Photo of the Cigar Box Guitar

Vol. 21: Traditional Cigar Box Guitar

Build this 3-string instrument that requires a minimum of tools and parts, yet sounds great.

By Mark Frauenfelder

Photos by Mark Frauenfelder

Illustrations by Rob Nance

+ Downloads & Extras:


The most popular tuning for cigar box guitars is called Open G tuning. Many of the original blues guitar players used Open G, and it’s a favorite with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Play the MP3 file at to hear the tuning (save the file to your computer or mobile phone so you have it handy). The MP3 is for a six-string guitar, so ignore the first string that’s plucked, and tune your cigar box guitar to the three strings after that.


Fret Spacing depends on your scale length. A simple online fret calculator can be found at ( A more complex calculator that produces a printable template is available here:

MAKE: AMENDS Errata for This Article


Correction for page 83
In Volume 21’s “Traditional Cigar Box Guitar,” the tuners were mistakenly mounted upside down, which will make the guitar more difficult to keep in tune. To mount them correctly, simply flip them so the string tension is always pulling the shaft toward the gear, not away from the gear.

photo of wrong and right way to install tuners

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