Learn how to install a guitar neck into a cigar box! Founder/Owner Michael Breedlove shares some tips and tricks he has developed over years of building CBGs. In this detailed video, he goes over how to install the neck and some notable things to look out for when performing the installation.
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Fitting a neck to a box let’s talk about it! In a previous video, I showed you how I cut the opening on this punch box. The next step is to fit a neck to this box and so I thought I'd show you how I would do that in this video and talk about how I measure, how I do the layout, how I actually saw the neck to get it to fit this, and we'll just go through that process and hope it's of help to you. Again, this is a box I did recently. This is one of my necks that I like, it's one of our Maple Necks, Rosewood Fretboard with Paddle Headstocks. I can make it any shape I want. I like these necks, they work well, and they typically come pretty flat pretty straight. I always suggest to people that you learn to look at the neck from the end and you learn to eyeball it look down there again, if you've got a big bow either concave or convex don't waste your time it's not going to work. So, this neck is really nice, flat, ready to go, and it's one that I've selected for this punch build.
Now as you know when I cut that box I cut it basically for an inch and a half opening which most of these necks are about an inch and a half wide. If you take a look at this what you can see is that the difference or what I call the stagger between the fret board or the frets and this box is not very much, and really going to have a problem putting something underneath there like a pickup. Now I can recess a pickup but if I want to put any of our surface mount pickups there I'm going to have a problem. So, what I usually need to do is I need to come in and I need to change this face, I need to remove some I need to take some material off.
Let's take a look because I kind of planned out what I want to do with this box. You know we came up with these Micro Pups and they've been incredibly successful, very well received far beyond my expectations, and a lot of guys have had some great success including them. They're small, they're thin, they're low-cost, and we've got this nice line of covers that come with them. So, I think on this box what I'm going to do is I'm going to go ahead and I'm going to put one of these pickups on the box. I'll be really happy with the sound that I get, so automatically I know that I've now got to compensate for the thickness of this cover. So, I start off by putting this pick up laying it on this neck and get an idea of the relationship between the frets and the top of that pickup cover. Let me grab my straight edge. When I lay it on the frets and I look underneath there I've got pretty good clearance underneath there that's gonna work well because the strings will be a little bit higher, it'll be just the right height, won't be too far away, and won't be too close. So, it's going to work really well but the problem is when I put it in the box now I've got the thickness of the cover.
So, what I need to do is I need to remove enough material to make up for this difference of this thickness. This is a pretty handy tool I suggest everybody get one if you don't they're relatively inexpensive and you might be able to snag one at a flea market or a pawn shop and get a pretty good deal on it if not you can buy them at Home Depot or Lowe's. It's a caliper a digital caliper basically you turned it on and by moving the jaws you can measure a thickness of a part. Really handy and cigar box building. What I'm doing is I'm going to come in and I'm going to measure the thickness of this top zero measuring the thickness it's coming in about .200. A little bit less than a quarter of an inch so I know it's about two thousandths. So, I know automatically to maintain that difference I've got to remove about .200. Now the neat thing about these calipers is they have a little set screw on them you can tighten the setscrew down and now what you have is a really cool tool that you can use as a scribe because again I want to cut .200 off of this face. I could take this caliper and I can just drag it right along the edge and you can see how I'm scribing it. A light pass, then a heavy pass, and just get it a little bit deeper. Then once you have that scribed what you can do is take your pencil and mark it and if we cut to that line, remove that material, we now know that this box will fit, and will be low enough so that the pickup cover will still be below the strings.
Now at this point, there's one other little thing that we can think about. This is something you need to remember .017 let me take you back to your trigonometry days .017 is the sin of one degree. Now, why are we talking about degrees? Well you'll hear about this if you haven't heard about it already if you get involved with people building guitars you'll see that there are some people talk about a back angle on the neck, some people like it some people don't like it some people require it, some people don't but the idea is that you could take a neck relative to a box and you could tilt it down a little bit and I've kind of exaggerated it. Does a lot of things.
It's really popular and really important on those that are arched top boxes and archtop guitars. You've got to get up over the top because you still want to get up and reach the bridge and you want to have a lot of pressure, as much pressure as you get on the bridge pushing it down getting the vibration into the box. So, the question is should I put a back angle or not? I've done it both ways, and it really doesn't matter as long as you plan accordingly, and you build accordingly, and what I'm going to do is I'll go ahead and show you on this one if I was going to put a back angle, and I typically have done a lot of guitars with one degree, one and a half degree, and I've never got up to two degree, but I've been to one degree. Now you have to keep in mind that you've got to make sure you understand the ramifications of putting that angle on there because the idea is again if we lower the angle, basically we want to make sure that the strings run parallel to the tops of the fret, and then we've got to get out here somewhere and we've got to get our bridge, and if the bridge is too high we'll have way too much clearance and the action will be way too tall. If it's not high enough we're gonna have fret buzz. So, we have to kind of compensate for that, but let's take a look at how we could do that again. Using the tool, we scribed our line we've got a line.
Now to take out material to take get rid of the thickness of the cover let's say we'll put in one degree. Well, what you need to do is take your trusty tape measure and measure the distance. This is roughly 10 inches now this .017 means that we're going to drop .017 inch for every inch we go. So, we're over 10 inches so we want to multiply these 10 times and all we have to do is move the decimal spot over one. So, if we're trying to get one degree down here what we need is about .17 that's less than 1/4 or more than 1/8 and it's just about 3/16 again this tool can come in handy. And so, what I'm going to do is I'm going to say I know that I was at about .200. I'm gonna add .17 and I'm gonna open this up to .370. So now I've got it opened up to .370 which is again the I had here plus the .200 and I'm gonna come over and I'm gonna mark the end of the neck because that's the end where we're going to measure and we're going to work our way back to the front point. So, what I do is then I can lay the straight edge here again at the .370 point here and back to the bottom of my .200 line here and I begin to draw a line. Now if all goes well, again we have the first line that put on it now we have the second line which represents about a 1-degree angle and if I follow that line closely we should have a neck that has a back angle of about 1 degree. What I'm gonna do now is I'm gonna go give it a cut and then we'll see how it works out. Ok, you can see where I've cut that line that's at one degree tapering up here to the .200 which is the thickness of the cover and now I need to come in and cut this part out. I have my fine-tooth saw here, line it up at the bottom of the fret board, and I'm going to put a little bit of an angle on it while I'm sawing, and I remove that piece. Now typically at this point, I take my sander and I sand it nice and smooth and get it straight but if I look at that I actually did a fairly decent job of a fairly decent job of cutting that pretty straight and again it's going to be at one degree should be okay.
One little trick I want to show you, anytime I cut this angle I take my sharpie and I will come into this area and I will black it out because occasionally that joint will show above the edge of the box and they're just nice to have it kind of darkened out. I like it, makes them look a little bit better. So, let's kind of get an idea of how this is gonna fit the first time I've done this with this box. Yeah, I can tell it needs a little bit of filing but pretty close looks pretty good. I can tell right now I need to come in and take a little bit out of that but it's okay for where we're at. So, I want to talk a little bit more about again having put that angle on there and what are some of the ramifications of having put that angle on there. This is a bridge a typical hardtail bridge that I like to use very popular they work really well. There's a lot of adjustability in here you can fix a lot of problems just in the adjustability of these bridges. As you know you can move these saddles in, or out, a good tool when you're working on the intonation. There's also another aspect as you can raise the saddles they have these little set screws there and you can raise it up and down and that's how you can adjust the action height and that's really good you can fine-tune it and get it just perfect. So, on this one and again, what I'm doing is I have already marked the 25 1/2 scale length. I already know where that's going to be 25 ½ so as I go ahead and do my assembly, I'll put the bridge in and make sure that the front of the saddles line up with my 25-inch mark.
Now what I can do is I can come in and I can kind of look and I can see right off the bat that I need this to be a little bit higher and again because we put an angle on it as you can imagine we're kind of tipping the neck down a little bit that's bringing the strings up there are easy ways to fix that. One there's some adjustability with the saddles, we also sell Spacers , and by simply putting this spacer underneath there we are now able to raise it up, and with the strings, we're going to be just about perfect and it looks like it's gonna work out well. More importantly again, with a cover we pick with a pickup that we've chosen we'll put that underneath there, we'll rest it on top of the saddle, we'll take a look and we've got really good clearance, so this is one situation one case where I did put an angle on it, and it worked out fine. I probably could have done it straight and it would have worked out well too, but again what I tell people if you want to put a back angle on it that's fine, if you want to keep it flat that's fine, just know which of the two you're doing, and this is something that really is helpful is understanding this when you're working on different kinds of guitars. For example on the License Plate Guitar Kit that we sell, the license plate itself is recessed into the lid or into the cover, and the way I always do these is I will affix the pickup to the backside of the plate so there's no pickup on the front so really we don't need to have a lot of clearance or a lot of stagger between the fretboard and the height of the lid. I've got almost the full width or the full thickness of the fretboard but that's not necessary. Now what's really nice on these and again this is something you learn over time, you learn through experience, and you learn through building these is that you can work on trying to get everything to line up nice.
Now you look at this license plate, it's kind of interesting, it's in Florida where I live, it has MGB which my initials, then again I bought this I think off of eBay it was a vanity plate, and then really of importance is this year here in because that was the year 1980 which is the year my daughter was born so this plate is really important to me and kind of important to my daughter so this will be a fun build. But again putting the neck in there whenever you're working on a license plate guitar it's really nice to be able to have the bridge line up in a free space and on a lot of license plates you'll see letters or numbers on this end and letters or numbers on that end and there just happens to be a clear spot in the center and on this one it worked out just perfectly because if I take my scale my tape measure and I lay it down knowing again going to my 12th fret it's 12 ¾ and that means it's 25 ½ inch scale length and lo and behold and 25 ½ inches actually is right there in Tampa Florida where I'm at. So, it's really cool so I can put a bridge in here and that's gonna work out really well. Now keep in mind whenever you're building a cigar box guitar you do not have any flexibility on the scale length, none. I mean yeah a little bit a few thousandths maybe 32th it'll sound okay but you can't go missing it by a half inch or a quarter of an inch it's just not going to work but you do have some flexibility in shortening the length of the fretboard. The fret boards that we make are made for 22 frets and of course you know up here they're spaced pretty widely this is where a lot of playing is going on and when you see the really good guys they start to get down to here and they start to play down in this area. It's not uncommon to see fret boards that maybe are only 18 or 19 frets so you can actually shorten the fret board up a little bit and have fewer frets. Now that's something you have to decide something maybe you have to go over with a player to make sure he's happy with, but you do have some flexibility in the length of the fret board, and you can shorten it up. That's really handy sometimes because you need to move it around a little bit maybe to get the bridge to line up perfectly.
So again, keep that in mind when you look at something like our new Resonators and you look at resonators this is where a bank back angle would probably be pretty helpful. Because what you can see we've got the resonator, we've got a cone, we've got a saddle up here, so it wouldn't hurt for that to tip up just a little bit to come up and ride over this and again we put the pickup here so again kind of look at what you're doing kind of consider the options think about it plan accordingly make adjustments if you need to make Spacers move the bridge up you have to do a lot of things to get it right but think about it and the important thing is you're never gonna learn by just building one this is where you need to get in building two three four or five of the same design and you'll learn and you'll get to be a better builder. Well I hope this is helpful if you've got any questions please let us know thank you.