Monday, September 14, 2015

Cigar Box Guitars

Recently I've made several prop guitars, as pictured below.

These guitars are great, but they aren't playable guitars.    After a few weeks of visiting web sites and watching videos about making real guitars, I stumbled upon The Art of Manliness' website...

...and found a page about making Cigar Box Guitars.  This website is chock full o' great stuff!  Their page on how to make this cigar box guitar can be seen by clicking here.  Their tutorial is thorough, and easy to understand, so I thought I'd make one, trying as closely as I can to follow their directions....well, almost.

When it came to actually going out an buying a cigar box, I decided to make my own box out of leftover 1/4" thick plywood I had.  This is probably not the best material to make a box out of, but I'll try.  

For the box size, I decided to use my box for router bits as a template.

I cut all the pieces of the box using my table saw.

Then I moved indoors to my work desk (the garage is just too damn hot), and I temporarily put the sides of the box together with tape.

Then I added a bead of glue around the perimeter of the box bottom.

I attached the sides to the bottom and put a few heavy boxes on top of it until the glue had set.

While it dried, I began cutting and folding strips of card stock.

These pieces of paper were then glued and adhered to the bottom corners of the box insides.

I also glued them to the side corners.

I used a few different colored pieces of card stock that I had handy - it won't matter too much what the inside of the box looks like.

Once all the pieces were glued in, I added more glue around the bottom and clamped the whole thing together for a few hours to dry.  The box top is also clamped with the rest of the box, but no glue was applied to the top just yet.

While that dried I went out and bought a few items from the hardware store.  I needed a piece of hardwood for the neck, a hinge and some epoxy. I was originally going to adhere the bridge and nut to the fret board with the epoxy, but changed my mind, so epoxy is not a necessary item for this build.

I cut down the neck to the specified size with my miter saw.  Then I marked the center of the short sides of the cigar box, and drew where I'll be cutting a space for the neck.

I also marked where the head of the guitar will be.  This area will be cut out a little.

I also marked on the neck where the box will be placed once everything is cut.

Instead of cutting out the space for the head with a saw, I used my table saw to shave away material.  I then sanded the cut area smooth.

I used a small saw to cut out the spaced I marked earlier.

After a little tweaking with my dremel sander, the neck fit in the box perfectly.

During sawing, I felt the sides were a bit weak, so I glued and nailed 4 small blocks into each corner to help strengthen the box.

I then sanded the edges of the box, rounding them with the belt sander.

Looking good so far.

After putting on the top of the cigar box, I realized I made a mistake.  The neck and the top should be level.

So I took the neck back to the table saw and trimmed off 1/4" from the area where the cover will go.

Now the top of the box and the neck are level - but the cut in the sides of the box will have to be filled in some how.  I'll deal with that shortly.

I decided next to work on the box top.  I took a piece of scrap card board and drew an F hole shape onto it.

Then I cut it out with an X-acto knife.

I then traced it onto the box top.  I made 2, mirroring each other on both sides.

I very carefully cut the F holes out - first by drilling some holes with my drill press...

...then cutting out the rest with my jig saw.

To help get the best possible shape, I used my dremel...

...and some files and sandpaper.

To correct the small gap in the box I used some small crafting sticks...

...which I cut to length with scissors and attached with glue.

Now the box top and neck are level, and both fit the box perfectly.

Now it's time to work on the neck.  I took my hinge and  marked the holes on the bottom of the neck.  I then pre-drilled holes...

...and screwed it in.

Then I marked holes on the head for the positioning of the machine heads and buttons.  I didn't drill any holes yet, as I still have yet to go out and buy the machine heads and buttons themselves.  The size of the hole will depend on the size of the machine heads I buy.

On the Art of Manliness' page, the author has a link to a website that will give you the exact positioning of each fret, depending on the length of your fret board and the number of frets wanted.  I impute the info I wanted and used my digital caliper to mark each fret.

I then used a T-square to give me straight lines.

The author of the original build uses a wood burner to make each fret.  I do not have a wood burner, so I think I want to use my table saw to make the frets.  To accurately make each fret, I transferred the fret lines from the top to the side...

...and then from the side to the bottom.

Now I can place the neck on the board, face-down, and accurately cut each fret.  I set my table saw blade pretty low...

...and began making frets.  The cut on the left is deeper - this will be for the nut.  The cut on the right is the first fret, and is a much shallower cut.

Before long I had all my frets cut.

I used sandpaper to soften the edges of each cut.  I wouldn't want to get a splinter while playing this thing.

To make it more comfortable to play, I used a round over bit on the bottom side of the fret board.

Next I began working on the nut and bridge.  These are simply 2 bolts...

...that I measured to fit the neck.  I cut them to size by clamping them in a vice and sawing them with my dremel blade.  

These will fit into the deeper cuts I made earlier.

Next I added some wood filler to the parts of the box that needed it - mainly the nail holes and where I added the crafting sticks.

When the filler dried I sanded everything using fine sandpaper with my mouse sander.

I also sanded the top with the belt sander, making sure to round all the edges.

At this point I should wait to get the stuff I need from the music store, but I was getting antsy.  Hopefully this won't bite me in the @$$ later...  I added glue to the cuts in the box and fit the neck in place.  Then I added glue around the edges...

...and attached the box top.  I also used nails to further reinforce it.

My cigar box guitar is really coming along!

I then added some more filler, covering the nail holes and some small gaps between the box & top.

There was a gap near the bottom.  So I cut another small piece of a crafting wood stick...

...and I glued it in place.  I then added some filler.

Then I let the guitar sit for a while to let the glue and filler dry.

Once everything was dry, I sanded once more.

Finally I went out to the music store and bought the machine heads/buttons, some strings, a slide and some picks.  

Then I drilled the space for the tuner's bushings...

...and then drilled smaller holes for the tuners themselves.

I was able to push the bushings in with my thumb...

But the tuners had to be screwed in.

Now it's time to put on the strings...

...and put the bolts in place.

At first I was hopeful that the holes from the hinge would be small enough for the ends of each sting, but that wasn't the case.  So I had to drill 3 smaller holes into the hinge for the strings.

I also had to use a file to slightly widen the spaces for the nut and bridge to allow the bolts to lay down flat.

This is where I began running into problems.  The hinge was too far above the surface of the neck.

And the strings were barely touching the nut and bridge.  So I removed the bolts and decided to use a piece of plywood to make a new nut and bridge.

Since this piece of wood is going to be small, I cut it with a hand saw and my miter box.

I used a rounded file to make indentations for the strings.

This seemed to work well on the bridge...

...the nut was another story.  The 2 end strings don't want to stay in their grooves too well, plus the middle string would not stay centered.

To keep the middle string centered I drilled a hole in the head and hammered a dowel for the string to wrap around.  This kept it centered pretty well.

To solve the height problem I removed the hinge and filed 3 spaces for the strings.

I then reattached the hinge, but on the back side of the neck.

This kept the strings closer to the fret board.

The strings appeared to be closer, but looking at it from the side, I was way off.

At this point I took a break, and simply took a few nice shots of the guitar so far.

After resting a while and closely looking at the guitar I saw that the tuners themselves are what's helping to keep the strings too far from the fret board.

So I removed the tuners and cut a 1/4" piece of plywood to fit underneath the head.  I glued and clamped it in place.

I also removed the hinge on the bottom of the neck and drilled 3 holes at a 45 degree angle.  The strings now go through the neck itself.  They also perfectly rest against the bridge now.

When the wood dried I removed the clamps and drilled new holes.  I then reattached the tuners.

They are much lower now.

I also sanded the area where the neck meets the cigar box to make it level.  I added wood filler to clean up some of the layers of plywood that was removed.

Then I glued in the nut and bridge that I made out of wood.

When the filler dried I sanded once more.  When I plucked the strings there was a rattle to it, so I slipped the bolts in to even the strings out.

This fixed the rattle, but the strings were still too high.

So I sawed off the wood nut at the top, and that lowered the strings a bit.

After a little sanding and clean up, I prepped for staining.

This thing stained quite nicely.

I let it dry overnight.  The next morning I brought it inside and decided to use some of my rubber stamps to make it look nicer.  I used silver ink that came with my flourish stamps.

I put corner flourishes in each corner of the body, and small flourishes to mark some blues scales.

The head received one vertical flourish... did the bottom of the neck.

Lastly on the back I used a "Handmade by" stamp and stamped in my initials.

The next step is clear coat.  I hope the ink doesn't get distorted by the spray.

Clear coat applied and the stamps are intact!

When the clear coat dried I sanded with some very fine sandpaper.

Then I cleaned it with a damp cloth.

I screwed in the tuners...

...and then strung it up.

And I'm done!

This thing turned out beautifully!

The silver stamps really helped out making this look great.

I tuned the guitar and took a little movie of me playing each string.  I by no means am a good guitar player, so I'll save that video until either I learn to play it well, or have someone else play it.

Love this thing!

The cigar box guitar came out great - but I still have leftover stuff, namely a 3' piece of oak...

...and 3 more guitar tuners.

So why not make another one?  I'll start off making the neck and the head the same as before: Measuring.

I think I'll also use some thicker wood on this one and see how that works out.  I have an abundance of scrap material hanging around.

I'll make the box for this one the same size as last time.

But for this one I think I'm going to make the neck part of the top.

After finding all my pieces and measuring them all, I began cutting them out with my table saw.

After a short while I had all my wood pieces.

Next I took 2 of the 3 pieces that will make up the body and made guides for some sound holes.

The holes were made by a hole cutting bit on my drill.

I then laid out where each pocket hole will go.

But before I start drilling and attaching stuff to the neck, I used the table saw to cut out the area for the head.

I also thought this would be a good time to cut out the frets as well.

And lastly I ran the bottom of the neck through the router table to round the edges.

Then I began cutting pocket holes.

All the pieces were assembled with pocket screws and glue.

First was the neck/top...

...then the bottom/box.

I used my belt sander to smooth out the joints of the box that were not perfectly aligned.

Then I routed the bottom of the box with the router table, using the same round-over bit as I did for the neck.

Finally I sanded the box again with finer sandpaper to make it smoother.

Next I glued and pocket screwed the bottom of the box to the top and neck.

I also cut a 1/4" piece of plywood to put under the head so that the tuners are lower, thus making the strings closer to the fret board.

When all the glue dried I sanded all the sides flush, and then ran the top through the router.  Even the sound holes were routed, making a very nice look.

When it came to all the pocket holes on the sides, I was going to fill them with plugs, but instead opted to cut some 1/4" plywood...

...sand the edges...

And then cover up all the holes.

Glue and nails did the job nicely.

Both the long and short sides were now covered.

Then I drilled some holes at the tail for the 3 strings.

I created a bridge using another piece of 1/4" plywood, which I sanded the edges at an angle.

To create even holes for the the strings to go through, I ran it through the table saw with the blade raised only slightly.

Then I glued and nailed the bridge to the top.

For the nut at the head, I'll use one of the bolts I cut for the first cigar box guitar.

Now it was time to drill the holes for the tuners.  This time I'll have one tuner on the left side, one on the right and one centered on the top.

This may look a bit funny, but it's saving me the trouble of figuring out how to get the center string perfectly centered towards the head.

I think I'm about done building.  Now it's time to test it out!

This guitar was a lot easier to string up.

The bridge works perfectly... do the tuners and the nut.

The distance between the strings and the fret board is also a definite improvement.

Since the strings work, I took them off and added wood filler - mostly to the nail holes.

Once the filler dried I thoroughly sanded and cleaned the guitar.

Next stop - stain!

I love how this looks!

When the stain dried I once again applied some stamps...

...perhaps a little too much this time.

But it still looks good.

And of course I added my initials again.

Once stamping was done I applied some clear coat.

The next day I sanded, reattached the tuners and put on the strings.

I wrote on the back of the head what each string should be tuned to.

And my second Cigar Box Guitar is done!

Both of these turned out great, and each is different.  The first guitar - made from 1/4" plywood - is lighter and has a very rich sound.  However the strings are a little father from the fret board making it a little harder to play.  The second guitar - made from 3/4" pine - is considerably heavier and sounds a bit tinier.  But the action is great, and stringing it up is super easy. 

I'm definitely going to make more of these in the future, probably with different shapes and more strings.  Thanks for reading!

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