A cigar box ukulele is exactly what the name implies: a ukulele where the body is constructed out of a used cigar box.
These ukuleles are popular folk with musicians, and with those who enjoy crafting their own instruments, but who lack the skills of a luthier.
These instruments can have good tone, good playability and can even be equipped with pickups, provided that the person building the instrument is skilled enough to incorporate it into the design.
The instruments do have some drawbacks compared to professionally constructed ukuleles, principally where tone is concerned.
A Cigar Box Uke Built By an Amateur Player
The Tone of a Ukulele
Two of the most important factors in an instrument’s tone are the wood of which it’s constructed, and the shape of the resonating body.
In a traditional ukulele, the body is similar to a guitar, and is designed to offer the maximum amount of resonance and a rich and full sound.
A cigar box will obviously not have been constructed for this purpose, and the tone will be less complete.
Considerations For Your Cigar Box Uke
When building a cigar box ukulele, it's important to find a box made of a durable wood, such as cedar or pine.
Some older cigar boxes are very high quality, and some of them are collector’s items in and of themselves.
Of course, cigar boxes are generally going to be square, which is not necessarily the most desirable shape for an instrument.
However, this does lend to the instruments a unique tone and, because the ukulele is not an instrument that always requires a cutaway design to give access to the upper frets, the square shape of the cigar box isn't necessarily a hindrance to being able to access the widest range of pitches possible.
Building the instrument will require some study. You'll need to affix the bridge to the body in a way that prevents the tension from the strings from pulling it off. You'll also need to make sure that the box you select is durable enough to endure this tension.
Advantages of a Cigar Box Ukulele
The cigar box ukulele does have its advantages. It has the appeal of a homemade instrument, which makes it uniquely your own. It also has the appeal of harkening back to the days of folk musicians and to a time when people made instruments out of whatever was available.
The instruments are also, of course, often much less expensive than a ukulele purchased from a manufacturer.
There are individuals who make these ukuleles for sale and some of them are very good instruments, with a very high level of craftsmanship, that are able to produce excellent tone.
Some manufacturers make ukuleles in plenty of exotic shapes, including square, which may appeal to those who have developed a love for the cigar box ukulele over the years, and who want to stay with its distinctive shape.