For inexplicable reasons, I’ve been bitten by the cigar-box guitar bug.
For inexplicable reasons, I’ve
been bitten by the cigar-box
guitar bug. At present, I own
eight CBGs and counting. It all
started when I was doing my
daily search on eBay for Kay
guitars, and this baby showed
up. It was a totally playable guitar
made out of a cigar box and
some extra guitar parts, including
a bolt-on neck off an old
Kay solidbody. I was intrigued
by how the builder had spray-painted
some of the hardware red
to match the Kay’s headstock.
So I bookmarked the auction
and checked on its status
each day until—after repeated
viewings—I knew I just had to
have it. So I sniped in the last
few seconds and snagged it for
$107 plus $25 shipping. When
the guitar arrived, I just marveled
at its construction: It had a Strat-style
bridge with six individually
adjustable saddles, a humbucking
pickup, Volume and Tone controls,
and a jack mounted on the
face of a wooden Puros Indios
cigar box. How cool is that?
The action was kind of high
for my taste, so first I adjusted
the truss rod. Removing excess
relief lowered the action a bit,
but not enough. I could have
lowered the bridge saddles,
but then they would have
been very near the end of their
downward adjustment range.
Instead, I decided to shim
the neck and thus preserve
some latitude for lowering the
saddles in the future.
Bottom Feeder Tip #2287:
When you need to significantly
lower the action on a bolt-on
neck, never be afraid to use a
shim. It’s a quick and easy way
to realign the neck angle to keep
your action low and the playability
factor high. When shimming
a neck, I first loosen the strings,
place a capo on the neck around
the 12th or 14th fret to keep
the strings in place, and then
carefully unscrew the neck bolts
and remove the neck.
If I wish to raise the fretboard
towards the strings to lower the
action, I’ll place a thin piece
of cardboard about 2" x 3/4"
long in the furthest end of the
neck pocket towards the bridge.
(Conversely, if I want to raise
the action, I’ll position the shim
towards the headstock side of the
neck pocket. This tilts the end
of the fretboard down, dropping
it away from the strings.) Note:
A little bit of shimming goes a
long way, so use a thin shim at
first to see how much it changes
the neck pitch. Cereal-box cardboard
is about the thickness I
prefer to start with.
When you’re done shimming,
gently put the neck back into the
neck pocket, being careful not to
accidentally skew the shim. Then
fully tighten the bolts, tune the
guitar up to pitch, remove the
capo and see how your action is.
If it’s relatively close, go ahead
and use the height-adjustment
screws on the saddles to fine-tune
the action. If the action needs
more adjusting, fiddle around
with different size shims until
you get it where you want it.
So how is the CBG now?
Great! The action is nice and
low, it’s fun to play, and it always
turns heads whenever I bring it
out. The fellow who made it,
Tom Hiles, lives in South Dakota
and has built many CBGs (mine
is serial #37). I was so impressed
with his workmanship that I
eventually had him build another
CBG that incorporated some old
Fender Will Ray signature-model
guitar parts I had lying around. I
got to know him pretty well and
later recorded a YouTube video
of me playing one of his CBGs
in hopes of turning more people
on to his work.
CBGs are not hard to make
if you’re adventurous, and there
are many kits available. Bottom
Feeder Tip #267: Always make
friends with gifted craftsmen you
run across, because you never
know when you may want to
use their expertise. This CBG
is part of my arsenal now, and I
look forward to getting more of
these instruments down the road.
They are fully functional guitars,
very light, sound great, and are
supremely fun to play. This one’s
definitely a keeper.
is a founding
member of the
trio. He also does guitar
clinics promoting his
namesake G&L signature
model 6-string, and produces
artists and bands at his studio in
Asheville, North Carolina. You can contact
Will on Facebook and at willray.biz.