What smells like a cigar and has three strings? But sounds this cool?
No, of course that isn’t me playing, just my inspiration. First, let’s get one thing straight. I’m a decent hand with a TIG welder and I’m learning to be a decent woodworker (HEY, I heard that!), but I don’t have have a shred of musical talent in my body. I also don’t have the right combination of genes to be able to sit for hours every day and practice to learn. Imagine if before you could make a project in the shop you had to train with a hand plane for an hour a day for a month?
But I really like the raw, basic sound of “Cigar Box Guitars”. I’ve made two previously, this is my third. The first one was a C-minus effort. The frets were wonky and the strings had to sit too high for the think to play. The second one was pretty nice, definitely a B-plus effort. It looked nice and sounded pretty good, although one of the strings was a little buzzy if you weren’t fingering it. I gave that to my nephew for Christmas in 2011. I had enough flotsam left over to make another, so here goes.
The neck is a piece of 1″ x 3″ Walnut from the local hardware store. I think they sell this stuff as trim, I had to dig through a pile of it to find a piece that was straight. I laminated a thin slice of East Indian Rosewood on for the fingerboard. I did this on the last one I made too. It is a nice approach because then the fingerboard comes up level with (or slightly above) the lid of the guitar. Otherwise you have to notch the top of the neck blank where it goes into the box.
Most of the work is in making the neck. I laid out the fret locations using a fret ruler, which you can get from Stewart Macdonald, along with a gazillion other supplier for your budding luthier. They also have an online fret calculator. I used a gibson scale that was about 24″ long to lay out the location of the frets.
I knifed in the frets, then laid out the location for the scale markers.
And sawed in the kerfs for the frets.
I drilled holes for the scale markers and glued in pearl dots. It’s a pretty simple dress-up operation.
I made the nut – the gizmo that supports the strings at the top of the neck – from a piece of bone. I made a tiny saw kerf for each string, I’ll use a tiny file to make then the right size and depth when I put the strings on. I wrapped the clamping caul with plastic tape to keep it from sticking. I’ve got the frets installed now too. You can buy fretwire online cheaply, just tap it into your grooves, snip off the extra and file the ends. Don’t hit it directly with a hammer, it will bend and never stay in place. Use a small piece of wood to spread the blow across the whole fret.
I had glued on an extra thickness at the top of the neck so that I could angle it back. The tuners (string adjusters) need to sit below the nut for this to work correctly.
I cut a square hole in one side of the box for the neck, and cut the neck to it’s final length. It is as long as the box and glues to the inside of the lid. I took care to make the holes just the right size so there aren’t any gaps. The box has a couple of coats of shellac already.
I glued another block onto the bottom of the neck where it enters the cigar box, then shaped the back of the neck so it felt good in my hand.
Gluing up is a little angst-inducing. The box is fragile and finished, and the neck is unwieldy.
I let the glue dry for a couple of hours and then slathered on a coat of Tried & True varnish oil on the neck. I’m having mixed feelings about this finish. I put a drip on top of the can a week ago and it hasn’t dried AT ALL. I suspect this is just oil, no varnish and no drier. It smells nice, and the wood looks nice with it applied, but will it ever actually dry? I have a pepper mill I made in December that probably has 12 coats of this product with no apparent buildup. Does it really have varnish in it, or is this just marketing?
I have to wire the pickups, make a holder for the end of the strings, install the tuners, adjust the nut grooves…and deal with the non-drying finish before I can call this complete. It’s a fun project, not a lot of woodworking, but loads of little details to chase down. Time to get a cup of coffee and head out to the shop.