“Open A” AEA Tuning on your Cigar Box Guitar: 4 Methods, with String Sizes & Sound Clips

Cigar Box Guitar StringsNot as widely used as some of the other open “power chord” 1-5-1 tunings, the A E A tuning is still a good one to try out and have in your toolbag. A full step higher than the more widely-seen Open G tuning, the high A note can be a bit too trebly for some people, but the lower tuning with the unwound .016″ as the middle A puts out a really nice sound.

This article gives you the exact strings to use to achieve this tuning on a cigar box guitar (or other instrument) that has a scale length in the range of 24.5 to 25.5 inches.

First, a disclaimer: these recommendations are made based on our experimentation in the C. B. Gitty shops, and it is what we have found to work. Other people may have different opinions, and they are welcome to them. I’m not trying to set any standards or lay down any laws – I am just going to tell you what works for us. 

Check out the various string sets available over at www.CBGitty.com!

Continue reading ““Open A” AEA Tuning on your Cigar Box Guitar: 4 Methods, with String Sizes & Sound Clips”

“Open D” DAD Tuning on your Cigar Box Guitar: 4 Methods, with String Sizes & Sound Clips

Cigar Box Guitar StringsThis article follows the format used in our first article on cigar box guitar tunings, which covered the GDG Open G method. If you read that article, you may find some of this repetitive – feel free to skip down to the bottom where the specific string sizes are listed! – Gitty

After the GDG “Open G” tuning, the next most popular on 3-string cigar box guitars is probably DAD “Open D”. This tuning actually shows up, in part, on standard 6-string guitars, in the alternate “DADGAD” tuning. The lower-pitch versions of this tuning really have a low, bassy feel because of that big low D string, so it can be a very interesting option for cigar box guitar builders.

I have actually personally tested and confirmed (and revised!) the string gauges listed below during the writing of this article, so this isn’t just theory and guessing!

These Open D string sets and Many More available over at www.CBGitty.com!

Before we dive in, a disclaimer: these recommendations are made based on our experimentation in the C. B. Gitty shops, and it is what we have found to work. Other people may have different opinions, and they are welcome to them. I’m not trying to set any standards or lay down any laws – I am just going to tell you what works for us. 

Continue reading ““Open D” DAD Tuning on your Cigar Box Guitar: 4 Methods, with String Sizes & Sound Clips”

“Open E” EBE Tuning on your Cigar Box Guitar: 4 Methods, with String Sizes & Sound Clips

Cigar Box Guitar StringsThis article follows the format used in our previous articles on cigar box guitar tuning. If you have read those articles, you may find some of this repetitive – feel free to skip down to the bottom where the specific string sizes are listed! – Gitty

The Open E tuning is not seen as often as the more popular GDG and DAD tunings, but it is a great alternative for cigar box guitar players, especially if you are playing a lot of blues. Shane Speal used this tuning on his recent album Holler!, on the track Big Leg Woman/Swing the Hammer.

Because of the bluesy feel of this tuning, we purposefully used a little smaller gauge strings on this tuning. The means that the strings are a little looser on the instrument, which is good for playing slide blues. If you like things a little tighter, try bumping up to medium or even heavy-gauge strings.

I have actually personally tested and confirmed (and revised!) the string gauges listed below during the writing of this article, so this isn’t just theory and guessing!

Before we dive in, a disclaimer: these recommendations are made based on our experimentation in the C. B. Gitty shops, and it is what we have found to work. Other people may have different opinions, and they are welcome to them. I’m not trying to set any standards or lay down any laws – I am just going to tell you what works for us. 

Continue reading ““Open E” EBE Tuning on your Cigar Box Guitar: 4 Methods, with String Sizes & Sound Clips”

“Open G” GDG Tuning on your Cigar Box Guitar: 4 Methods, with String Sizes & Sound Clips

Cigar Box Guitar StringsOf all of the three-string cigar box guitar tunings, the most popular is probably the G D G open G tuning. Featured on many how-to-play videos on YouTube and CigarBoxNation.com, this tuning has become the de facto standard for 3-string slide blues.

A lot of new builders run into the question of how they achieve this tuning – which strings they should use, whether to go with larger strings or smaller, and so I wanted to try to demystify the topic.

First, a disclaimer: these recommendations are made based on our experimentation in the C. B. Gitty shops, and it is what we have found to work. Other people may have different opinions, and they are welcome to them. I’m not trying to set any standards or lay down any laws – I am just going to tell you what works for us. 

These Open G string sets and Many More available over at www.CBGitty.com!

Continue reading ““Open G” GDG Tuning on your Cigar Box Guitar: 4 Methods, with String Sizes & Sound Clips”

A Step-by-Step Guide On How To Make a Straight Headstock

No fancy tools required to make this awesome headstock for your cigar box guitar

By Glenn Watt

Thanks to craftswoman Farley Andresen for the demonstrating the work Straight heastock featured image

 No fancy tools required to make this awesome headstock for your cigar box guitar

Cigar box is in the name, but the neck is what turns the box into a cigar box guitar.

And the headstock – the part of the neck that anchors your tuning pegs – is a critical component to getting, and keeping, your CBG fully functional. Continue reading “A Step-by-Step Guide On How To Make a Straight Headstock”

CBG Bling: Decorating Ideas for your Cigar Box Guitar

A Cigar Box Guitar (CBG) can range widely when it comes to decoration. The most basic, primitive CBGs have very little decoration; reduced to its most basic form, a CBG is a stick, a box and a couple of strings, without any need for show adornment. While there is definitely nothing wrong with that austere simplicity, many builders enjoy adding some decorative touches to their builds. Many cigar boxes start off as pretty decorative pieces anyway, so it is natural to try to build upon that when creating a handmade instrument from one.

60-005-119 Image 3A Cigar Box Guitar (CBG) can range widely when it comes to decoration. The most basic, primitive CBGs have very little decoration; reduced to its most basic form, a CBG is a stick, a box and a couple of strings, without any need for show adornment.

While there is definitely nothing wrong with that austere simplicity, many builders enjoy adding some decorative touches to their builds. Many cigar boxes start off as pretty decorative pieces anyway, so it is natural to try to build upon that when creating a handmade instrument from one.

The purpose of this article is to discuss some of the methods you can use to decorate your builds, and wherever possible to use hardware that is both decorative AND useful – using a decorative Continue reading “CBG Bling: Decorating Ideas for your Cigar Box Guitar”

Cigar Box Guitar Building Tip: Neck Reinforcement with Humbuckers

In the video below, Shane Speal shows his technique of reinforcing internal bracing on neck-through cigar box guitars with extra wood. He also shows how to use a Forstner bit to route out the cavity for a mini humbucker pickup. (Note: the pickup used is a C. B. Gitty Toaster Bucker mini humbucker.) Continue reading “Cigar Box Guitar Building Tip: Neck Reinforcement with Humbuckers”

Cigar Box Ukulele Kit Assembly Guide

36-009-01 Guide Pages
Click the image above to view the how-to guide PDF.

This is the full how-to guide from C. B. Gitty’s Cigar Box Ukulele kit. While written with a focus on assembling the kit C. B. Gitty sells (which includes all of the parts and hardware you need in one easy package), this how-to guide is a good general introduction to building a cigar box ukulele, and could be useful if you want to try it on your own from scratch.

Click Here or on the image to the left to view the full guide document.

 

 

Deciding whether to fret your cigar box guitar

The questions come up often among Cigar Box Guitar builders: Is fretting worth it? Why would I want to fret my build? What do I need to know and what tools do I need to get started? Fretting can be a complex topic, but it doesn’t need to be a murky mystery to builders.

C. B. Gitty's Fretting GuideThe questions come up often among Cigar Box Guitar builders: Is fretting worth it? Why would I want to fret my build? What do I need to know and what tools do I need to get started? Fretting can be a complex topic, but it doesn’t need to be a murky mystery to builders. This article will attempt to cover some of the basic concepts to help you decide whether you are ready to take the plunge, as well as point you to other resources to help you get started.

One of the best resources you can find to help you get started fretting is our C. B. Gitty’s Fretting Guide, a 39-page electronic book packed with photos and great do-it-yourself how-to information Continue reading “Deciding whether to fret your cigar box guitar”

Diatonic (Dulcimer-Style) Fretting – What it is, How and Why to Use It

61-013-02 Image 4Most folks are familiar, at least by sight, with the six-string guitar – whether an acoustic guitar like a Martin or an electric guitar like a Fender Stratocaster™. So it is natural that when people think of frets, or a fretboard, they think of a guitar fretboard – an evenly distributed collection of frets that get closer together the further you go up the neck towards the guitar body.

First, let’s start with what Diatonic (Dulcimer) fretting is NOT…

On a standard guitar, like the Fender Strat mentioned above, or the cigar box guitar in the photo below, it is said to be fretted on a chromatic scale. We are not going to get into the theory behind what that means here, but just take away this tidbit: a chromatic scale, like on a standard guitar, allows you to play every note you could possibly need for a song. All of the sharps, “natural” notes and flats. It’s all in there, and if you aren’t sure of what you are doing it is pretty easy to hit a sharp or a flat when you don’t mean to, causing potentially jarring discordance. Continue reading “Diatonic (Dulcimer-Style) Fretting – What it is, How and Why to Use It”

Differences between Piezos and Magnetic Pickups

50-004-0X Product Image 2When it comes to electrifying a cigar box guitar (or really any stringed instrument, for that matter), there are two basic options: either a piezo pickup (sometimes called a contact pickup), or a magnetic pickup. Well, really there is a third option – a microphone – but we’ll not cover that here. So, what are the main differences between a piezo element pickup and a magnetic pickup?

A piezoelectric element is a very simple, yet remarkable device. In its most simple form, it consists of a disk of brass or other conductive metal, on which a very thin disk of ceramic is adhered. Continue reading “Differences between Piezos and Magnetic Pickups”

EASY BUILDING TIP: Bracing a Box with Corner Moulding

Have you ever tried to build a cigar box guitar with a fantastically thin box (great tone) but discover that the box needs extra bracing?  In this video, Shane Speal shows how to use common corner moulding from a hardware store to secure corners and sides together.  Note the tip on using a disposable sponge brush to apply glue.

Purchase Don Rafael boxes here: Don Rafael Boxes for sale at C. B. Gitty

 

Fretted vs. Fretless Cigar Box Guitars by Shane Speal

Shane Speal Slide GuitarA fan recently asked me:

Hey Shane, is it better to learn on a fretted or slide cigar box guitar?

Turns out, that’s a great question!  When I built my first cigar box guitar over 20 years ago, it had no frets, no fret markers and was played 100% with a slide.  For me, that was the perfect instrument because I wanted to play the deepest Delta blues possible.  I wanted the music to be primitive, creaky and have that slight out-of-tune sound of old Smithsonian recordings.

If you’re looking to capture the really old timey sound of a traditional cigar box guitar, then I suggest you shove a slide on your finger and grind away without frets.  There’s nothing like the whining moan of metal against metal going up the neck.

But wait!!!  There’s also magic happening with the modern Cigar Box Guitar Revolution where people are bucking tradition and utilizing these homemade instruments for something new.  They’re taking the concept of a homemade instrument and mixing it with new sounds they have in their heads.

If you’re not looking for the old time creaky stuff, then a fretted cigar box guitar may be the right tool for you.  Even a simple 3-string fretted cigar box guitar will allow you to play rock power chords, dulcimer-style passages and whatever your fertile brain can imagine.

The lesson here is to simply think about what you want to accomplish and then choose the right tool for the job.  The cigar box guitar is an instrument borne from American poverty back in the days even before The Great The Depression.  The builders and players simply were searching for a sound they couldn’t afford to purchase, so they made their own.  Be like them.  Follow the sound.

I have been working with C. B. Gitty Crafter Supply in creating a library of free cigar box guitar lessons.  Although we are still in the early stages of this project, you can still get a wealth of lessons at their sister site, CigarBoxGuitar.com.  In addition, I have posted my easy-to-follow video series at ShaneSpeal.com.

BTW, when I perform, half of my instruments are fretless and half are fretted.  Since my music encompasses a wide range of mutant styles, I need many guitars to perform a 3 hour bar gig.

Speaking of mutant styles, here’s a freakish video I filmed last night as I was practicing sitar sounds with a 3-string cigar box guitar.


If you just can’t decide between fretted or fretless, then heck with it – build (or buy) one of each! There is no rule that says you can only learn one, and having both styles in your trick bag will only help you become a better player.

– Shane

P. S. For a nice primer on what it takes to fret your own build, check out this article here on CigarBoxGuitar.com: Deciding Whether to Fret Your Cigar Box Guitar

 

 

 

 

GDG – The King of Cigar Box Guitar Tunings – by Glenn Watt

What makes Open G – GDG tuning for Cigar Box Guitars so popular?

It’s the King of cigar box guitar tunings.

G-D-G is the most widely used tuning you’ll find used in videos throughout most cigar box guitar communities.

Why is this tuning so popular?

This article unpacks that question, and gives you the straight facts to answer it.

Let’s first begin with what G-D-G actually is.

G-D-G is an open tuning

G-D-G is an open tuning; it refers to how the strings are tuned.

The thickest string is tuned to G.

The string in the middle is tuned to D.

And, you guessed it, the thinnest string is also tuned to G.

When you strum 3 strings tuned G-D-G, without using a slide or your fingers to fret them, you’re playing the strings open.

And when all 3 strings are played open in G-D-G, you hear a “G” chord.

That “G” chord you hear is referred to as a power chord.

Power chords in an open 3-string tuning lack a note to make it sound happy (major) or sad (minor).

Also, there are no sour notes, unlike a standard tuning on a six string guitar that sounds several different notes when played open in the standard EADGBE tuning.

As Bad Finger, member of Cigar Box Nation, replied in a Nation forum topic,

“…think of standard tuning as a really nice pair of channel-lock pliers. You ‘can’ do about anything with them. … Fix the kitchen sink, hold a workpiece, twist a nut off a bolt, use it as a hammer, pry tool, . . . lots of things.”

An open tuning, on the other hand, has a simpler focus.

Bad Finger went on to say,

“Open tunings are a bit more like a specialized tool that will have features making it good for a particular purpose or purposes. Like an impact wrench. You can break a nut off about anything – and fast, but don’t try to use it as a hammer.”

But don’t let that specialization fool you.

A power chord open tuning is capable of much more than you think.

You can play nearly any song

A 3-string cigar box guitar tuned to an open power chord can play nearly any song in western music.

That’s right, nearly any song.

Most of the music we hear can be broken down into simple chord progressions.

And whether you’re listening to Mozart, Robert Johnson, or The Beatles, every song has a simple version that can be played with an open tuning.

Most songs in western music are built on some variation of 3 to 5 chords.

Every one of those chords can be played on 3 strings.

Now here’s where your mind will be blown.

You can play all of those songs with only 1 finger.

“What’s that?” you ask. “Any song?”

Believe it.

Play cigar box guitar with 1 finger•

Is there anything more beautiful that that?

Not only can you build your own cigar box guitar, but you can make music with your guitar by using only 1 finger.

Use that 1 finger to hold down all 3 strings behind any fret and you’ll play a chord.

The same can be done by holding a slide on top of the strings.

So, all along the entire fretboard, nearly the whole of western music is available to you using only 1 finger with a power chord open tuning.

The simplicity doesn’t end there.

Forget about confusing music theory

Open tunings are perfect for cigar box guitars.

Just as the simplicity of a cigar box guitar makes it inclusive for would-be builders, the simplicity of an open tuning makes it inclusive for all players.

Making music with your cigar box guitar doesn’t need to weigh you down with the science of music.

There’s no need for scales, or sight-reading, or complicated chord forms and fingerings.

A cigar box guitar with a power chord open tuning allows everyone, regardless of musical experience or education, to feel the joy of making music.

“That’s all well and good,” you may say, “but do I need special strings to get tuned G-D-G?”

It’s easy to get tuned G-D-G

Finding strings that can be tuned to an open power chord is easy.

Of the 6 strings on a conventional guitar, 4 of them can be used to easily achieve 2 power chord open tunings.

The 6th, 5th, and 4th strings – traditionally tuned E, A, and D – can be tuned to D-A-D.

Additionally, the 5th, 4th, and 3rd strings – traditionally tuned A, D, and G – can be easily be tuned G-D-G.

So you can pull off the strings from that dusty ol’ guitar that’s been sitting in your closet for 15 years and finally put ‘em to use.

“Can other strings from a conventional guitar be used on a cigar box guitar?” you ask.

Absolutely.

Even better, you can find single, or bulk, sets of strings to get tuned to G-D-G from C.B. Gitty Crafter Supply.

“Still” you wonder, “what makes G-D-G stand out above the rest?”

The people’s key

In the music world, the key of G is often referred to as the people’s key.

Many people’s vocal range fits into melodies written in the key of G, making it inclusive of a vast number of voices.

On top of that, the key of G works well with most stringed instruments used in western music.

Guitars are easily tuned to open G.

Half the strings on violins and mandolins are in the G chord.

And the standard tuning for banjos is to an open G.

“Okay. This all sounds good. But where’s the hard evidence to support this popularity?”

The straight facts

On Cigar Box Nation, member Turtlehead conducted an exhaustive survey of the the community.

One of the questions posed determined the most widely used tunings among 3 string cigar box guitar builders and players.

And a whopping 93% of those surveyed who play 3 string cigar box guitars use the tuning GDG.

Long live the King

So now you can see why G-D-G is the King of cigar box guitar tunings.

  • •It’s an inclusive key for an inclusive instrument
  • •It can be used to play almost anything
  • •You can use just 1 finger to make music
  • •There’s no need for music theory
  • •The strings are widely available
  • •The key fits most voices and stringed instruments
  • •And you can easily play along with almost every other 3 string cigar box guitar player.

Bear in mind, there are numerous ways to tune a cigar box guitar; no one way is the right way.

This is a fun, and fact-filled article, but the joy of making and playing cigar box guitars is based in the freedom of expression.

Keeping in line with that spirit, let’s close with more of Bad Finger’s forum topic reply,

“As a teacher, we are encouraged to start our students with an “I can” statement. This is often a lot more productive than “With open tuning, I can’t . . .” Focus on exploring the possibilities vs. the limitations.”


What are your thoughts on GDG tuning? Let us know in the comments below! 

How a Cigar Box Guitar Tuner Works

Improve your cigar box guitars by getting to know the anatomy and orientation of open gear tuners

By Glenn Watt

Ever wonder which way is up on a cigar box guitar tuner?

Would you like to learn how a cigar box guitar tuner works, how you should orient them, and why it matters?

Well, you’re in luck, my friend.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • the anatomy of a tuner
  • how you identify which direction a tuner is oriented
  • and why the orientation of a tuner is important

Plus, you’re going to get a bonus tip on how to flip an open gear tuner for a mistakenly drilled hole.

Let’s start with… Continue reading “How a Cigar Box Guitar Tuner Works”

How to Cut a Rod Piezo

Rod Piezo Closeup DetailRod piezos can give you great improvements in overall tone and sound on your instrument builds, compared to a standard disc piezo. However, the standard rod piezo is made for a 6-string guitar, and at 2 ¾” in length, is often longer than a cigar box guitar builder needs or wants for embedding in a bridge. Fortunately, it is a fairly simple process to cut the rod piezos to a shorter length, for 3 or 4-string setups. However, it is important to cut it them in a certain way so you don’t ruin them, which is what this article will show you.

You can get Rod & Disk Piezos and all sorts of other great guitar and cigar box guitar gear over at our C. B. Gitty Crafter Supply Web Store. Browse on over and check it out!

Continue reading “How to Cut a Rod Piezo”

How to Eliminate Hum and Buzz on your electric Cigar Box Guitar

Electrifying your cigar box guitar or other homemade instrument build can be a very rewarding experience. Being able to plug into an amp not only gives you more volume, but it opens the door to a huge range of effects that would not otherwise be available. And it is a proven fact that having a pickup in a guitar makes it easier to sell – being able to plug in and rock out evokes images of Eddie Van Halen and Slash and is sure to get any would-be rocker’s blood pumping.

Our Disc-o-Tone pre-wired harness is a great way to add a pickup to your build.

Our Disc-o-Tone pre-wired piezo pickup harness is a great way to add a low-hum pickup to your cigar box guitar. No soldering required!

In an ideal situation, electrifying your build is as simple as gluing in a piezo (or mounting in a magnetic pickup), wiring it to a jack, and bingo. Continue reading “How to Eliminate Hum and Buzz on your electric Cigar Box Guitar”