Cigar Box Sitar (tamboura)




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This is an easy variation of the cigar box guitar but with a buzzing bridge to make sounds reminiscent of a sitar drone. One of the great things about this project is that there are no critical measurements, almost any configuration will work just fine. The resonating cavity doesn't have to be a cigar box, It can be anything from cookie tins, hardhats to the traditional gourd.

My inspiration for this project is:

The tamboura (tambura, tampura, tanpuras) is an Indian fretless drone lute. The strings have a thread tied on to them to dampen the primary tone but allow the harmonic overtones to ring. Tambouras are tuned in unison with some strings as a 5th above the root note.

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Step 1: Make a Cigarbox Guitar.

Cigarbox guitars range from all scrounged or hardware store parts to works of art a luthier might knock together in their workshop if they have some spare time. What we need is something with a sounding box, nut, neck, tuning pegs and some way to mount the strings. Again, nothing is very critical to the design because all the finicky measurements for tuning and the action on the neck are not needed. Nail a box on a board, add some tuning pegs and mount some strings!

Mine has tuning pegs from a first-act guitar I found in an alley, the nut was another found scrap, the cigarbox was recycled from another project.

The next part is the super simple buzzing bridge.

Step 2: Buzzing Bridge

This is what makes the tamboura from the ukuleles and guitars. Most bridges are fine pointed to prevent the string from hitting it and making buzzing sounds when played. A buzzing bridge is longer and angled so that plucking the string straight up will cause it to bounce off of the bridge adding additional sound into the attack of the note.

The size isn't crucial but the shape needs to be different than a regular bridge. A buzzing bridge will be longer than tall, be slightly sloped and have a rounded edge pointed towards the neck. To allow for fine adjustment the bridge is held by the tension of the strings. You can see in the picture that I put a folded business card under one side of mine to act as a shiv when I was fine tuning it.

After the bridge is in place tie some thread on the string and slide them over the bridge. The thread both leverages the string into making a better angle for the buzzing but dampen the string to let the complex overtones in the sustain ring louder.

Step 3: Tune and Play

First tune the instrument to be in unison or octaves. You can tune to a key pitch or find what note sings the loudest with your particular cigar box and then bring the rest of the strings into tune with that. When in tune the strings have complex harmonic relationships where one string is plucked fundamentals and overtones from the neighboring string will sympathetically start to vibrate.

The rest is experimenting with bridge position, thread location and angles to find the best sound. After you get the string buzzing, move the string slowly up or down until you find a spot that makes it louder, richer, longer sustain or finds some other quality you like.

Patience is the key, it took me 3 times longer to tune and refine the tambora than to make it. Most of the fun and the work is the exploration of sound and it's relations in every small adjustment.

I found when tuned up the best sounds come from just barely exciting the string by running my finger over it or giving it the lightest of plucks. When playing, a clawhammer style thumb and finger pluck works well.

If you watch the video, you will see that my cat likes it. for reference my cats also like to sit in my lap when I play tuba and wanted to sniff the work while I was using the hand drill on it.

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    6 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I know this is an old thread/build - but would like to know if it makes any difference in the hardness of the wood for the flat bridge? (Hardwoods better than a soft wood like pine?)


    8 years ago on Introduction

    is there anyone out threr making a gigar box bass???


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Very cool. I've already built a couple of cigar box guitars and just finished a ukulele, and I was looking for something different. Looks like I found it, even if I am almost two years late.


    10 years ago on Step 1

    First Acts belong in the alley


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I just saw the cigar box guitar on the Make podcast yesterday, and I wanted to make one. Maybe I'll do this instead.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I will have to try that. I'm sort of wishing I didn't fix the bridge on my cigar box guitar. Guess I'll just have to build another. :)