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Monday, February 27, 2012

Amplify Everything

A few months ago, I bought a bunch of balsa wood to make little furniture for my daughter's dollhouse, I was fully into it for a few days there, but that dollhouse only has room for so much stuff.  I bought way too much wood for the task at hand, and until about a week ago, my intention was to build a few birdhouses.  Out of sheer boredom a few days ago, I started messing around with my surplus of balsa, and decided that it wouldn't be hard to put together a simple stringed instrument.  Soon after building a little box with one string, I did a little research and found out that it's pretty easy to make a contact microphone and turn my little acoustic box into an electric.  A trip to Radio Shack and about twelve dollars later, I was rocking.  I was also obsessed.  I love to tinker around in my basement, making things with my hands, but most things that I would like to do are a little too much for me.  I have basic soldering and woodworking skills, so these electric balsa instruments are right up my alley.  It's also nice that each one only took a couple hours to make.
I started planning my next build immediately, and the next day I went back to Radio Shack to spend the last of the month's grocery money on microphone parts.  Before I dove into #2, I upgraded my first build with two more strings and a few little improvements.

For the next one, I wanted it to be quite a bit longer, and to have frets.  Again, in the spirit of raw simplicity, I decided to keep it as a plain rectangle.  This one worked out really well, and I'm actually blown away by how nice it sounds.

At this point I'm not only obsessing over my next build, but I am completely enthralled by the possibilities these simple contact microphones have opened up, so I started experimenting with those as well.  The difference between a regular microphone and a contact mic, is that a regular mic amplifies vibrations in the air, while a contact mic amplifies vibrations on or in solid objects, or even liquid.  Everything in sight is starting to look like an instrument that needs to be mic'd and jammed upon. These are all functioning microphones, each one costing no more than ten dollars to make.

Stepping up the creativity and craftsmanship factor, here we have the skateboard deck electric slide guitar.  I just put this together in about an hour the other day, and it sounds great.  All of these home made stringed instruments are difficult to get into any semblance of a tuning, but once you're there, they are really fun to mess around with.

My latest and greatest contraption, which I call "Clank", for obvious reasons.  It's a total caveman noise machine.  You can play it with a bow, a pick, your fingers, or just smack it around.  This thing coupled with an effects pedal and a loop pedal through an amplifier will keep me occupied for days on end.

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