Cigar-Box Guitar How-To

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Blog entry by WhiskeyWaters posted 12-26-2007 06:02 AM 14422 reads 8 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I wrote this article/post/manual for a Technical Writing course I took this fall. Couldn’t think of any technical aspects of teaching, but luckily, woodworking came to my rescue. I borrowed heavily from Make magazine’s article on cigar-box making, but I got a little more specific (I hope), and well, added a modification page from some of the other guitars I made. Sorry, no pictures – but I think y’all will get the picture. If you have trouble, give a shout and I’ll repost with embedded pics.

This Machine Will Rock:
How to Build Cigar-Box Guitars
By: Patrick Waters
A guitar consists of a hollow body, a neck, and strings. High quality guitars use resonate hardwoods for the body and neck, musical wire for the strings. Steel trusses create a consistent tone and certain varnishes and finishes help the timber. This guitar uses a simple cigar box for the body, pine lumber for the neck and mason’s line for the strings.

Before rock and roll became household noise, many musicians had to make their own instruments. Homemade guitars, thumb pianos, basses and other instruments dominated music, especially in the impoverished American South and war-ravaged Europe. Roger Daltry, lead singer of the Who, built his first guitar in war-rationed London.
For musicians moved to create an instrument, cigar-box guitars made an excellent choice. While simple to build, it creates a fabulous sound.

Materials Used:

Cigar Box – Large, shallow boxes work best. Cigar boxes can be found at any good tobacconist shop for little or no cost.

1” x 2” x 36” Pine Lumber – Can be had at any home improvement store. The lumber needs to be as straight and true as possible.

Scrap 1”x 2” pine lumber – Used to make the fret and the bridge.

Masonry Line – A specialty string that will not stretch as much as twine or nylon string.

Various hardware needed for tuning and bridge pegs –
• Three #8 gauge, 1” long, Phillips head wood screws
• Three ¼” diameter, coarse threaded, 1½” long, round head, slotted machine screws
• Three ¼” diameter, coarse threaded nuts
• 6 washers to fit 1/4” diameter machine screw

Tools Needed:

Power Drill
1” Spade Bit
1/8”, ¼” Twist Bits
Yellow Wood Glue
Small Spring Clamps
Tape Measure and Square
Linesman Pliers
Safety Glasses


Optional steps are italicized. Safety glasses should be worn through out this project.

1. Using sandpaper, remove the finish from the cigar box.

2. Remove the lid of the cigar box. The razor should help in this operation.

3. Saw the pine neck down to 36” using the handsaw. Longer necks create lower notes, such as those made by a bass guitar. Short necks create higher notes, such as those made by a mandolin.

4. Glue the lid to the pine neck, about one inch from the bottom (bridge) of the pine neck.

5. After the glue has dried, clamp the neck and lid assembly to the workbench. Place a piece of scrap wood under the assembly to minimize tear-out. Drill a hole, using power drill equipped with the 1” spade bit, into the glued together neck and box lid. The hole should be roughly centered along the box lid and go through the neck.

6. At the head of the pine neck, drill the holes for the tuning pegs using the power drill equipped with a ¼” twist bit. Use the pattern in fig 8. The completed assembly should look similar to the neck in fig. 10

7. First, pre-drill the bridge holes with a 1/8” twist bit, following fig. 9. Screw the three bridge screws into in the one inch overhang. The completed bridge assembly can be seen in fig. 13.

8. Thread the three machine bolts through the tuning holes at the head of the neck with one washer. Then attach a washer and nut to fasten the bolt down.

9. Use yellow wood glue to glue the lid and neck back onto the box. Use the spring clamps to fix the lid in place.

10. Saw two ½” long scraps from the 1” x 2” pine lumber.

11. Glue one scrap about one inch below the tuning pegs. It’s called a nut, at least on banjos. Use a spring clamp to hold the nut in place as shown.

12. Glue the other piece of scrap (it’ll be the bridge) even with the box lid at the bottom of the pine neck. Use a spring clamp to hold the bridge in place as shown.

13. Once the glue dries, tie the masonry line the bottom pegs. Lay the string over the bridge up to the top fret. Then wrap the string around the threaded bolt, under the washer.

14. Pull down on the string, tightening the masonry line until it sings in tune. Then wrap the line around the bolt again and tighten the bolt using lineman’s pliers and a slotted screwdriver.

15. Decorate the guitar as wished.

16. Play guitar. Best enjoyed with friends and good company.

Modifications, Tips and Tricks:

Cigar-box guitars invite modifications. Try replacing the fret and bridge with long carriage bolts for more distinctive sound. The neck can be shortened for a higher pitch. Instead of a 1” x 2” pine, try a hardwood, like oak and glue on a wider head. Add more strings, or take away strings. Use different types of strings, such as acoustic guitar strings or kite thread. Professional tuning pegs and bridges can be purchased and built into the guitar. Hot melt glue can be used to build the guitar, although the guitar cannot stand rough handling afterwards. Use long brads as frets up and down the neck. Finally, experiment with the placement of the acoustics by moving the hole around the cigar-box. Many modern cigar-box guitar makers electrify their creations. The parts are readily available on the Internet. Do not be afraid to experiment to get the right sound for you. Remember, gloss paint and flames hide all mistakes.

Annotated Bibliography:

Ed Vogal. “Cigar Box Guitar.” Make, Vol. 4. Extremely well-written article covering the same basic guitar as shown here. Make magazine consistently publishes articles of a similar nature, from electronics to jewelry making. These three companies create unique one-off electric cigar-box guitars. A good source of information and better yet, inspiration.

-- make it safe & keep the rubber side down.

3 comments so far

View mot's profile


4911 posts in 4033 days

#1 posted 12-26-2007 10:19 PM

This just gave me a great memory of a Christmas show from when I was young. Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas.

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View WhiskeyWaters's profile


213 posts in 3802 days

#2 posted 12-27-2007 02:13 AM

Thanks for the vid, love it.

-- make it safe & keep the rubber side down.

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4157 days

#3 posted 12-27-2007 03:07 PM

my brother brought out a mandolin and played it at Christmas.. we started talking about the cookie tin banjo and other instruments posted here. .. his eyes lit up at the thought of a handmade instrument…
doh…. what have I gotten myself into!!!
(why do you guys have to make it sound so easy…..... why, oh why) lol

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

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