How to Install a Mini Humbucker in a Cigar Box Guitar

Glenn walks you through how he installs the mini humbucker pickup in the “Mi Amor” cigar box guitar he designed for C. B. Gitty.

How I Took This Cigar Box Guitar to a Whole New Level

The Mi Amor meets the Snake Oil Humbucker: A Killer Combo

It sounds raw and dirty.

A single coil pickup in a cigar box guitar has grit and a surly swagger. But for this build, the sound of a solitary single coil pickup is missing something.

When designing the Mi Amor – a recent addition to the C.B. Gitty line of guitars – I wanted it to have a big punch. Picture a cinder block-sized fist, wearing brass knuckles, being thrown into your gut. You know, really taking the air out of you.

Yeah. That’s what I wanted for this CBG.

And the Snake Oil Humbucker gave me just that.

The pickup with a punch

Humbuckers, unlike single coil pickups, have a big, rounded sound. They have booming low ends, like that cinder block-sized fist. They also have soaring high ends, like those brass knuckles, to really send the message.

The Mi Amor outfitted with the Snake Oil humbucker is a special combo. It’s a sexy cigar box guitar, something you can be proud to hold. And it’s packs the kind of punch that knocks you on your duff.

The Mi Amor is in it to win it.

Installation is easy

So the Mi Amor with the Snake Oil humbucker is easy on the eyes, and packs a big punch. But why write this article about it? Because I want to show you how easy it is to install your own Snake Oil humbucker.

What follows is a step-by-step account of how I install a Snake Oil humbucker into the Mi Amor. The great thing is, you don’t need a shop full of tools to make your cigar box guitar both sexy and tough.

As you can see, the tools are few.

Tools for this project:

  • Painter’s tape
  • Razor knife
  • Square / something to measure with
  • Drill and bits
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Handsaw
  • Rasp / file
  • Awl

Helpful optional tools

The pickup and mounting ring

So, armed with the above short list of tools and a desire to build something special, let’s do this!

The installation process

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The design started with giving myself a visual of where the pickup would be placed, and how it would look.

For the Mi Amor, I wanted the pickup to be close to the top of the box, in the neck position.

This gives me a deep, bass-y sound.

After picturing where the pickup is to go, I put some painter’s tape on the box lid.

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This gives me a surface to mark the measurements, without fear of making a mistake on the cigar box.

Then, I find the center of the box lid and mark that measurement on the tape.

My life is made much easier by using the centering ruler seen here.

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Next, I draw a line across the box, on the tape of course, at the center of where the pickup will be.

This line intersects with the center-line, drawn in the last step, forming a cross.

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Then, I place the pickup routing template on the lid.

The template has centering-hashes that allow me to line the template up with the lines I’ve drawn.

The template goes a long way from removing any guessing as to where, and how big, the pickup hole should be.

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I run a pencil, or in this case a marker, along the inside of the template.

This gives me a perfectly-sized space to fit the pickup.

Now, the next step seems like such a small thing, but pays off huge rewards later.

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On the bottom of the pickup ring, I use the centering ruler to mark the center of the the long side of the ring.

Now, I can square up the ring with the perpendicular lines drawn on the lid.

Then, using an awl, I poke 4 holes into the box lid through the mounting holes in each corner of the pickup ring.

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The hole for the pickup in the ring is smaller than the hole drawn on the box lid to be cut for the pickup.

Poking the 4 holes for the mounting screws now, with the lines drawn on the tape, saves me from later eye-balling where the pickup ring should mount.

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A quick once around with a razor knife to score the lines for the pickup prevents me from tearing up the box lid while making cuts for the pickup hole.

Now, at work I am fortunate to have a router at my disposal.

However, a router isn’t necessary to cut a hole for the pickup in the cigar box lid.

At home I drill a hole in a corner of the rectangle drawn, one that’s large enough to fit a small hand saw.

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A handsaw is all that’s needed to make the cuts for the pickup hole.

Then it’s time to clean up the edges of the hole cut in the lid.

Nothing fancy here.

There’s nothing like a tried and true four-in-hand to do the necessary filing.

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With the pickup hole cut and filed, I drill holes for the ring mounting screws.

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You don’t need a picture to tell you how to remove tape from you box, right?

Well, just in case…

Start at the edges furthest away from, and pull the tape in towards, the pickup hole.

This prevents tearing the decorative box paper in such a way that makes me tear my hair out.

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Then it’s a dry-run fit of the mounting ring.

I prefer to countersink the holes for the mounting screws.

It’s not necessary. But the less I have getting in the way, like a screw-head, the happier I am.

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The mounting ring fits the Snake Oil humbucker tight.

So, I file the inside edges of the pickup ring now, making certain the pickup passes through it with ease.

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Here’s something that needs attention.

One of the pickup mounting screw holes on the pickup ring is a little too close to the edge of the pickup hole in the box lid.

While the pickup mounting screw will fit fine, unhindered by the box lid, the spring that gets placed onto the screw won’t have enough room.

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So off comes the pickup ring.

I file the edges of the pickup hole in the box lid to make room for the springs.

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After the necessary room has been made, the pickup mounting screws go into the pickup ring.

And the springs get placed onto the screws.

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These next steps aren’t difficult.

But a little patience is required.

I use one hand to hold the pickup mounting screws onto the mounting ring.

My other hand positions the mounting tabs on the pickup to align with the mounting screws.

Then I thread one of the screws into a tab, just enough to hold the pickup in place.

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After one side of the pickup is secured, I’m on to threading the other mounting screw into the other mounting tab.

A little at a time, I tighten each side of the pickup.

This raises the pickup into the pickup ring equally on both sides, in small increments; the preferred method to get the perfect pickup height.

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With a few turns of the screwdriver, the Snake Oil rises through the Mi Amor, creating that perfect union of tough and sexy.

And I couldn’t be happier.

So that’s how easy it is to install a Snake Oil humbucker into a cigar box. As you can see, with few tools it takes only a little time to turn your cigar box guitar into your pride and joy.

Now get in your workspace and start building.

And let us know how your own pickup project goes for you and make certain to send us some pics or video!

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Glenn Watt is a cigar box guitar builder, craftsman, writer and teacher. Connect with him on his Google+ page.

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