Well, the building phase is pretty much complete – I’ve built three instruments over the course of the past month so it’s time to take a look at how it all worked out. The first one is a three-string
cigar box guitar. That said, I’m actually calling them “custom box guitars” seeing as the main point of difference with them is the fact I’m not using a cigar box! Like my songwriting endeavors, they aren’t exactly finished – the fine tuning/sanding/finishing is something that can take a long time and I’m afraid I get impatient to play them!
Background The whole cigar box thing started for me with the Paul McCartney performance at 121212 where he teamed up with the remaining Nirvana guys. There was something about the sound that grabbed me and I wanted to find out more. The first step was to make something very basic – and Max and I churned out a couple of very rudimentary models to check how to actually go about building one. Because cigar boxes were proving hard to come by on short notice, we made a box, and that set the seed for making “custom boxes” moving forward.
Construction The core of all three versions is a body “frame” made from a 40mm plank of pine: simple trace and cut out the shape, then cut the insides out leaving a 20mm thick “frame”. Next step was to get some thin timber to use for the top and bottom. Ben at Anagote Timbers has helped me with wood in the past (all the crew there are great and I can’t recommend them highly enough) and he suggested some Tasmanian Blackwood that he ended up thinning down to 7mm. Finally, the neck was from some rock maple – I really wanted something decent here given the lack of a truss rod to keep the neck straight. On the three-string model I used some African Sapele for the fretboard, but I think the bass and four-string ones where I just used the single piece of rock maple works and looks a little better. This was also the first time I had fretted a neck (my previous build was a fretless bass).
For electronics, I made the bold decision to wind my own pickup for the three-stringer. It was a fun project and it has turned out nicely. Other hardware includes an aluminum nut, threaded rod for the bridge, and a bunch of tuners, ferrules, and tools from Stew Mac.
Performance Rather than talking about all of them, I’ll do a bit more detail on each individual post. The good news is that they all really sound great! The three-stringer is tuned to open G (G/D/G) as most of what I’ve listened to has been in that tuning. The pickup on this three-stringer is, as mentioned, the homemade one and while it probably need a few more winds to improve its output, it still works well. Using three strings was my starting point as I really love the work of Mike Snowden. I’m still playing around with the action to get a nice balance between high enough to use a slide, but low enough to use normal fretting
What’s Next As I said, it’s not exactly “finished”. I could do a heap of sanding and finishing to make it look better, and there are a lot of construction techniques that I tried with these ones that I will modify next time. I also still want to add a piezo pickup to this one but that will have to wait.