About Me

My Photo
Riverside County, California, United States
I am a native of Illinois and grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. After dropping out of college, I moved to California in 1973 with my first husband. I married my present husband, Butch, in 1977 and got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me a grandmother 24 times over and a great-grandmother of 13. Three years after I married Butch I returned to school. I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication and was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 to return to school and get my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore and genealogy - and add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play a number of folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I am a Board Certified genealogist and more information on all this, as well as direct contact info, is on my Circlemending website.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Homemade Music/Homemade Instruments

I remember (just barely) making a cigar-box ukulele in kindergarten. We had to provide the cigar box (in those days, if a kid's parents didn't smoke - rare - a cigar box could be procured at the local drug store - ours was Lyman-Sargent's in downtown Wilmette) and strings (I believe they were rubber bands) were fastened to the bottom (on nails that I am sure the teacher pounded in) and stretched up the body of the "instrument" (the cigar box) along a "neck" (not sure what that was) to be fastened (I don't recall how) to the "head" (probably just the end of the neck). I don't recall any way tuning could be accomplished but, hey, the sound it made would not have been improved had there been "string" adjustment possible! We strummed away on our little noisemakers, pretending to accompany the music teacher (playing loud enough on the piano to pretty much drown us out). Now whether we also played the sand blocks at the same time, I don't remember, but I do remember "making" those (why we say we "made" these things is beyond me as the teacher was the one wielding manner, knife, staple gun, scissors, etc.). They were blocks of wood, wrapped in sand paper. I have never liked the feel of sand paper (why I was happy when my husband bought me my "mouse" - a little electric sander), but this past weekend I found myself again making sand blocks (my "mouse" makes a terrible musical instrument, but it's very handy to smooth rough surfaces; on the other hand, my quickly constructed sand blocks sounded pretty darn good!). I used the sand blocks in one of the songs we just recorded for the latest CD: "Songs of Early Childhood" (songs our ancestors sang as children) . . . but more on that later, when it is finally ready for distribution.

Anyway, here's my point (took long enough to get to it, didn't I?): creating instruments out of raw materials is nothing new. Our ancestors did it for centuries! And some were pretty darn creative. And some were marketed to the general public. And some, thankfully, have never been heard of since.

When we attended the Glendale, AZ Folk Heritage Festival last month (March 2010), I was amazed to find that there was a "homemade instruments" workshop. I didn't attend it (I was obligated elsewhere), but I did talk to Pat Clark, the creator and player of the most elaborate Cigar Box Guitar and Dobro I have ever seen. He was kind enough to let me take his photo & agreed to let me share it here on this blog. These instruments have been electrified with pickups so they can be plugged right into an amplifier (bet my kindergarten teacher would never have imagined that!). Of course they use conventional tuning pegs and real instrument strings (no rubber bands here) so they can be tuned to precision! Ah, we've come a long way.


I had been thinking about these homemade instruments for some time so running into Mr. Clark was a special treat. I did a little "Googling" to see what I could find and discovered that there is a whole Cigar Box instrument musicianship out there. Check these out:
David Beede (giving information on how he made it as well as demonstrating it)
Gus (showing the instrument construction and demonstrating its sound)
It's not just for guys, check out Shelley Rickey's instrument

Then there are similar (stringed) instruments made from other handy objects:
The cookie tin banjo (demo and construction info)
The gas can banjo (make sure the can is empty before construction or playing)

Another advantage to these unique instruments: unlike conventional guitars, they pack up easier for travel all over the world. Gus shows how this all comes together on his YouTube video (and he also shows the pickup workings for those wanting to "go electric").

Want one of these unique instruments for yourself, making you guaranteed "life of the party" (if you dare bring it along)? "eHow" will show you the construction procedure from scratch. If you're not that handy and want the raw materials supplied, Elderly Instruments (one of my favorite suppliers of musical instruments and accessories) has kits! Not a DIY kind of person? Buy one ready-made from "Papa's Boxes."

One of the fun aspects of these cigar-box (and other homemade instruments) is that they can be as elaborate or as plain as you wish to make them. Tom of CigarBoxUkes.com has a lovely display of his instruments, all uniquely decorated. They end up being utilitarian, decorative, and vintage items all at the same time. What house wouldn't be more lovely if sporting one of these on the parlor wall?

But there are other forms of homemade instruments. Our earliest ancestors discovered that banging on our natural resources (logs, rocks) or shaking things that grew in their vicinity (dried out cactus, seed pods, etc.) created melodious sounds. We have modernized such things into drums and maracas, but the inspiration behind these 21st Century instruments is worth remembering.

Earlier this week, my friend Thomas MacEntee sent me information about a "rock xylophone." I had heard of the stones that make music when struck, but this is taking it to the next level. Check this blog by The Ancient Digger. There is a short video that is included here (with links to others) and I am greatly impressed by the sound. Not sure what songs from my repertoire would be enhanced by this, but I'd be willing to try . . . next time I'm in North Cumbria, UK.

So when your child (grandchild, great-grandchild) comes to you with the "instrument" (oatmeal box drum, trash-can lid cymbal, water-filled bottle - hit or blown across) that was made in daycare or preschool, suggest a singalong! Who knows, that instrument could very well metamorphose into a life-long passion (I've been playing guitar for over 45 years . . . not counting the cigar-box ukulele hours).

75 comments:

  1. There was always a "canjo" workshop for kids at Wheatland. The kids loved it. [http://www.wheatlandmusic.org/] Elderly is my favorite place to browse, feel lucky to live so close!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Don't forget the saw, bones, and spoons. I am beginning to think that wherever happy people get together, there is music!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nice article Jean. There's a huge resurgence in homemade instruments. A popular online gathering place is the Handmade Music Clubhouse http://HandmadeMusicClubhouse.com.

    There's thousands of member photos, hundreds of videos, specialized groups, forums and even live chat. The members are friendly and eager to help a beginner construct their instrument.

    Ted Crocker

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am passing on the Ancestor Approved to you. You cover two of my favorite topics, genealogy and music!

    ReplyDelete
  5. What about the old washtub thingy? I don't know what its called, but you pluck it like a bass string. We always could rig up one of those washtubs and a few spoons to slap on knees! And the old piece of tin foil over a comb to play like a Kazoo? Now the memories are coming back!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Montana

    http://pianotutorial.net

    ReplyDelete
  7. World famous, Papa's Boxes handmade, acoustic stringed instruments including ukuleles, banjos and guitars. Based out of Syracuse, New York Papa sells stringed instruments worldwide.

    http://papasboxes.bigcartel.com

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks for sharing out this content it are really fastidious.
    pro audio

    ReplyDelete
  9. Your blogs and information attracts me to come back again n again.
    cake recipes

    ReplyDelete
  10. These articles have got complete sense without confusing the readers. Go to Merit EV

    ReplyDelete
  11. I am surely coming again for more contents of yours.
    More about Boston Place

    ReplyDelete
  12. Your table are too sword like to feature and relaxed to see. Good Relationship With Onks Design

    ReplyDelete
  13. Your blogs stuff is purely enough for me personally.
    More about Alp Pictures

    ReplyDelete
  14. Nice to see your work!! It’s really helpful for me.
    instant payday loans online

    ReplyDelete
  15. Info is implausible, I would want to see more and more from your writers.
    cash advance payday loan

    ReplyDelete
  16. I would be supportive on all your articles and blogs as a result of they are simply up to the mark. Get more info about Mont Clara Associates

    ReplyDelete
  17. Nobody can reject the info you have given in the blogs, this is actually a great work.
    Uliea Advice

    ReplyDelete
  18. Great blog you people have maintained there, I totally appreciate the work. Read More about Again Vest

    ReplyDelete
  19. The matter that you provide is worth our time and energy.
    ppi reclaim

    ReplyDelete
  20. I would be supportive on all your articles and blogs as a result of they are simply up to the mark.
    car accident claims

    ReplyDelete
  21. That’s a nice site you people are carrying out there. mis sold ppi

    ReplyDelete
  22. I am happy to see that you have provided such an incredible and impressive blog for us. online payday loan

    ReplyDelete
  23. I have got the superb information from these blogs finally. mis sold ppi

    ReplyDelete
  24. Hmm!! This blog is really cool, I’m so lucky that I have reached here and got this awesome information. here

    ReplyDelete
  25. I'd be trampled if all sites gave articles like these awesome articles. Relationship Tips by DJ Posse-e

    ReplyDelete
  26. An immense moonlike of commendation, reserve it up.



    ppi refunds

    ReplyDelete
  27. Your writings, articles, blogs I mean over all contents is must read matter.

    Healthy Relationship with Tik Hit

    ReplyDelete
  28. You completely match our expectation and the variety of our information.
    Bike Curious Articles

    ReplyDelete
  29. This matter is down to earth, hats off buds out there.
    Advice by Ride French River

    ReplyDelete
  30. This is an excellent blog along with the great knowledge.
    good infographics

    ReplyDelete
  31. These are truly amongst the wonderful informative blogs.
    social media infographics

    ReplyDelete
  32. Wonderful collection of the posts!! These will be definitely helpful for everyone.infographic

    ReplyDelete
  33. congratulations guys, quality information you have given!!! infographic design

    ReplyDelete
  34. Amazing work pals, I really enjoy reading your interesting blogs.
    payday loans florida

    ReplyDelete
  35. Quickly this site will indisputably be famous among all blogging people, because of its fastidious articles or reviews.
    whole life insurance comparison

    ReplyDelete
  36. The blog is quite awesome that has provided me the best knowledge.
    a1c chart

    ReplyDelete
  37. I have visited lots of the blogs but this blog is truthfully wonderful.
    compare auto insurance rates

    ReplyDelete
  38. The quality of your articles and listing is really attractive.
    Recommended Reading

    ReplyDelete
  39. Quickly this site will indisputably be famous among all blogging people, because of its fastidious articles or reviews.
    online tutoring companies

    ReplyDelete
  40. Continue the good work; keep posting more n more n more.
    Click Here

    ReplyDelete
  41. Superb posts with lots of information!!! This is really the most miraculous blog site dude….

    New York accident lawyer

    ReplyDelete
  42. The information you have given in the blog really marvelous and more interesting.
    instant payday loan

    ReplyDelete
  43. This short article posted only at the web site is truly good.
    winrar password remover

    ReplyDelete
  44. I would unquestionably provide ten out of ten for such incredible content.
    talktalk phone number

    ReplyDelete
  45. The caliber of information that you're offering is merely wonderful.
    payday loan online

    ReplyDelete
  46. Well to be honest the articles and the blogs are really appreciative.Generic Anchors

    ReplyDelete
  47. congratulations guys, quality information you have given!!! free tutoring online

    ReplyDelete
  48. The caliber of information that you're offering is merely wonderful.
    pirater compte facebook

    ReplyDelete
  49. congratulations guys, quality information you have given!!! restaurants in schaumburg

    ReplyDelete
  50. I never ever read such type of info before this was really incredible. personal trainers Winnipeg

    ReplyDelete
  51. I really love your write-ups guys continue the good work.
    comment pirater un compte facebook

    ReplyDelete
  52. I suppose I've selected an unbelievable and interesting blog. hacker un compte facebook

    ReplyDelete
  53. I really love your write-ups guys continue the good work.
    http://www.epicfollowers.com

    ReplyDelete
  54. Hey to everyone, it’s my first visit of the blog site; this blog includes awesome and actually best info for the visitors.
    buy twitter followers UK

    ReplyDelete
  55. Each time I used to always check blog posts within the first hours in the break of day, because I like to get information increasingly more.
    Global Domains International

    ReplyDelete
  56. Your blogs and its stuff are so notable and worthwhile it can make me return.
    vietnam visa on arrival

    ReplyDelete
  57. I continuously continue coming to your website once more simply in case you have posted new contents.
    central booking staten island

    ReplyDelete
  58. Well, it’s a nice one, I have been looking for. Thanks for sharing such informative stuff.

    central booking new york

    ReplyDelete
  59. The stuff written in the blogs have allured me!!!
    replica watches

    ReplyDelete
  60. I would never crave to lose out any chance to look throughout your contents.
    vlc streaming server

    ReplyDelete
  61. Nice blog with awesome stuff!! Can you provide more information?? We are in fact waiting for you…

    filezilla client download

    ReplyDelete
  62. Superb way of explaining, and great blog to get wonderful information.
    vietnam holiday

    ReplyDelete
  63. Your blogs are easily accessible and quite enlightening so keep doing the amazing work guys.
    vietnam holiday

    ReplyDelete
  64. This blog is fully fabulous in all aspects.
    vietnam travel

    ReplyDelete
  65. If you really desire to get such type of information, visit this blog quickly.
    vietnam tour

    ReplyDelete
  66. The blog and data in this, is very good and informative also.exposed skin care coupon

    ReplyDelete
  67. I have learnt various good stuff right here, and I’m sure everyone will get advantage of it.
    sewing kit

    ReplyDelete
  68. You have really done the brilliant work dude!! I’m looking forward for more, hope you will never disappoint me.
    weight loss supplements for women

    ReplyDelete
  69. Hurrah, that’s what I was trying to get for, just what a stuff Presented at this blog!! Thanks admin of the site.
    repair credit

    ReplyDelete