Heres a perfect and unique Christmas gift”build a cigar box ukulele from scratch or from a prebuilt kit. If you have seen all the online sites for ukuleles for sale, youve seen the wide range of prices and the host of available models from beginner to professional unit. Think about building your own. Not sure if you have all you need? Consider the following techniques and recommendations and you will see that you can build a beautiful, good sounding, acoustical instrument. Cigar box ukuleles are relatively simple to make and at the same time offer you the ability to build a high quality, well playing acoustical instrument.
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
Let us start with #1 Use the right box. Cigar box ukuleles originated as an outgrowth of the tramp art culture where the idea was to build with discarded materials, or at the least to use leftovers that were meant for a completely different initial use. 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. Cigar boxes come in a very wide range of sizes, shapes, length to width ratios, thicknesses and materials (dont use all-cardboard boxes), not to mention how well, or not, they are constructed. Pick whatever suites your fancy, but bear in mind the following guidelines for optimum size depending on the instrument you are building.
Baritone Ukulele use a box between 9 and 11 long Tenor Ukulele use a box between 8 and 10 long Concert Ukulele use a box between 8 and 10 long Soprano Ukulele use a box between 7 and 9 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.
Note that any paper thats inside the box should be removed at blocking locations so you get a firm wood to wood glue line at all blocking. Use a damp cloth and a straight edge, scraper or single edge razor blade to remove the paper. With regard to hardware and attachment methods, the main thing to remember is not to skimp on these components. Use only the highest quality screws and other fasteners. These components are only a fraction of the cost of the completed instrument, and you can therefore justify paying additional cost for exceptional quality in this area. Mark all fastener locations very carefully using a template and marking each with an awl, nail set or any tool that you can use to press an indentation in the wood at the fastener location. Pre-drill appropriate pilot holes to receive fasteners and use only hand tools (no power drills) to drive screws or tighten nuts.
One last thing to remember is to follow the rules. This is the most important point of all. There are two basic rules you must remember when building a cigar box ukulele, or a cigar box banjo for that matter. Rule #1 is Do it your way, and rule #2 is Dont forget rule #1. Once youve dealt with the basic box preparation steps above, you use your creative imagination to its fullest with added design and fabrication techniques using these same two rules. Good luck to you and good building.