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,

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,

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,

Ripped Baseball Bat “Cigar Box Style” Electric Slide Guitar

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I completed this prototype back in November 2015. It was a really cool project, but I just got around to writing up the build notes. The first thing I had to figure out was how to rip the bat in half. I didn’t have a table saw or bandsaw—just a circular saw and chop saw—so I decided to make a box that would almost perfectly fit the baseball bat. Then, I used a square to center all of the parts of the bat parallel to the sides of the box. To achieve this, I used different thicknesses of scrap wood to shim the bat into a centered position.

Once the bat was centered, I used a square to mark the cutline, which was slightly off center to allow for the best bat depth to fretboard width ratio—I wanted to retain as much material as possible to add strength, but I still needed enough fretboard width for three strings. I found my measurement and then set the circular saw guide relative to one side of the box.

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I placed the box on the ground and up against the sidewalk. The box is much longer than the bat to allow extra room for the circular saw to drop in and begin a straight run toward the end of the bat. The saw must run through at a slow even pace, straight through the end block to complete the cut. The bat moved a bit, as the saw cut through its length. This resulted in a less than flat surface that required a bit of planing. I placed the surface with a hand planer until a level sat flat against the surface. I sanded the cut surface with sandpaper, but left the outer part of the bat untouched.

I filed a 3/8″ groove 24-3/4″ from the nut location and then cut two brass bolts, placing one in the bridge position and filing the other down to half thickness for the nut.

Pickup and 1/4″ Jack:

I purchased a second 1-1/4″ spade bit and sawed off the center point tip, so that the bottom would be flat and less likely to penetrate the back side of the bat. The pickup hole was started with the old bit with the tip and completed with the new bit without the tip. I installed a JSA Nd144 Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar Pickup and planned to wire it straight to the jack. My biggest concern was that I would drill through the back of the bat, so I was careful to measure and drill small bits at a time.

The endpin jack was too big to fit at the end of the bat as a circle, so I ground it down to more of a triangle, leaving the holes. The hole for the jack and wire was drill straight through to the pickup hole with a long 1/2″ bit. The jack fit well, but had to be bent a bit on the bottom to conform to the curve of the bat—a few brass screws held it in place nicely.

Tuners:

This was the first application of my Simple Tuners, as I created them for this particular project. Given that I wanted to keep a clean baseball bat profile at the back of the guitar, standard tuners would not work, so I came up with these tuners that attached to the front surface.

Headstock:

I found this old bottle opener and it fit perfectly on the headstock, so I fastened it down and then installed two more screws to set the height. I filed three notches to hold the strings and then added a string tensioner, made of a brass bolt and two small eye-screws and it was ready to go.

Check out this quick and dirty video:

Thanks,

uW5Z0b

“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,

“His Dudeness” – Electro-Acoustic Resonator Guitar Modification

Follow this link for additional photos and build notes:

https://wp.me/P3WRqw-VO

Call it The Dude, His Dudeness, Duder, or even El Duderino, but don’t call it Mr. Lebowski.

I received a request to modify this old classical, parlor acoustic. The gentleman had seen a few of my other acoustic modifications and wanted something similar for his acoustic. He gave me full artistic control, so I added materials based on the guitar’s size, shape and the condition of the neck.

Here are some before pictures:

Check out these quick and dirty demonstration videos—one is amplified with distortion the other is unplugged and ends with a little Nuge, but hey, it’s a free for all:

Thanks,

Yard Dog – “SuperStrut” All-Steel, Ultra-Low, Single-String Electric Djent Bass

At a past St. Louis Cigar Box Guitar Club meeting, Sean Oliveira brought in a bunch of piano strings from a unit he had dismantled. He was offering them for free, so I took a thick, low string along with a medium-sized one. I decided to challenge myself to build a guitar around the low string, which has a diameter of roughly a 1/4″.

Since this thick string would exert a lot of force against the instrument’s frame, I would need something a bit more resilient that my usual wood structure. I wanted to maintain a size similar to my previous builds so I chose slotted 1-5/8″ x 13/16 strut.

I started with a five foot length of strut and measured the distance between the bridge and the nut on my Peavey bass, which came out around 34-1/4″. Everything needed to be beefed up on this build—two-hole angles were too weak to handle the force—so everything had to be reconsidered.

Tuner and String:

The first thing that I needed was something to hold the string. Usually I would clamp it with a bolt and knurled nut, but a 1/4″ diameter string needs something more substantial. Luckily, I was able to find some aluminum wire lugs in the electrical section at Lowes. These were excellent both for clamping the string behind the nut and anchoring the tuner.

The tuner is made from a heavy-duty 1/4″ eyebolt, a 1/4″ x 3/4″ steel spacer and a 1/4″ rod coupling. The piano string came with a loop, so I removed a small amount of material at the junction of the eyebolt to allow the string loop to slip onto the eyebolt.

Nut and Bridge:

The nut and bridge are made of stainless steel pipe clamps. I wanted to attach the nut and bridge since the vibration of the large string made it difficult to keep a bolt or other material in place by the force of the string alone. These clamps work perfect for the string size and allow for a proper action. Additionally, I added a u-bolt at the back of the nut and bridge. There was very little tension holding the string in place—the u-bolts worked to create a more focused sound.

Fretboard:

The fretboard is a length of 1/8″ x 1″ steel. It is adhered to the strut with neodymium magnets, which raises the height of the steel just slightly, making the application of zip tie frets possible. I’ve always wanted to try zip tie frets, but I was unhappy with the zip tie being around the back of the neck—this allowed me to place the zip ties around just the steel bar, leaving the back of the strut smooth.

Pickup and Output Jack:

The base coil of this pickup is the same as the Nd144 Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar pickup, but I had to modify it to allow for a proper fit. The plastic on the bobbin had to be trimmed to the coil and I used slightly larger neodymium magnets that fit within the slot in the strut.

Nothing special about the 1/4″ output jack. I installed it close to the bottom, with some odds and ends, so that it was out-of-the-way and close to the pickup.

Here’s a quick and dirty video featuring my Peavey bass stack from way back:

(VIDEO PLAYBACK REQUIRES HEADPHONES—SMART PHONE SPEAKERS CAN NOT ACCOMMODATE LOW FREQUENCIES)

Thanks,

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“Dirty Secret” – Electro-Acoustic, Variable Resonator, Steel-String Parlor Guitar

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I received this 70’s era, Trump classical guitar from my mother-in-law a few years back. A few of the tuners were broken, the neck was bowed and the bridge was either broken or I just decided to cut it off—it’s hard to say at this point—but knew when I saw it, that I wanted to do something drastic.

I looked around and found an adjustable floor register and then cut a large rectangle out of the body; but then it sat, because I wanted to strip off all of the finish. I found that it was very difficult to remove the finish, but finally a couple of days ago I locked a wire brush attachment into my drill, determined that the finish would come off once and for all—it did, sort of, but I also distressed the livin’ out of the wood. No problem, because sometimes ugly is part of the game.

I call this one, Dirty Secret; it’s like that horrific kid in the horror movies, that’s hidden in the basement— someone unwittingly finds themself in said basement; it’s dark and cluttered, unseen feet are heard scampering across the floor, and then a ball comes rolling out from the shadows, creeping everyone out…well it’s not like that, but stay with me…you have a Les Paul and a Strat up stairs in the stable, but instead, you prefer to play this piece of trash, for some indescribable reason…why?

Body and Finish:

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As stated earlier, I cut a 4″x8″ rectangle into the center of the guitar to accommodate an adjustable metal floor register. The purpose of the register is two-fold—primarily, to create a resonator sound and secondarily, to control the amount of resonator sound. The outcome was not as drastic as I would have liked, but there is a distinct difference between the louvers in the closed position and open position: in the closed position, the sound is tighter/cleaner, as the louvers move to the open position, the sound becomes more resonate and rattly.

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Since I cut through all of the bracing, the top needed need reinforcement, so I cut a few pieces of 1″ square rod to offer stability and a solid base through which to install the floor register. Additionally, I cut a a small groove into the top/center of the register to accommodate the fretboard—it just looded more finished and covered up the fact that I cut the hole incorrectly.

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The old finish was removed with sandpaper on the head, neck, and fretboard; however, the finish on the body was removed with drill-powered wire brush. Much of the heavy finish was removed, but a red stain remained; additionally, the brush removed too much material in some places, which left the body distressed and damaged. After sanding all of the surfaces, I applied a finish made of vinegar and steel wool that helped accentuate the distressed areas on the body.

Tuners:

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The tuners had to be replaced—some were broken, others were seized. I subbed in a set of butterfly-style Grover tuners, which had shafts that were larger than the original tuners. I enlarged the holes to 3/8″ and installed the replacements.

Tailpiece and Bridge:

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I used a discarded tailpiece from a previous build. I sanded off the tarnish and centered it on the body. Two small zip ties hold the tailpiece tight to the register to reduce friction noise. For the bridge I used a brass hinge pin; I flattened the bottom with a file and found the correct scale based on doubling the measurement of the twelfth fret.

Pickup and Output Jack:

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I taped two JSA Nd144 Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar Pickups together and connected them to an acoustic guitar endpin jack. I couldn’t place the pickup in a normal location, because of the louvers on the register, but there was a small location just back from the  end of the fretboard. I superglued an old razor blade below the fretboard and installed the pickup by attaching the magnets on the pickup to the razor blade. A 1/2″ hole was drilled, in the bottom of tyhe guitar, where the strap button was previously located.

Check out these quick demonstration videos—one is amplified with distortion the other is not—enjoy:

Thanks,

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