pot simply need to be installed wherever is within reach inside the body and the piezo glued or adhered to a location in the instrument that results in the best tone. Piezoelectric transducers are actually one of the most common pickup elements used in professionally installed electronics for acoustic guitars. If installed with care they can result in very true to life sound.

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