A Jim of All Trades

Posts Tagged ‘music

Electric Cigar Box Guitar

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A little while ago I made another cigar box guitar. Here’s a write up and some pics, a video is at the end.

This one is a fairly typical three string CBG, but there are a few unique things about it that I hadn’t done before…

First, I made the pickup for this one, rather than using a simple piezo pickup or a regular electric guitar pickup. An electric guitar pickup is basically just a magnet(s) inside of a wire spool. I don’t understand the science behind it, but when you pluck the metal guitar string, the wire and magnet create a voltage, which is what ends up making the sound out of a guitar amplifier. Somewhere online I found that power adapters – the older big bulky heavier style – have wire spools inside them, and you can make a pickup by gluing magnets in the center. So that’s what I did:


becomes this:

Taking apart the adapter is easier said than done. I didn’t take pictures of the internals before I gutted it but there are a lot of metal pieces that have to be drilled/cut out to access the wire spools, and it’s very easy to damage the spools. So if you do it, proceed with caution, and with power tools.

I got some rare earth magnets that fit inside the spools from Home Depot, glued them in, and soldered it up with a jack and potentiometer for volume. The Altoids tin is just there for decoration.

Otherwise, the other differences about this one are that I used heavier strings on it. Usually I use the highest three strings from a set (the G, B & E), typically tuned to open G (G, D, G). This time I used the A, D, G strings. It gives the guitar a lower voicing, is much easier to tune to open G, while still being very easy to tune back to standard. I really like the versatility with these strings and the voicing compared to the higher “twangier” sound with the high strings.

The only other major difference is that I used a router for rounding off the back of the neck, shaving down the headstock, and some of the other wood work. I usually do all of this by belt sander and hand tools and the router made things 100 times easier. Seriously, I had the neck done in a fraction of the time it usually takes with the belt sander. I love the router!

It sounds okay, though the pickup has really low output. The amp in the video is actually turned up fairly high with an overdrive pedal on (as well as a delay), that’s the only way I could get decent volume out of it. Since the pickup is small and centered under the middle string, it picks it up much louder than the outer two, so it takes purposeful playing to make it sound balanced (that’s not to say I played it that evenly). Next time I make a pickup like this, I’m going to play around with the orientation of the magnets and positioning to see if I can make it sound better.

Well, that about covers it. I have some ideas for other guitars, but my time is limited and motivation fluctuates, so who knows when they’ll get made.

Thanks a lot for reading – happy playing!


Written by Jim

May 1, 2018 at 9:13 pm

Another Diddley Bow

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This is my latest project, another Diddley Bow (one stringed cigar box guitar). Construction wise, this is basically the same as the last one I made.

The story behind this one is, that my mother has a friend, who has a son, who collects cigar boxes; apparently he has hundreds of them. My mom’s friend took one of the boxes without him knowing and asked my mother if I would make a guitar for him, thinking it would be a neat thing to add to his collection, though to the best of my knowledge he doesn’t play guitar at all or know about cigar box guitars. So, this was made as a gift for him. The thing is though, that I was given the box like two years ago and just made the guitar now. Oops. I lost motivation to make these for a while, and just generally have been busy, so I just kept putting it off until recently. Seeing the box sitting on my work bench for all this time finally wore me down I guess.

The box is a cheap cardboard one, which I usually wouldn’t make a guitar out of. For a decoration it works just fine though.

I do really like the label and design. Owls are cool. The little ones perched on cigars around the outside edge are a neat touch. The inside is neat too. Cigar boxes typically have really cool labels on the inside. I think it’s because they would be sitting open in a cigar store to display the cigars so it made for a better presentation, but that’s just a guess and I’ve never researched it to find out for sure.

It says “Invincible White Owl” on the inside” but only “White Owl” on the outside. If it’s really invincible, I’d think that’s a good selling point and it should be plastered all over the box!

Quality wise, my workmanship here isn’t that great. The piece of wood I used wasn’t the best and I didn’t pay as close attention to detail as I should have when making it. I didn’t install frets; considering it’ll likely never be played it wasn’t worth the effort, but I did still notch the neck so the reference points are there and it looks better. Overall I do think it looks okay, but it isn’t as nice as it should be.

It does play, and sounds so-so. I didn’t record a video and my mom has already picked it up so I won’t have a chance to any more. I do hope the recipient likes it and feel bad for taking so long to do it. This is the last guitar that I’ve promised to someone and I don’t intend to take on any more requests unless something really special comes up. I do have anther guitar that’s roughly half done under work (started that one a couple years ago, too) and have some fresh ideas for other new ones, so I think I’ll keep building while my motivation’s up. Stay tuned…

Thanks a lot for reading and happy pick’n!

Written by Jim

March 12, 2018 at 1:07 pm

A Diddley Bow & Bottle Neck Slide

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For Christmas this year I made a diddley bow as a gift for my sister, her husband, and their four boys. A diddley bow is a single stringed instrument, typically played like a guitar, or a slide guitar that you would lay across your lap. You can make them as fancy or as basic as you like. Do a google search and you’ll find all kinds; some including electric pickups and intricate decoration, others as simple as a string stretched over a board.

I had never made one before and decided to do this rather last minute to give them as a gift. It took about a week to do, working a bit in the evenings, which is pretty quick for me. I figured, having only one string, it’d be easy enough for even the least musically inclined among them to be able to get some sort of tune out of. As you can see, it doesn’t have frets, so it’s best played with a slide (see further below), though you can still get notes out of it by holding the string down with your fingers. They all seemed to like it and my sister has since told me it gets picked up and played with a lot, so I’m really pleased that they enjoy it.

Here are some pics:

I think the bridge is a key for winding clocks. I found it in a bin at an antiques store a year ago.

The fret markers; I only marked the odd and 12th frets.

So they’d have a slide to use with it, I made [well, sort of] one of those too. I’ve seen bottle neck slides online and at festivals and have always wanted to try making one. I have some old wine bottles collecting dust in my basement, so gave it a go. It took me three of four tries until I was able to do it without cracking the neck, but finally got it right.

It’s a cool process, first you etch a line around the neck, then hold the neck up to the etched line in boiling water for a few minutes, then immediately move it to ice water, and, when done right, the glass cracks through along the etch line. Finally, just polish off the broken edge (I used a Dremel) and you have a slide. There are many good videos on YouTube if you’re curious enough to look.

No video of this guitar, I half forgot, half didn’t have time to do one, but it isn’t anything special, just a single stringed CBG really.

Thanks a lot for reading, happy playing!

Written by Jim

January 13, 2018 at 8:28 pm

Gas Can Guitar

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It’s been a while, but I made another guitar. This one’s a Gas Can Guitar, made out of, well, a gas can…

I saw one online a while ago, thought it was awesome, and wanted to make my own. My dad gave me the gas can a year or two ago, I found a donor guitar for the parts cheap online at the beginning of this year, and I finally got around to making it. This one was probably the easiest I’ve made so far, but I wasn’t overly motivated to do it, so it dragged on for a while.

As for play-ability, the action turned out pretty high and there’s not much I can do to lower it easily due to how it’s made. It also goes in and out of tune while playing due to the can bowing and shifting the bridge (I think). So, it’s not the best sounding or playing guitar, but still good enough to play around and have some fun with. Also, the pickup is a little on the hot side, which I like.

The back:

And here’s a pic before it was assembled, so you can see what’s inside:

And finally, here’s a short and rather sloppily played video:

Thanks as always for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

Written by Jim

November 24, 2017 at 10:23 am

License Plate Guitar

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About a week ago I finished my most recent guitar build, an electric four string license plate guitar:

Having seen a number of these on YouTube, I’ve wanted to make one for a while. I actually started on it around Christmas time, but didn’t work on it for a weeks at a time due to being busy and having some life distractions.

The box is made out of poplar, the neck butternut, and the finger board is oak. I got the license plate off eBay and chose one from New York because I think it looks cool, it’s fairly unique (most license plate guitars I’ve seen use western plates), and I’m from New York state originally.

Aesthetically speaking, this is one of the favorites that I’ve made; it didn’t turn out perfect, but I’m pleased with it. Unfortunately I messed up marking the fingerboard and cutting for the frets though; it doesn’t play in tune down the neck. It’s still good enough for me to use to noodle around with, but it always just sounds a bit “off” and I won’t play it for many people (not that I do much of that anyway).

This isn’t an original idea, but my favorite thing about this is the tail piece: it’s the end of a fork cut and bent for the application. It works perfectly and, in my opinion, looks pretty cool.

For pickups, there are two piezos mounted under the plate, one under either end of the bridge, and I included a volume control. The sound quality is so-so, about what you can expect for piezo pickups.

Well, thanks a lot for looking. I have another project I want to start right away, and it shouldn’t be too hard, but finding the motivation and time to do it could prove challenging.

Thanks for reading and happy playing!

Written by Jim

March 10, 2017 at 11:22 am

Wine Box Guitar

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After a several month hiatus over the summer, I’ve finally built another guitar: A Wine Box Guitar.


I got the idea after seeing a video of Justin Johnson (easily my favorite CBG player) playing one sometime last year. I got the box from eBay and my wife found the guitar that I used for the other components while helping clean out a relative’s basement.

Here’s the “before” picture:


I’m relatively please with how it turned out but there are some flaws and short comings. The wine box has really think sides (3/4″) and the top and bottom are 1/4″ thick, so it doesn’t resonate well at all. As a result, it’s very “thin” sounding and doesn’t have much volume. A larger sound hole would have helped, but I didn’t want to ruin the awesome dragon on the lid, so went with a simple f-hole. Cutting that out was the hardest most time consuming part of the process and it splintered a little around the edge.


Template I made for tracing the hole.

Otherwise the build was pretty straight forward, I just removed the bridge and neck from the guitar and put them on the wine box. I did replace the nut and tuners as well.

It is playable but due to the poor sound quality is more of a decoration than anything to me. I still think it’s neat and am pleased with it. Here are just a few more pictures and there’s a video, with some quite noticeable mistakes, at the end of me playing it.


You can get an idea here of the thickness of the sides. This was a 2-bottle wine box, the notches in the sides were for inserts to hold the bottles in place.

The neck was glued on and reinforced with two screws.

Having nylon strings, I think playing classical music with it is most appropriate, but I’m not the best classical guitarist. Here’s the video, anyway. (It’s pretty faint, so you might have to turn up your volume)

Thanks a lot for looking, and happy playing!

Written by Jim

November 13, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Cigar Box Amplifier

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This is my latest project: a cigar box amplifier.

A video is at the bottom of this post.

To be completely honest, I can’t tell you a lot about it. Electronics aren’t a strong suit of mine and I followed step by step directions to put it together. Here is a link. I had seen these before at a cigar box guitar festival but, though I thought they were cool, I didn’t really think about making one. However, months ago I somehow happened upon these instructions and figured why not give it a shot.

Some of you might laugh when you see the wiring and my gobs of solder, but hey, it works! The instructions said to plan on about 4 hours to put it together; I think it took me 10. It’s a neat little amp though. It uses a 4″ speaker and the controls are volume and gain. It’s powered by a 9V battery, or a wall adapter (which I haven’t tried yet), and is wired so that it turns on automatically when an instrument cable is plugged in.



It behaves somewhat like a tube amp in that it breaks up a bit as you turn up the volume. I’ve also found that it responds well to guitar volume adjustments. I leave the amp pretty well cranked now and just roll off the guitar volume when I want a cleaner sound (something I didn’t include in the video). I’ve also found it to sound a bit better with single coil pickups, but that’s probably a matter of personal preference.

Below is the aforementioned video. Nothing special, but enough to get the idea.


Thanks a lot for reading, happy playing!

Written by Jim

May 30, 2016 at 10:20 pm