The 4 Pillars of Cigar Box Guitar Building…

…and one sweet tip to turn a mistake into a satisfying win

Building your cigar box guitar is built on these four pillars of success:

  • Ideation
  • Creation
  • Development
  • Iteration

Ideation gets the imagination flowing

What do you picture the guitar to look like? How many strings does it have? What kind of wood do you see being used for the neck? Does it have a fretboard or will the guitar be intended solely for your slick and sultry slide skills.

Creation brings life to the idea

Let’s say you run a dowel through a box. You pop some rivets in the tail and some tuners on the other end. After running a couple of heavy wound strings over the dowel you have for a bridge and screws serving as the nut, you’ve got a simple yet powerful two string slide guitar.

Development is the crucial maturation of the creation

Now that you have a killer two stringer, chugging out chunky rhythms, you can see that a slightly higher bridge would give you better clearance for your picking hand that mashes about the box.

Strap buttons on the box would be great to get the gitty hung around you so you can stand rather than sit in front of your crazy fans. And maybe some fret markers would be nice… “Where is the slide supposed to go again?”

Iteration is the like the School of Hard Knocks. Every time you fall down you have the option of staying there or rising up to face the challenge before you…

Iteration is where failure meets opportunity

It is iteration that sparks thoughtful and insightful ideation.

Do you hit the volume knob every time you strum the guitar? Is the dowel-neck-design too limiting for the full scope of your musical needs? Do you find that gluing the bridge into place messes up the scale length you had intended?

Iteration allows you to identify the undesirable outcomes in your project and to search for solutions that will provide you with better results. It also teaches you to how to spin mistakes into something new, unique, and sometimes exciting.

A misplaced hole drilled for a jack becomes one in a series of soundholes in a grander soundhole design. Or maybe incorrectly drilling the holes for your tuners will force you to adapt.

If you aren’t failing, then you aren’t learning

It is failure that forces you to adapt and to find a solution to the issue at hand.

Have you drilled 2 left hand and 1 right hand tuner holes into your headstock when what you need is just the opposite?

  • Do you give up on the build in frustration?
  • Do you set out to buy some some new tuners?
  • Or do you dismantle the open gear tuners you already have and flip the posts around to successfully satisfy the current demand with your on-hand resources?
2 left and 1 right open gear tuner
2 left and 1 right handed open gear tuner
3 tuners, 1 dismantled
1 left hand tuner dismantled
1 left and 2 right-handed tuners
So now you’ve got 1 left and 2 right-handed tuners. Yes the mounting plate on the reversed one is “backwards” but it works like it should.

Building cigar box guitars allows us to learn to adapt

You hone your skills to overcome the obstacles building presents you at every turn.

That forth pillar of building success, Iteration, is the like the School of Hard Knocks. Every time you fall down you have the option of staying there or rising up to face the challenge before you again and again.

So push forward. Throw some stuff against the wall and see what sticks. Learning can be done by doing and the magic of building is held high by your ability to learn and grow, to create and develop, to fail and to iterate.

Glenn Watt is a maker of things. Join him in celebrating the cigar box guitar at


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