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Top Five DIY Instruments for the Holidays, from Cigar Box Guitars to Les Claypool’s “Whamola”

(Image credit: Shane Speal)

Here’s a story for people looking for a cheaper alternative when it comes to Christmas presents. With the help of, we’ve compiled the top five sets of free musical-instrument plans available online.

With a few bucks and some sawdust, you can check off your entire shopping list, plus your recipients will be getting the most personalized gifts of the season.

1.Three-String Cigar Box Guitar: This Depression-era instrument was the starting point for countless blues legends and sounds great. I’ve literally made thousands of them over the last 20-plus years and use them in every concert. The guitar is just three strings, a stick, a box and some tuners, but it’s a true roots music slide machine. Get the free plans here.

2.2x4 Lap Steel: This insanely simple project will produce the lonesome truckstop country licks you’ve always secretly wanted. The design is based off 1950s slab lap steels, using a common 2x4 as the body. It’s so basic that it leaves a wide array of possible mods and custom painting finishes. One of these can be built in about an hour with just a circular saw and drill. Get the free plans in our original story here. Extra: For more ideas, check out Steve Bruce’s Improvements to the 2x4 Design.

3.The $20 Cigar Box Ukulele: Designed by guitarist/singer/washtub bassist Shelley Rickey of the Mourning Glories, this ukulele uses an empty cigar box for the body and plastic zip ties for the frets. As you can hear in the lo-fi video above, the instrument sounds great. Download the free plans here.

4. Mailbox Dobro: I first wrote about this DIY dobro on last year. Using a metal mailbox from Walmart and some dead guitar parts, I cobbled a great sounding instrument that has the raspy metal Dobro sound. It looks freakish and is always a fan favorite when I play it on stage. Since then, I have documented the entire building process so you can make your own. Get the free plans here.

5. Les Claypool-style “Whamola”: Les Claypool's one-string Whamola is the mutated and high-voltage bastard-son of the washtub bass. Using a lever tuning/playing system, the instrument delivers bulbous, freak-out sounds. One bass string on a stick with a lever system is all you need to slap up some pork soda. Get the free plans here.

But, hey, if money’s no object, you could just buy a $1 million Fender Custom Shop Guitar or a 24-string bass.

Ok, I’m headed back to the woodshed to make more cigar box guitars. See my latest creations at

Shane Speal is "King of the Cigar Box Guitar" and the creator of the modern cigar box guitar movement. Hear the music, see the instruments and read about his Cigar Box Guitar Museum at Speal's latest album, Holler! is on C. B. Gitty Records.