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Weekend Project – Homemade Guitar – Part 1

Homemade Guitar - My modified BBG

This is part one of a series of three posts about making a homemade guitar, you can find the other two parts here and here.

I always get an immense satisfaction when something that I’ve made not only looks the way it was meant to but is actually usable. It’s a wonderful feeling seeing that your design and hardwork has produced something that works!

This all goes to say that when I received a beginner’s Cigar Box Guitar (CBG) as a gift earlier this year, my mind soon turned from playing it to working out how to replicate it. Now, there are hundreds of blogs and forums on the internet about the instrument, along with countless plans available to build your own. But what I like most about the instrument is that it is homemade; originally built out of scrap and junk that people had lying around. They didn’t have to be perfect; they were meant to make a sound; and as long as they made a sound they could be used to make music.

After a successful homemade sandpit a few months ago, a homemade guitar sounded like the perfect weekend project!

The instrument that inspired this project has already been modified to include a raised fretboard and frets made from electrician’s wire. It can now be played with fingers as well as the glass “slide”.

I’ve made a couple of whistles and ocarinas a few years ago but this is my first attempt at something as complicated as a guitar.

Designing As I Go

So, the other day, in a patch of spare time, I decided to dive in to building my first CBG. I’d read several blogs, seen lots of pictures, doodled lots of plans and sketches of how it would fit together – but mostly this was about having fun. I was going to go into the workshop with a bunch of scrap wood and come out with… something. Whether it worked or not, the process of making, designing and problem-solving as I went was, for me, it’s own reward.

I have set myself the restriction that whatever I use to make my homemade guitar has to be readily available – I cannot go out and buy any parts or tools to help me finish it. (Thankfully, I’ve got plenty of spare guitar strings; I wouldn’t fancy having a go at improvising those.)

I’d really like to make a 6-string guitar rather than a traditional 3-string CBG or 4-string Ukulele – simply because I have the most experience playing one. This will mean that the amount of compression / tension the strings put on the neck will be greater than a fewer-stringed instrument would. I’m planning on using an offcut of a palatte for the neck, but with a hardwood fretboard glued on top. Hopefully this should be strong enough to cope with the tension of the strings.

I’ll need to think of something clever for the tuning pegs – either make my own from wood or make some machine heads from bolts…

Construction Gets Underway on the Homemade Guitar

I salvaged a couple of old cupboard doors because they were perfet for the box. The ultra-thin plywood is perfect for the actual body of the guitar – it’s so thin that it should resonate nicely and get a reasonable amount of volume. Not having any plans or reference to go by, I opted to go for a vaguely Ukelele-sized box – “don’t get too ambitious” – and soon cut the pieces to size.

The pieces for the box
The plywood pieces used for the box of my Cigar Box Guitar. It’s about the size of a shoe box with a few inches cut off the end.

The box pieces are glued to thin strips of wood along the edges that will hold it together. I’m thinking that the top of the box will be held down by the bridge (the bit where the strings rest on the body of the guitar) so it won’t need to be glued in. This will make alterations, repairs and modifications easier in the future (especially if I want to add a piezo pickup or anything). The body will not be anywhere near strong enough on its own to deal with the tension of the strings, so I’m going to make the neck go all the way through the body and out the other end.

The (almost) completed box with bracing along the top for the soundboard to sit on. The blocks glued to the bottom are for the neck truss to sit on comfortably and strengthen the build.

Next week I’ll be making the neck, which is both a little intimidating and exciting!

How About You?

I’d love to hear if anyone has ever tried making an instrument of their own. Did it go the way you’d planned? Did you use a kit or make it from scratch? Maybe you’ve got some tips you’d like to share?

 

 

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