Home-Made Guitars: Lessons Learned

The original directions I found for building a milk carton guitar come from Karen Latchana Kenney’s book Cool Rock Music, but she deserves none of the blame for my results.

Kenney’s directions were to use wooden yardsticks for the neck/fretboard of the homemade guitar, but these photos show where we used a plank of wood from the hardware store.  We made this design switch because the only wooden yardsticks found were at the local WalMart, and they were all spliced lengths of soft wood.  Every time we used one, the tension on the strings caused the yardstick to snap dangerously and suddenly.  Sturdier wood was necessary.

Our first attempt to build one of these guitars came out like this:

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We used a lemonade carton, a plank of pine instead of a yardstick, and added multiple strings, as opposed to the single strand of fishing line —

https://i2.wp.com/media-files.gather.com/images/d548/d861/d745/d224/d96/f3/full.jpg

30lb and 50lb fishing line and one genuine guitar string.  We found that the wood bent pretty easily under the tension of the strings,

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the screw eyes also did not hold well to the wood with that much tension,

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and the carton itself ripped if not handled gently.

We also tried a few variations on the design, using different items for sound boxes, including  a cigar box:

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and a coffee can:

https://i1.wp.com/media-files.gather.com/images/d552/d861/d745/d224/d96/f3/full.jpg

 

The advantage of the milk or juice carton was that the top was slanted away from the strings by design, and the ridge at the top was an excellent bridge.  For the cigar box variation we crafted a bridge from a bamboo chopstick:

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But the coffee container needed an even higher bridge, which we created from some scrap wood:

https://i2.wp.com/media-files.gather.com/images/d554/d861/d745/d224/d96/f3/full.jpg

In both cases, the bridges had to be glued in place or else they slipped free.  Anyone attempting these variations will have to factor in the drying time for the glue.

We tried using a cheap yardstick, as directed in Kenney’s book, but the wood split easily, and in one case broke completely in half where the stick had a seam.  Additionally, wooden yardsticks are harder to find than they used to be (no local hardware stores offered them!) and the cheap ones were worth what we paid — not much.

At the time this article was originally written, the only wooden yardsticks found were dangerously unsafe.   More recently, we found these at Lowe’s:

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The wood is sturdy in thickness, and the rulers are made from a single piece of wood.  The price is low enough that enough to supply a class or a Scout den will not be prohibitively expensive.

We built approximately 40 milk carton guitars at Art Camp.  The older students (ages 9-12) enjoyed discussing the parts of the guitar and ideas for improving on them, and were quite pleased with their results!

 

 

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