As if I dont have too many hobbies already, I started a new one the other day, making homemade cigar box guitars.
I have always liked doing wood working and recently purchased a laser engraver, so I thought this would be a great way to combine the two. I can engrave all sorts of designs and embellishments onto the neck and body of the guitar.
Cigar Box Guitars get their name from the fact that early ones actually used old cigar boxes for the body of the guitar. They have roots back to the early days of blues and folk music where people didnt have the money to buy instruments, so they made them out of what they had laying around.
I actually dont plan on using a cigar box for the bodies of the guitars, but the construction and design is pretty much the same.
There are a couple sites that are great for learning about how to build them and all the parts you will need. www.cigarboxnation.com and www.cbgitty.com
My first order from cbgitty was about $130, but that was enough parts to make 2 guitars, minus the bodies, and still have some parts left over. And you could do it even cheaper than that if you wanted.
Here is a video I put together of some of the build process.
I purchased two blank necks that have a angled back head, but other than that you have to shape and cut the necks to mount to whatever body you are using, drill holes for the tuners, and add frets if you want. I figured since this was my first try at this I shouldnt use the good parts. So I actually found oak 1″ x 2″ at Lowes, which actually measure out to about 3/4″ x 1 1/2″, the same size as the necks you get from cbgitty.
One of the fun things about this project is the creativity, and finding parts to use on the guitars as embellishments. Metal grommets and sink drain plugs make great sound holes, some small pie pans can be used as resonators, various corner guards, brass casings from ammunition, you name it.
I can see already that I will have to make quite a few of these guitars just so I can use all the ideas I have for the designs and parts.
I wont go into great detail on how the guitars are made, there are better resources out there for that.
This first guitar was just mainly a learning experience and to work through the process of how to get things to assemble correctly and work on fit and finish.
Plus like any new hobby, I bought some additional tools to help make things easier. Which was good motivation to finish setting up my small building as a workshop.
I think the most nerve wrecking part of all this to me is the fact that as you get further into working on each piece, you have more chances of ruining what you have worked on.
What if you screw up routering and shaping the neck after you spent all that time cutting it to mount to the box? Even worse, after I have it all done and ready to assemble, I plan to do alot of laser engravings on all the parts. Things can certainly go wrong during that stage also, but thats the case with any project like this.
Cutting the neck to fit and mount to the box body went well, still figuring out how I would like the fit and finish to be in the future, but I think it will hold together and be quite strong.
I used my routing table to round the back of the neck and them hand sanded it and the guitair body. I am very pleased with how everything came out. I got the neck nice and smooth.
The next step was laser engraving everything on the neck and the body. I have done hand wood burning (pyrography) in the past, but the laser engrave lets me do much more detailed and exact designs.
This stage was a bit nerve wrecking. You just never know with this stuff. I could have got settings wrong, positioned something badly, or the engraver could have failed half way through an engraving.
Luckily everything went very well. I even engraved fret markers on the neck. I got a couple of the lines a bit off, but not bad over all. I love how everything turned out, and can see this will be alot of fun on future projects.
Next I stained everything, which made the oak neck look REALLY nice. The dark stain made the engravings harder to see, but still looks nice I think.
I glued and clamped the neck and front of the body together over night.
I then installed all the hardware, such as the tuning keys, grommets for the strings to pass through, and the metal embellishments on the front of the body.
Next was installing and soldering up the electronics. I went with a minimal setup on this guitar, just a pickup, volume knob and jack.
I plan to add tone knobs and builtin preamp/equalizers to future guitars.
After the electronic were tested the back of the guitar body was glued in place. I thought about making the body hinge open like a box in case I needed to get to the electronics later, but I wanted it to be nice and sturdy, so I assembled it all so the back brace I have in the back side of the box also supports the neck.
All in all I am quite pleased with how the guitar turned out. It turned out better than I thought it would for my first one and has definately gave me the confidence to do more projects like this.
I need to go back and tweak how the bridge and nut are grooved, I get a bit of a buzz here and there, I made the grooves too wide and the strings have room to move side to side in them.
Please feel free to leave any comments or suggestions.
And make sure to visit www.cigarboxnation.com and www.cbgitty.com if you want to learn more about making your own!