The CLE Cigar box build is my second full scale instrument project to follow after the Punch, ‘Rare Corojo’ build detailed here. Already, the build process is evolving as I refine my skills, approach and techniques and it is this process that breathes uniqueness and life into each project.
While it may seem biased to rate my own work, I believe that there’s value in the process of self evaluation; after all, few people will judge us harder than ourselves.
Every project is an opportunity to fine-tune and learn from, so here is my honest, albeit biased cigar box guitar review.
To echo my grade-school woodwork teacher’s approach to self assess our work…
HOW WOULD YOU GRADE THIS PROJECT?
This is definitely ‘A’ class work. I pride myself on attention to research, to detail, as well as to clear intention and follow-through.
This is an instrument I would proudly hang on my wall as an art-piece, play on a stage, and feel confident and proud to leave in the hands of another musician.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
As my second build, I learned a lot from my first ‘Punch’ Cigar Box Guitar. While much of the execution was very similar, I added some design elements, wood lamination and inlay details that I’m really happy with.
Most notable are the walnut inlay running the length of the neck, the shaping of the neck back and augmentation of the scarf joint detail and subtle elements such as the maple pinstripe between the fretboard and the neck.
I also love the way this neck feels in-hand; the curve, weight and satin hand-rubbed gunstock finish just feel ‘fast’ and silky in the hand — even unplugged and despite having electric strings, this cigar box guitar really sings.
Weight-wise, the instrument feels very solid and balanced in the hand. It is lighter than my ‘Punch’ cigar box guitar build as I didn’t run hardwood around the full perimeter of the box interior. Instead, I just added hardwood neck supports at the head and foot of the box, which really reduced the weight, overall.
This CLE Cigar Box Guitar really does feel good to hold and to play.
I also love the scarf joint (15 degree angle) on the headstock as well as the wood combination, inlays and grain pattern. With the addition of the walnut neck inlay running into the headstock and the scarf joint sanded and shaped to reveal the woods coming together, the neck really flows and looks incredible.
I’ve gotten quicker with soldering as compared to my first build. Additionally, I incorporated a ceramic round piezo mounted beneath the bridge vs the mini-humbucker seen in my first build. Honestly, I can’t say which is better – each offer a very different sound quality with this one providing a more warm and mellow tone.
Neck fitment in the box is perfect as well. The whole assembly looks pro, right down to the box corners and modified drawer hardware that serves as a tailpiece and anchors into the end of the neck (which runs right through the box).
WHAT WOULD YOU IMPROVE UPON?
As mentioned in the review for my Punch Cigar Box Guitar, there’s a part of me that wishes these boxes were flawless. However, there’s a part of me that appreciates each box is unique and has it’s own character.
Really, these are folk-instruments at the end of the day and when compared to their crude ancestors (using fence wire for strings and rusty keys for bridges), these boxes are quite elegant.
If you’re looking for a ‘mint’ box, this one has a few character marks on the box face but overall, I’d rate box condition a 9/10.
Having honed my skills from the first build, the only minor change I’d make is to the location of the 45 degree cut in front of the nut. With the 15 degree angle on the headstock, the strings ‘just’ touch the edge of the fretboard. For my next build, I’d move the nut location about 1/16″ back so the strings can completely clear the board.
This does not affect sound or playability. Rather, it’s just a very minor design detail to tweak and at worst, the strings may leave a very slight indent over time.
As mentioned in my first build, I felt the headstock was a bit large for the scale of the project. This of course is subjective and my wife thinks it looks great.
With this build, I reduced the length of the headstock by about 1″, which lends itself to a more proportioned aesthetic. This headstock sizing will serve as my master template for future builds.
I did ‘fret’ over the fret position markers on the face. After carefully marking and punching each fret position, I found that my drill-press bit wandered slightly. This resulted in a slight misalignment between the two fret dots on the 12th fret.
Admittedly, the perfectionist in me was close to scrapping the whole thing and starting again, but the misalignment is so slight and then further obscured by the frets and strings that I decided to forge ahead.
‘Respect the defect’ is a quote I often see Laura Kampf refer to and one I’ve taken to heart. As an aside, if you haven’t seen her YouTube channel, check her out as she’s an amazing artist and craftsman (craftswoman? I don’t know what’s correct anymore 😉 ).
Located on the back edge, the jack is out of the way when playing, but in the way if you want to set the instrument on the floor to take a break.
Again, this is minor and really just means unplugging it or putting it in a stand, but for future builds I may try putting the input on the face of the guitar by way of a ‘Fender’ -styled jack. I don’t know if this is a ‘con’ per se – again, just stylistic and observational.