T. HILES CIGAR-BOX GUITAR BY WILL RAY
For inexplicable reasons, I’ve been bitten by the cigar-box
guitar bug. At present, I own
eight CBGs and counting. It all
started when I was doing my
daily search on eBay for Kay
guitars, and this baby showed
up. It was a totally playable guitar made out of a cigar box and
some extra guitar parts, including a bolt-on neck off an old
Kay solidbody. I was intrigued
by how the builder had spray-painted some of the hardware red
to match the Kay’s headstock.
So I bookmarked the auction and checked on its status
each day until—after repeated
viewings—I knew I just had to
have it. So I sniped in the last
few seconds and snagged it for
$107 plus $25 shipping. When
the guitar arrived, I just marveled
at its construction: It had a Strat-style bridge with six individually
adjustable saddles, a humbucking
pickup, Volume and Tone controls, and a jack mounted on the
face of a wooden Puros Indios
cigar box. How cool is that?
The action was kind of high
for my taste, so first I adjusted
the truss rod. Removing excess
relief lowered the action a bit,
but not enough. I could have
lowered the bridge saddles,
but then they would have
been very near the end of their
downward adjustment range.
Instead, I decided to shim
the neck and thus preserve
some latitude for lowering the
saddles in the future.
Bottom Feeder Tip #2287:
When you need to significantly
lower the action on a bolt-on
neck, never be afraid to use a
shim. It’s a quick and easy way
to realign the neck angle to keep
your action low and the playability factor high. When shimming
a neck, I first loosen the strings,
place a capo on the neck around
the 12th or 14th fret to keep
the strings in place, and then
The instrument’s red hardware matches the Kay headstock.
This vibey cigar-box guitar
sports an old Kay neck. A
wooden Puros Indios cigar
box serves as the guitar’s
Serial #37 is signed and dated by its builder, Tom Hiles.
carefully unscrew the neck bolts
and remove the neck.
If I wish to raise the fretboard
towards the strings to lower the
action, I’ll place a thin piece
of cardboard about 2" x 3/4"
long in the furthest end of the
neck pocket towards the bridge.
(Conversely, if I want to raise
the action, I’ll position the shim
towards the headstock side of the
neck pocket. This tilts the end
of the fretboard down, dropping
it away from the strings.) Note:
A little bit of shimming goes a
long way, so use a thin shim at
first to see how much it changes
the neck pitch. Cereal-box cardboard is about the thickness I
prefer to start with.
When you’re done shimming,
gently put the neck back into the
neck pocket, being careful not to
accidentally skew the shim. Then
fully tighten the bolts, tune the
guitar up to pitch, remove the
capo and see how your action is.
If it’s relatively close, go ahead
and use the height-adjustment
screws on the saddles to fine-tune
the action. If the action needs
more adjusting, fiddle around
with different size shims until
you get it where you want it.
WILL RAY is a found-
ing member of the
trio. He also does guitar
clinics promoting his
namesake G&L signature
model 6-string, and pro-
duces artists and bands at his studio in
Asheville, North Carolina. You can contact
Will on Facebook and at willray.biz.