Help with musical instrument building

  • Member

    I need ideas. Weird, cheap, and simple enough for small children.

    I am working at Kamloops Interior Summer School of Music this year, and all of my classes will be making their own musical instruments. There are three in the works right now.

    • make Panpipes out of PVC
    • bucket drums with packing tape drumskins (surprisingly effective)
    • we can make simple stringed instruments with old guitar strings and pringles containers.

    These are fun, and kids love them, but I know that so much more is possible. This is brainstorming thread. No idea too wild.

    This is also a good way to make tangential contact with other groups of independent educators, involved parents and intelligent students.

  • Kalimba/Mbira

    Just a series of bent metal tines firmly attached to a sounding board, or a resonant chamber. Tune by adjusting the length of tine that vibrates.


    Slightly more complex instrument. Uses an air-tube, capped at one end with a flexible membrane. Tones are produced by striking the membrane, causing air to move in the tube. Again tuned by adjusting the length of the tubes.

    We have frequency counters, oscilloscopes and signal generators. A reasonable microphone or transducer would make it pretty easy to generate a reference tone, then compare against the tone generated by the DIY instrument and tune to match.

  • Might be out of our league… for now.

  • Those 3M sticky rollers that you use to remove pet hair make great shakers - when they are empty, put a small hole through the top with a large drill bit, or make an X cut with a box knife, and fill with popcorn or rice or beans, then tape over the hole with duct tape.

    They can be decorated by drawing on a piece of paper sized to wrap around, then attached to the shaker with clear, wide packing tape.

  • Oh, and don’t fill them too full, of course. About half full gives room for sound.

  • Member

    What about music boxes? Is your capacity to cut sheet metal that accurate?

  • Metal

    I second the Theremin Idea. Never made one myself, but have been wanting to for a while. They seem very cool, and totally ‘makerspaceable’.

  • @Graeme Music box is essentially an automated Kalimba. You could mount tines on a sounding board, or cut up some sheet spring stock with the milling machine or by chemical etching, and use 3-d printed drums, or mount a series of screws into a wooden drum to “pluck” the tines.

  • Member

    @pierre …yeah. That sounds awesome

  • Tomorrow, while Ashley is working at the Canada day event in the park, and I’m hanging at the space and trying to not irritate my injured shoulder, I’m going to try to make a musical instrument… I’ll try to find a clockspring or busted saw blade to cut up for tines, and make a metal bridge where I can use screws to lock down the individual tines… Should not be too hard.

    The simple version would look something like this:


  • Member

    Sweet. I will try to drop by. I would love to see the process.

  • Member


    This is a kind of drum called a cajon. It’s a box. There’s a little more to it but not much. I think this kind of thing would be simple with the aid of a laser cutter.

  • With any luck I can get @hdsheena 's friend Raugh to help me build some custom pickups to try making an electric music box module. We’ve been discussing winding custom pickups on a form laser cut out of acrylic.

  • I’m at the space now for several hours at least… I’m trying to figure out what the hell the current protocol is to do the Twitter thing. I’ll poke around the forum for about ten more minutes, then probably give up and eat my breakfast and start trying to make things.

  • I sent one for you. #kmopen

  • Member

    I was just thinking that SD73 would love to have a ton of box drums. they are the ideal classroom instrument: cheap, indestructible, stackable, and they sound awesome.

    They might even buy the things

  • Richard was here and we were talking about the different resonant qualities of different woods… Could be interesting to build wooden instruments out of a variety of materials.

  • Sorry, it took me longer than expected to write about what I was up to yesterday…
    @Graeme stopped by with a box drum… It is an interesting device. Assuming we make a decent sled jig for the table saw, I think we could crank them out in very short order.

    I played with the Kalimba idea some. Came up with a prototype of a better mount using 1/4" bolts and coupler nuts to hold pieces of broken bandsaw blade. Figured out how to tune notes by experimenting with the blade piece secured in a small machinist’s vice.


    After that I went for dinner with Ashley and a bunch of folks who were staffing the Fun Factor inflatables at the Park… While I was at dinner I briefly talked to Arthur about his warehouse full of broken arcade machines. He mentioned that he had two pneumatic/vaccum driven player pianos that he’d be interested in getting working. I may take on that project at some point. I’ve been kinda obsessed with player pianos for many years.

  • Member

    If you can make a rotating peg drum like the one on the marble machine, then you can have a self-playing programmable kalimba.

  • @Graeme exactly… For a traditional kalimba, where the lowest notes are near the center, the drum would need to be yo-yo shaped. Music boxes usually lay out the tines more like my drawings.

    I’m already messing around with laser-cutting discs that lock together to pluck the notes in a pattern. Using Ashley’s Mountain Melodies 8-note unit as a basis for testing the cylinder, I need to find a tune that fits a single octave with no minor notes. I’m thinking “People are Strange” by the Doors should be able to transpose into the right key.

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