So you want to build a cigar box guitar but you don’t know how big the box is supposed to be?
You can’t help but notice that acoustic guitars are huge compared to cigar boxes and most of the electrics you’ve seen look to be twice the size of any cigar box you can get your hands on.
So how can you know what size cigar box to use?
What’s too thin? What’s too short? What’s not wide enough?
Well, there aren’t any hard or fast rules to making CBGs, which is part of their charm.
You can use as big or as small a box as you’d like. No matter what, you can make yourself a fully playable and totally kick-ass cigar box guitar and nearly any size box is suitable.
Here's what you're going to find below that supports that fun fact:
- what the function of the box is
- how the dimensions of a box can help you determine what kind of guitar you make
- how the length of the box can affect the overall size of the cigar box guitar
The box is a resonator
The cigar box serves not only as the thing you stick the neck through (or on) but it also helps to give the guitar volume.
When you strum the strings they vibrate. Those vibrations then go through the bridge. The bridge then vibrates the box. Now you’ve got a whole lotta music bouncin’ around in there.
With a soundhole or two or ten (or none at all... it’s up to you) you’ll let all that sweet, sweet music out and into your earholes.
In theory, the bigger the box, the bigger the sound you’ll get.
But what I’m here to tell you is that you don’t need no big ol’ box to get yourself a big ol’ sound.
What’s the best size for a box?
If there’s enough room inside the box, you can choose to run the neck through it, making it a neck-through cigar box guitar (we CBG makers like to keep naming this stuff simple).
Leaving as much room as possible inside the box is ideal for making a loud acoustic CBG.
Again, the strings vibrate and those vibrations bounce around inside the box. The less obstructions there are, such as a large amount of wood for bracing the box, the louder the CBG can be.
In addition to that, leaving a little space between the neck and the cigar box lid also allows the lid to vibrate. That freedom to vibrate helps you find that big ol’ sound.
You can get that space in a couple of different ways but notching the neck where the box lid will be is a tried and true approach.
What about a really thin box?
Thinner boxes that may not have adequate room for a neck-through design can still make for excellent guitars.
If you have a thinner box, or you’d rather not do all that cutting and notching to get a neck-through CBG, you can make a neck-on-top cigar box guitar (told ya we like to keep things simple).
In this method the neck is simply fastened to the outside of the box relieving you of having to do any of that previously mentioned cutting and notching.
When made, all the vibrating the strings do is still transferred to the box and you still get a whole lotta sweet, sweet music.
With a CBG or two under your belt (or you can dive right in to this if you want) you may choose to make an electric guitar that wouldn’t rely on acoustic properties to get a big sound.
Many a thin box has been used to make a screaming electric cigar box guitar.
How long is my CBG supposed to be?
Many cigar box guitars you see are made with traditional guitars in mind. By this I mean the CBG gets made with similar scale lengths as a Gibson, or a Fender, or a Martin, like we’re all used to seeing.
Scale length? you ask. What the what?
Scale length is the distance between the bridge (the piece on the cigar box the strings cross) and the nut (the piece the strings cross before they get to the tuning pegs).
Something I want you to consider when looking at your cigar box, and wondering how to make it into a guitar, is scale length.
So when planning your CBG, hold your neck-to-be up to the box and try to imagine how it will look.
Don’t get married to the idea. Things change when making a cigar box guitar, and change again, but play along with me for the time being.
Use your imagination
The bridge is often best kept within an inch or two of the tail-end of the cigar box.
The closer the bridge is to where the strings are attached to the the box or neck, the sharper the angle is of the strings. It is that sharp angle that ensures your strings will be kept firmly in place on the bridge and not slide around creating all sorts of headaches.
Hold a measuring stick up to the CBG-to-be and imagine how it would look with different scale lengths. How would 25” (a commonly used length) look? What about 24”?
Bear in mind that the “No Rules” mantra of CBG makers applies here. You can make whatever, however you damn well please, as short or as long as you want.
However, in an effort to illuminate as many scenarios as possible, I bring to your attention the case for aesthetics.
If you use a common scale length like 25” on a short box, you may find the appearance of your guitar to be a bit awkward. This is especially true if the neck to your guitar is fretted. You'll have a long skinny neck and a wee box at one end.
On the flip side you’ll find that the most widely accessible strings are those that best fit guitars within the 24-25”ish range.
So keeping your options open when making a cigar box guitar is an important thing and it’s just a good idea to keep perspective and proportions in mind as well.
The short, deep, and skinny of it
So whether the box is short and fat, deep and narrow, or long and thin, it can be made into one hell of a cigar box guitar. It’s entirely up to you and your imagination.
Don’t get discouraged if you can’t find the larger, ornate boxes you see posted by other makers in some online cigar box guitar groups.
Your options in making a cigar box guitar are only as limited as your willingness to think outside the box.
What size boxes do you like to use? Tell me in the comments.