top of page

How to Make Musical Instruments from Cigar Boxes, 1923

Pictured: A small round box ukulele, circa 1920's.

The following plans are less detailed than others in our archives, but they give some great ideas for fiddles and mandolins. These plans were written by W. F. Cord and were published in the Sept. 1923 issue of Popular Mechanics.

Cigar boxes, which may generally be obtained for the asking from any tobbacconist - who will be glad to get rid of them - can be used to make very passable violins and mandolins.  Of course, it is not expected that a "fiddle" of this variety would possess the tone of a Cremona or Stradivarius, but in the hands of one knowing how to play such an instrument, very creditable results may be attained.

The drawing shows the dimensions and appearances of the various necks in case it is desired to make them at home.  However, if the best results are desired, it is recommended that these, as well as the bridges, tailpieces, strings and similar fittings, be purchased from a music supply house.  If made at home, poplar should be used. 

Cigar Box Violin, circa 1920's, discovered in Portland OR.

The Cigar Box Violin should be made from a box about 3 in. deep, 5 in. wide, and from 9 1/2 to 13 in. long, according to the person for whom it is made.

  1. Let the lid form the back of the instrument, but do not nail it down until the work has been completed. 

  2. Glue a block, 3/8 in. wide by 2 1/2 in. long and the same depth as the box, in the end to which the neck is to be fastened, and a smaller block at the opposite end.

  3. Cut the F-shaped sound holes in the top and then drive a few more nails around the edges of the box, to make it stronger.

  4. When the neck has been completed, drill two or three holes through the block and box into the neck for screws

  5. ...then glue the neck in place and screw it on tight.

  6. Next, fasten the fingerboard in place, drill a hole in the rear end and rear block and glue into it a small peg to hold the tailpiece. 

The Bow is also made of poplar and the hairs can be obtained from a long-tailed horse or bought from a music store; ordinary thread can even be used, where it is not possible to obtain horse hair, or to purchase a bow.

Cigar Box Ukulele/Mandolin, circa 1930's.

Violin, Mandolin, and Guitar that are made from cigar and cheese boxes by the additi

on of suitable necks and fittings:  Anyone who can play a standard instrument of either kind can produce from these.

For the Mandolin, a box about 5 1/2 or 6 in. wide, 2 3/4 to 3 3/4 in deep and 9 1/2 in long will be best. 

  1. The lid, as in the violin, forms the back and is not fastened down until the remainder of the work is done.

  2. The Sound Hole, which is about at the center of the box, is 1 1/4 by 1 3/4 in. in size.

  3. Glue a piece of wood, 1/4 by 1 3/4 in. in dimensions, across the box, midway between the sound hole and the end of the box, to keep the bridge and fingerboard from pressing the top. 

  4. A block, 3/8 in. wide by 3 in. long, and the same height as the box, is glued inside at the neck end. 

  5. The neck is made as indicated in the drawing, and is attached to the box as described for the violin.

Cigar Box Guitar, circa 1950's, discovered in Maryland.

The Guitar is made from a part of a cheese box instead of a cigar box.  A box made from a single piece of wood, instead of one made up from three-ply veneer, should be selected.

  1. Cut the rim down to 3 1/4 in. in width, and attach the neck at the point where the ends meet, after fastening a 3/4 by 3 1/4-in. block on the inside. 

  2. The neck, when in place, must stand above the rim at a sufficient distance so that, when the top is applied, the neck will be flush with the top. 

  3. After the neck has been fitted, as described above, the top and bottom can be put on; these pieces may be sawed from pine, poplar or almost any kind of lumber, about 1/8 in. thick. 

  4. The sound hole is a little above the center and is 2 3/4 in. in diameter.

  5. The top is glued and nailed to the rim and is reinforced by three 1/4 by 5/8-in strips that are glued edgewise across the underside of the top to prevent it from being pressed in.

  6. It is also advisable to glue two or three such strips on the bottom before it is attached.

  7. A lug, 1 1/4 in long by 1 1/2 in. wide is left on the bottom of the cover, and fastened to the underside of the neck.

640 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

Jim Stanley
Jim Stanley
Feb 11, 2022

I love to look at the different style of building, playing, and styles. I will probably not ever get the hang of playing but I admire the thinkers who pout the tools of music together. I built a one string didley from an old Army tent pole and ammo can. I saw Shane's glass bottle slide the other day and looked for one to use with the didley. I happened across a old glass mini creamer that they used to use in restaurants. and then low and behold a mini syrup bottle from Cracker Barrel and a glass AirWick bottle work well too. Imagine and think about how to solve the problem. Thats what I love about these articles!

bottom of page