Cigar Box: How to Build a Smokin' Cigar Box Guitar for Around $25, Part 3
Hopefully, you've recovered from all the sawing and hours of sanding from last time!
Before we continue building our axe, I wanted to introduce you to Ben Prestage.
I'm a huge Ben Prestage fan. The first time I came across Ben was this clip (below) of him covering a Primus song.
I thought, “Primus on a CBG (cigar box guitar)? No way!" But he made me a believer. What is that guitar he is playing made out of? Two broom sticks, sewing machine bobbin pickups, a bass guitar and a three-string slide guitar? Awesome! (The guitar is called a Lowebow, named after its creator, John Lowe, who also is a master of the cigar box guitar and a great one-man-band performer).
While watching this clip, I kept looking to see where the rest of his band was, but it’s just him. It's unbelievable how one person can make such a big sound.
Oh, and check out the Sharpie he's using for a capo. Bad ass!
Music is in Ben's blood. His great-grandmother was a vaudeville musician who toured with Al Jolson and participated in medicine shows. His late grandfather, a Mississippi sharecropper, turned Ben onto the sounds and culture of Mississippi and blues in general.
Ben is noted for his interesting approach to instrumentation (finger-style guitar, harmonica, banjo, lap steel, fiddle, resonator guitar, foot-drums and vocals) and his award-winning original songwriting (He's been named Most Unique Performer at the Songwriters Showcase of America). He also is nominated for an Independent Music Award and Blues Music Award.
Here's Ben in concert (below) at the Belgium Bluegrass Festival, showing his full range as a musician. I don't know what it is — the howl of his voice, maybe the growl of the guitar? — but I dig it!
At 32:00, he picks up the Lowebow and plays a song called "2:19." At 37:00, he introduces his “band." It blows my mind how someone can play a cigar box guitar, drums and sing and have it sound like a three- or four-piece band.
Now that you've been inspired, let’s get back to building that axe.
Tuning Pegs: There are some guides online on where to put your tuning pegs on a CBG, but I like to keep it simple. I set them on top of the headstock and make a mark where I want them to go. I make sure I place the tuning peg for the middle string in about 1/4 inch from the side so I won’t have to use a string tree. I use the 3/8-inch drill bit to drill the holes. Make sure you leave enough on the side so there's enough wood to hold the tuning peg in place.
At the tail end of the guitar we are going to make three holes for our tension pins to hold our strings in place. I use a 1/8-inch bit and drill three holes. One is in the center; the other two are 1/4 inch from the sides. Take a hammer and gently tap in each tension pin, making sure the open or cut side is toward the bottom of the guitar.
Now let’s apply some sealer to the neck. Follow the manufacturer's instructions. Do not put sealer on the neck where the fret board will go or on the part of the neck that will be inside the box.
While that is drying, let’s find some spots for some sound holes. I like putting the sound holes near the corners of the box because we can’t put them in the center, since our neck is going to be glued to the lid. If you're using grommets, make sure you match up the size hole you will need to fit the grommet. They aren’t necessary, but they look cool. Use some super glue to hold them in place.
After a few coats of sealer and install your tuning pegs. It’s really starting to look like something now!
I’ve decided to build a second CBG to show you some of the cool things that are out there for cigar box guitars. I will unveil what I’ve been working on in our next post, but CB Gitty provided us with some cool gear to bling it up.
• Black Skull Sealed-Gear Guitar Tuners
• Red Skull on Black Speed Knobs
• Chrome and Black Biohazard 40mm Soundhole Cover
• 27mm Piezos with Leads
• Dimpled Chrome Ovoid Curved-Profile Jack Plates.
Here's your recon mission for next time:
• Soldering kit: Check out your local hardware store. Radio Shack also has them for pretty cheap.
• Pickup: Peizos are great for that lo-fi sound and are pretty cheap, but magnetic pickups work great too. They just require it to be grounded to the bridge and a off-set neck.
• 1/4-inch mono phone jack
• About 3 feet of hook-up wire
• Volume pot: It's not needed if you're doing the electric thing, but it's nice to have. You can pick them up for only a few bucks, so why not?
All of the electrical gear can be found on eBay or, you guessed it, at CB Gitty.
Original-Flatpup pickups are really cool, very thin handmade pickups. I've had my eye on these for some time now, and it's a pleasure to use one of them in our project. It might be small, but it packs a big punch.
Original-Flatpup pickups are hand-made by Elmar Zeilhofer in Vienna, Austria. He designed them to be thin enough to fit between the strings and the top of the box. He also makes one to replace a full-size humbucker if you want to add a little DIY to your standard guitar. He makes these as a single craftsman, which kinda adds exclusivity to buy one, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
It has a very full, bright sound that's like nothing you've heard before. Once I tried them out, I was hooked; humbuckers and P90s just aren't good enough anymore. We will be talking more about Original-Flatpup pickups in our next blog post, and we'll share a few clips of people trying them out.
Trust me, you don’t want to miss the next one!
Keep on playing ...
For more information on Ben Prestage, visit benprestagemusic.com.
For more information on Original-Flatpup pickups, visit original-flatpup.com.
Brian Saner owns Saner Cigar Box Guitars, which makes custom handmade guitars and amps using local dry-aged wood in every guitar. These guitars are handmade and might have imperfections, but that's what makes them unique. Once you hear the howl of a CBG, you might not want to play a Fender or Gibson again. Get one at sanercigarboxguitars.com, devildownrecords.com/guitars and Main Street Gallery. Check out his Facebook page.
Holes drilled for the tuning pegs with a 3/8-inch drill bit.
Tension pins installed in the tail of the guitar. Note: Tap them in gently with a hammer with the cut or open side toward the end of the neck.
Neck with sealant. Note: Apply sealant only to the headstock, back of the neck and tail, leaving areas that will be glued bare to insure a strong bond.
Body with sound holes and brass grommets held in with super glue.
Headstock with tuning pegs installed. Make sure the neck is dry before you do this so you don’t scuff the finish.
It’s really starting to look like something now!
Gear provided by CB Gitty to be used in the secret guitar we're building for you. Black Skull Sealed-Gear Guitar Tuners, Red Skull on Black Speed Knobs, Chrome and black Biohazard 40mm Soundhole Cover, 27mm Piezos with Leads, Dimpled Chrome Ovoid Curved-Profile Jack Plates (I like using jack plates because sometimes the wood in a cigar box is too thick and jack plates make it easy to mount the jack to the box).
Your recon mission for next time: 1/4-inch mono phone jack, 500K audio taper or volume pot (not needed but good to have), 27mm Piezos with leads (or magnetic pickup), at least 3 feet of hookup wire.
A fine work of art next to a fine work of art: The Original-Flatpup pickup. We will be using one of these in our secret guitar build. Click here for more info.
Different sizes of Original-Flatpup pickups.
A size comparison of the Original-Flatpup pickup. It's thinner than a cigarette but has a big sound.
Ben Prestage: A CBG legend, one-man band and so much more.