Wiring Mono and Stereo Jacks for Cigar Box Guitars, Amps & More

In this article we will show you the differences between mono and stereo output jacks, and how to wire them for use on your cigar box guitars.

A lot of folks have questions about wiring jacks: how do you tell mono from stereo, which lug is positive and which is negative, and can you use a stereo jack with a mono cable (the answer is YES, you can – see the final paragraphs below for how).

This article covers “phone” style jacks, which are made to be mounted in a panel via a threaded shaft and nut, with the soldering lugs for attaching wires extending off of the back. They also have one or two “prongs” that stick off of the back and make contact with the tip of the plug.

First, let’s take a look at the differences between a mono an a stereo jack. These photos show the popular Neutrik/Rean brand phone jacks, but these principles apply to jacks from other manufacturers as well

The differences between mono and stereo phone jacks.

 

So you can see that the stereo jack has one more solder lug and prong than the mono jack does. This is because to have stereo sound, you need both a left and right channel (so that you can hear different things out of the left and right speakers of your stereo) plus the ground. A mono jack only has a single channel plus the ground, for handling mono sounds – like what guitar pickups put out.

Mono Jack AnnotatedHere is a close look at the mono variety of phone jacks. Click on the photo for a higher resolution photo.

Notice that the longer lug, which if you look closely in between the yellow wafers is connected to the long prong that sticks out of the back, is the positive. The shorter lug, which is connected to the “sleeve” part of the jack which touches the “barrel” of the plug, is the ground/negative.

This is the standard style of jack most often used when installing pickups in cigar box guitars. They are also often used as input jacks on mono amplifiers and other audio equipment.

You can buy these exact Neutrik/REAN brand mono jacks here on CBGitty.com.

We also have “economy” grade mono phone jacks available here, if you want to save a little money.

 

Stereo Jack AnnotatedNow for a closer look at the stereo variety. Click on the photo to the right for a higher-resolution version.

The stereo jack has the extra lug and prong mentioned above, but otherwise is very similar to the mono jack. If you hold a stereo jack like the one shown in the photo, then from left to right the lugs should be Positive Left, Negative/Ground and Positive Right.

You can verify this by looking carefully in between the yellow wafers that make up the body of the jack. The lug that connects to the longer prong (#3) is the right channel positive. The lug that connects to the shorter of the two prongs (#1) is the left channel positive. The lug that connects to the sleeve that touches the “barrel” of the plug (#2) is the ground/negative.

Now let’s take a look at how they look wired up.

As always, RED is POSITIVE and BLACK is NEGATIVE/GROUND!

 

Wiring Example - Annotated

The photo above shows how you would wire both jacks for MONO use. Note that lug #1 on the stereo jack has no wire soldered to it. In this configuration, both the mono and stereo jacks could be used on a cigar box guitar with a standard mono amp cord. Once installed no one would be able to tell that it is actually a stereo jack.

If you wanted to wire the stereo jack for actual stereo usage, you would simply solder on another positive lead to lug #1. Some builders sometimes do this if they have more than one pickup in their guitar that they want to hand off to a special amplifier setup, but that is a more advanced topic we don’t need to get into here.

So that’s about it! We hope this article has helped clear up any confusion you may have had about how mono and stereo jacks work, and how to make use of them.


 

Want a pickup in your guitar, but not interested in all of the wiring and soldering and shenanigans? Try one of C. B. Gitty’s pre-wired pickup harnesses! Click the image below to see what we’ve got…

C. B. Gitty's Disc-o-Tone Harness

 

 

Yellow Submarine by The Beatles – 3-string Open G GDG – Cigar Box Guitar Tablature

Open G GDG Listing ImageThe tablature in the PDF link below will show you exactly how to play the melody and chords for the popular song Yellow Submarine, as performed by The Beatles.

All of the cigar box guitar tablature here on CigarBoxGuitar.com is presented by The Southbound String Company, the only strings specifically chosen and voiced for cigar box guitars. Be sure to check out our line of Open G GDG cigar box guitar string sets here!

We also have a video by Glenn Watt that shows you how to read and play this style of 3-string CBG tablature: click here to view it!

Click this link or the image below to view the printable PDF: Yellow Submarine by The Beatles Cigar Box Guitar Tablature

Your Cheatin’ Heart by Hank Williams – 3-string Open G GDG – Tablature for Cigar Box Guitars

Here is the tablature for one of Hank Williams’ most popular songs, Your Cheatin’ Heart, as arranged and tabbed by Glenn Watt. This song was recorded by Hank himself and has been covered by a whole gaggle of other big-name performers, and it is a great one for yodeling out around the campfire.

Glenn has created two versions of the tab – the first one is just the basic melody lines, and the second adds some chord accompaniment.

You can view the printable PDFs by clicking on the images below. You can also watch the video below where Glenn shows you how to play the song on his 3-string cigar box guitar tuned to Open G “GDG”.

Click the image above to view the printable version
Melody-only version. Click the image above to view the printable tablature sheet.

 

Click the image above to view the printable version
Melody + Chords version. Click the image above to view the printable tablature sheet.

 

 

Zero Frets – How and Why to Use Them on Cigar Box Guitars

Zero frets are an awesome addition to any cigar box guitar or other homemade/handmade instrument builder’s toolbag. In this how-to article, C. B. Gitty walks you though zero frets on cigar box guitars: what a zero fret is, why you’d want to use one, and how to go about installing your first one.

This photo shows a fretted cigar box guitar with a zero fret installed. We'll be showing you how (and why) to do this in this article.
This photo shows a fretted cigar box guitar with a zero fret installed. We’ll be showing you how (and why) to do this in this article.

The Zero Fret is an arcane subject to many cigar box guitar builders. I have to confess, for a long time they were a mystery to me too. Sure I had heard of them, seen pictures of people using them, and thought I understood most of the concept – but for some reason, I still always shied away from using one. That is, until Shane Speal finally beat it through my stubborn skull that we needed to start using them in the C. B. Gitty shop, and once we tried it we didn’t look back.

So this article is my effort to help everyone realize the benefits of using a zero fret setup on their cigar box guitar builds. It may not be for everyone, but my hope is that you’ll consider giving it a try. I’ll break this article down into three clear sections: What is a Zero Fret; Why to Use a Zero Fret; and How to Install a Zero Fret.

What is a Zero Fret?

Most simply stated, a zero fret is an extra piece of fretwire, usually a couple of sizes bigger than what you’re using on the rest of the fretboard, which gets installed up at the top of the fretboard where the nut would usually go. 

In our workshop, we usually use either our Medium/Medium nickel-silver fretwire or our Medium/High nickel-silver fretwire on the instruments we build. So for our zero frets, we will use a larger fretwire, most often our standard Jumbo nickel-silver. The jumbo wire’s crown is about 0.014″ higher than the Medium/Medium, and 0.012″ higher than the Medium/High, and we feel that this helps make sure that the action height work better and minimize buzzing in the strings. Other builders use the same size fret wire for the zero fret as they do for the rest of the frets. Check out the photo below.

Zero fret on a cigar box guitar diagram
This photo shows the zero fret, and first fret on a fretted cigar box guitar neck. Note the height difference between the zero and first frets, and also note the gap between the string and the first fret.

In the photo you can clearly see that the zero fret is a larger profile than the first fret (jumbo vs. medium), and you can also see the effect – a pronounced gap between the strings and the first fret. This gap is what is technically  referred to as the “action” or “action height” of the guitar, and keeping it as low as possible is very important to having a well-made and easy-to-play cigar box guitar. As mentioned above, some builders prefer to use the same size of fret wire for the zero fret as they  do on the rest of the fretboard – it’s not what we do, but there’s no question that it can work just as well. We advise trying both and seeing what works for you!

The other things you can see in the above photo are small screws that are used as string retainers, to make sure the strings stay in the right places , and at a good angle, as they cross over the zero fret. More on this below.

Why Use a Zero Fret?

As mentioned above, to build a fretted cigar box guitar that a professional musician will want to play, you have to pay very close attention to the “action height” – that is, the height of the strings off of the frets. You want it to be as low as possible, but not so low that you get buzzing or rattling from the strings when played.

This photo shows an example of a standard bone nut in use on a four-string cigar box guitar.
This photo shows an example of a standard bone nut in use on a four-string cigar box guitar.

Traditionally, the job of determining the action height on a guitar is done by the nut. Most often on store-bought guitars, nuts are made from bone, but they can also be made from plastic, wood, metal or synthetic materials like Corian.

The nut is glued into place at the top of the fretboard, and filed/sanded down to the right height, and then grooves for the strings are filed in to help keep the strings in the right position. As such, the nut both sets the action height (the height of the strings off the frets), as well as setting the spacing and position of the strings across the fretboard.

The problem with a nut is that it takes some skill and finesse to get them shaped just right, and at the right height, and with the string grooves just so. Of course if you file it too far down, there’s no going back – you have to remove it and start over with a new one. It is just way too easy to end up with an instrument with high action, which is not very fun to play and may even intonate badly, when using nuts.

Enter the Zero Fret – when you use a zero fret, you are pretty much guaranteed that your action height will be pretty much perfect. A good rule of thumb concerning action height on a guitar is that the gap between the strings and the first fret should be about 0.80mm – which just happens to be the thickness of a standard medium guitar pick. If you use jumbo or even one of the higher-profile medium gauges as your zero fret, and one of the standard medium-height fret wires (around 0.040″ to 0.045″ crown height) as the rest of your frets, you will definitely be in this ballpark.

Here is another angle of a zero fret installed on a cigar box guitar. This particular guitar featured an angled headstock, so the retainer screws are just holding the strings in the correct position, not holding them down to increase break angle.
Here is another angle of a zero fret installed on a cigar box guitar. This particular guitar featured an angled headstock, so the retainer screws are just holding the strings in the correct position, not holding them down to increase break angle.

One caveat with a zero fret is that you do need to install some hardware to help keep the strings in place. Depending on your headstock design (angled verses recessed) this hardware might also need to serve the task of holding the strings down, so that they will have some “break angle” as they go up and over the zero fret. See the photo below for a visual of what break angle is.

There are various styles of string retainers that can be used for this, but on C. B. Gitty cigar box guitars we usually use small round-headed screws for this purpose (as shown in the photos above and to the right).

How to Install Your First Zero Fret

Assuming that you have read everything above, there shouldn’t be too much mystery left as to how you should go about installing your first zero fret on a cigar box guitar. Here is the outline of steps to follow:

  • Get yourself some larger fret wire, such as our Jumbo profile.
  • When cutting your fret slots, cut a slot exactly on the nut line (usually you wouldn’t cut this, when using a nut). The slot can be sawn with the same saw as the rest of them.
  • Install one piece of the larger fret wire  in the slot you cut at the nut line, and use the smaller fretwire for the rest of the frets.
  • Smooth and dress the frets as you usually would, including the larger zero fret.
  • When you get to the point of stringing your guitar, figure out where your strings will go, and where your string retainers/retaining screws should be placed. See the photos above for an idea of where we place them on a 3-string guitar. Remember that you want the retainer to both hold the string in the correct position in relation to the neck, as well as (if necessary) help hold the string down a bit so that it has to angle back up to cross the zero fret.
  • The photo below helps show how retaining screws can be used on a cigar box guitar that has a recessed (instead of angled) headstock. The screws actually pull the strings downward from where they come off the tuner posts, so that they approach the nut (or zero fret) at a sharper angle. This photo happens to show an unfretted guitar with a threaded rod nut, but the principle is the same when using a zero fret. This sharper angle helps the guitar sound and intonate better (too low of an angle and the strings might buzz or vibrate).
This photo shows how retaining screws can be used to adjust the "break angle" of the strings - the angle at which they cross over the nut/zero fret. While this photo shows an unfretted cigar box guitar that uses a threaded rod nut, the same concept applies to a guitar using a zero fret.
This photo shows how retaining screws can be used to adjust the “break angle” of the strings – the angle at which they cross over the nut/zero fret. While this photo shows an unfretted cigar box guitar that uses a threaded rod nut, the same concept applies to a guitar using a zero fret.

 

You should now be able to string and tune your guitar, and your zero fret should be giving you pretty much optimal action height. The added step of having to use string retainers is a small price to pay compared to the hassle of installing and filing down a nut and getting it just right.

Zero frets, properly used, guarantee good string action height every time, and at least in the C. B. Gitty shops we have switched over to them for pretty much all of our Farmington Road Instrument Works cigar box guitars.

I hope that this article helps you better understand what a zero fret is, why you’d want to use them, and how to go about doing so. Please feel free to post comments or send questions, so that I can revise, expand and add to this article!