How to Make a Kit Box Guitar

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Cover courtesy Spring House Press

InThe Box Maker’s Guitar Book: Sweet-Sounding Design & Build Projects for Makers and Musicians, Doug Stowe breaks down the guitar into simple components so readers can easily create their own unique instrument. This book includes all the pieces needed for readers to design their own musical instrument with little investment of time or tools. The following excerpt is from Chapter 1, “Make a Kit Guitar.”

Building a kit box guitar is a great way to get familiar with the concepts involved in guitar construction, and the kit built in the following pages was prepared by C.B. Gitty, one of the suppliers of parts for making box guitars and other kinds of stringed instruments. Right out of the box, everything is supplied to get you playing an instrument of your own in minutes. Instead of frets at precise intervals that provide clear places for the fingers to form chords, the neck of the kit guitar has laser-engraved lines that give only a hint of where the fingers might be placed. The lack of real frets, however, gives an amateur musician the opportunity to play the guitar in a different manner, using a finger slide to create the sounds of the blues unrestrained by precise finger placement. With the C.B. Gitty kit, this slide is provided.

Making a kit guitar or watching one be made will get your creative juices flowing and provide a basic understanding of the necessary parts of a box guitar. Let’s get started!

Tools and Materials:

  • Cigar box guitar kit (we used C.B. Gitty kit #36-005-01A)
  • Danish oil finish (optional)
  • Water-based urethane finish
  • Paintbrush Sandpaper Pencil Steel rule
  • Awl
  • Woodburner
  • Hammer
  • Dowel
  • Screwdriver

Look through the kit and get familiar with the contents.

Get Started:

    1. Straight out of the box, the kit contains everything you need, including instructions; unpack everything.

Darken the wood by applying Danish oil finish.

  • You may want to apply Danish oil finish to darken the wood and prepare it for finish.

Brush on a few coats of water-based urethane finish.

  • Use water-based urethane finish to protect the neck from wear. This will keep it looking nice after hours and hours of play.

Be sure to sand the neck between applications of finish.

  • Sand lightly between coats of urethane to get the smoothest finish.

Follow the instructions in the kit to find the fret finger positions and mark them.

  • Locate the fret finger positions. Most fretted instruments have markings to indicate the finger positions for the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 15th, and 17th frets. The neck that comes in the kit is not marked, but the instructions suggest that you do so. You’ll need a pencil, steel rule, and awl to mark as shown in the instructions.

Now that the fret finger positions have been located, use a woodburner to mark them.

  • Use a woodburner to mark the fret finger position spots.

Insert the tailpiece ferrules by tapping them into the neck.

Insert Ferrules and Parts:

    1. While many guitars and ukuleles have designs that attach their strings using either a steel tailpiece or bridge, the kit guitar uses holes at the lower end of the neck and brass ferrules to keep the strings from digging gradually into the soft wood. Use a hammer and dowel to tap these into place. The dowel keeps the hammer from damaging the brass.

Insert the ferrules into the peghead by tapping them lightly with a hammer.

  • Ferrules are also used at the head of the neck for the tuners to pass through. These must be hammered into the holes provided. The small dowel between the face of the hammer and the ferrule keeps the ferrule from being damaged as it is driven into place.

Attach the tuners to the peghead.

  • Use the screws provided to attach the tuners. In this soft poplar, the holes are drilled in the neck to allow the screws to pass easily into the wood.
  • On harder woods like cherry, maple, and walnut, drilling holes to exact size is very important to keep from breaking or otherwise damaging screws.

Attach the positioning screws into the holes marked on the peghead.

  • On the kit guitar, strings pass on one side or the other of a screw to position them to travel across the nut. Drive these screws partway into the holes that are already marked and drilled.

Position the cigar box and attach it.

  • Use the drilled holes to position the cigar box on the back side of the neck.

Begin stringing the guitar by threading them through the holes at the lower end of the neck.

  • Pass the strings through the ferrules at the lower end of the neck so they can begin their journey across the bridge and nut and be wound on the tuners.
  • Begin tightening the strings.

Begin tightening the strings after you pass them through the tuners.

  • Pass each string through its tuning peg and begin tightening it. The tuner on the left of the neck should wind in a counter-clockwise manner so the string passes on the outside of the screw. The tuners on the left are wound in a clockwise manner so the strings pass on the appropriate side of the guide screws as shown.

Place the nut under the strings as shown.

Complete the Guitar:

    1. After the strings are loosely in place, the nut can be placed in position.

Place the bridge under the strings as shown.

  • Position the bridge as shown, and at the point indicated on the neck. Just in case you’ve erased that mark in sanding, the dimension between the nut and the bridge is 25 inches.

Get out the slide.

  • With stringing complete, get out the slide provided and you are ready to play.

Admire your finished work.

  • Review the look of your finished guitar. If ignoring the finer points of sanding and finish on the neck, you can be playing your box guitar in an hour or less, unless you are lured to a more creative approach.

More from The Box Maker’s Guitar Book:

Excerpted fromThe Box Maker’s Guitar Bookby Doug Stowe. Published by Spring House Press, copyright © 2017. Used with permission from the publisher.