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Build a Cigar Box Greek Lyre - 1927

A note from Shane Speal: This is the second set of plans taken from Satis N. Coleman’s book, Creative Music in the Home (copyright 1927, Lewis E. Myers Co.). [See Cigar Box Lute - 1927 for the previous plans.] The following plans were taken from Chapter XIX, subtitled “The Greek Lyre.”

Overview: The plans describe an eight-string lyre that uses a cigar box as the resonator. The plans call for zither pin style pegs. A modern version could replace those with standard guitar tuners.

The Cigar-Box Lyre

Figure 1 shows a form of lyre which you may make if you can find a cigar box and some wood to make a strong frame around it. The frame must be strong enough to hold strings when they are pulled very tight

There are three things about a string that affect the pitch of its tone: (1) its length; (2) its weight, and (3) the tightness, or tension to which it is drawn. This the pitch can be regulated by changing the length, or the weight, or the tightness of the string. In a lyre the length is the same for all the strings, there fore the different tones of the scale must be obtained by having strings of different degrees of heaviness [aka. “string gauges” -Shane], and by stretching some of them tighter than others. If you are going to have eight strings to your lyre, you should have at least four different sizes [gauges] of string, the heaviest ones for the lowest notes, and the light ones for the high notes. If they are arranged in pairs, the two heviest at one side, two that are in weight coming next, and so on, you can probably tune them to the eight note scale, but one string in each pair will be stretched a little tighter than the other. In this way you can regulate the pitch of the strings bothby weight and tension.


For making a cigar box lyre, these are the materials required:

  • A cigar box

  • About three three feet of strong wood, 3/4 x 1-1/2 inches

  • Eight strings, graduated sizes [gauges], either wire or cat-gut

  • Eight metal pegs [zither tuners], unless you prefer to make your own pegs of wood

  • Two slender strips for bridges

  • Eight small, round-head screws

  • A few long, slender nails, and some very small brads

  • Glue

  • Stain, if you wish to stain the instrument

  • A “tuner” or key [zither pin key] to turn the pegs, if you buy the ready-made pegs

The strings, metal pegs, and the tuner will have to be bought at a musical instrument store.


You will need the following tools:

  • Saw

  • Hammer

  • Coping saw

  • Screwdriver

  • A brace (wood clamp)

  • A 9/32 inch bit (for wooden pegs) or 6/22 inch bit (for metal pegs)

  • And if you use wire strings, a wire cutter and pair of pliers


(1) First, clean all paper from the cigar box and from the lid. Hot water will help loosen the paper so that it can be scraped off, but do not let the wood soak in the water. Let it dry thoroughly.

(2) Put the lid aside to be used later. Tighten the joints of the box with small brads, and use glue to close up any cracks that may appear when you hold the box up to the light. (Fig. 2)

(3) Cut two strips of wood eighteen inches long for the side of your frame. (Fig. 3)

(4) With small brads driven from the inside of the box, fasten these strips to the sides of the box exactly even with its lower end. The front edge of the frame must also be even with the top of the box when the lid is on. If the body of the box juts out beyond the frame in the back, it is all right, but all the surfaces must be even in the front. (Fig. 4)

(5) Cut a strip [of wood] for the bottom of the frame long enough to reach the outer edge of each side strip. Into the lower side of this piece of wood drive eight small screws, almost up to the head of each screw. The strings are to be tied to these screws. (Fig. 5)

(6) Fasten this strip across the bottom of the frame, using a long screw and two long, slender nails at each corner. These joints must be very strong for there will be great strain on them. (Fig. 6)

(7) With tiny brads driven through the box, nail the end of the box to the bottom of the frame. (Fig. 7)

(8) Cut another piece of wood the same length as the bottom strip to be fastened across the top of the two sides. This strip is for the pegs. (Fig. 8)

(9) It will be better to bore holes for the pegs before the strip is nailed in place. Leaving an inch or more at each end, bore eight holes entirely through the wood with the brace and bit, arranging them in two zigzag rows as shown in Figure 9. This arrangement is to give room for the tuner to be used on the pegs.

(10) Fasten this piece across the top, using a long screw and two long nails in each corner. Now the frame is made. (Fig. 10)

(11) The lid of the box must have a hole or holes in it to allow the sound to go into the box and be intensified. Make your own design for this opening and cut it out with a coping saw, being very careful not to split the wood. If it should split, go ahead and finish your design and glue the parts together afterwards. A very narrow strip of paper can be glued over the seam on the underside, where it will not be seen. If you prefer, a cluster of holes may be bored in the center of the lid, using a brace and a large bit. (See Fig. 11)

(12) Glue the lid to the box in its original position, using a very few small brads to be sure that it will not fall off later. (Fig. 12)

(13) Prepare two slender strips [of wood] about 1/4 inch thick and as long as your instrument is wide, with a sharp edge along the top of each. These pieces are ”bridges” to be slipped under the strings at the bottom and top of the lyre, to keep the strings from rattling against the box when they are plucked. (Fig. 13)

(14) Stain your instrument. Most people think that stain is better than varnish for lyres, and it is certainly better than paint.

(15) When the instrument is dry, it is ready for the pegs and strings. First screw the pegs into the holes, leaving about 1/2 or 3/4 inch of each peg standing above the wood. If metal pegs are used, screw them into the wood with a metal peg tuner. Examine the “threads” on the pegs to find out which direction you must turn them. Wooden pegs (Fig. 14) may be pushed into the holes and turned by hand. Do not drive the pegs in with a hammer. They must turn into the wood, following the threads made around them. (Fig. 15)

(16) Take your smallest wire string and make a small loop in one end. (Fig. a) Hold the loop with a pair of pliers and with your thumb and fingers, turn the sort end of the loop tightly, around and around the wire, coiling it closely as the thread is coiled on a spool. It will look like Figure b.

After five or six coils are made, cut off the remaining short end with wire cutters. Slip the loop over the screw at the right side of the instrument as it faces you. (Fig c) Draw the string up to the first peg on the right and pull it through the hole in the peg. (Fig. d) Pull it tightly around the peg and into the hole again. Use the pliers to pull the string very tightly around the peg and through the hole a third time. Now draw the remaining wire up close to the peg and cut it off. Three times around the peg through the hole will be enough to hold it firmly when the string is tuned. Arrange the strings according to size, the smallest at the right and the largest at the left of the instrument as it faces you. (See Fig. 1)

(17) When the strings are all on, slip the two bridges under the strings and let them rest on the cross pieces, one at the top and one at the bottom. find by experiment where they best support the strings.

(18) Tune the eight strings to the eight notes of a major scale. Be sure that you find out which way the peg should be turned in order to tighten the string. Do not pull the strings too tight, let they break. It is perhaps best to tune the smallest wire first. When that string is of the tightness which gives a good tone and yet does not strain the wire too much, let that note be your Number 8, and tune the other wires to suit it.

Perhaps the most comfortable position for holding the lyre is that shown in the picture below. Pluck the strings with the fingers of your right hand unless you happen to be left-handed. The thumb probably makes the best tone, if it does not pull the string with too much force. Pluck the string lightly, and leave it free to vibrate.

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2 Kommentare

Philip Taylor
Philip Taylor
26. März 2022

I am making one of these right now. It will be a double strung lyre with 17 pairs of strings (C3-E5). I am using a CB Gitty 8.5"x11.5" box for this project. For strings I will use actual harp strings as these give the best sound and are robust. Am in my 63rd year of building musical instruments and love it.

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Brian Q
Brian Q
25. März 2022

Way too kool, I’d love to see a kid plinkin’ on one of these! I made a 4 string lyre once before, but I used 3/4” dowels for the frame sides & ran them through the box, thanx for sharing, you’ve just piqued my interest once again :)

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