Below are some common tunings for your cigar box guitar. You will need a tuner.

If you’re playing a song in the key of G, tune to G D G.

For a song in the key F, tune to F C F.

E – E B E

D – D A D etc

There are three notes in a chord and these tunings above use the root, the fifth note and the octave. They are also known as power chords. A power chord produces a great sound for blues, punk and rock.

Then experiment with other tunings, such as G7 – G D F. This will give you a more jazzy sound.

There are no rules with the cigar box guitar. This is a starting point. If it sounds good to you, play it.

To help you get started, check out the videos below.



The strings on each McTrustry cigar box guitar will be A (5) D (4) and G (3) from an electric light gauge set. This will enable you to play in the range from down in D (D A D) and up as far as C (C G C).

If you are looking for a ‘fatter’ bass sound and regularly play down in D and E, I recommend using E (6) A (5) and D (4) strings from an electric light gauge set. With these strings, I recommend not tuning up past G (G D G). Some people prefer to keep the unwound G (4th) string on. It’s all about experimenting to see what works for you and the sound you’re after.

Acoustic strings can be used but won’t sound as good through an amp.


Changing the strings

To change the strings on your cigar box guitar, open the back of your cigar box by using a small Phillips screw driver or opening the latch. Then remove the old or broken string and feed the new one through the hole, copying what was done previously. Close the back of your cigar box and tune.


Getting started

If you are new to the guitar and/or the cigar box 3-string slide guitar, you can get started by watching some of my videos below.  You may also like to check out my YouTube channel and subscribe for new how-to-play CBG songs, which I update regularly: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheBootlegger007. Enjoy!

For regular updates, free tips, resources and how-to-play CBG vids

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Getting started for complete beginners


Let’s play something


Simple riff


Quick tip


How to play ‘Little Red Rooster on a 3 string slide CBG


How to play ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ on a 3 string slide CBG


How to play ‘Wild Thing’ on a 3 string slide CBG


How to play ‘Louie Louie’ on a 3 string slide CBG


 just wanted to say this… THANK YOU! I have been fascinated by the CBG for years and thanks to a bad experience with regular guitars I was hesitant to try to play again. I bought one on ebay for cheap to see how it worked (The engineering mind in me) and am waiting to build one. So for $100 I got an amp, a distortion pedal (free) and a little 10 watt practice amp. Through your videos I have learned to play a few songs. I know there will be a lot practice involved, but for the first time in my life I picked up a musical instrument and played. It sounded almost like I knew what I was doing. For that, I can’t thank you enough sir. I hope if you make it to the states here in Florida I can buy to a pint and maybe you can show me a thing or 1, maybe 2 if I’m not pushing my luck. (Jason, Florida)

23 Responses to Resources

  • Rod Slater says:

    Loved the videos. I’m a Design & Tech teacher and have been making solid body electrics with kids for about 10 years. I am going to tackle cigar boxes now as the solid bodies take too long to make. We will make our own boxes because it’s a bit easier for us and the boxes will be a bit solider tha some of the cigar boxes I have found.
    To find a site like your’s is encouraging and its good to see this happening in Australia.

    • cigarbox says:

      Hi Rod – thanks for the feedback. I’ll be posting some more videos down the track. I’m sure the kids will love the cigar box guitars – if you have any questions or I can help, just let me know. Nigel

  • Gary Cuskelly says:

    Can you use classical guitar strings on your guitar?
    They look fantastic!

    • cigarbox says:

      Hi Gary – thanks for the comment on the cigar box guitars. No, you can’t use classical strings as these are slide instruments. You need electric or acoustic guitar strings. I recommend electric when being used with a pick up. Thanks, Nigel

  • CHRIS says:

    Nigel. When are you going to put more lessons up

  • Tom says:

    Oops, I meant how will it effect the overall sound of the instrument if I put in a few holes as OPPOSED to just one (sorry, my spelling isn’t great today)

    • cigarbox says:

      Hi Tom – the size of the hole or number of holes doesn’t really change the sound of the instrument dramatically. If you want to put in more than one because of aesthetic reasons, go ahead. Well that’s what I reckon anyway! Nigel

  • GHIDUCI says:

    Hi Nigel,
    Need your help, i ‘d like to have a cigar box ; i’m a beginner. juzzie Smith, australian busker plays it with his harmonica, i felt in love with the sound of his cigar box.
    Would you be so kid as to help me and if possible, your best price for a 3 strings CBG. I would like an acoustic-electric CBG.
    Sorry for my very bad English, I’m french.
    thanks for all advice on getting started of your site.
    best regards
    Nicolas Ghiduci.

  • paul bennett says:

    nigel i hope to be as good as you one day i bought a cigar box guitar from a place in yandina im not too happy with it although it is in tune it still sounds very tinny and distorted the strings are about 12 mill above the frets at both ends of the cbg and very hard to play cords what is the correct distance from the frets to the strings?do you make cbg with frets as i like to throw a few cords in with sliding i bought the cbg before i found your site hoping to hear back from you thanks mate

  • Les Riley says:

    I like the way you do your how-to videos, I have been learning a whole lot. Please do more. Thank You.

  • Mike Irwin says:

    been playing guitar for 50 years and just discovered CBG – I have been working on Mars in the meantime. Its ‘out of this world’ so to speak , the 3 string revolution that is!
    Cheers Mike Irwin
    Rosanna Vic.

  • Mike Irwin says:

    CBG world here I come – bad habits and all.
    Cheers Mike

  • Eric says:

    Thank you for the videos. Just started building CBG’s and have completed my third today. I’m sending one to my wife’s nephew and giving the other to a friend at work. I sure would like to burn your instructional videos to DVD so I can pass them on to those folks. Is there any way that might be possible?

  • John says:

    Just starting with CBG….your site is the Best

  • John Garrett says:

    Brand new to Cigar Boxes and don’t even own one yet but will shortly!! Your videos are easy to follow and I’m learning even without playing yet. Keep up the Great work!!

  • Mac Dyson says:

    Hi Nigel,
    Thanks for the great website and videos; the resources are great. I’m very new to playing this CBG thing, but have been admiring some very good Aussie players for years. Finally worked up the courage to invest in a couple and have been torturing them (and the missus) for the past few weeks. I have both a fretted and non-fretted variety. One of my many questions is; can you give a demo or explain (in small words) how to properly mute the rattle/buzz that comes with putting the slide down on the strings. It often sounds like I’ve dropped a couple of sheets of tin on the floor. Many thanks.

    • cigarbox says:

      I think you should checkout Pat Curley’s website learncigarboxguitar.com. If you haven’t already Plenty of info and lessons there. i just basically show songs. Pat goes in depth about technique. Got to have that foundation before you dive in.
      I haven’t done many videos over the last few years.
      In brief i’d say. You need to use your index finger (& other fingers) behind the slide on the strings as well. It’s like one unit. I have a getting started video where i think i talk about that?
      So it’s not just the slide hitting the strings. Also when playing you don’t have to lift your slide up and down off the strings too far. Keep it to a minimum and don’t drop it on from a great height so to speak, I hope that helps but i think Pats courses would be the go.

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