I started building electric guitar bodies out of recycled wood while I was in the United States. Anyhow, it wasn't until recently, here in the Netherlands, that I really started looking at the 'lower end' of the instruments world (something I should have probably done earlier, but it's never too late): I discovered a thriving community around 'Cigar box' guitars – enthusiasts have written a manifesto , you can find forums for builders someone has filmed and documentaries about the phenomenon (external sites).
Wikipedia introduces them as follows:
The cigar box guitar is a primitive chordophone that uses an empty cigar box for a resonator. “Guitar” refers to the traditional instrument and to a string bass. The earliest predecessors had one or two strings; the modern model typically uses three or more. Generally speaking, strings are connected between the end of a broomstick or 1″ x 3″ wood slat and to the resonator, the cigar box.
This makes Cigar box guitars perfectly suited for being 100% built off recycled materials (maybe excluding the electronics). Even on this side of the world (Europe) where we have less actual ‘Cigar’ boxes, there are plenty of biscuit tins and wooden boxes out there for reuse as resonators!
There is of course political aspect to this – we live in a society that more and more and more just produces and ‘throws away’ stuff; it’s good if we can make our items live longer, or give things (that would normally be thrown away) new life. This is why – even for ‘regular’ guitars and custom builds/designs – I try to use recycled materials as much as possible.
So, after experimenting with a couple simple diddley bows (single string chordophones), I built also a 3 strings cigar box guitar, and featured that in my guitar site. This is a very crude build, here's how it looks:
This one's theme was to precisely try reuse as much recycled materials as possible and do *minimal* modifications to it: this led to have a broad but thin neck, for example, just because that was the size of the plank of wood I got out of some weird furniture found in a thrift store.
I have to admit that, after the move, I don't have a garage so I have been temporary constrained to my living room, and that's not the most comfy lab to work in 🙂 Anyhow, we have built a shed in my father in law's backyard that I will share to use for guitar building and he will do his other woodwork in:
He also has some long and straight hard wood poles that he got from his dad back in the days and never put to use: some of those will become guitar necks, I am working on the designs… Stay tuned!
Below you can see part of the process of building the cigar box (really a 'cookie tin') guitar and some other details about this particular guitar.
Broad and thin neck compromise – that's how the plank was – you can see there would be space for more strings, but the risk is that the wood is too thin. Anyhow, this makes it actually very easy to play with a slide. I left it fretless, but the action is low enough that it can also be played with fingers.
Interestingly enough, albeit the bridge is flat (not an arch like in a violin), the string spacing is enough to allow to play some notes even with a bow – which inspired the name of 'Cellocan'
And here you can see/hear me play it
The recording is horrible, but hope it gives an idea.
On SoundCloud I have some more 'sound tests' too.
Soon I'll start working on a batch of new cigar box / cookie tin guitars. Probably some 3, some 4 strings, some fretted, some not…
Below you can see some of the boxes/tins I have been collecting and have lined up to be turned into instruments – let me know if you are interested in any particular one!
I'll keep adding boxes to this Flickr photo set – to track individual progress of each 'body'.
Then after having done some more of these 'simpler' builds, maybe I'll also do one or two full size, 6 strings, neck thru guitars. We'll see. Stay tuned in the next few months.