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Homemade Guitar

Posted 2014-07-19

Background

This weekend, I decided to make myself a guitar. The design of the guitar is based on various 3-string cigar-box guitar designs that can be found on the web. These designs were pioneered by early blues musicians among others, who could not afford to buy an instrument and had to make their own out of whatever they found around them.

Materials

Construction

I cut notches in the box to allow the neck to pass completely through. This entailed cuts to the upper lid and bottom, so that the hole will be big enough to pass the dowel through when the box is closed. The box is attached to the neck on the back with 2 screws, and the clasp helps hold the box shut. I drilled a sound-hole in the box to produce more sound, but made it small enough so as not to undermine the structural integrity of the box. The through-neck design also makes the instrument more structurally sturdy, and better able to hold the tension.

In the bottom of the neck, I drilled three holes, big enough to pass through the string, but small enough so that the bob at the end of string couldn’t get through. This is where the strings are anchored. They pass through the hole, up the neck and into the tuners.

Adding the tuning pegs was the most time intensive component. I had bought classical guitar tuners instead of modern acoustic tuners, so I had to cut out notches in the wood for the tuners to rest, leaving enough room to wind the string around the peg and still be able to have full rotational motion. So far I have noticed the tuning pegs keep the guitar in tune fairly well, although the guitar is still subject to whims of the weather, as is any other guitar. Additionally, there was not enough room to turn the knobs after the tuners were attached, so I had to carve away a small area around each knob so that the guitar could actually be tuned.

The bridge and the nut are both eye bolts, with the bridge being slightly larger. A really handy thing about using eye bolts for these purposes is that the strings can fit inside the threads when they pass over the bolts. They are not glued or otherwise attached to the neck or body, it it just the tension of the strings that is holding them down.

Playing

The action is pretty high on my guitar, as you can see in the lower photographs. As such, the guitar is primarily intended to be played with the use of a slide rather than finger fretting. The fretless design also makes it easier to pass a slide across the fingerboard surface. Right now I am currently playing it in a lap oriented position, similar to a lap steel guitar, but playing it in a more traditional guitar stance should not be difficult.

There are no frets, so any note placement must be made by memorizing the position, or by marking the positions of various notes on the neck. Currently I am playing by ear.

I may also make a homemade bottleneck slide in the future, but for now am just using a commercial guitar slide.

Photographs

Click on the thumbnails to get a full quality version.

Front view of guitar.

The neck of the guitar. The tuners and strings are just standard guitar tuners/strings. The nut is made from an eye bolt, of a smaller size then the one used for the bridge.

Close up of the bridge. The bridge is constructed from an eye bolt, and the resonator of the body is made from a blank cigar box.

Side view of guitar

Sound Samples

Listen to these for the sound of the instrument, not the quality (or lack thereof) of the player. Learning to play this guitar has proven to be more difficult than constructing it.

For these audio samples, the guitar is tuned to the notes Eb-Bb-Eb

Sample 1

Sample 2

Sample 3

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