Paul McCartney Cigar Box Guitar Revisted
A while back I ran a story on the Paul McCartney cigar box guitar used with the remaining Nirvana guys at 12-12-12 (you can find it here). Like many, it sparked my interest in building my own, and over the past week I’ve started researching a bit more about the process. It all seems pretty straight forward but there are a couple of things that I needed to dig around for to find some answers to my questions. Here are a few tips I discovered in those area: what size box, choosing a pickup, and what strings to use.
First off, I have to say that there are some fantastic resources online for the budding building – in particular Cigar Box Nation (http://www.cigarboxnation.com/), C. B. Gitty Crafter Supply (http://www.cbgitty.com/) and Cigar Box Guitar Parts.com (http://www.cigarboxguitarparts.com/). I’d recommend trawling through their sites and you’ll find almost everything you need to know.
The question of what size box to use only came to me when I started looking through eBay to find a box – problem is they come in so many sizes! It seems that the general consensus is that a box at least 5.5 inches (14cm) wide and longer than 7.5 inches (19cm) is what you want. You also want it to be at least 2 inches (5cm) deep. That’s not to say you can’t use something smaller or larger – they all have their own characteristics – but I think I’ll wait to experiment after I’ve built something “standard”. Obviously things like scale length come into play as well – you probably want to look at around 25 inches for your first one. Also, the number of strings – people use three or four, but I like the idea of the more traditional three strings, partly because it feels more rustic!!
Finally, most folks suggest looking in op shops or going to cigar shops to find your boxes as prices can be a bit inflated on eBay. That said, I found lots for around $15 including postage which didn’t seem too bad. Of course the other option is to build your own box if you can’t find something the right size. This goes against the “build it out of things you find” approach many favour, but at least you’d still be building it yourself.
For your first build it seems that using a piezo pickup is the go – they are much cheaper and a bit more traditional. Problem is that piezos come in heaps of different sizes, so what do you look for?
First thing is to look for an uncased piezo. Most of the ones you’ll find in electronics shops are encased in plastic, which apparently isn’t as good as a nude one. Secondly, the actual size ranges from tiny to 5cm across. Some say that the bigger ones are better for bass tones, but the general opinion is that size doesn’t really make a difference. Looks like getting one 20-25mm in diameter is a good start.
As far as mounting it goes, the simplest option is to mount it in the box, just below the bridge and slightly toward the bass side. But there’s a bit of trial and error in this and it helps if you can still open the box up after finishing it so you can try some other options.
This is pretty simple – look for light or extra light electric guitar strings and then use the three (or four) lightest strings in the pack. Obviously not having a truss rod in the neck means you don’t want too much tension in them. I’ve got some spare rock maple from a previous guitar build and I’m tempted to use that for the neck so I can use slightly heavier strings, so think about the kind of wood you are using when you select your strings (if it’s something like pine, use as light as you can).
That’s it so far from me. I’ll hopefully start building in the next few weeks and will try and post o couple of articles outlining my progress – and things I learn – along the way.
I’ve finally finished making some CBGs myself. You might want to check them out to get some ideas.
Three-string custom box guitar
Four-string custom box guitar
Two-string bass custom box guitar