Hi all! I'm setting out to build my first cigar box instrument. I'm a mandolin player, and want to build a four string electric.

I am thinking I will use this basic design:


Instead of a floating bridge, I want to use something like this:


And maybe a pickup like this:


The cigar boxes I have are fairly thick and sturdy (see pics). I have limited experience with luthiery, but can set up an instrument, have made my own compensated floating mandolin bridges, and have refret an old mandolin banjo. I want to give it probably 20 frets, with the 15th at the neck/body intersection and a small fretboard extension. Does anyone have experience with the specific parts I mentioned? Would you recommend anything different? I would appreciate advice on the design, and any other help.

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Welcome aboard Thomas! I haven't used those parts but sounds like you have a good plan, I say go for it. If it turns out you don't particularly like them you can try something different on your second build. 

And yes, there will be a second build. And 3rd and 4th... 


Yeah buddy, lay it out, start cuttin', and make it your own. Ditto on the subsequent builds. Rare is a first build that is the final build. Welcome aboard, and full steam ahead.

Hi, the parts you mention will work for an electric instrument, as well as the thick sturdy boxes you have, ideal for electric. But it will not sound like a mandolin without the four pairs of strings, but I'm sure you realise that.

cheers Taff

Yeah I realize that. I used to have an Epiphone Mandobird IV, which is a four string electric mandolin. I sold it off to help fund a new acoustic mandolin (8 string) a couple of years ago, and have regretted it ever since. I've been wanting another one, and figured, why not build one?

Way to go!


Hey Thomas the unofficial motto of CBG builders is "there is no wrong way to build a CBG" so have at it. I'm interested in building a cigar box mandolin myself so I will watch your build with interest. I don't have any specific experience with the parts you plan to use but they all look they will work. I've been looking at some mandolin plans in the archives and think I want an 8 stringer. I have a couple questions for you as a player, are mandolin strings metal or plastic, tied or have ball ends, what is a good scale length for an 8 stringer? In any case post some shots of your build as it progresses. Cheers Ken

Hi Ken! My mandolin will be 13.875" scale, which I think is pretty standard. I think I have seen up to 14" though. I have sort of drawn mine up in AutoCad, just for an idea of how everything will fit. As far as strings go, most are metal. You can get both loop and ball end strings, but most acoustic mandolins take loop end strings. I would think for an 8 string acoustic, you'd want a standard mandolin tailpiece and a floating bridge. If you wanted to use nylon type strings, I know they make uke sets for 5ths tuning, so you could conceivably make a mandolin or mandola tuned instrument with those. When I finish this, I think my other box is gonna be an acoustic mandola.

Hey Thomas thanks for the info. I have committed and went back to the music store and picked up some strings...the last set they had. I took some measurements of a Gibson f style while I was there. I have an antique box given to me by a friend that I've been saving for a special project. I will install a piezo pick up in it as I have had good results with them. I'm going to use oak for the neck and a scarf jointed headstock. I noticed that the neck tapers at the top is there some reason for this? I'm asking because I've never played one. The strings spread at the bridge and gather at the nut? The paired strings are tuned to the same note is that correct? If you are planning an acoustic version you might want to try a thinner box than the ones in your photos. I will post photos as things progress. Here is a photo of the box. Cheers KenAntique box

I don't know exactly why the neck tapers, but I think a lot of instruments do the same. It is tuned like a violin, and each course (pair of strings) is tuned the same. The neck on mine is ash, and the headstock and neck will be one piece, no scarf. I'm not sure if that's a good idea or not, but that is how the necks are cut in Siminoff's book. If you aren't familiar with his book, it's a great resource complete with detailed instructions, photos and plans for building an archtop F5 mandolin from scratch. I started making one a couple years ago, and realized I needed more tools and practice to complete it. That project has been on hold for a while, but I plan on completing it at some point.

I checked out Siminoff's website (thanks for that) and found some useful tips on securing the neck. I don't think I will be doing a dovetail or V joint but maybe a less complex version of those. There doesn't seem to be a truss rod so I assume the 4 degree backangle on the neck compensates for string load? The neck is short and strings are light but there are 8 so a significant load. I think the scarf joint should stand up to it but will consider some reinforcement, I'll find out. I haven't decided if I will taper the neck but I've drawn some plans for the headstock...working with what I've got. 

I think the neck angle is more important with a floating bridge type instrument. You need a certain angle to put pressure down on the top on mandolin type instruments. Mine won't have much of one because it will have an electric bridge on it. I have a banjo mandolin that I restored, but the neck angle on it was not correct, so even with 8 strings tuned to pitch, it didn't put enough pressure. If I made a taller bridge, the strings would be too high off the fretboard the further up I played, so the only option there was to reset the neck to get a steeper angle. I have tried to do it myself, and ended up breaking a previous repair apart. I may end up making another neck and dowel for that one, or buying a used mandolin banjo neck for it.

Hello everyone, It's been a while since I last was active here. But I have always enjoyed the post I get everyday. I have been collecting parts for my first 12 string build. I'm making my own cigar box first, and then an interesting build. I also collect mandolins and make repairs. I presently just picked up an early home built unit from the late 30's, it needs a complete uplift. Fixing others junk is a beast of a challenge, but it's really fun to go to a music store and show off the finished project. Have fun everyone, and the uglier it is the better it sounds. I'll post a picture of this latest critter to my collection. Maximo


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