Homemade Musical Instruments

Electro-Acoustic Instruments:

This cigar box percussion device was the first homemade musical instrument I built.  I heard Dekalb based circuit-bending band CMKT4 play at the Ink People’s Center for the Arts, and took their contact microphone building workshop.  That was my first exposure to piezo-electric contact microphones, and I’ve never looked back.  This cigar box has numerous springs, both internally and on the surface, as well as modified chimes removed from plush toys and beverage bottle caps that produce a variety of sounds.



I call this instrument “The Harp Project”  I built it out of pallet wood, around an aluminum bundt cake pan.  The only thing I bought for this project were the zither pins and the wrench I use to tune them.  The harp includes a piezo pickup recovered from a toy drum machine and features volume control and 1/4″ output jack.  You can hear how it sounds in the video below.

I call this my “Record Breaking Guitar” because I had to break a couple records to make it.  I’ve since added a homemade magnetic pickup, but I still like the reverb-o-matic piezo bridge pickup.  It also has a built in amplifier which you can hear me demonstrate in this video:

This is the shelf from a refrigerator.  I took a hack saw to it…

…and added a piezo-electric transducer I removed from an electronic toy.  I stuck a couple of springs in for reverb and play it with a stick.

Here’s what it sounds like:

tin can fiddle and bow 1

Tin Can Fiddle  I know it’s not much to look at, but it sounds amazing.  It is just what it looks like, but it has a piezo pickup mounted on the underside of the can, and a spring, which adds reverb, which you can see in the photo below.tin can fiddle spring

Here’s a short demo:





Spring Box Guitar.   The Spring Box Guitar is not a guitar, not does it have anything to do with water.  It is more of a percussion instrument that you wear over your shoulder, like a guitar.spring guitar

I recycled the housing from a dead car stereo amplifier.  I added 2 piezo transducers, and a potentiometer to fade between them.  I added as many springs as I could find to it, most are located where the player can flick them, but there are also a few in the box for reverb.  Here’s a demo:




This Ethiopian folk lyre, AKA “Krar” was found in a Bay Area dumpster my my friend and KMUD cohort Jordan Jumpshot who gave it to me in a state of disrepair.  I had never heard of a “Krar” before, so I remodeled it according to my own whims.  In the video below, you can hear what it sounds like.



goat brie mini dulcimer 800x450

I call this one the Goat Brie Mini-Dulcimer.  You can hear for yourself what it sounds like:



Here’s another electroacoustic lyre:



…and another:



The “Matilda” Zither, made from Euro-style car license


I call this next one the “Butterfingers Kalimba”


Electronic Instruments

I built this modular analog synthesizer into the housing of an educational electronic game from the ’80s called “Geosafari”  I reused the LEDs fro the original game, as well as a few transistors and capacitors.  This synth features three oscillators (VCOs), a noise generator, resonant low-pass filter (VCF), low frequency oscillator (LFO), Voltage controlled amplifier (VCA) and a 10-step analog sequencer.  Here’s a little demo:

tape scratch device

Tape Scratch Device made from an old portable cassette player.  Here’s a little Etude I composed for it.



I built this light-controlled Theremin-like instrument into the housing of an old solar powered yard light.



Circuit-Bent Instruments

circuit bent kawasaki keyboard mods



Percussion Instruments:

Wind Instruments:

Overtone Flute made from recycled irrigation poly-pipe.

John Hardin in Free School of Future Communion at House of Nice in Eureka

The “Humboldt Horn”