How to build a resonator cigar box guitar.
I'll be using the Lightning 5.5" resonator cone but this method also works with pet dish resonators, license plates and other top mounted resonators.
This is a basic overview of how I construct my resonator guitars. More granular details regarding fretting, intonation, bridge placement etc. can be found in my book The Folk Art Instrument Builders Reference
Pick a box
In this example I am using a Chateau Real cigar box. The box is wooden, not too thick and has enough of a length that I can easily mount the cone along with a pickup and not be crunched for room. I'll be using a Lighning 5.5" resonator cone so I mark the center of the box keeping in mind where the bridge needs to be in relation to the scale length I intend use.
I drill the hole using a 5" hole saw in my drill press.
Cut slot for the neck
Measure to find the center and then mark and cut slot for the neck.
With this particular box I only need to cut the lid of the box.
When all is said and done I need the fretboard to be nearly flush with the lid. This will become more apparent in the next few steps.
Cut the neck block
The block is the section that the neck will bolt to. I use a hardwood for this, typically oak. I like to have about three inches of length for the neck to bolt to and the width of the block should match the inside width of you box. You want this to be a snug fit.
The focus at this point is to make sure that the block you install will be the right height. You want to measure to ensure that once bolted down the neck will be as flush to the lid as possible. It can be a bit high but if its too low then the fretboard you add later will not lay flat which would lead to cutting more of the box lid so lets avoid that.
The piece I inserted was not quite high enough so I went to the table saw and cut an additional piece to sit upon the first block I cut.
Apply wood glue, insert both pieces and then clamp. It's best to place a piece of wood under the box before you clamp so you don't mare or otherwise damage the bottom of the box.
Allow the glue to dry completely.
Next I notch the neck. This is so it will slip into the slot on the lid, attach to the block and be as close as flush to the lid as possible.
You want to cut away as little as possible. Too much of a cut will impact the integrity of the neck.
Ensure the neck is square then drill holes with countersinks.
I like to square up the neck and then clamp it down and then recheck it again before I drill.
Add wood glue, get the screws inserted into the neck so that they poke through just enough to line up with the holes you already made, re clamp to ensure it seats properly and then add the wood screws.
You'll proably want to shape as well as stain your neck before you attach it.
I glue a small piece of scrap oak inside to the end of the box to provide something strong for my tailpiece to mount to.
For this build I am using the Lightning 5.5" resonator cone.
The screws I use to mount it are basically the same small screws used to mount tuners. They come in a variety of colors.
Using my dremel I cut out for the pickup.
I drill the hole on the edge of the box for the 1/4 Jack and then I screw down the cone.
Making the Tailpiece
I use a piece of aluminum angle. I buy this at the hardware and the size I get is 1/16" x 1/2 x 3/4 and I usually get it in 3 feet lengths.
It is very easy to work with and I have even used it on several six string instruments.
Cut it to the length you desire, mark the position for the string mounting holes as well as 2 or 3 holes on the wider edge for the mounting screws.
I use a punch to mark the holes before I drill and this prevents the drill bit from wandering.
You want to make sure that the tailpiece aligns perfectly with your neck and an easy way to do this is to lay a piece of wood the width of your neck on top of the box. Run it from the fretboard to the end of the box and you'll know excatly where to drill your mounting holes.
At this point I drill a small sound hole or two, install the pickup, the 1/4 jack and any volume and tone controls.
I then test the pickup to make sure everything is working properly and then I glue the lid of the box down and clamp it until it dries.
The box will resonate vastly better if eveything is solid and sealed tight.
Next I install my tuners, glue my fretboard down and once everything has dried then it is time to put some strings on her and tune her up.
I use a biscuit bridge on these guitars which I make using either Rosewood or Maple. I use various items for the saddle such as bone, another hardwood or simply a metal bolt.