Friday, September 4, 2009

DYI Wine Box Guitar

After seeing a series of how to play cigar box guitar videos posted on Boing Boing last Friday and then exploring Shane Speal's excellent Cigar Box Nation website, I decided to try my hand at making my own 3-string cigar box guitar. After digging around the house a bit I found that I had most of the necessary materials and tools already on hand, and those that I didn't were inexpensive and easy to get a hold of. The 36 in. 1 x 2 was left over from a previous framing project and I appropriated the wooden wine box from Kym's studio (I think it had come with a stash of buttons she had bought on ebay):

First step was to cut out a chunk of the neck of the guitar on the router table so that it could be glued level with the top of the wine box, and then cut a hole in each end of the box for the neck to fit through:

Once I was sure the neck fit nice and snug and level with the top of the wine box (see first pic below) I turned my attention to the headstock. Using the router table I removed about 1/4" from the front the neck, about 4 inches from the top. I then drilled holes and mounted three tuning pegs to the headstock. It was at this point that I kind of goofed up (more on that later - keep reading...) Finally I used a Dremel to carve out a notch at the base of the headstock to hold the nut in place (and by nut I mean a 1-3/4" length of threaded stock - I'll use another length of threaded stock for the bridge):

I then drilled three holes at the bottom of the neck to thread the guitar strings through. I put a rivet in each of the holes to give better support for the strings (otherwise the strings would dig into the wood causing the guitar to go out of tune - plus it looks kinda snazzy):

Once I had both ends of the neck taken care of, it was time to glue the neck and wine box together. Glue. Clamp. Wait:

Once the glue was dry it was time to wire this puppy for sound. I bought a 1/4" panel mount phone jack and a Piezo transducer at Radio Shack (total cost: $4.98 + tax). The transducer is a thin brass disc about the size of a communion wafer encased in heavy-duty plastic with two lead wires. The first step was to bust up the plastic casing with a hammer (careful not to bang up the disc!) and wire the transducer to the 1/4" jack. I cut up and stripped an old data cable to get enough wire to attach the transducer leads to the jack:

Using double-sided adhesive I attached the transducer to the underside of the guitar neck, leaving about half of the disc suspended inside the box. I then drilled a hole in the side of the box for the jack and mounted it in place. I decided to screw both halves of the box together (rather than using glue) in case I wanted to get back inside to make adjustments:

Here's the finished guitar - The last step was to cut some lightning bolts into the wine box, because lightning bolts are AWESOME:

So - more about the part that I goofed up. After I attached the strings it was obvious that the distance between the strings and the neck was waaay too high, because the tuning pegs were sitting up too high. I then removed the tuning pegs, glued a piece of 1/4" plywood to the back of the headstock, re-drilled the holes, and reattached the tuning pegs. I also carved out a deeper channel for the nut and used a thinner piece of metal (an oversize screw-eye that I found on the street somewhere). This helped to lower the strings to a playable level.

My guitar-playing "skills" are rudimentary at best, but running this thing through a Danelectro distortion pedal and playing open chords with a glass slide sounds pretty great. Now to practice, practice, practice....