Hey Gang,

So, I've got most of the parts together to start building what I am going to call the "Stumpwater" fiddle. It ain't done yet, but I'm already working on the "Stumpwater Blues" song, "...Oh, I've got the blues...Got the Stumpwater blues...".

I have 5 cigar boxes now, trying to decide which is the best one for a first fiddle build. Local tobacconist, B&B Cigars sells the empty boxes for $3.00 each and donates all proceeds to the local animal rescue folks.

I bought the tailpiece off Ebay for $3.99. Uke pegs off Ebay for $3.99. I think I will use the poplar for the neck. I am thinking I will glue two pieces together and use it against the grain for strength. I am going to use the red oak for the fingerboard. 

If I use the thicker cigar box, the "Nicks" box, it will be narrower, but I will need to put the poplar through the cigar box, I think. If I use the a thinner box, I can float it similar to what Steve does with Carolina fiddles. 

My thoughts were to build my own bridge, because all of them I've found are for a curved body surface. However, I am open to feedback if the consensus is the storebought bridge is better (otherwise, anybody ever build their own bridge before?)

Any and all feedback, suggestions, ideas, or nitpicking is welcome!

Thanks, AL.

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Hi there Al,

just a quick thought. I would strongly suggest that a narrow box is selected for the fiddle or you will have some difficulty in being able to bow all of the strings correctly.

Also a curved bridge is essential if you are having more than 2 strings as again a flat bridge - although good for double stopping - will mean that you will not be able to play all of the strings correctly. You simply need to flatten he base of the bridge in order for it to sit well on the flat cigar box body.

Wishing you every success with the "Stumpwater".

I used a standard bridge, and just sanded it so the feet were flat.

A narrow box is critical, unless you are going to cut out a waist somehow.  Because the box top is flat and not arched, you need even more room to hit the high and low strings when playing.  A standard fiddle is not even 5" across AND has an arched top for extra height.

I did a neck-through so the stress is not on the box itself except for the pressure of the strings. which is balanced by a soundpost.  I've had guitars and two-box dulcimers start to come apart after a few months, so I no longer like to trust the strength of the box for much of anything. 

Can't wait to hear it!

The easiest thing to do is to buy a bridge and file the feet down flat. I doubt the uke pegs will work as they are notoriously weak tension. It is critical that you get the neck angle right; check out carefully the relationship of the strings to the neck and be sure that you copy that measurement. If you want to build your fiddle to a 4/4 size, you will have to create your own neck most likely, as cigar boxes are not usually as long as a violin box. Good luck!

Hey Gang,

Well, it looks like I'll be using the Nick's Sticks box for the Stumpwater Fiddle. The art on this particular box isn't the most exciting, but the narrow size is almost the same as the cut-out section of a traditional 4/4 fiddle, so it alleviates the bowing issue. Another plus is it's a fairly sturdy box.

You're probably right about the Uke pegs, too. Maybe I'll get some Mandolin pegs. Ditto for the bridge, I'll probably go with store bought. Right now, how to approach the neck has me stymied. I think that will be the most difficult part of the build. 


I could offer a suggestion that may make your life a whole lot easier ... and this would be my approach should I build another.

1.) You should "lay out" your project full-size on drawing paper. Draw a profile of your box at full size. Take your overall length measurements from a full size violin, so that your neck will play/sound like a 4/4 violin. Make sure you draw the bridge at actual height and in the correct distance from the end of the fingerboard. In the end, you will have what looks like an unnaturally long neck, but it will have the same playing length as a violin.

2.) Take measurements of the distance of the 4th string to the top of the fingerboard at fingerboards beginning and end, draw it out on your full-size drawing and use this angle to set the pitch for your neck.

3.) From this, you will see that your neck and fingerboard will pitch downward from were it joins the box, in order to maintain the correct height for the strings at the bridge. If you plan to do a through-the-box neck, you will either have to cut out the neck from neck stock wide enough to account for the angle, or make a scarf joint where the neck goes into an through the box. Again, take a look at the pictures in my album to see what I mean by the neck angling downward. It must be this way, because a violin box is deeper at the center than at the ends, unlike a cigar box, which is flat across.

Just a thought, but I think the Nick's Sticks box will be too short to accompany the bridge and tailpiece and still attach the neck. Besides, it is too deep to place comfortably under the chin. I would look for something about as deep as a true violin, and as long as you can get it. I used a box that measured 1 1/2 x 6 x 10", which was four inches shorter than a violin's 14" length, and pretty close to its width. I was pleased with the results, but anything can be worked around, if you think about it enough! Good luck, and be sure to post pictures!

Yes to what Tim says as far as figuring neck angle! 

And to box thickness!  I had to cut my vintage box down so it was not too tall to fit under my chin.

A box with thin sides and top will give you the most volume.  I made one with thicker plywood and it was very, very quiet and dead sounding.  I waited quite a while for the vintage box to cross my path.

As I recall, it is about 6" from tail to bridge on a standard fiddle, so a box of about 10" in length is about as short as you can get away with.

Hey Gang,

OK, back to the cigar store - here are two more contenders:

The San Cristobal box is 11" x 6.5" x 2"

The Anejo box is 11.25" x 6.25" by 2"

I'm trying to decide which one to use? The San Cristobal box is colorful and looks more fun like a "cigar box" for a fiddle. The Anejo box is a prettier box, more fiddle-like. If I were to go with the San Cristobal box -  What is the best way to preserve the paper? Do I just paint varnish/shellac/polyurethane over it?


Here I am working on the neck


I can't comment on other people's methods, but a couple of coats of varnish usually provides excellent protection to the label. I use a thinned varnish as the first coat in order to penetrate the paper and ensure that the varnish acts as a secondary glue. I prefer a slow drying varnish in order to prevent brush marks.

Yes the San Cristobal box looks more fun but are the woods of the boxes of equal quality and strength?

Hi All,

Thanks Yellowbelly Flatt for the feedback on varnish. I think the boxes are about equal for strength. I decided to go with the Anejo box. I'll save the Cristobal box for fiddle #2.

Here's progress:

This is fun!


Good choice Al.

the progress seems to be going well. Yes, it is fun.

Hey All,

Got the neck stained and poly-urethaned!  (That's a little fiddle building poetry).

AL in Asheville


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