Poppy’s Keepsake Box Three-String, Acoustic-Electric, Lap Steel Uke w/ Children’s Stubby Slide

A friend of mine has a daughter named Poppy who is nearly three years old. I had not yet made a cigar box uke, but since the holidays were approaching and I had found this very cool keepsake box with her name on it, I thought it would be a great opportunity to give it a go.

Box

It started out as an attractive box. The name and image were actually printed on a 4.25″x4.25″ piece of tile, which was then inserted into the beautifully stained hardwood exterior. The interior was velvet-lined and it had spring-loaded hinges that kept it open and snapped it shut.

I kept the tile and hinges as is, but sanded off the finish and tore out the interior lining. I cut a slot for the neck, which didn’t turn out to be as difficult as it seemed it would be.

Neck, Head and Finish

The structure is really a stick-through design, so the piece of 1×2 maple runs the length of the instrument. I laid out the scale, which I based on my banjolele project—thirteen inches from bridge to nut.

Once I found the location of the nut, I knew where the tuners and headstock design would be carved. I cut down the neck to size, carved the tuner slot based on my template and then carved the Double Blade design into the headstock.

Pickup, Output Jack and Strap Button

I planned to install a JSA Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar Pickup, so I found the closest point to the neck pickup position and drilled a 1″ oval close to the pickup’s size. I trimmed the pickup a bit to make it fit easier.

I installed a strap button made from a brass knurling nut and a stainless steel security screw, which also serves to secure the neck to the box.

The output was installed in the upper corner instead of the lower corner to make it easier to play. Both units were wired together and a ground wire was added to reduce hum, when attached to one of the strings.

Fretboard, Nut and Bridge

The fretboard is an oak 1/4″x2″. It was cut to length, finished, glued, set in place and clamped. Later, I filed small notches in the top of the fretboard to mark the frets.

The nut was cut from a piece of 3/8″ rebar and then ground flat on the bottom and side to set flush against the neck and fretboard. The bridge is made from a length of 1/8″ brass bar. Each of their heights and positions created a level string action.

Strings, Tuners, Strap and Brand

The tuners are standard China machines that look cooler than they perform, but they do the job and keep their tune regardless of the slack in the gears. I orientated them similar to a lap steel, because it’s not something that I have seen on such a small instrument.

The string holes were drilled just behind the brass bridge, at an angle, into the neck. After running the strings through the holes to tuners, I cut a small piece of leather to cover the the holes, which was glued across the bottom and has two small, brass screws at the top.

The strap is made entirely from duct tape—rainbow pattern for the length of the strap and gold for the ends. The headstock strap tie is made from a scrap piece of leather.

Branded Initials and Custom Slide

This is the first use of my newer branding iron with my initials. I already had one with my Junk Shop Audio logo, but I thought it would be cool to add my sign as well.

Since this instrument would potentially be played by small hands, I made a 40mm stubby slide that has a US ring size 4.

Final Notes

All in all it was a fun build and turned out petty cool. Used acoustically, the box is only held together by the spring-loaded hinges, so there is a slight rumble from the top and bottom of the box vibrating against each other, which offers an excellent resonating sound.

Video:

https://youtu.be/c_SfcPiVYWI

Thanks,

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JSA Cigar Box Guitar S5 – Homemade Coal Heater for Maker’s Mark Branding Iron

I purchased this custom made branding iron from 4NE1 Craftshop on Etsy:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/600960918/customized-branding-iron-stamps-custom?ref=shop_home_feat_2

Plate sizes ranged from 1cm x 1cm to 10cm x 10cm and pricing ranged respectively from $25 – $100 plus $8 for a curved or straight screw-on handle. I purchased a 5cm x 5cm block for $50 and asked them to scale it to 3cm x 4.4cm to fit my design—seen below.

The item description stated that designs between 2cm – 5cm transferred to the iron best, so I stuck within those limitations.

Once I received my custom iron, I had to find a way to heat it—options included heating with a branding iron heater, barbecue pit, or blow torch.

Branding iron heaters were too expensive, firing up a large barbecue pit to make one mark was a waste of time and fuel, and it seemed like using a torch might promote uneven heating across the length of the brand.

Through research I discovered an outdoor survival site that offered a tutorial on how to make a small portable stove with two empty can goods cans.

Follow these links for the more information and an instructional video:

https://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/build-ultra-efficient-diy-wood-gasifier-backpacking.html

I modified the design to accommodate my heating needs and therefore used larger cans to hold more charcoal and greater surface area on the outer edge to rest the branding iron handle.

I added a modified eyebolt, attached to the side, to support the iron on the inside and a lid, made from a thick metal cat bowl and a cheap wooden drawer knob, to contain the heat.

Once completed, I added charcoal to the interior can and fired it up. Fifteen to twenty minutes later the thermometer read between 650 and 700 degrees Fahrenheit on the modified eyebolt that would support the iron, which is sufficient to brand maple.

So far, I’ve used this heater twice and I couldn’t be happier with it’s functionality and convenience.

On the second try, I found that allowing the inner can, containing the fuel, to burn on the grill of an open barbecue pit helped heat the coal faster, because it provided better air flow. Once the coals were hot, I placed the inner can back in the outer can and then added the branding iron and lid.

I have found that branding is a game of trial and error—you keep heating the iron and applying it for different amounts of time until you achieve the desired result. Plus, if your mark appears too burnt, you can sometimes remove some of the scorch markings with fine grit sandpaper.

This heater turned out to be a perfect fit for heating my branding iron and at $15 in parts and an hour of work, it was an awesome deal.

Thanks,

Grandma Ruth’s Cedar Bible Box Fretless Guitar

My grandma, Ruth, turned 92 on August 13th, so I thought I would make her a guitar from this cedar bible box that I found at a local thrift store.

The box had a cool grain, but I wanted to finish it with my usual vinegar and steel wool concoction, so I sanded it down. However, in the process, I lost the script and stamp on the front and back.

I began by cutting a hole in the box, which would fit the 1×2 maple stick and a 1/4×2 oak cover plate perfectly.

Sanding softened the appearance of the grain and added distress to the hardware.

I cut a slot for the tuners and the pickup in the body, then drilled holes for the string fasteners and carved the signature blades into the headstock. An oak fretboard was added, along with an oak electronics cover.

Then, I cut down a 3/8″ carriage bolt and filed a 3/8″ round slot in the fretboard at the nut position.

I Slipped the stick into the box and figured out where the three top holes should be drilled to correspond with the internal tuners.

I checked to see how the 6″ replica Roman crucifixion nail would look relative to the 24-3/4 scale length and everything lined up well.

img_3052img_3053

New to this build is the official Junk Shop Audio branding iron. I found a branding iron maker that creates custom irons from solid brass. I made this small coal-burning heater based on plans I found on an outdoor survival site—it is comprised of two large can goods cans, a cat bowl, a drawer pull and a handful of nuts and bolts. I needed a rustic maker’s mark for my guitars and this branding iron fit the bill.

I changed the design to accommodate more fuel and higher heat, but the original portable stove can be found here:

https://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/build-ultra-efficient-diy-wood-gasifier-backpacking.html

I installed a Nd144 Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar Pickup and a 1/4″ jack.

I secured the oak cover plate to the back and affixed the replica Roman nail card to the interior of the lid.

I measured and filed the fret markers, strung it with 10’s tuned to G-D-G and then made and added an American flag duct tape strap.

I’m really happy with the way this guitar plays. The additional height from the oak fretboard allows the player to fret notes and play slide for an additional range of sounds and playability.

Thanks,

JSA Cigar Box Guitar S4 – Homemade Plexiglass Pickguards and Cavity Plates

I’m working on a modification for this guitar that necessitates that I drill a hole in the cavity plate, so I decided to make a substitute to keep from damaging the original—because to be frank, where am I going to find a replacement cavity plate for a DeArmond?

I didn’t have a Dremel and didn’t really know how to cut or shape plexiglass, but I found an 8″ x 10″ piece for $4.00, so I was ready to rock. After feeling my way through fabricating the main cavity plate, I decided to make a toggle switch cavity plate as well…

I had the original, so I removed the protective plastic from one side and placed it as close to the edges as possible. Then, I traced it in Sharpie.

Quick research uncovered that I need only cut around the shape with a razor blade. After etching a circle about a 16th of an inch outside of the Sharpie outline, I flipped the blade backward and traced the etched circle two more times.

I removed the protective plastic from the bottom and then used a pair of small needle-nose pliers to break off the outer material, in small pieces, leaving a rough circle.

Using a small bench grinder, I removed the material in an even, circular motion up to the Sharpie outline. Then, placed the cover in the hole to check for proper fit and went back to the grinder for small adjustments. In absence of a grinder, files or sandpaper could be used, but it would require multiple grits and a lot of time.

Once the cover fit, I marked the holes in Sharpie and carefully drilled the holes. Then, I switched to a larger bit to countersink the hole.

I cleaned up the edges with some 220 sandpaper and then installed it.

This same method can be used to make pickguards or switch plates and the plates and guards can be painted or otherwise decorated on the bottom if desired.

See…now I have my 7-pin jack installed and I’m ready to complete the modification without destroying the original plate. As a word of caution, you’ll notice that the plate broke on the screw hole to the right—be careful when drilling your recess hole and don’t over-tighten the screws.

Thanks,

“Crude Theremin” – Tube Oscillator and Homemade Electromagnetic Guitar Pickup

I was making an extra three-string removable pickup from my JSA Nd144 Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar Pickup and started thinking about some of its other features.

I recently found an old tube oscillator at the antique mall and thought I might be able to do something interesting with it. So I hooked up the removable pickup to my amp and powered on the oscillator. With one hand on the frequency knob and the other manipulating the volume via pickup proximity, you can get some pretty cool brassy synth tones.

The removable pickup is made of a 9v adapter coil and a homemade 1/4″ jack.

Follow this link to view step-by-step build instructions for the 9v adapter pickup:

https://wp.me/P3WRqw-86

Follow this link to view the homemade 1/4″ jack build instructions:

https://wp.me/P3WRqw-PP

The wiring is simple—two terminals on the pickup: one attached to the hot on the jack and the other to the ground on the jack. Then, I just taped them together.

I need a bit more practice, but here is a quick and dirty video for now:

Thanks,

“Road Ready Polymer” – All-Plastic, First Act Electro-Acoustic Modification

I found this plastic First Act acoustic for six dollars at Goodwill—why not…everyone has to get their hands dirty at some point.

Here are the before pictures:

Body and Finish:

The body and “finish” were in fairly good shape, but I had to do something the change it’s appearance. I decided to leave the back, sides, and neck alone, so I painted only the top of the body and front of the head.

I wanted to make the deterioration on the finish more interesting so first I painted the top and head Safety Red then I painted Hammered, Burnished Amber. The thinking is that the amber will first wear down to red, then to the original “burst” finish.

Another interesting aspect of this guitar is the inner structure. The guitar seems rather sound, so I’m confident that it should holdup to 11’s.

Tuners:

I changed out the tuners—the replacements were second-hand, crappy yes, but not as bad as the originals. The classical acoustic tuners fit perfectly without modification and the addition of brass screws finished off the abomination perfectly.

Pickup and Bridge:

Of course for the pickup, I taped together two Nd144 Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar Pickups. I drilled and installed a 1/4″ jack in the lower-right and wired it straight to the pickup.

For pickup installation, I taped two washers in the bridge position with Command Strips—the magnets on the pickups attached to the washers for easy installation.

The bridge is a 3/16 brass bar that helps enhance the steel strings, serves as a grounding point and adds a focal point.

Final thoughts:

Otherwise, it works—it cost $22, plus scrap parts, and took a few hours to enhance. Plus, the top will look pretty cool once it acquires some genuine wear and tear.

Check out this quick and dirty video, which offers some haphazard slide work:

Thanks,

“Slice of Deliverance” – Steel-String Resonator Banjolele w/ Removable Pickup

I chanced upon this banjo uke for a steal at the local antique mall and couldn’t pass up a new project. From what I’ve read, this style of banjo ukulele was produced through the 20’s and 30’s and it’s in really great shape compared to some I have seen for sale online.

This instrument came with a traditional drumhead, but no bridge. Against the advice of most ukulele enthusiast sites my plan was to string it up with steel strings, so that I could add a removable pickup, which is apparently I’ll advised because the neck could succumb to the pressure.

The Before Pictures:

Finish:

The finished was scratched, but was otherwise in fine shape; however, I wanted to add my own style, so I sanded off the finish and stained it with a vinegar and steel wool concoction.

I started with the white vinegar mix that adds a rusty, yellow hue while darkening deep spots. Then, I finished with an apple cider mix that adds a bit more color, grain depth and shine. The mix results in a distressed look that enhances the natural grain, while adding subtle nuances as well as dramatic extremes.

Drumhead and Bridge:

I began by cutting a piece of brass rod for the bridge and then strung it with the top four strings from a pack of DR Pure Blues 9’s.

The uke tuned up, but the drumhead was strained, which lowered the action to the point of rubbing on the rim. So I had to find a new material for the head that would be thin enough to offer as good of a voice as the drumhead.

I had a paint can lid laying on the bench and it appeared to be the right size, so I cut off the rim and it was a perfect fit to replace the drumhead.

Tuners and Tailpiece:

The tuners weren’t complete trash, but I didn’t like the look of them and since I was going to use steel strings, it seemed like a good idea to install decent tuners. I found a set of Grovers that worked great and had a lower profile.

The tailpiece was meant for holding strings with smaller balls ends, so I had to drill small holes in the body to accommodate the steel string balls and allow the tailpiece to sit flat against the body.

Pickup:

Since the paint can worked out so well, it created a perfect opportunity for using a removable pickup made from two of my Nd144 Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar Pickups. I had originally built a similar pickup for the “Teeth for Days” build, which had a body that was to thin to house a permanently installed pickup.

Therefore, I created a compact pickup and 1/4″ jack combination that could be easily installed and removed. Since the paint can lid is made of magnetically sensitive material, the pickup can be installed at a whim.

This solves two problems—first, placing the pickup directly on the paint can lid stifles the resonating effect to some degree, so easy installation and removable allows the user to play acoustically without compromise. Second, installation via the inherent magnets keeps me from having to drill extra holes and add unsightly hardware for both the pickup and the output jack. In short, the pickup is fully functionally electric without radically changing the acoustic nature of the instrument.

The most interesting and functional aspect of this pickup is its ability to be removed and potentially used to electrify/amplify another guitar with a body made from magnetically sensitive material, such as a lunch box or cookie tin. The pickup and output jack is wired up and taped together as one unit to simplify this process.

A second feature is the exposed, copper ground wire that makes contact with the paint can lid upon installation. This signal travels through the all magnetically sensitive materials that come in contact with the chain, so the paint can lid, bridge (if changed to steel), strings, and tailpiece all become a place to ground the signal, thus reducing amplifier noise/hum.

Accessories:

I added a strap button comprised of a security bolt and a brass knurled nut. I simply drilled a larger hole in the body and tailpiece to accommodate the larger bolt.

The strap was made from duct tape printed with an American flag design and the headstock strap tie was made of black duct tape with a brass binding screw to hold everything together.

Final Word…

This was a cool project and I developed and appreciation for the ukulele and the benefits of its small size, along with this instrument’s marriage with the banjo.

Check out this quick video that offers this instrument’s amplified and acoustic tones:

Thanks,