Everything Cigar Box Guitar – How to Build, How to Play, News & More

Cigar Box InstrumentsWelcome to CigarBoxGuitar.com, the headquarters of all things related to Cigar Box Guitars and the homemade/handmade music revolution! 

Here are some handy links to help you find what you need on this site:

Blank 3-string Tablature Sheet for Cigar Box Guitar Tab

Blank 3-string Tab SheetWe just added a nice new freebie to the knowledgebase library: a blank tab sheet for 3-string cigar box guitars that you can download and print out for making your own tab! C. B. Gitty created this a while back for working out some of the tab that gets posted here in CigarBoxGuitar.com, and now you can use it too. Just click the image to the left to view the knowledgebase entry, then you can download the tab sheet itself for printing or sharing. Enjoy!

3 New Cigar Box Ukulele Lessons: In the Pines, Midnight Special and Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die

One-hand Dan RussellWe’ve just added three new video how-to lessons for Cigar Box Ukulele to the knowledgebase. Dan walks you through playing these three songs with his usual wit and gusto. Two of them are old traditional songs that have been recorded many times over the years, and the third one is a much more recent composition by none other than Willie Nelson.

Click the links below to see the knowledgebase entries for each of these three lessons:

Daily Tip: Choosing a Volume Pot for your Cigar Box Guitar

A 500KOhm Potentiometer Volume Control for Cigar Box GuitarsYou can use either 250KOhm, 500KOhm or 1000KOhm (1MOhm) audio-taper potentiometers (pots) for disk piezo volume controls in cigar box guitars. C. B. Gitty recommends the 500KOhm, but it is always good to do some experimenting to discover your own preferences.

To learn much more about wiring cigar box guitars with piezos and magnetic pickups, check out the related category in our knowledgebase!

Photo of Ballet Dancers from 1924 with a Cigar Box Guitar

Here’s a neat old photograph from our Vintage Photos archive. It was originally a black and white and was colorized at some point. The caption on the original read “These are dancers of the National American Ballet in 1924, relaxing with some music in a meadow in their down time.” Notice the girl in the center with the cigar box guitar!

1924 Ballet Troup with Cigar Box Guitar - Colorized

You can see more cool pictures of cigar box guitars and other homemade instruments in the Vintage Photos section of our knowledgebase

Daily Tip: Use Hot Glue to hold Sound Hole Inserts in place on Cigar Box Guitars

Cigar Box Guitar Sound Hole GrommetWhen using grommets as sound hole inserts on cigar box guitars, a great way to hold them in place is to drill a hole of appropriate size and then use hot glue from the back to cement it in place.

Try to keep the hot glue from getting into the opening of the grommet, to keep it from being visible from the front of the guitar. If you do get a little messy, use a sharp razor to trim the excess away.

For more ideas on how to add some decorative “bling” to your next cigar box guitar build, check out this knowledgebase article.

A Cigar Box Guitar in a 1942 Spike Jones Music Video? Why not!

Spike Jones Pass the Biscuits Mirandy 1942Check out this recent addition to our knowledgebase to check out this old “music video” (they called them Soundies back then) from 1942, where Spike Jones and his band play an old hillbilly favorite “Pass the Biscuits Mirandy”. Shane Speal recently discovered this vid, and noticed that a cigar box guitar is part of the collection of homemade and impromptu instruments being played by the band in the video!

This is a great historical artifact… who knew they were even making music videos back in 1942, let alone including cigar box guitars in them!

Daily Tip: Using Threaded Rods as Nuts and Bridges on Cigar Box Guitars

ThreadedRodNutThreaded rods are a popular choice for both nuts and bridges on cigar box guitars. If you are going to use a threaded rod as your nut, and you are concerned about getting intonation just right (whether you have a fully fretted neck or just have fret locations marked), always remember that the scale length is based on the vibrating length of the string.

This means it starts being measured from the point where the string leaves the nut and bridge. Because threaded rods are round, you might have to adjust their location slightly to make sure the string is losing contact with them at the same point it would with a standard rectangular/angled nut or bridge.

Daily Tip: Better Tone from Disk Piezos

50-038-01 Product Image 1Here’s a quick tip for “toning down” a disk piezo in your cigar box guitar, if you are getting too much noise, feedback or if it is just too treble-heavy.

Try soldering a 0.01 uF (microfarad) capacitor from the positive to ground legs of the output jack. This capacitor will shunt some of the higher-frequency signal to ground, and can really help tame an overly hot piezo.

Daily Tip: The Most Popular Tuning for Cigar Box Guitars

Open G GDG Cigar Box Guitar StringsOpen G “GDG” is one of the most popular tunings (if not THE most popular) for 3-string cigar box guitars. For a CBG with a scale length between 24 and 26 inches, use these string sizes: .042” (Low G), .030” (Middle D), .009” (High G). This is one of our most popular Southbound String Co. string sets.

We have much more info about strings and tunings for cigar box guitars in our knowledgebase. Click here to browse through them.

Daily Tip: Using Rod Piezos in Cigar Box Guitars

Rod Piezos in Cigar Box GuitarsRod piezos are not as sensitive (or “hot”) as disk piezos. They work best when built into a cigar box guitar (or store-bought guitar) bridge, with the saddle pressing directly down on them so they get as much direct pressure and vibration from the strings as possible.

For much more info about rod piezos, be sure to check out this article in our knowledgebase.

Daily Tip: Install your Tuners on the Correct Side

Tip_2When mounting open-gear tuners in cigar box guitars and other handmade instruments, always make sure to drill your holes as perfectly perpendicular to the back of the headstock as possible. Also, make sure you mount the tuners so that the gear is aligned towards the body of the instrument, not the top of the headstock.

For more info on how to mount these tuners, check out this video how-to in our knowledgebase.

Daily Tip: Easy Cigar Box Guitar Headstock Veneers

Cigar Box Thin Wood InsertsThe thin wooden separator sheets that are often found in cigar boxes are usually made out of mahogany or spanish cedar. These make great “quick and easy” headstock veneers for cigar box guitars!

Just put down a thin spread of wood glue and clamp them on, then sand it flush once dry.

Daily Tip: Picking the Right Strings for your Cigar Box Guitars

Nickel-wound Electric Guitar StringsIf you keep breaking a string trying to get it up to pitch on your cigar box guitar, try moving a gauge or too smaller. For example if you are trying to get a .012” plain steel string up to high G and it snaps, try a .011 or .010” instead. In general, smaller = higher, larger = lower in terms of strings, pitch and optimal tension. Check out our knowledgebase articles about strings to learn more!

You can also make it easy on yourself by grabbing some of string sets for cigar box guitars available from the Southbound String Company, from C. B. Gitty.

Daily Tip: How to play “Smoke on the Water” On your 3-string Cigar Box Guitar

DeepPurpleWant to play the opening riff to “Smoke on the Water” on a 3-string cigar box guitar tuned to Open G GDG? Just use your index finger to “bar” (hold down) all three strings, and move it as follows while strumming:

Open / 3 / 5 / Open / 3 / 6 / 5 / Open / 3 / 5 / 3 / Open.

You can also sing along! DAH DAH DUHN, DAH DAH DAH DUHN, DAH DAH DUHN, DAH DUHN (dundundundun).

Daily Tip: What is a Diatonic Scale?

Fretting Scale TemplateFretting your cigar box guitar diatonically can be a nice alternative when building. But a lot of people are not clear on what it is.

A diatonic scale sounds like the familar “DO-RE-MI” scales we learned as kids. It contains only the “whole” tones of the scale, with no “accidentals” (sharp or flat notes that are outside of the primary scale). A chromatic scale on the other hand gives you all of the “extra” notes as well, and though it sounds much less pleasant when played from low to high, it presents a lot more flexibility when playing music.

For more information on this topic, check out our knowledgebase article.

Daily Tip: Open-gear vs. Sealed-gear Tuners

Open-gear TunerTraditionally, open-gear tuners have been used on acoustic guitars and sealed-gear tuners have been used on electric guitars. They do the same thing, but their appearance and methods of mounting differ. Open-gear tuners usually have at least two screws, and often utilize a press-fit bushing that mounts in the front of the headstock. Sealed-gear tuners usually have a threaded bushings that screws through the headstock into the tuner base plate. Choosing which to use is personal preference – both will serve equally well in most scenarios.

Daily Tip: No Rules for Cigar Box Guitars

No Rules!When building cigar box guitars, there ARE NO RULES… except those which you choose to follow. There is no single right way – there are only ways that you have found work for you. Relax, don’t worry, build a guitar!

Two New Cigar Box Ukulele Lessons from One-Hand Dan: Take ‘Em Away and Freight Train

One-hand Dan Russell Cigar Box Ukulele LessonWe’ve just added the second of two new how-to-play video lessons from One-hand Dan Russell, showing you how to play “Freight Train” and “Take ‘Em Away“.

Like all of Dan’s lessons, he presents these two songs with energy and gusto, and these are great songs to have in your ukulele toolbag.

Click below to view the knowledgebase entries for these two songs, which include the ukulele chords you’ll need to strum along.

Take ‘Em Away by the Old Crow Medicine Show

Freight Train by Elizabeth Cotton

Daily Tip: Cushioning Piezo Disks

Piezo ElementsPiezo disks work best as pickups in cigar box guitars if you provide some cushioning for them. This helps tone down their harshness. Embedding them in a generous glob of hot glue when mounting them to the inside of a cigar box lid is a popular method.

Learn more about using piezos from our free knowledgebase.

Daily Tip: Headstock Thickness on Cigar Box Guitars

A Cigar Box Guitar HeadstockPeople often ask how thick to make the headstocks on their cigar box guitars. Most standard guitar tuners, whether sealed-gear or open-gear, are intended to be used on a headstock that is about 9/16” (0.5625 inches/14.3mm) thick. Ukulele tuners are made to work on thinner headstocks, usually in the range of ⅜” (0.375 inches/9.53mm) or 7/16” (0.4375 inches/11.1mm).