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How to Tune a Cigar Box Guitar


You've built your first cigar box guitar. Now how do you tune it? Although there are no rules to this instrument, here's a list of different ways you can tune your cigar box guitar. They have been organized by the number of strings on the instrument.


Three-String Cigar Box Guitar

The following tunings are for a 3-string cigar box guitar that has been strung up with A, D and G strings from a standard string pack. These tunings are shown low to high string.

  • Open G - G, D, G (the high string is one octave above low string). Currently, this is the most popular tuning for cigar box guitarists. The majority of lessons and tutorials online are in Open G. This is a good tuning to use when you're starting out.

  • Open A - A, E, A (the high string is one octave above low string)Open F - F, C, F (the high string is one octave above low string)

  • A7 "The Magic Jazz Tuning" - A, E, G

  • A6 "Hawaiian Tuning" - A, E, F#

  • G9 "Tuning in Fifths" - G, D, A

The following tunings use different string gauges for 3-string cigar box guitar:

"The Mother Leeds - EEB Tuning." Developed by Shane Speal for the songs, Mother Leeds and Tattoo of You. This gives a 3-string cigar box guitar both the low E string of a standard guitar and two higher strings. In order to use this tuning, string your cigar box guitar with the following strings from a standard pack: Low E string, D string and B string. Mother Leeds EEB - E, E, B (the middle string is one octave above the low string)


Seasick Steve 3-String Trance Wonder Open G: GGB Created by Seasick Steve for his 3-String Trance Wonder guitar. In order to use this tuning, string your cigar box guitar with the following strings from a standard pack: A string, G string and B string.


Four-String Cigar Box Guitar

The following tunings are for a 4-string cigar box guitar that has been strung up with A, D, G and B strings from a standard string pack. These tunings are shown low to high string.

Open G - G, D, G, B (the third string is one octave above the lowest)

G Straight - G, D, G, D (the two high strings are tuned one octave above the two lowest)

G Minor - G, D, G, Bb (the third string is one octave above the lowest)

G7 - G, D, F, B

Open A - A, E, A, C#


Approximated Elmore tuning: Shane Speal has developed a low/high tuning for a 4-string cigar box guitar using the low E string of a standard guitar and the three highest strings. This enables him to play Elmore James style slide on the high strings while still getting the rumbling low string in the mix.

In order to use this tuning, string your cigar box guitar with the following strings from a standard pack: Low E string, G, B and high E strings.

Approximated Elmore Open D - D, F#, A, D


Six String Open Tunings

Open D "Vestapol Tuning" - D, A, D, F#, A, D

Open G "Spanish Tuning" - D, G, D, G, B, D


Historical fact: The cigar box guitar is an instrument without formal structure. In the past, folks would tune their cigar box guitars however they wanted, usually tightening their strings of screen wire and brake cables until they made an acceptable sound.
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6 Comments


Unknown member
Jan 18, 2022

Nice to see some alternate style tunings to try out besides the standard open G one. I look forward to trying some of these out.

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Terry Terrell
Terry Terrell
Jan 15, 2022

I haven't seen this question addressed before - what is the safest way to transport a cigar box guitar? There are cases for every other stringed instrument, but is there one for a CBG?

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Shane Speal
Shane Speal
Jan 18, 2022
Replying to

This is a fantastic question. I'll have to blog an article. I personally use regular guitar gig bags and fit two cigar box guitars, back to back, inside each one. C. B. Gitty sells cigar box guitar gig bags. Others have purchased gun cases and carved out the inside foam to fit their cigar box guitars. I've also had gig bags made from the leg of an old pair of blue jeans.

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Poorness Studios
Poorness Studios
Dec 28, 2021

You forgot two of the best 4-string tunings... DGBE & ADGB. The latter is my all-time favorite and I much prefer it to GDGB. That said... it's a good list of alternate tunings. There are still quite a few I need to try.

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Mark
Mark
Dec 28, 2021

This is off topic, how did the drum set turn out?

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Shane Speal
Shane Speal
Dec 28, 2021
Replying to

Still in the works. I'll go hardcore on it for several weeks and then have to put it aside as I work on other projects. I hope to have it back out and tuned up in a month or so. Updates to follow.

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