Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Clubhouse Strummer

Dsc 0008On Sunday I made a fretted musical instrument. It doesn't have a name yet. Maybe I'll call it the kitchen table strummer, because the wood came from a broken table that's been leading against our storage shed for a few years. Actually, my daughter was using this particular piece of wood in a backyard clubhouse she built until I took it for this project. So maybe I should call it the clubhouse strummer.

My goal was to make an electric string instrument that uses drone tuning. I don't know anything about music theory, but drone tuning is a way to tune an instrument that makes it sound good no matter what you do with your fret fingers. Sitars, some dulcimers, and bagpipes use drone tuning. The clubhouse strummer uses GDG tuning (the Gs are one octave apart). I copied the fret layout from a strumstick, but I could have used this handy mountain dulcimer fret calculator to figure out the fret spacing.

Img 8286Because I don't have many tools, and I hardly know how to use the ones I already have, I didn't try to make metal frets. Instead, I simply used wood matchsticks for frets and epoxied them at the measured and marked spots along the neck.

(Click all small photos for enlargement.)

Img 8280I used a set of ukulele tuners (now I have one tuner left over to make a one-string electric bass), and the three highest strings from a package of baritone ukulele strings.

Img 8341I made a lot of changes along the way. For instance, I was able to shorten the neck, and I hollowed out the area for the tuning posts, rather than just drilling three holes. I think it looks better this way (see photo above for way it looked earlier).

Img 8333I was going to use a Tinkertoy piece as the house for the amp cord jack.

Img 8339Img 8337The result was ugly. I tried to live with it, but I couldn't bear it. The piezoelectric buzzer (which makes for a nice acoustic pick-up) looked unspeakably hideous bolted to the back, too.

Dsc 0001 I removed the piezoelectric element from the plastic housing and epoxied it to the back of the strummer.

200903241023Then I took a remaining scrap of the table wood and made a back that I hollowed out to accommodate the protruding parts of the piezoelectric element and the cord jack.

Img 8372I'm pretty happy with the way it sounds. I'm looking forward to applying what I learned when I make another one.

Here's a sample of the way it sounds without amplification. (I used my iPhone to record it. It sounds better in real life, I swear!)