A tin box guitar

This is my first attempt at building one of these things. It is a three-stringed guitar with a body made from an old biscuit tin and a neck made from an offcut of timber. I've strung it with a .26 gauge wound string and plain strings of .17 and .13 gauge, which are tuned to somewhere in the region of D-A-D (at the moment I have it about a semitone up from that). Scale length is 24 inches, which is a bit shorter than a standard Gibson and the same as some short-scale Fenders - I chose this because I wasn't sure how strong the instrument would be and a shorter scale length results in slightly lower string tension. I'm confident that for subsequent instruments this basic design will be OK for a full 25.5 inch scale length and heavier strings. It has no frets and is played with a slide. Against all the odds it sounds pretty good (in my opinion anyway). Below is a list of links to MP3s which will hopefully give you some idea of it's tone - they were recorded through a cheap mic directly into my laptop so the audio quality might not be great and you will need to make allowances for my playing...

Below are some pictures showing the construction. Most of these were taken with the camera in my mobile phone so the quality is a bit variable. Clicking on any of the images should lead you to a larger version.

The basic materials:

A tin box that once held chocolate biscuits

A length of sapele (a timber similar to mahogany) obtained at a reasonable price from a local joinery firm

A length of 10mm square section aluminium (from which to make the bridge and nut)

The box before construction. I thought the lid of the box would look nice as the soundboard (it also seemed to be a simpler job to make the necessary cutouts if I kept the lid as the top).

Other components:

Three slightly worn tuners left over from when I replaced the tuners on an old guitar 20 years ago - they're really cheaply made (I had four but one fell apart).

A bargain basement pickup - outwardly it's similar to a Gibson P90 but it has quite a low impedence and isn't very powerful (then again, that was a characteristic of some of the old DeArmond pickups made for Harmony guitars, which are now stupidly sought-after). For various reasons I dispensed with the plastic surround and mounted it directly to the body.

Basic shaping of the neck completed (using a spokeshave and wood files followed by coarse sanding).

Following this, a second piece of timber was glued onto the underside of the heel end to provide enough additional depth and strength to allow a cutout for the pickup (see later photo).


The nut almost complete. To make work easier it was screwed to a spare offcut of timber of the same width as the neck.

The tin lid after being cut to create openings for the neck and the pickup. Note how the metal was cut at an angle and bent back.

The neck, now with reinforcing block and pickup cutout, being fitted into the main body of the tin. This was a trial run prior to finishing the neck. Note how the metal is bent to provide fixing brackets where the neck meets the body.

Final finishing touches to the neck. Reinforcing rings intended for paper in lever arch files made excellent stencils for the dot markers.

The finished lid, with pickup fitted and volume control wired up. Note also the sound holes - drilling of which was one of the trickiest jobs.

The assembled guitar.

A close-up of the headstock, showing the nut and tuning peg arrangement.

The rear of the headstock. Note that the two tuners on the upper side are mirror images of one another - this is because they came from opposite sides of a "3+3" set. Positioning them in this way means that the tuners turn in the same direction although the strings run in different directions around the pegs (see previous picture)

The bottom end of the finished guitar, showing the aluminium bridge and the tail piece (which was made from a small piece of brass sheet that I had lying around)

The underside of the tin - somehow Marks & Spencer biscuits seem a little out of keeping with the cheap and cheerful roots of this instrument.

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