Cigar box guitar

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Cigar Box Guitar

The completed guitar

Owner critter42
Version 1.0
Status In Progress
Started On February 2010
Cost $23.50


I wanted a fairly easy project to do to possibly display at MidSouthCon, and the current issue of Make Magazine had instructions on building a Cigar Box Guitar. While I am not really musically inclined, I thought this might be a fun first project.


  • Design and style
    • 3-string guitar with a through neck made out of maple red oak stock.
    • Steel Strings Bronze acoustic strings
    • Fretted neck (may go fretless if the fretting doesn't work out)
    • Tailpiece/strings mounted on through end of neck rather than on box
    • Toothpick frets and bamboo skewer Nut/Bridge wood chip Nut and threaded bolt Bridge Walnut nut and bridge


In Progress

  • Play!

To Do

  • Build Cracker box amp


  • Acquisition of materials
  • Designing fretboard
  • Fabricate head/fretboard/tail
  • Fabricate cigar box sound chamber
  • Assemble components
    • Affix Neck assembly to cigar box sound chamber
    • Install hardware
      • Tuning Machines
      • Frets
      • Nut and Bridge
      • Tailpiece
    • String guitar
  • Tune guitar
  • Play!

Work Log

Designing fretboard

  • Determined fret layout using Fretfind-2D with the following parameters (units in inches unless otherwise specified):
    • Scale - 24.5
    • String width at the nut - .75
    • String width at the bridge - .75
    • Fretboard Overhang - .375
    • Calculation Method - 12 (no unit)
    • Number of Frets - 21
    • Number of Strings - 3
    • Tuning - 1st String - D, 2nd String - G, 3rd String - D

Fabricate Head/Fretboard/Tail

  • Head
    • Laid out cut lines for clearing away head and body sections
    • Cut away 6" long, .5" section from head end to allow tuning machine pins clearance
      6" x .5" cut from head end to accommodate tuning machine pins
    • Sanded sides of head to allow clearance for tuning knobs to turn
    • Drilled 3 1/4" holes in center of head for tuning machine pins
      Head shaped and tuning machine pin holes drilled
    • Rounded back corners of neck between head and body
  • Fretboard
    • Printed out fret layout and attached to neck. A piece of clear "magic" tape was placed over each fret line to prevent fret template from becoming loose when sawn through
      Fret template attached to neck
    • Fret slots cut using hand saw to a depth of about 1/16" to 1/8"
      Fret grooves cut into neck
    • Filled fret slots with Gorilla Glue and inserted toothpicks. Glued wood nut to top of neck and clamped all pieces securely
      Toothpicks placed into fret grooves, glued up and clamped
    • After glue cured overnight, trimmed and sanded the frets and cut out a slot in neck so the cigar box lid was flush with the fretboard
      Frets trimmed and sanded, space for box lid cut out
  • Tail
    • Drilled 3 1/4" holes and put a metal grommet into each hole on each side.
    • On back side of tail, put in 3 screws with large heads to anchor strings around. The strings I use have a ring-type knob at the end, so I slip the string through the hole to create a loop around the screw, then pull it tight, thread it through the hole around to the front of the guitar and string as normal
      Holes in tail drilled and grommeted with string mounting screws placed

Fabricate Sound Chamber

  • Drilled 4 holes in lid of cigar box with a forstner bit
  • Cut a notch on lid side of box on opposites side to allow neck to fit in snugly
    Soundbox fabricated

Assemble Components

  • Tuning machine inserted into holes and secured with screws
  • Neck glued to lid and lid glued to box
    All parts assembled, glued and clamped
  • Cut a 1.5" piece of hardwood for bridge. Sanded to a rounded point and glued to top of box
  • Guitar strung and ready to play
    Finished cigar box guitar

Future Improvements

  • Addition of pickups or piezo buzzer to electrify the guitar
  • Add more strings
  • Make a finger slide
  • Build an amp (project log coming soon!)

Lessons Learned

  • Freehand-cutting the fret grooves properly requires skill and experience with a saw - a miter box would make the job much easier next time.
  • Use harder wood for Nut, or get a pre-made nut from the guitar store. I had to remove the nut and fabricate one from the same bit of scrap wood the bridge was made from
  • Cut the neck top at an angle and angle tuning machines so they naturally fall over the neck in the right locations. I had to add a screw to make sure the largest string stayed in the correct location.

Bill of Materials

Item Metric Cost/Item Qty Sub Total Distributor
Cigar Box N/A $0.33 3 $0.99 Tobacco Corner, Ltd
Red Oak 1" x 2" x 3' N/A $3.00 2 $6.00 Lowe's Home Improvement
Tuning Machines N/A $1.75 6 $10.50 Yarbrough's Music
Guitar Strings N/A $1.00 6 $6.00 Yarbrough's Music

Total cost so far: $23.50 + tax

Components for CBG Guitar - cigar box, oak stock, guitar strings, tuning machines and bolt for bridge. Toothpicks for frets not pictured

Tools Used for Construction

coping saw

table saw

hand saw


belt sander

tape measure

speed square