A Piezo pickup works by responding to vibration.  The positioning of the piezo will influence the amplified sound you get from your cigar box guitar.

If you mount the piezo on the “soundboard” (cigar box lid), the pickup will amplify any taps on the box, and also pick up the vibration created when you slide a finger along a string.  This can lead to excessive string squeal on high amplification.  On the positive side, the sound has lots of  treble.

Mounting the piezo under the neck reduces the sensitivity of the piezo and reduces the string squeal.  The guitar sounds more bassy.

String spacing is hot topic for Cigar Box makers.  Some people prefer to space the stings as per a normal guitar so they can play without changing the freting style they use on a standard setup.   Many CBG players prefer a wider string spacing.  This helps to balance the slide.

With a thin neck of around 1.5″ (38mm)  you can space the strings around 0.5″ (12-13mm) apart with the middle string dead centre on the neck.

This leaves a little space at the edge of the neck to fret the outer strings and the spacing is wide enough to balance the slide.

Fitting metal frets to your cigar box guitar enables you to play finger picking styles along with the slide chords.  The frets also act as a visual guide to the placement of the slide.  Frets are strips of metal with a “tang” that presses into a groove or slot cut in the neck.  These grooves or slots must be accurately cut so that the scale length is precise and the cuts are perpendicular to the long side of the neck.

The Tonetech Cigar Box Guitar kits are supplied with the scale laid out.  All you need to do is cut the slots on the fret markers and hammer in or press the frets home.

If you want to choose your own scale, you will find lots of fret calculators in the internet.

Fitting the Frets.

Nipping the ends off the frets

Cutting off the overhanging Fret ends

Each fret must be pressed or hammered into the fret slot so it is completely bedded down.  The ends of the frets must be snipped off flush with the neck and then filed smooth.

Use a small file to round the ends of the frets so they don’t catch on your hand as you slide up and down the neck.

The area of the neck that runs inside the box needs to be cutaway so that the lid slots into a trench in the neck.  The ends of the box need to be cut away to allow the box to close around the neck.

 

Neck cavity

Cutting the Neck Trench

First mark the scale length (25″) position on the neck and lay this on the box so that the 25″ mark is 1/3 the box length from the tail end of the box.  Mark the length and depth of the lid onto the neck.  This is the area you need to cut away using a saw and chisel, or a router if you have one.

Cigar Box neck cutaway

Cigar Box Neck Cutaway

Mark the neck position on both ends of the box and saw the ends of the box away so that the box closes around the neck.

To make your cigar box guitar distinctive you can create your own headstock shape.  You can paint it or glue a paper picture or photo onto it.  Or, in keeping with the rustic nature of the instrument, you can keep it simple.

The important aspect of the headstock is to have the thickness and width to hold the 2 tuners.

To create the headstock draw a line 6mm above the nut slot and extend the pencil line down the sides of the neck on each side. Measure the thickness of the neck and with a ruler, or marking gauge, mark a centreline line at half the thickness along the sides of the neck and along the end of the neck.

Saw along the line (6mm above the nut) at 45 degrees until the saw cut reaches the centreline you drew around the headstock. Now, saw down from the end of the neck, along the centreline until you connect the cut with the 45 degree cut. This cutaway section of the headstock creates the “headstock angle” that provides the down force for the strings.

Clamping the Headstock

Cigar Box Guitar Headstock clamping

You will now have a rectangular piece of the neck with a 45 degree “wedge” at the end. Take this piece and glue it to the back of the neck to create a thicker headstock. When the glue has dried, sand the top face and back face of the headstock smooth.


 

 

When all the woodwork is done sand the neck smooth and it is time to protect the guitar with some lacquer.  You can leave the box unfinished if you wish but the neck needs some lacquer to protect it from picked up dirt and grease off your hands and to help with sliding up and down the neck.

I recommend a water based lacquer called KTM-9.  It is easy to apply with a brush, dries in about an hour, and it can be used on the box if you wish.

Cigar Box Guitar Bridge Position

Cigar Box Guitar Bridge Position

For this guitar the bridge can be made from a variety of materials.  I prefer a short piece of hard maple.  The piece I use, and the one supplied in our kit, is around 40mm long, by 10mm x 8mm.   You can lower the bridge height and therefore the string action by sanding the top of the bridge.  Always sand off the sharp edges so the strings have a smooth edge where they contact the bridge.

Position the bridge just a millimeter or two behind the 25″ scale mark (or what ever scale length you are using.  You can mark this point with a pencil and simply slot the bridge in position.  Alternatively you can glue the bridge in place.

String Hole Positions

String Hole Positions

Mark 3 hole positions for the string anchor ferrules as follows. The 3 holes are positioned 10mm apart on the tail end of the neck.  Draw a line 10mm along from the edge of the lid parallel to the frets. Mark the centre of the line and mark a point 10mm to each side of this centre. Now drill a 2mm hole at each point through the neck then enlarge the hole on the fret side of the neck to 4mm to the depth of the string ferrule. Press or hammer the string ferrules in place.  When you thread the strings through from the back of the neck the ball will anchor against the wood and the string will bend around the curved top of the string ferrule.

If you want to play your instrument acoustically then you will need to create a soundhole in the lid.  You can be creative here by drilling multiple small holes to form a pattern, cut out a defined shape using a fret saw, or simply use a hole saw to drill one round hole in the lid.  The hole or combination of holes should be no bigger than a 25mm circular hole.

These 3 string guitars are normally tuned to an open chord such as G or D.   From a standard pack of 6 strings take the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Strings and string the guitar.

For open G tuning tune the 5th string to G, the 4th to D and the 3rd to G (an octave higher than the 5th).  When you play with a slide the fret positions will give you accurate chord changes.

To tune to open D tune the strings to D A D.

 

The cigar box guitar is a simple instrument so the electrics consist of a simple piezo pickup, a volume potentiometer and a 1/4″ jack socket.

Glue the Piezo to the underside of the lid behind the bridge position.  Solder the red wire to the left hand lug on the potentiometer (pot).  Solder the black wire to the metal top of the pot. Bend the right hand of the 3 lugs back against the metal pot casing and solder it to the casing.

Connect the middle lug with red wire to the live lug on the jack socket and solder in place.  Solder a black wire to join the metal casing of the pot to the earth lug on the jack socket.

Cigar box wiring system

Cigar Box Guitar Wiring Diagram