Maybe you’ve seen the “Cigar Box Guitar” with 3 strings on social media or elsewhere.
Is this a real instrument? Can you actually play it and sound good and what’s the difference between this guitar and others?
When it comes to beginners, the primary distinction between the 3-string and 4-string is that the 3-string is far easier than the 4-string. The 3-string is really ideal for anyone wanting to learn a stringed instrument but who also wants to perform immediately.
In this article, I’ll try to provide a wide range of information about the Cigar Box Guitar and hopefully help you decide if learning with this instrument is right for you.
What is a 3 string guitar?
A cigar box guitar is often constructed from a cigar box with a wooden through neck and three steel strings connected to tuning pegs. The neck can be fretted, although fretless guitars are common and played with a guitar amplifier.
It may also be played through an amplifier thanks to an extra pickup.
Cigar box guitars were originally produced by individuals who couldn’t afford to buy a regular guitar but wanted to construct their own.
Cigar boxes are readily available, moderately priced, and have a nice resounding tone if you tapped the outside of the box.
It’s difficult to construct a hollow-bodied guitar with the conventional guitar body form.
Inside these guitars, there is a complicated wood frame.
This must be robust enough to carry the thin wood while being light enough not to dampen the resonance of the instrument.
The wood used to construct the cigar box guitar is usually pine or basswood, which are less expensive and lighter than ash, mahogany, maple, etc.
This results in a sound that can be described as similar to an oud (an oriental lute).
Cigar box guitars were extremely popular during the Great Depression for their low-cost and modest sound quality.
Why learn a Cigar Box Guitar?
The primary reason to learn the cigar box guitar is that it’s easy, fun AND you can make one yourself!
If you want something quick, this section will help get you started right away.
If your interest in learning an instrument goes beyond just playing songs, then you should consider the following:
What do I need to know?
If you want to learn a song right away, it’s very easy because there are so few strings and frets on this guitar.
You could choose any song that has three chords or less if you wanted!
Even if the only thing you can do is strum the guitar, you can play some songs.
The best way to start learning with this instrument is open chords or “cowboy” chords because they only require one finger on each string across two frets of the neck.
These are sometimes referred to as CAGED Chords (because their shapes resemble letters – C, A , G & E).
This means you won’t be able to play songs that require bar chords or other types of more complicated chord shapes.
How much does it cost?
Making this instrument is an extremely affordable option if you are just learning and have not yet developed your song repertoire.
You can use scrap wood from a hobby store or collect your own materials.
You can even use found objects such as old cigar boxes, paint cans, and so on.
The only cost is the strings which you would need to purchase at any guitar shop for less than $15 if you don’t have them available in your home already.
If you want to get started right away, it’s very easy to make one of these guitars.
You can find more information by visiting the websites listed in my resource section.
What are some limitations?
If you’re looking for a way to learn songs beyond three chords confidently and with good technique there are better options available.
While the cigar box guitar is a fun instrument to learn and play, it’s not going to be your main axe.
This being said there are some good options for people who have never played an instrument before that only require one finger on each string across two frets of the neck which makes this very easy!
If you do choose to learn on a cigar box guitar, you will be limiting the types of songs that are available for you to play.
The limitation is due in part to its basic chord shapes and a limited number of strings.
You can get an idea about what kind of song styles would work with this instrument by checking out some examples online or in my resource section.
What are some advantages?
This instrument is very affordable and can be made with found objects or scraps laying around the house if you’re just learning to play the guitar for fun!
It’s also lightweight enough that even children could manage it, making it another plus for cigar box guitars as an educational tool in schools.
This instrument has a very distinct sound that people sometimes call raw or homemade.
There is something about the lack of resonance and sustain due to fewer strings along with its distinctive “twang” and otherworldly tone quality (due in part to its cigar box construction) that makes this an interesting choice for musicians who aren’t afraid to experiment with different styles of music.
This instrument also has a unique look; most cigar box guitars tend to be aesthetically pleasing as well as functional which makes them great for those who want to make a statement.
What Is A Wooden Through Neck?
A through neck is a guitar that has one long piece of wood for the neck, fretboard, and top.
It’s very similar to an electric or semi-acoustic guitar but it can be used with any type of acoustic instrument such as banjo, mandolin, or dulcimer.
This is one of the most popular types of custom-built guitars and it’s easy to see why.
The neck of the instrument is formed by a “sandwich” of wood that protrudes beyond the fretboard to make up the bulk of the body in the “neck-through” design. The body is constructed from two “wings” adhering to the neck.
There are many reasons that someone would want a through the neck but they all come down to the fact that this type of guitar has an amazing sound, feel, and look!
Is a 3 string guitar easier to play?
The major distinction between the 3-string and 4-string when it comes to beginners is that the 3-string is significantly easier than the 4-string.
The 3-string is really ideal for anybody wanting to learn a stringed instrument but who doesn’t want to invest a lot of time learning how to play.
The reason it’s so easy to play is that the only difference between this guitar and a regular guitar is three strings.
This means that you don’t need to learn any new chords or techniques like fingerpicking which can be awkward on a beginner-friendly instrument such as this one!
What 3 strings are used on a cigar box guitar?
The 6th, 5th, and 4th strings are used on three-string cigar box guitars.
I like Elixir nanoweb strings because they’re slippery and your fingers slide easily across them, as well as staying in tune for a long time.