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Adeeb Syed

Cigar Box Guitar

cigar box guitar

Table of Contents

Background

Project Description: Cigar box guitar made with a Cohiba Cuban cigar box 
Context: Personal project (2019)
Technologies: Hand tools, laser cutter, inkscape, guitar parts and accessories from C.B. Gitty
Project Duration: 2 weeks

Challenges

Technical Challenges

This was a relatively easy project to complete given the ample tutorials and other resources to draw from on the web.  However, the major challenges of this project revolved around determining the delicate placement of the bridge (and during a later iteration, the placement of the electric pickup) on the instrument.  I was unaware that the scale length of an instrument can determine its intonation and that the (im)proper placement of a pickup can also influence the variety of tonalities produced by plucked strings. 

Conceptual Challenges

The harmonic overtone series was incredibly challenging to wrap my head around at first, but there were several great free resources online.  In particular, the one below was amazing (and, as an aside, I wish they introduced science and math concepts in school this way):  

Reflection

Personal Reflection

There were many moments throughout this project where I realized I probably shouldn’t have used a Cuban cigar box for my first cigar box guitar since it would be difficult to go all the way back to Cuba to get a new one.  Nevertheless, I decided to press on and improvise my way out of some careless mistakes. In the end, it all worked out just fine.

Another thing that dawned on me throughout the project was that, although I have been learning/playing guitar for several years and was already accustomed to basic maintenance (e.g., changing strings and adjusting the truss rod), I never really understood how and why the construction and design of the guitar/other stringed instruments produced the particular sounds that they did.  How strange it is to interact with an object so much, only to learn years later about its history and development.

In short, this project added a deep sense of mystery and history (mystory?) to one of my favorite hobbies.  It led me to explore the incredible history of the guitar, how the design of the instrument itself represents some of the basic assumptions of western as opposed to eastern music, and I even dabbled with the complicated physics of music.  I am not sure I understood everything, but I developed a much deeper connection with all my other guitars, an appreciation for hand-made instruments, and even more awe for music. 

Technical Reflection

Initially, I did not plan to include an electric guitar pickup (which is basically an electromagnetic device that creates a magnetic field through which the vibration of nearby strings are “picked up” and converted into an electrical signal). In fact, I didn’t really know what a pick-up was — I knew where it was on my electric guitars and that it somehow made my guitar sound “louder,” but the more rudimentary aspects of its design and function were hidden from me like a black box.  

Fortunately, the first iteration of the cigar box guitar sounded so low and awful that it inspired me to install an electric pickup instead.  However, this created a new problem of where to fit the pickup. I ended up very meticulously scraping at the cover of the cigar box with a blade to create the perfect fit:

scraped piece of wood
scraped piece of wood

Future Work

I plan to make some upgrades to this by 3D printing some new parts. Specifically, the pickups could use a better container/cover.  In addition, I will likely try to make another cigar box guitar with actual frets instead of the fretless version shown here. 

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