Have you thought about building your own cigar box ukulele but youre unsure if you have the right stuff? You may have looked at all the ukuleles for sale at multiple online sites. Maybe you dont need a professional instrument, but just a beginner ukulele. Maybe youre looking for that perfect, unique Christmas gift. With the wide range of prices, maybe youve thought its time you considered building your own. A cigar box instrument can offer the best of both worlds, one that is simple to make and at the same time offers a high quality, well playing instrument. Check out these insider techniques and youll see that you can put together a beautiful, good sounding, acoustical instrument, provided you start with the stuff presented here.
The most unique part of a cigar box instrument naturally is the box, so Im primarily concerned in this article with attention to the box. You can successfully build any of the basic ukuleles”soprano, concert, tenor or baritone; if you pay close attention to these four key elements in choosing and preparing the box: 1. Use the right box 2. Reinforce the box 3. Use the right hardware and attachment methods methods 4. Follow the rules
Cigar box ukuleles are an outgrowth of tramp art culture where the idea was to build using leftovers that were meant for a completely different initial use and were like headed for, or already in the trash heap. So bear in mind that your sound box, that most basic element of any ukulele building kit, depends in this case on using discarded, although oftentimes extravagant, very well constructed and enchantingly beautiful, packaging material. You will find many sizes, shapes, length to width ratios, thicknesses and materials when looking at cigar boxes. It is best not to use all-cardboard boxes in the construction of your ukulele. Pick from whatever boxes are available, but bear in mind the following guidelines for optimum size depending on the instrument you are building.
Soprano Ukulele use a box between 7 and 9 long Concert Ukulele use a box between 8 and 10 long Tenor Ukulele use a box between 8 and 10 long Baritone Ukulele use a box between 9 and 11 long
When choosing the length you wont have much control over the width, but remember that anything less than 6 in width will have a tendency to reduce the acoustic effect, and as a rule wider is better. Deep can be better too, up to a limit, with a minimum depth of just over 2. Dont overlook the need for reinforcing your box. Use x blocks glued inside the corners of your box with top-quality Titebond II wood glue or equal. A thin, even coat of glue on two sides of each block is all you need. Place these blocks so they float above the bottom of the box. This bottom of the box is usually solid or laminated wood, and will become the sound board for your instrument, and not allowing the blocks to touch the bottom prevents any interference with soundboard vibration. Use a 3/16 x 3/8 support block glued on its edge inside the soundboard directly below or very near the location of the bridge. This will reduce the slight indentation of the soundboard caused by string tension.
Dont use cheap attachment methods or anything less than high quality screws. Use an awl or a nail set to mark an indention in the box so the screws and other fasteners will be located exactly. Pre-drill any pilot holes for fasteners and use only hand tools to drive screws or tighten nuts. Dont skimp on fasteners and other attachments. Use only the best.
Finally #4 on the list says to follow the rules. This step is equally important as any of the other three. You may have heard that in the cigar box ukulele and banjo world there are no rules. Actually there are two. Rule #1 is Do it your way, and rule #2 is Dont forget rule #1. After conscientiously attending to the basic box preparation steps above, you can let your imagination run hog wild with added design and fabrication techniques using the same two rules outlined above. Good luck and good building.