Cigar Box Guitar

Discussion in 'Art & Culture' started by Bowser, Oct 4, 2015.

  1. Bowser Life is Fatal. Valued Senior Member

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    So, after a discussion in another thread, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the compulsion to build my own Cigar Box Guitar. I don't know why, but stuff like that just takes hold, and I can't let it go 'til I act on it. I've gone out and purchased two cigar boxes, some 1 x 2 maple board, 1/4 x 2 poplar, tuning machines, wood glue, guitar strings, and fret wire. I've got a drill, but I need a coping saw (next week).

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  3. Bowser Life is Fatal. Valued Senior Member

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    The dog and I had the place to ourselves Saturday night, so I stayed up and worked on my CBG. Being creative with the tools I have on hand, I managed to build the neck and prep the cigar box. It was an all=nighter, but I had fun.

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    Been working on a couple options for the bridge. It's traditional to use a 1/4" eye bolt, but I wanted something different, so I cut in half a piece of 1/2" round stock. I also tried making a bridge out of poplar and maple, but it sits a bit high, and I'm concerned about the action.
     
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    In my day we called them "cigar-box banjos."
     
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  7. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

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    Looks good. I like a high action.
     
  8. Kristoffer Giant Hyrax Valued Senior Member

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    If you plan on making it a 4 string then you needn't worry too much about the action.
     
  9. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

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    In my family, musical ability seems to skip a generation. Neither I nor my siblings can carry a tune in a bucket but our father could play any instrument (not well, maybe - he knew the theory but only practice makes perfect). He learned from his grandfather.

    People used to bring guitars, etc. to him to fix. He had a little container of casein glue. Somebody gave him a broken cello, which he fixed and played for years. I gave him a book I found on building violins from scratch. Now that he's dead, I have it in my library. The woodworking aspect has always resonated more with me than the playing of the instrument.
     
  10. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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  11. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

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    I got my first banjo from a similar business:
    http://www.backyardmusic.com/Banjos.html
    The pot is made from a section of cardboard mailing tube. I also got a fretless banjo kit which I still have to assemble.
     
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    A fretless banjo??? Geeze, don't they get enough disrespect already?

    Question: How long does it take to get a banjo in tune?
    Answer: No one knows because nobody has ever bothered to try.
     
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  13. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

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    They were all fretless originally, just like fiddles. Frets are a modern thing, taken from the guitar. And by the way, the banjo is the only truly American musical instrument. And the blues started on banjos, not guitars. What you think of as banjo music is probably bluegrass, which didn't even start until the 1950's.
     
  14. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    Interesting way to produce a good, but less-pricey banjo.

    We had a neighbor once who made a fretless banjo according to instructions in one of the Foxfire books. He used the skin from the "belly" of a big catfish for the membrane / head.
     
  15. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

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    Wow, I didn't know you could use fish skin. The Chinese have a similar instrument called a Sanxian that uses snake skin.

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  16. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

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    They are called wood-top banjos. They have been around for a long time too. They don't have the same sound and aren't as loud, but great for just practicing.

    I'm familiar with that design, the Foxfire books are great. The head is smaller though, and so it's also quieter. It was an adaptation for the materials available at the time. The original ones were from gourds, which I want to try to grow.
     
  17. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    Back then I got the impression that the catfish skin was purely his idea. But I see it could have been a perverse twist on a literal cat's hide being mentioned in one supposed plan. Or maybe a facetious impulse if he knew about the South American "banjo catfish".

    The only problem with those inspirations is that he was no Mark Twain -- not a very joking or humorous-minded person. We even thought he said it came from a cat at first (which maybe seemed a bit wild itself at that time), but he corrected us later: "No, from the underside of a catFISH."

    I remember being surprised by that smaller diameter, as well as the rest of the banjo. May have helped to make the whiskered aquatic denizen's contribution more feasible. Hypothetical scene at the Garvis place:

    "Hey, Uncle Pete, I went noodling today and got this huge monster."

    "Whoa, that gives me an idea. Try to keep its belly hide intact, Jimmy."


    * Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
     
  18. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

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    I know they make leather out of stingrays. It has these weird, hard bumps all over it.
     
  19. Bowser Life is Fatal. Valued Senior Member

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    LOL. I doubt it will go that far. It is interesting. I've learned a lot in the process along the way. Though I've always known what the guitar scale is, I never new how much it can affect the tone quality. It seems the shorter the scale, the muddier the tone. Anyway, I'm going with a 23" scale on this one. I haven't had time this week to work on it much, but I'm hoping to finish it this weekend. I thought I would take what I learn from this project and build a better one (possibly electric 4 string).
     
  20. Bowser Life is Fatal. Valued Senior Member

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    Well, it's pretty much complete. The only thing left to do is figure out a way to mark the fret positions. I thought about dowel pin inlays, but that just seems like a lot of work for such a basic instrument. Maybe I will use brass screws. Not too sure at this point. Acoustically, it sounds okay. It's not as loud as a regular guitar, but I figured as much when I started. I'm now thinking about making one for my wife's cousin. I have enough maple to make two more necks, an extra set of strings, three more tuning keys, and some other stuff that came in bulk. All in all, I'm satisfied with the end result.

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  21. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

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    Toothpicks. Seriously. Cut some decent and tight-fitting notches, no more than a millimeter deep, and place and trim. A very small amount of woodglue may be necessary, but don't over do it. Also, make damn sure you've made some precise measurements for the fret positions--unless you're going for Outside the Dream Syndicate.

    Also, I strongly recommend a proper pick-up as opposed to contact mikes (as some builders recommend), especially if you use effects and play in any but the quietest of venues.
     
  22. Bowser Life is Fatal. Valued Senior Member

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    I just wanted something simple, so I purchased some dimensional stickers at the store for 1.69. When I build my next CBG, I will take more time with it--maybe even add frets to the board.

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  23. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

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    Not a bad idea. The frets are kind of a nightmare--if you're off by just a couple of microns in either direction, it can be off by many cents tonally.

    I've made a few faux hurdy-gurdy type instruments with a waxed wheel (turned by a hand crank) to oscillate the strings--one or two strings for drone, and another for playing the melody.
     

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