So... I was looking for an excuse to avoid chores on Sunday and I remembered that my lady had some cigar boxes that she picked up to do something artsy with but never did. I've been picking around a bit on ukes lately and wondered if I could come up with a playable cigar box instrument in a day. After digging around in the garage I felt like I had the materials to pull it off. The only things I bought were wood glue, lock-tite super glue and a small galvanized steel angle bracket from the local Ace Hardware.
I actually built a playable concert scale cigar box uke. It is not beautiful but it is totally awesome. I made some awesome mistakes like slotting the box on the wrong side, so the labeling is upside down when played right handed...
I didn't have time to install the frets, but, I put on a zero-fret so I could at least string it up and play around at the end of the day to claim victory. It sounds and plays amazingly well--even fretless. I'm pretty sure it needs a sound hole and/or some thinning of the sound board to get more volume out of it. It's probably about 1/2 to 2/3 as loud as my fancy Hawaiian soprano uke. I'll probably need some advice on the sound hole placement. Pics!
Some construction shots
This is seriously clever-as-sin! I love the look of it. And ditto on the headstock, really great look.
Congrats on a successful one-day-build!
I love the headstock and the way you just screwed an 1 1/2 piece on top of a 1 by 1 for the neck and fret board. Use Oily's fork tailpiece and that thing is perfect. Make sure your bridge is made of something hard too. That will help the sound.
Thanks for the replies! I bonded on 7 more brass rod frets. It totally works. I used a loctite brand gel superglue. It gives you a little "work time" to accurately place the fret, then a little pressure and it starts to bond.
Below is a pic from installing the new frets. The glue is not cleaned up yet in this pic and the ends aren't dressed at all. I wanted to make sure the fret positioning was good before putting the the work into it so I restrung it as soon as the glue was dry. Frets positioning good so far -- in tune up to the last (7th) fret. I realize that real frets aren't expensive or hard to install but I'm trying to keep this one free of luthier materials. If only I could figure out an easy DIY solution for the tuners...
Still trying to figure out a good place for a sound hole or holes. Notionally I think I should put it in a sonically "dead" part of the soundboard, but the whole front is ringing pretty evenly. The "bridge" is just chunk of 1/4" mystery wood with some slots cut in it. Other than using a hard material, what else should I consider in the bridge design? I don't know whether it should look like a Banjo style bridge or or a guitar style bridge.
Thanks much for the compliment and the tips. I'm super surprised at how small of a sound hole you are recommending -- the hole on my fancy soprano ukulele is about 1-1/2" dia. Is there a rule of thumb about cavity volume to sound hole diameter ratio? I'll follow your advise, though. One can always make an existing hole bigger but not smaller. I was originally wanting to make a 1" x 2-1/2" "slot" under the strings close to the neck. Because of the materials I started with, and the way I built the instrument, the string height above the soundboard is only ~1/4". The slot would give me a little more pickin' space. I can go with a taller bridge/saddle but the action is super sweet right now
I'm going to play with the bridge/saddle design today. I have some old circuit board I can scavenge for the saddle until I get my hands on some bone. The circuit board material is resin impregnated glass cloth and should be pretty stiff and dense.
Once again, thanks for the awesome response and tips. This is really interesting stuff. I actually just spend all afternoon researching the old soundhole posts and various Helmholtz resonator topics around the web. I built a spreadsheet to calculate that "optimal" soundhole diameter from my internal box dimensions (also accounting for the volume taken by the neck). I included calculations for multiple holes and backed out the closest fractional drill sizes for the multiple holes, too. My box is 8 x 7.85 x 0.9375" and the neck takes up .75 x .75. x 8" for a net volume of 59.06 in^3. The calculation gives me an optimal soundhole diameter of 1.17" (~1.09 in^2).
I ended up geeking up a prototype for a circuit board bridge/saddle. It's just an inverted T of two circuit board segments bonded together. The acoustic transmission is pretty awesome! I'd say it's about 3/4 as loud as my standard uke now -- without any sound hole(s) -- sustain is great. The sound is actually a little muddy, rather than tinny. I have a feeling that thinning out the 1/8" soundboard some will help clarify the highs.
Great job and interesting reading in these posts! I really admire the knowledge of folk like Oily and The Kid and appreciate their willingness to share it!