Upcycle Project – Cigar Box Mandolin

For my upcycle project I decided on building an instrument out of a cigar box and other miscellaneous. I got the idea because years ago I saw a booth at a flea market with a guy named Rich selling these small slide guitars made with a cigar box for a body. I thought they were some of the coolest things I have ever seen and always had a thought to build one of these. I decided to use this upcycle project as a perfect excuse to make an instrument. I actually still have the business card that the guy who made the guitar gave me. His company is called Cigar Box Guitars by Rich Briggs and here are a few of his guitar builds:

Cigar box guitar from Rich
Some hubcap banjos from Rich
Handmade violin from Rich

These instruments all have a rustic feel to them that I am a huge fan of. There is a special kind of Americana style to them that I love, partially out of necessity due to the pieces used to build these instruments. Americana is an aesthetic that harkens back to an older American style, usually following an older rural American style, like blue jeans and cowboys. I wanted to follow a similar concept when building mine, but maybe upscale the finished product a bit. I wanted to not only do an Americana style build but more specifically related to a New Orleans, Louisiana, Cajun style of Americana. I love the rustic and do it yourself style found down there and many things in the Bayou attracts me, and I think adds to the homemade style of the guitar build.

One of the major things that draw me to New Orleans style is the vast mix of cultures that can be seen down there. The mix of French, American southern, and Caribbean cultures create something that is unlike anything else, making a unique and beautiful aesthetic. The importance of music to New Orleans also interests me in using that aesthetic to create my guitar, and I hope that I can fully apply this vision in creating my upcycle project.

I have always been interested in the Bayou of Louisiana, finding it a cool and mysterious place. I recently watched the first season of True Detective and it inspired to delve deeper into the aesthetic present throughout the show. I wanted to build my guitar with this style in mind. I found a cigar box on face book marketplace from a New Orleans company with a fleur-de-lis on it, which was a great start to creating the guitar in this aesthetic.

Alligator and Lobster on the Bayou
Image from Princess and the Frog, “Voodoo” style
New OrleansThese photos were some of the inspiration I used for constructing my guitar, and things I want to incorporate into my future revisions to the instrument.I initially wanted to build a slide guitar for my instrument as that is what I saw a lot of being made. I had my doubts once I got the cigar box, it being smaller than what I had thought. I also thought about how I already own a couple guitars and I kind of wanted another instrument, so I decided to change my design and build a mandolin. I have wanted to try learning mandolin for some time now, and thought this would be a good opportunity to make one and learn how to play. With this decision made I adjusted the neck length and planned the head stock for this plan.

I started my process by finalizing the design I wanted for the mandolin in terms of construction, with drawings listed below.

I then ordered a cigar box from Facebook marketplace a couple weeks ago, that I used as the body of the mandolin. I was lucky enough to find one made by New Orleans Cigar Factory with a fleur de lis on the front. It ended up looking amazing as part of my mandolin, fitting the aesthetic perfectly.

The cigar box I acquired

For the neck I decided to buy a 1×2 maple board because I thought the neck of the instrument should be the most quality part of my build. I decided on a scale length (which is the distance from nut to length of my mandolin) of 13.5 inches and used a website called stewmac.com to calculate the fret lengths on the neck. I used a circular saw to do all of my major cuts and cut the neck out of the maple wood, and then used scrap 2×4 to make the headstock, bridge and neck base.

My wood cutting set up

After cutting the neck with a 45 degree at one end and a straight 90 at the other, I sanded down the corners on the back of my neck so that it would be nice to run my hand on the back while playing.

My sanding set up

I then used calipers and the measurements calculated to draw locations of the frets on the neck.




My process in making the frets.

I then made screw holes in both the body and the neck to try and line it up as nicely as possible. I started by drilling holes into bottom of the neck and then used a screw to create threading in the holes.

My drilling set up

I ran into an issue when threading, used to much force on the screw and broke it off into the neck. I ended up having to use the other half of the maple board to recreate the neck which had no problems in creating.

I then attached the head stock to the 45 degree cut on the neck. and drilled holes to press fit nuts into the head stock for my tuning pegs.

My friend helping my press fit the nails in with a clamp.

After assembling everything together I then screwed the bolts I used for tuning pegs and the mandolin was completely created.

My fully assembled mandolin.

I think the mandolin looks amazing. It fits the aesthetic I was going for and looks exactly like I had envisioned. In terms of functionality I had some issues. When trying to string the mandolins I ran into issues with the nuts being pulled out by the tension of the string and the action being too high due to the bridge height. Though it is not currently playable, I think it so far looks amazing as an art piece and I am proud of the way it looked.


I need to do some improvements to make the guitar playable. I am going to continue to experiment with placing the tuning pegs in so they stay regardless of the tension in the string. I also want shave down the bridge so I can lower the action. I also want to attach a neck base to increase the strength of the neck so it doesn’t bend when I attach the strings. I am also thinking of making it into a slide guitar like I initially planned so I can care less about the action and the fretting.

In terms of aesthetics, I want to put more fleur de lis on the neck as fret markers as I think it would look very cool, but I will decide how many I should put on so it doe not look like too much. I also want to carve some alligators into the side to further the Louisiana Cajun style. I am even considering making the headstock of the guitar an alligator but I am not sure if this will be too much or not. This is a project that I’m going to continue revising for months if not years to come.

Works Cited:

“Louisiana Art Print. Cajun Swamp Art Print, No Skis, No Motor, No Problem. Cypress Wood Frame Available.” Etsy, www.etsy.com/listing/648803918/louisiana-art-print-cajun-swamp-art. Accessed 31 Jan. 2024.

“The Princess and the Frog.” IMDb, IMDb.com, m.imdb.com/title/tt0780521/mediaviewer/rm1872178176/. Accessed 31 Jan. 2024.

Buchan, Ella. “Why New Orleans Is a Year-Round Destination.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 11 Oct. 2021, www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/discover-america/new-orleans-year-round-destination/.

“Cigar Box Guitars by Rich.” CIGAR BOX GUITARS BY RICH, www.cigarboxguitarsbyrich.com/. Accessed 31 Jan. 2024.

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • Grreshan Ramesh
    March 2, 2024 3:53 pm

    Hey Garret
    Your work about crafting a mandolin from a cigar box is both engaging and inspiring, beautifully blending your personal journey with detailed craftsmanship. I’m curious to hear how you plan to balance the aesthetic appeal with functional aspects in your future revisions, and how you’ll thoughtfully incorporate the rich cultural heritage of New Orleans into your design.

    • Garrett Miller
      May 7, 2024 10:40 pm

      Thanks for the comment Grreshan! I want to continue making the mandolin as functional as I can, I would love to be able to play it one day.

  • Hey Garret, I like the design of your mandolin and I think you did a great job executing your project. The string and bolt issue sounds tricky, but I’m sure you will be able to solve it. Maybe it would take some counter forces implemented by reinforcements in your design?

    • Garrett Miller
      May 7, 2024 10:41 pm

      Thanks for the comment Ben! I think I need to find a way to make sure the tuning pegs are completely held in the headstock.

  • Hi Garret. I really love your cigar box mandolin. My favorite part about the entire project is that the box is still usable. I know that in presentations you said that you were able to tune one of the strings, i was wondering how the rest of the tuning was going along. I was also curious if you would ever be inspire to make another instrument if you had any other ideas or techniques in mind.

    • Garrett Miller
      May 7, 2024 10:42 pm

      Thanks for the comment Adlai! If I were to make another instrument, it might be just a regular guitar or even a drum.


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