This will probably be one of the weirder first time posts.  I coach a middle school science team, and this year there is a new event that challenges the kid to build a home made instrument that can accurately play a scale, and a simple tune, then tests them over the physics of instruments.  

According to the rules the device may not contain any of the following "Electrical or electronic components, parts taken from  or used in any toy or professional instrument.  The only exception is strings.  

So so after some quick googling at our first team meeting we stumbled across cigar box guitars and thought this is perfect.  So how do I substitute for parts?  I think we can make tuners by drilling a hole in a bolt.  is there anything special about fret wire that I couldn't substitute some other wire for it?  about what size should I be looking at.

We are probably going to build 2.  One will be a 1 string, and the other a more typical 3 string.  Would there be drawbacks to not doing all the frets, and just doing the ones we need for the scale and 4 measures of yankee doodle?  

These will be built by the kids, but when they are done I'm going to make one for me.  Thanks for the help.

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That’s a great idea for a project. If you look around a little you should be able to find info on usin’ eye bolts for tuners, limitin’ the number of frets (like diatonic scale fretboard) and usin’ toothpicks instead of fret wire. I haven’t been around long and am no expert, but all these things have come up in my short time. Scroll the discussions, or try searchin’ there.I’m sure others will pitch in ideas. Good luck and let us know how it goes! I for one could dig a video of students crankin’ out Yankee Doodle on instruments they’ve made!

hi, you could get away with not using frets at all. Just scribe and/or burn the positions into the fretboard. 


Check this out, super simple cbg, gives all info & measurements? Good luck :)

You could also use a sharpie or paint pen to mark the frets, maybe the easiest? You can also glue nails, wire or even wood frets on it, just measure the height of the frets off your favorite guitar if you’re not sure? 

on my first CBG i used split pins/cotter pins for frets. cut in half they have a flat side and were easily superguled to the fretboard. there is a plethora of builds and styles on the site.

Tuners could also be wooden friction pegs like some student violins or fiddles.

I have seen small diameter nails used for frets.  Or play fretless, as mentioned, by pressing where the frets would be.

This might help.  They do use commercial guitar tuners.  They also do a scarf joint for the headstock, which (IMHO) is a bit overboard.

You could also go fretless and use a slide. Mark fret location with a sharpie.

There seem to be plenty of good suggestions for your team's project. Slightly off target might be some suggestions for how they explain their instruments. Notably, why frets or fret marks are where they are...

It's easy to pick up a pre-made scale template for a given scale length, but the kids would learn nothing about how music is created.

Western music and scales are mathematical in nature. In fact, the placement of frets is based on calculation of the 12th root of 2. For example, for an instrument with a scale length of 24 inches, the first fret (from the nut) would be placed at the 12th root of 24 or 1.347" (34.21mm). Subtract that amount from the scale length to determine the "new" scale length and again do the calculation to determine fret location (24-1.347 = 22.653). 12th root equals 1.271 for 2nd fret placement and so on. This can all be set up on an Excel spreadsheet in just a few minutes.

If that doesn't impress the judges nothing will. Plus it's a great lesson for future builds of any scale length.

Good luck with your project.


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