Making your own cookie tin guitar can be a rewarding project that is not necessarily time consuming.Typically, cookie tin guitars produce an impressive sound with a metallic resonance normally reserved for steel-bodied resonator guitars, such as the National. Even if you already have a nice wood-bodied guitar, a cookie tin guitar can come in handy when you're eager to bring a musical instrument along on a more rustic adventure, like camping.
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Things you need
- Large cookie tin, square or rectangular (at least 8-inches wide and 8-inches to 12-inches deep)
- Length of maple board, 2-inches wide, 1-inch thick, and 18-inches longer than the cookie tin (e.g., for an 8-inch long cookie tin you'll need a board 2 inches-by-1 inch-by-26 inches)
- Piece of ebony, 2 inches long by 5/8 inches wide by 1/8 inch thick.
- Arched metal kitchen drawer pull, about 3 inches wide-by-1 inch high
- Top of a metal mint tin (e.g. an Altoids tin)
- 5 stainless steel wood screws, each 1/2 inch long
- Wood glue
- 2 wood clamps
- Tin snips
- Drill with high-speed drill bits
- 6 guitar tuning machines with bushings and mounting hardware
- Hand-held rotary tool with grinding bits
- Six guitar strings
- Table saw
- Power sander
- Carpenter's square
- Needle file
Cut a 1/2-inch indent in one of the wide sides of the maple board, starting at one end and running six-inches in. Make sure the transition at the end of the indent is perfectly square by placing the corner of the carpenter's square into it and checking it for fit. This creates a head stock for the neck.
Glue the piece of ebony onto the transition at the end of the indentation so that the 5/8-inch width is against the 1/2-inch indent, and it is flush with the two sides of the neck. There should be a 1/8-inch portion of ebony protruding over the 1/2-inch indent. This is the nut, which will hold the strings in position after they come off the tuning machines. Clamp it into position and let the glue dry thoroughly.
Pull off the lid of the cookie tin. Find the centre of the side of the tin you want the neck to come out of and use the tin snips to cut a 2 inch-by-1 inch hole that comes off the top edge of the tin at that point. This will hold the neck. Then cut away a 2-inch length of the edge of the lid at the same point as the hole in the tin, so that when you put the lid back on, it will be flush with the top of the neck.
Place the neck face up against the back of the cookie tin lid. The side of the neck with the ebony nut should stick out through the cut out you made in the edge of the lid. The other side of the neck should butt up against the edge of the lid on the opposite side from the cut out. Make sure the neck is square with the lid, then fix it to the lid with two screws, one about an inch from the top and the other about an inch from the bottom.
Drill two holes in the lid, 4-inches up from the bottom and lined up in the centre of the lid. The screws for the drawer pull will go through these holes. For instance, if the legs of your drawer pull are 3-inches apart, the holes should be 1 1/2-inch away from either side of the centre line of the lid. The pull be at a right angle to the neck. Attach the pull with screws that go through the back of the lid into threaded holes in the legs of the drawer pull.
Cut the edges off the mint tin lid with the tin snips and grind the edges smooth with the rotary tool. Drill six equally spaced 1/16-inch holes through one of the short edges of the mint tin lid, about 1/4-inch in from the edge. This will become your tail piece.
Replace the lid on the cookie tin. Attach the tail piece to the bottom of the tin by driving two screws into the bottom of it. Each screw will go through the tail piece, through the side of the cookie tin and into the bottom of the neck.
Select a drill bit that matches the width of the sound posts on your tuning machines and drill three equally spaced holes through either side of the head stock. Install the tuning machines by inserting the sound posts through the holes from the back of the head stock and fixing them into position with the provided screws. Slip the bushings over the sound posts in front and seat them into the holes in the head stock.
Sand the edges on the neck until they're smooth.
File six evenly spaced slots in the top of the nut with a needle file. The two outside slots should be about a 1/16-inch away from the outside edges of the nut.
String the guitar by running each string through a hole in the top of the mint tin tail piece, over the drawer pull bridge, over the slot in the nut and into the hole in the sound post. Wind the strings on the left hand side of the head counterclockwise and wind the strings on the right side clockwise.
Tips and warnings
- This is a design for a high action slide guitar. If you want a fretted guitar, you'll need to calculate the fret placement for the scale length of your particular cookie tin guitar and cut fret slots with a fret saw, then tap lengths of fret wire into the slots.
- You can experiment with other materials on this guitar; for instance, you could use two three-hole picture hangers as tail pieces or try a brass screw instead of piece of ebony for the nut.
- You can make your cookie tin guitar louder by cutting round or F-shaped holes in the lid.
- If the screws that came with your drawer pull are too long to hold the pull tightly against the lid, use steel washers to take up the additional space.
- Six steel guitar strings exert an enormous amount of force when tightened to the correct tuning. For this reason you need to use a very hard wood like maple for your neck, or the neck will warp. You also need to make sure that the tail piece is firmly screwed into the wood at the base of the neck so that the tension of the strings are transferred to the other side of the same piece of maple.
- Be patient when tuning your cookie tin guitar. The tail piece will take a little while to stretch and settle into position and until it does, your strings will have a tendency to go flat after a little while.
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