trashcan sinatra
July 17, 2009 11:29 AM   Subscribe

What crazy looking instruments can i build with a minimum of skill + resources and a maximum of WTF.

i'm in a band playing keyboards, and sometimes i have nothing to do. tambourine and shakers are fine but sometimes i would like to make percussion noises like this:

or sometimes I would like to make noises like this:

crashhhhh PING clang ttttttttcccchhhhhhhhhh AxAxAckAx riiiiiiiiitttchhhhhhhh

or sometimes maybe a little bit of eeeeeeeeeeeeexxxxxxxxxxCCVVVVViiiiiiiiiiiREOW! like a dying robot

Have you made strange percussion instruments? What did you do? Have you made traditional folk instruments in bizarre artistic shapes, or re-purposed regular household things to make amazing noises when you hit them together? Example: I used to play a big cardboard box with fly swatters-- it was beautiful.

Electronic suggestions are great too but i really dont know how to sauder or wire anything--but if you think of a toy or piece of electrical equipment that makes a crazy sound I'll take it.

Even if you haven't actually made them before please help me think of some new cheap but wild ideas out of your brain instead!

finally it'd be ideal if they are easy to transport and repair on the road.
anything i build i will obviously post pictures of them herein.

i thanks you and my adoring public thanks you in advance.

if you must know, yes i totally stole this idea from Drink Up Buttercup
posted by Potomac Avenue to Media & Arts (35 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
You, sir, need a mendoza!
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:36 AM on July 17, 2009

I went to a Billy Joel concert MANY years ago, and there was one dude whose ONLY job was to hit a gigantic hanging piece of metal with a mallet. Just a frame to hang it from, maybe a leather cord, strung thru a hole punched in a *giant piece of metal* that just hung there for most of the show. It was freaking AWESOME.
posted by Spyder's Game at 11:37 AM on July 17, 2009

Have you looked at the Blue Man Group for inspiration? PVC is pretty easy to put together.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:39 AM on July 17, 2009

Response by poster: Yeah! Giant piece of metal! But where do i get it? How can i hang it? What should i hit it with? etc

Blue man is a good suggestion, i'll viddy them up for ideas, but i dont want to be too derivative.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:45 AM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: This book has ya covered. Lotta found-object and homemade percussion. In particular, there's some instructions in there for making a really impressive gong out of the top of an oil drum.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:51 AM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: Here's a home-built percussion player piano playing When You Said Budweiser, You've Said It All.
posted by aquafortis at 12:01 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: I was coming to recommend the Sound Designs book (like nebulawindphone). It is a great starting point to build all kinds of instruments, and it is extremely clear and adapted to first-timer builders. I've made some of the first (easier) ones, and I will, someday, build the crystal marimba!
posted by ddaavviidd at 12:03 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: Listen:

I know this doesn't fit your parameters exactly, but if you ever find yourself with
  1. access to a trombone,
  2. access to a bassoon,
  3. an unyielding need to make a sound so horrifying that everyone within a five-mile radius will think -- nay, pray -- the world is coming to an end,
then you need to read about the almighty TROMBOON.

I also want to link you to circuit bending which, even with only minimal experience in electronic fiddling, can be highly rewarding.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 12:10 PM on July 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

Best answer: - Get a bunch of wire hangers. Hang 'em up. Hit 'em with a stick.

- Grab a pot. Put a bit of water in it. Hit it while moving the water around.

- Sewerphone.

- Comb + Wax Paper = Kazoo
posted by Sys Rq at 12:16 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: Electric pinecone!
posted by MsMolly at 12:27 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: A theremin perhaps? You can get kits it make it easier.

Or perhaps a Berimbau from your old bike tyres.
posted by rongorongo at 12:34 PM on July 17, 2009

(Anybody who has not listened to the sample of the Tromboon from Sys Rq's post should really do so immediately).
posted by rongorongo at 12:37 PM on July 17, 2009

(tapesonthefloor posted that, actually. Yes, it is awesome.)
posted by Sys Rq at 12:40 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: That was tapesonthefloor, though they're both swell folks from what I've heard.

And here's a direct link to the tromboon sample.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 12:40 PM on July 17, 2009

Response by poster: - Sewerphone.

wat i need this
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:47 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

(Anybody who has not listened to the sample of the Tromboon from Sys Rq's post should really do so immediately).
posted by rongorongo at 12:37 PM on July 17 [+] [!]

Especially if you have a couple dogs in the room. Do so at high volume for full comedic effect.
posted by sapo at 12:57 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: You need a double-shot of Iner Souster's Junkstruments.
posted by eclectist at 1:03 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: Balloon drums - (you will trust the guy in the video more with time I promise).

Seconding the idea of tube drums made from PVC pipes a la Blue Man group. Dennis Havlena made a hang drum using sections of PVC plumbing pipe that sounds like this. Here is how (and here are some instructions from him for making other instruments),
posted by rongorongo at 1:06 PM on July 17, 2009

Response by poster: Oh hell yeah balloon drums, totally insane.

Last piece of thread-babysitting info: My band is pretty loud.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:14 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: A McDonald's cup cuica is basically the easiest thing ever: Buy a diet coke (or whatever) and just jiggle the straw up & down.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:23 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: Yeah! Giant piece of metal! But where do i get it? How can i hang it? What should i hit it with? etc

i was just going to suggest the 'big sheet of metal'...any sort of thin sheet is good...offset printing sheets (the kind they print newspapers from) are ideal, but i'm sure you could find something at the hardware're looking for something that rolls up and unrolls easily (spring steel?).
and you dont need to hang it or hit it with anything. just take it and shake it! sounds like thunder. duct tape along the top will keep you from getting cut ;) wanna get more creative? Paint a japanese thunder god on it.

also that classic hanna-barbera sound of 'feet dont fail me now'/'fred flinstone starts his car' is super easy to make. just throw a hi-bounce ball or two into a coffee can and shake with a circular motion.

the sound of cartoon characters hitting the ground is another easy one...just throw a big bag of cement mix at the ground. not so easy to transport, but VERY dramatic onstage. the longer you play it, the sweatier you get. it's a good workout, too. dont forget to mic it properly. and seal it well...lots of garbage bags followed by heavy canvas.

for about $10, though, i made about the craziest instrument you've ever seen...Jingle Bell Leg Warmers. 1 pair leg warmers (lavender), 200 jingle bells (assorted sizes), 200 safety pins, a few hours in front of the tv. PERFECT for doing 'the pony'

also remember to always decorate your homemade instruments all crazy and shit.
posted by sexyrobot at 1:32 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: also'musical instruments'+'sort price:low to high'+$50=a boxload of crazy
posted by sexyrobot at 1:35 PM on July 17, 2009

tapesonthefloor, thanks for my new ringtone!
posted by bonehead at 1:38 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: Put a contact microphone on anything. Plug the mic into your guitar amp, and then bang on the anything with a stick. Poster goo works really well for attaching contact mics to things.

Stretch an old guitar string between two screws on a 2x4 and hotglue a guitar pickup under it. Bang on it with a stick! (You can make your own guitar pickup for a few bucks, more details if you're interested.)

Microphone + amp + long cardboard or plastic tube = semi-controllable feedback!

I do this kind of crap a lot, feel free to contact me for tech advice or see my website (in profile). And please send me videos of what you make!
posted by moonmilk at 1:46 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: Oh yeah, check out books by Bart Hopkin!
posted by moonmilk at 1:47 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Empty 5 gallon water bottles are great for all kinds of whonking and booming noises. Play with hands or mallets (super ball + chopstick).

A big plastic storage bin (think 50 gallon size) can make an effective bass drum.

5 feet of PVC + careful sanding of the mouth end == didgeridu.

4 feet of PVC+ some finish nails + popcorn == rain stick.

Washboards have endless potential. Hit, scrape and thump, with spoons, thimbles, wire brush, or just your heavily calloused hands.

Empty metal coffee cans are good too.

Find a local thrift store. Look at everything. Hit things and see if any of it makes useful noise. Cake pans with interesting ridges usually work well.

Get an old piano from craigslist or freecycle; take out the manual, dampers and action. Play the strings directly with your hands, picks, or a baseball bat with the end wrapped in leather.

Cigar box guitar.

Washtub bass.

Disassemble a bicycle. Hang the pieces from a tall rack with twine. Hit the pieces.

Large kitchen appliances. (see: Hurrah Torpedo. )

As for amplification, go to Radio Shack and ask for part #273-073. Find a friend with a soldering iron to connect it to a guitar cable. Stick it onto your instruments with reusable blu-tak poster adhesive. Plug into a guitar amplifier. Route it through delay or reverb for extra awesome.

Cowbells show up on pretty often. And cheap!

BB's + any container make some fabulous noise. Especially if they have room to roll around. I put a bunch in a metal planter (that I found at a local thrift store) and covered the top with packing tape to make a cheap and cheezy snare sort of sound, but it also makes wild roaring sounds just spinning the pellets around.

Metal electric conduit is cheap. Cut to size, hang from a frame with twine and hit with a ball-peen hammer for tubular bells.

(when I asked a similar question)
posted by leapfrog at 1:55 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

You could build a cookie tin ukulele.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 2:28 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: So you're just looking for something to bang on?

My favorite home-made thumper (so far) was, at one time, an attempt to build an acoustic bass from scraps lying around the house. It made a much, much more interesting percussion instrument, though.

I took a six-gallon solvent drum, (we have a lot of these at work) cleaned it, punched two holes in the sides for a pine board to pass through. Then I strung it with two bass strings, attaching them to each side and placing a bridge between the strings and the top of the drum. Basically, an industrial strength cookie-tin banjo.

It was fun to goof off with, but the real fun came when a percussionist friend decided to start smacking it around. There was the predictable thumpa-thumpa-thump you'd expect, but hollow and ghostly due to the (lack of) quality of the drum, plus the sympathetic vibrations of the bass strings gave it this weird sustain.

It probably cost me a grand total of $20, and most of that was for the pine plank.

For more general inspiration, here's my page for DIY noisemakers and oddities. Of special note are, Experimental Musical Instruments, Musical Instruments From Discarded Materials, and of course, the infamous Webpage of Dennis Havlena.

And this, just for fun. (click thumbnails for larger pics, natch.)
posted by lekvar at 2:30 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have absolutely no idea what this would sound like, but the first thing that popped into my head when I read your question was to apply the business end of a gas powered weed wacker to the side of a 30 gallon plastic water drum with a microphone nearby.

By playing with the different kinds of plastic blades/ cords available, I imagine you could create a sound something like a kettledrum being attacked by a methed-up chainsaw.

Alternatively, just beat the 30 gallon water drum with different lengths of PVC. Simple and very percussive.
posted by quin at 3:23 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: It's not a percussion instrument, but may I recommend a Rijke Tube for maximum WTF factor?

This is an easy to build instrument with an unusual sound (you'll have to tinker a bit with tube length and screen placement if you're picky about tone), and bonus points that it's powered by open flame.
posted by owls at 3:45 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here are some examples of Hermeto Pascoal playing everything from a teapot to stalactites.

Also, this video of Walter Smetak's handmade instruments might give you some ideas.
posted by umbĂș at 7:48 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: If you ever get a gig playing percussion for Orff's Carmina Burana, you'll need a tall steel stool, a steel rim from a car wheel, and a steel claw hammer. Place #2 on top of #1 and wallop with #3. Try to station this rig behind the tympani so the audience can't see that your hardware actually came from a hardware store. In a less formal gig, own that steel.
posted by Quietgal at 8:43 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: Kazookeylele?
posted by rux at 11:36 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: I love Homemade Instruments! I've recently been collecting coffee cans of all sizes and realized that they all sound different. Even the ones that are the same size have a different tone amongst eachother.
posted by JamesMCS at 5:05 AM on July 20, 2009

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