Musical instrument that can be stored in a vehicle?
June 10, 2014 12:31 PM   Subscribe

I need a musical instrument that can be stored in a vehicle (no climate control) for months at a time in a climate that is hot (over 100 degrees F during the daytime in the summer) and dry (not humid), without becoming warped or destroyed somehow.

Any kind of instrument will do; I don't know how to play anything, but will take lessons for it once acquired.
posted by jsturgill to Media & Arts (57 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Gungho at 12:32 PM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

posted by Melismata at 12:34 PM on June 10, 2014

Kazoo, Recorder, Slide Whistle, Steel Drum.

I assume most brass would be okay as well, though it's hard to fit a Sousaphone in the glovebox.
posted by tilde at 12:35 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

A plastic recorder would probably be ok. Yamaha has some decent ones for not much money.
posted by leahwrenn at 12:40 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

When it is 90 degrees F outside, it reaches 140 degrees F inside a car within an hour and a half. Adjust for the 10 degree increase to 100 and however long whatever you are storing will be in the car.
posted by mlis at 12:40 PM on June 10, 2014

I wouldn't put brass instruments with slides in very hot environments for long periods of time unless I could re-grease the slides very frequently. Even in moderately hot weather my horn's slides used to get cranky. If you have the opportunity to do that bit of minor maintenance more often than usual, though, I don't think it would be too bad.
posted by dorque at 12:44 PM on June 10, 2014

If you want to play guitar, you could buy a graphite guitar like the rainsong.
posted by umbĂș at 12:45 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd imagine that the pads on the keys of a flute would dry out in a hot, non-humid environment for months. It wouldn't ruin the flute (you could get new pads for it), but if you're planning on just grabbing it and playing it whenever the spirit moves you, I'd go with something made completely of metal.
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:46 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you want to play guitar, you could buy a graphite guitar like the rainsong.

That's pretty cool. Expensive, but cool.
posted by jsturgill at 12:50 PM on June 10, 2014

How about a tin whistle?
posted by underthehat at 12:51 PM on June 10, 2014

Is there an entry-level graphite guitar model/manufacturer?
posted by jsturgill at 12:54 PM on June 10, 2014

I have done this for a month or two at a time with a flute and a trumpet. The trumpet needed oil, and I'd sometimes wet the flute's pads a little bit, but both could be picked up and played within a minute or two. (I was an irresponsible teenager. This is definitely not recommended practice for either instrument, but...well, they still sounded ok and played fine, so.)
posted by MeghanC at 12:57 PM on June 10, 2014

I would suggest the Outdoor Ukulele, but check with a local store because their site is behaving screwy at the moment. I tried one the other day and they have quite respectable sound for a wholly plastic uke. They're about a hundred dollars.
posted by winna at 12:57 PM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

What would the extra maintenance be in this scenario for a trumpet?

Guitar, violin, trumpet have the most immediate draw as instruments that I (based on nothing in particular beyond their sound) would enjoy learning to play.
posted by jsturgill at 12:58 PM on June 10, 2014

Would ukulele skills transfer somewhat to guitar later in life?
posted by jsturgill at 1:00 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Or another similar percussion instrument.

As a, we don't even leave our instruments in cars for one minute. Some of us bring them into stores while we run our errands. We would rather have quick temp changes from heat to a/c than sitting in a 140 degree car and humid.

I was thinking keyboard, but you need a power supply or lots of batteries and the keys may stick after a while.

I like the tin whistle idea, because well....
posted by TinWhistle at 1:05 PM on June 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

Dunno if this would count, for your purposes, but I imagine an electric keyboard would do alright in those circumstances.
posted by CustooFintel at 1:05 PM on June 10, 2014

Yes, uke skills can transfer. Fretting chords, picking and strumming are very similar between the two (though not exactly the same, because of the different tunings, number of strings and, the smaller distance between frets).
posted by umbĂș at 1:10 PM on June 10, 2014

My guess is that a Makala Dolphin ukulele (which you can get for circa $45) would hold up well enough.

With that said, and despite being quite happy with the uke myself... if your heart is more inclined toward a guitar, I'd suggest getting a guitar, rather than starting with a uke and hoping to switch instruments later.
posted by Shmuel510 at 1:15 PM on June 10, 2014

We would rather have quick temp changes from heat to a/c than sitting in a 140 degree car and humid.

Quick note, this is a dry area, not humid at all! FYI.

Dunno if this would count, for your purposes, but I imagine an electric keyboard would do alright in those circumstances.

I'm discounting electric instruments at the moment for Reasons (trust me).

With that said, and despite being quite happy with the uke myself... if your heart is more inclined toward a guitar, I'd suggest getting a guitar, rather than starting with a uke and hoping to switch instruments later.

The graphite guitar seems perfect, except I think it's probably stupid to spend over a thousand bucks on something that you might one day be able to play... Under $500 to start out with seems like a reasonable outlay for a new hobby that might not go anywhere.

I'm hoping that whatever instrument I pick will be a social lubricant as well, allowing me to, after I become proficient, to play with other musicians in different settings.

The harmonica seems super practical, though not dear to my heart. Is it welcome in a wide variety of musical settings? Is the ukulele?
posted by jsturgill at 1:19 PM on June 10, 2014

If you are talking about sitting around a campfire, or hanging out on someone's porch, a harmonica is always welcome, but particularly if you are accompanying someone else on a guitar.

The ukelele is a tougher call. You're always going to seem a little twee, but if you can carry the song by yourself, you're golden. In my experience, a uke is not a particularly welcome accompaniment to the most common casual social instrument, the guitar.

Frankly, for situations like this, I would say your option are guitar, harmonica, and djembe, pretty much exclusively.
posted by 256 at 1:42 PM on June 10, 2014

The environment you describe would be a death sentence for any wooden instrument. I can't speak to brass, it sounds like there would be issues but not as lethal as with a wooden instrument. A guitar might hold up better than a violin/cello etc., but I wouldn't subject any wooden instrument I ever wanted to play again to those conditions.

Regarding ukulele, you could play the songs you learn on uke by just ignoring the two lowest-pitched guitar strings, but they might be in a different key than you're used to. The uke is tuned like the four highest-pitched strings on guitar (except one of them is raised an octave). Different sizes of ukes are tuned to different notes (but usually the same intervals), and there's also some room for user discretion in tuning. The chord shapes on those four strings on guitar would yield the same type of chord, but could be in a different key than they would be when played on a uke.

You could then learn what frets to finger for the two lowest-pitched strings on guitar to give the chords a fuller sound if you want. I'm not sure it would be much of a shortcut.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 2:10 PM on June 10, 2014

Why not a bugle? No valves, no moving parts. Also, xylophones or bells.
posted by klangklangston at 2:19 PM on June 10, 2014

Metallophone, aka glockenspiel? (That's a xylophone with metal bars.) It's kind of a strange instrument for a social jam session, though.

String instruments like guitar and uke are best for accompanying oneself while singing.

Harmonica is a good traditional instrument for campfire music, but you (obviously) can't sing along.

Bugles are nifty, but not very well suited to anything other than bugle calls. If you want a cheap bugle to try out, consider a hoseaphone. It can be made for $10 or less, and rarely fails to entertain. When in a bike shop, you can also play bugle calls on a handlebar!
posted by sibilatorix at 2:27 PM on June 10, 2014

I'm going for no on the harmonica and flute any other instrument with plastic bits, pads, reeds, or any other non metal. Trumpet is my vote. Relatively easy to start making noise, easy lessons, musically versatile and basically you carry 3 bucks worth of valve oil in the glove box and lube prior to any session (which you'd do anyway) and you're golden.
posted by chasles at 2:30 PM on June 10, 2014

Maybe a melodica, a kind of mouth blown polyphonic harmonica-like free reed keyboard instrument might do OK. They can be found inexpensively.

A cheap ukulele, detuned until needed, might also do OK. One problem is that nylon strings seem to take their sweet time stabilizing once tuned up to pitch. But cheap ukes seem to often be durably constructed. Taking up uke seems to have helped my guitar playing, fwiw. The instruments are remarkably similar, IMO. Re-entrant seems to be a mental block that I found easy to overcome.

Simple flutes and ocarinas could be OK. Recorders, pennywhistles are inexpensive. Good ocarinas are, too. Very inexpensive "training flutes" like Flutophone are really more like ocarinas than recorders.

Harmonicas are typically in one key, can be coaxed into a couple other more "bluesy" keys fairly easily. Serviceable chromatic harmonicas can be found, but take more skill, and are kind of a different instrument, IMO.

Kalima/thumb piano might work, too. Can be compact and inexpensive.

Outside uke and melodica, interacting with other musicians using these simple instruments might be difficult due to limited keys.

One problem with some plastic instruments is the possibility of warping in high heat conditions. I've found out the hard way. It's not clear that threshold would be crossed in a hot trunk, but I would be a bit wary.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:32 PM on June 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Regarding an alternative to a Rainsong: AFAIK, there is no such thing as a cheap graphite guitar, but Martin still makes some low end instruments with highly laminated wood necks and soundboxes from Formica-like material. I don't know if they make full sized ones, but the small travel guitars sound pretty good. Again, if kept in a trunk, I would keep the strings completely slack until the instrument is acclimatized and ready to use, just to keep warpage and loose joints from forming under such tension.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:44 PM on June 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

You might drop Bill Whipple a line and see what he thinks about keeping one of his wipLstix travel fiddles in a hot car. They look to be pretty solid little things, possibly less sensitive to vagaries of weather and heat than traditional violins.
posted by hades at 2:47 PM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Alternately, take voice lessons. You probably won't be happy for very long in a 140-degree car, but unlike a instrument, you can get out of the car under your own power.
posted by hades at 2:53 PM on June 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Re: Bugles

Bugles can actually do a lot more than just calls; there's a famous jazz standard that features them, and I've seen Rahsaan Roland Kirk play some pretty wild stuff on bugles too.
posted by klangklangston at 2:56 PM on June 10, 2014

Jaw Harp?
posted by Marky at 2:57 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Trumpet would only need some lubricant added to the slides when you get it out. Common thing to do regularly anyway. Cornet is a little shorter and unusual, so could be a talking point.
posted by flimflam at 3:06 PM on June 10, 2014

How about a Xaphoon Pocket Sax? I'd describe it as a cross between a recorder and clarinet. I picked up one of the injection-molded black plastic ones from a local music store for less than $50. It is well-nigh indestructible.
posted by gox3r at 3:21 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you go with a brass instrument, please remember to let it cool down after you take it out of a hot car before you put your lips on it.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 3:25 PM on June 10, 2014

Do you need this to be a good instrument, or can you have a travel version, and then a "real instrument" that you'd be able to treat with more caution?

As a person who's around acoustic guitars more than electric, I don't have a real feel for whether an electric guitar cares about weather. Without an amp, it makes enough noise for you to practice on but not enough for anybody to hear you.

Another option might be the backpacker guitar or travel violin (aka "pochette"). These are streamlined wooden acoustic instruments that are a small portable size, and designed to be less fragile than the standard versions. Shorter unsupported distances means less flexing of the wood, and they're designed for durability which might mean thicker walls, though I'm not sure about that. The purpose is to be able to go places with them, outdoors, in luggage, etc and not worry about them; but I'm not sure how far the ruggedness of design extends (hours vs months, outdoor weather vs 120+ degrees in a car)
posted by aimedwander at 3:34 PM on June 10, 2014

Do you need this to be a good instrument, or can you have a travel version, and then a "real instrument" that you'd be able to treat with more caution?

A "travel version" is fine (perhaps ideal). As long as the instrument won't introduce impossible-to-cure bad habits, it should be fine--I won't have an additional "real instrument," just the one instrument. However, I would enjoy being able to borrow a full-sized instrument every now and then and be able to (at least mostly) play it about as well.
posted by jsturgill at 3:48 PM on June 10, 2014

For future readers, these guys have travel violins that are larger and seem more standard than the wiplstix. I may shoot them an email at some point and see if they have any info or experience that might be relevent. If someone knows an owner who could chime in, that would be great.

Learned about Yamaha Silent Violins as well from some poking about. Are the necks made of wood, or some other material? Do they make an audible, playable, practicible sound without being plugged into anything?
posted by jsturgill at 3:59 PM on June 10, 2014

Apparently cheaper silent violins exist from other manufacturers as well.
posted by jsturgill at 4:01 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Instruments capable of chords will get you playing along with others faster.

Three thumbs up for Melodica.
Get a couple of basic chords down, and you could be huffing away with other pretty fast, and move to more rhythm chord subtlety or leads as you improve. The good ones are metal. Skill with keys/air, and feel for the free reed timbre might translate well to accordion or concertina?

I personally dread the person who pulls a harmonica out of their pocket. You'd probably want at least a few different keys. Decent ones actually aren't cheap though. Kevins Harps might be a good place to browse, or maybe call if you decide to go this route.
Chromatic harmonicas are pricey, difficult, and their timbre is weird.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 4:25 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I like the Harmonica idea, though.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:46 PM on June 10, 2014

There may be an Aboriginal Australian Didgeridoo that may work. I have seen them made (and home made) from numerous materials.... and they sound cool.
posted by Leenie at 4:54 PM on June 10, 2014

Ukes don't really fare well stored in a car. Though there are now plastic ukes that might? Wood - ukes or guitars - expanding and contracting with temp changes isn't a great idea.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 5:31 PM on June 10, 2014

Which is why the ukes named so far have been plastic ones. :-)
posted by Shmuel510 at 5:39 PM on June 10, 2014

Wooden instruments are held together with glue. Humidity is not your problem, heat is; the glue will melt at interior temps in the 140s. Harmonicas will probably survive, though.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:27 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd worry a little bit about leaving an expensive (or even expensive looking) instrument in a car where unscrupulous members of society might be tempted to break a window and steal it.

A guitar would be tough to hide.
posted by VTX at 7:14 PM on June 10, 2014

not a metal classical flute, they have pads a can be affected by extreme temp changes.
posted by Bohemian Sailor at 9:20 PM on June 10, 2014

I'm wondering if a National guitar might survive? I don't know the cost of a National, only that it's mostly metal so may be robust, but you could call National and get their opinion. If I was in your shoes I'd go for a guitar over most other instruments, because it's good for both solo and group playing.
posted by anadem at 9:30 PM on June 10, 2014

I tested one of those cheaper electric violins at a local music shop recently. It was... well, it was inexpensive. It would have taken some work to make it playable, though. For one, the pegs did not hold. Like, at all. I don't know how well peg dope, which you'd probably need to make them hold, fares in prolonged heat. The sound when not plugged in is very quiet. You can hear yourself practicing in a quiet room, but it doesn't sound particularly good. You'd most likely want to use a battery and headphones when practicing, rather than listening to the tinny wheeze it produces acoustically. On the one hand, it's inexpensive and a reasonable facsimile of playing an actual violin, so learning on it would let you borrow someone else's violin and not have much trouble adapting, unlike (I think) if you learned on a pochette. On the other hand, the build quality and setup were pretty crap, and I'm not sure how well it would hold up to heat, given that it wasn't holding up very well in the music store.
posted by hades at 9:36 PM on June 10, 2014

On the other other hand, people seem to like the one you linked to, so maybe the one I played was just a lemon. It was mainly a guitar/drum shop I found it in.
posted by hades at 9:39 PM on June 10, 2014

As mentioned above, I think you should check out what Martin has to offer. The LXBlack Little Martin might be a close fit for what you are looking for.
posted by missmerrymack at 5:11 AM on June 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Looks like the LXBlack Little Martin has no wood in its construction, if I'm reading the page correctly. My assumption is that makes it a good contender for dealing with the heat well, and I like the price!
posted by jsturgill at 8:30 AM on June 11, 2014

If that Martin is bonded with welds or epoxy it might hold up, but any type of thermal glue is going to fail at high temps. The "store in a hot car" constraint is a tough one.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:03 AM on June 11, 2014

Looking around further...

The reviews for the Little Martin do seem promising, as does the testimonial here (4th comment). On the other hand, there are also skeptics. On the other other hand, in the worst-case scenario, it looks like the warranty can help?
posted by Shmuel510 at 11:33 AM on June 11, 2014

Poking around for cheap carbon fiber guitars, I found The Alpaca, for $625; about twice the cost of the Little Martin.

(More a note for future readers than anything else.)
posted by jsturgill at 11:58 AM on June 11, 2014

Maybe an oil can guitar would work? Looks like you can get new ones for as low as $250, or if you're feeling more DIY ambition there are instructions to make your own in various places online.
posted by polymath at 5:28 PM on June 11, 2014

Also the palm guitar, for about $900, is wood-free (v1 is no longer available and was a graphite guitar; v2 is supposedly similarly robust but cheaper, made with polymer of some kind).

The oil can guitar you linked to might have a wood neck? The page is low on details.

I haven't searched for instructions yet, but if you make your own, you can apparently purchase graphite necks for a $300 or $400 bucks, which could be the cheapest way in the thread so far to have a no-wood, graphite (+ steel oil can) guitar.
posted by jsturgill at 9:31 AM on June 12, 2014

Steel drum.
posted by yohko at 12:50 PM on June 12, 2014

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