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Will Ray's Bottom Feeder: Churchill Cigar Box Guitar

Will Ray's Bottom Feeder: Churchill Cigar Box Guitar
Bought on eBay for $100.15, this cigar box has a few atypical appointments, including rounded sides, a decal-bearing headstock, and twin vintage single-coil pickups.

A simple bridge replacement makes for a killer, totally tunable tone machine.

It’s no secret that I love to play cigar box guitars—known as CBGs to collectors. There’s just something earthy about playing music through a box that was originally designed to hold cigars. This CBG was made by a builder known to me as “Robert-C.” This particular build is crafted out of a box for Thomas Hinds Short Churchill EMS cigars, made in Nicaragua. What makes this cigar box guitar special is the look and sound. It sports nicely rounded edges on the two long sides, two old Silvertone single-coil pickups, and a very cool retro-looking headstock. I got it on eBay a while back, winning it with a bid of $100.15 including shipping.

The guitar came with a pair of vintage Silvertone single-coil pickups, which Will Ray describes as sounding like
“Strat pickups on steroids.”

When it arrived a week later and I unpacked it, I was blown away by the look. When I played it, however, I could tell there were some major problems I needed to address. The first was the intonation. For some strange reason, a lot of CBG builders don’t understand neck scale lengths and where to place the bridge. The builder placed the bridge about 3/4" shy of proper placement, causing terrible intonation.

For some strange reason, a lot of CBG builders don’t understand neck scale lengths and where to place the bridge.

Bottom Feeder Tip #381: When determining the exact placement of a bridge, all you have to do is measure the distance from the front of the nut to the middle of the 12th fret, then double that distance. That’s where to place the bridge. I could tell that this neck came off of a First Act guitar with a 25.5" scale.

The author added a top-loading Stratocaster replacement bridge, acquired online for $5, to cure the guitar’s intonation
and re-stringing problems.

The other problem I encountered was the bridge itself. It was a cheap, non-intonated, one-piece bridge that required stringing the guitar from inside the cigar box. That meant taking the neck and bridge completely off to get to the inside—crazy, especially if you break a string onstage. The solution? I went on eBay and found a black Strat bridge that could be top loaded—strung right behind the bridge instead of underneath it. I reinforced the box on the inside, right under where the new bridge would be installed, in order to make sure the string tension would not pull the bridge out. That little $5 bridge solved all my problems after I placed it in the right spot. The result? A great-playing guitar!

A decal from a different cigar brand keeps with the aromatic theme while adding a cool retro look to the headstock.

So how does it sound? You can listen to my MP3 online and hear for yourself. The older Silvertone pickups are surprisingly robust and meaty for single-coils. To my ears, they sound like Strat pickups on steroids. And because both pickups have mounting rings, I can adjust them to get as close to the strings as I want. That’s no small feat for these homemade builds. So is it a keeper? You bet. I’ve bought three or four more CBGs from Robert-C, because all of his guitars have a kind of musical personality that I like.