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!
You can see more cool pictures of cigar box guitars and other homemade instruments in the Vintage Photos section of our knowledgebase
When 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.
Check 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!
Threaded 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.
Here’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.
Open 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.
Rod 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.
When 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.
The 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.
If 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.
Want 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).
Fretting 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.