The success of the Coffee Tin Guitar was something that no one really saw coming and because of its enormous popularity, I will show you how to build a Tinstrument. You don’t really need that much to build a Tinstrument and if you know a builder or tradie then asking for some off-cuts of wood will bring your expenses right down. I don’t need to tell you to be safe but remember that some of the processes for building Tinstruments will require power tools and fibreglass, so please keep your fingers for playing and use the right safety gear!
Selecting Your Tin
Any tin can be used for a Tinstrument, just remember that the bigger the tin, the bigger the sound. For the Tinstrument that I have just made, I used a 1.9kg Milo tin and this will become the body.
You got Wood?
Now we need some nice hardwood for the neck of the Tinstrument, the piece you select should be free of any curve and be approximately 4cm x 2cm thick and measure 770cm from end to end. When selecting your wood tap on it to make a sound, when you find a piece with a nice sound, keep it.
Give the wood a quick sand to remove any splinters and prepare to cut a hole in your Tin. I used a small rotary tool called a Dremel to cut the holes in the tin, we use this tool frequently so you may need to purchase or borrow one.
It puts the Wood in the Tin
Mark your Tin where the wood slides through and carefully cut away the unwanted bits of the tin(approx. 2cm down from top of tin). When the holes are cut, slide the wood through the Tin.
Joining the Neck and Body
We can now join the body and neck and will need fibreglass and resin to ‘make it so’. Tape about 1cm back from the wood on the Tin and 1cm from the tin on the wood itself. We tape it so the join is nice and neat. Make sure there is a least 12cm of wood coming out of the tin at the base.
The fibreglass comes in sheets so cut out little pieces that will cover the exposed cavity on the tin (where tin and wood meet).
Now use a paint brush to apply the resin to the fibreglass and work quickly and neatly.
Once you’ve resined inside and out, put the tin in the sun to expel the vapour of the resin and aid in drying
Once the resin is dry, take off the tape, give it a light sand and do it again, this time tape 1cm back from the first rounds resin mark.
We now need a fingerboard for our Tinstrument and Hardwood should definitely be used. The fingerboard should run up the neck and leave about 12cm or so, enough room for the tuning pegs.
I should point out here that I don’t really use exact measurements, which is contrary to my masters method, he uses exact measurements derived from the original Coffee-Tin Guitar he built.
The fingerboard should be 12mm thick and the length depends on where you want it to sit on your tin, for mine I made a crescent shape in the wood so it would but-up against the tins body.
Because the fingerboard runs on an angle to the neck, we need a wedge to help it sit right.
Ok, we have the wedge for our neck and now we need to join the pieces together, for this we use resin (without the fibreglass sheets). Make sure you have a good spot to rest the Tinstrument and have at least two clamps, so as to hold the fingerboard tight. Give the neck and fingerboard a sand so the resin grabs, resin in the wedge and clamp it down, making sure the Fingerboard is straight.
Leave the clamps on.
I use standard acoustic guitar tuning pegs that cost around AU$20 for a set of six. You want the tuning to be reliable and sturdy, so it’s best not to skimp on this part of the process.
Because tuning pegs can differ in size, be careful not to over-drill. You can always make the holes bigger, but you can potentially ruin your Tinstrument if they are too big. Keep in mind the direction that the string will wind onto the machine-head, align your pegs so the strings will not hit each other!
We have our tuning pegs in, now we need some string holes at the other end of the Tinstrument. Come up from the base of the neck about 1cm and drill four holes through the wood. Use wood glue to fix in some ball-ends from old strings, this will make sure the string doesn’t cut through the wood and affect tuning.
Nut, Bridge and Sound-hole
Now that our Tinstrument is nearing completion, we need to set it up for playing…yew! For the nut I have used a piece of scrap acrylic cut with the drop saw and used the Dremel to make four small nicks for the strings to rest. Make the nut about 4 or 5mm higher than your fingerboard.
Glue the nut down with some PVA or wood glue and leave it until it’s dry.
My Master usually makes his own bridges but I cheated and bought a Grover banjo-bridge for AU$7.95. The banjo normally has 5 strings but my Tinstrument only has 4, so I just offset the bridge a little on the tins lid.
After using the Banjo bridge I had an epiphany relating to the history of the banjo and how these Tinstruments are in fact relatives of the banjo and after further investigation I found Scott Ainslie and his gourd banjo, basically a Tinstrument substituting the tin for a gourd, amazing stuff.
To cut the sound hole you may use a dremel or some tin-snips, in fact the way I did mine was by punching the tin out with a screwdriver and a hammer, the good ol’ way.
Ok the nut, bridge and sound-hole are taken care of and the Tintrument can be strung. I use mandolin strings with a a string gauge of .010, .014, .024, .034 and tune the Tinstrument to DADA. Originally I thought guitar strings were the best for the job but mandolin strings are a far superior because of the similarity in tuning and instrument scale. Having said that mandolin strings are better, and after my banjo epiphany, I am wondering how banjo strings would fair. I know that I am deeply impressed by Scott Ainslie and now know that the similarity between the Banjo and Tinstrument is actually closer than Mandolin and Tinstrument.
Lets set her up!
Put the lid on the Tin so that the sound-hole is in a good position and wont affect the placement of the bridge. Next bring your strings through and rest the bridge under them. Because the bride floats and is not fixed, you may need a small piece of rubber matting to put in-between the bridge and lid, we do this so the bridge wont slip when playing. If everything has gone according to plan you may tension the strings and have a good action, if the action is too close to the fingerboard it may cause buzzing, if this happens just raise the bridge by placing small wooden shims between the lid and bridge, raising the action.
The final step is to put some string holders on, so the Tin wont buzz. You can use anything for this, hair-ties, metal, wood, there is no right way to do it, it just needs to work.
For my string holder I took apart two broken tuning pegs and used their base plates.
So there you have it! Please enjoy building your Tinstrument and enjoy playing something with an incredible sound.