Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Single String

The Single String has been kicking around for years now. It was my very first stringed instrument. I built it some four years ago when I was in a band called Manna Machine. The band was very experimental and then we broke up. It was during that time that the idea for the single string came to me. As you can plainly see there isn’t really all that much to the instrument. In fact, you could make one right in your own living room. That’s where I made mine. Actually that’s where I make all of my instruments. Ok, let’s get back to the topic at hand, building your own single string. First you need a salad bowl of the metal variety. Secondly you will need to get your hands on one of them fancy steam less grill stove top items that I like to call the chicken cooker. I think George Foreman makes one. You will notice as you scroll down this page that I use stainless steel salad bowls and chicken cookers a lot. No really I mean a lot. I should see if I can’t get some kind of endorsement out of these folks. Next you have to run down to your local hardware store and pick up a few items. A length of pipe used for plumbing roughly a foot and a half long. A floor flange that will attach to one end of your store bought pipe. And a cap, or nipple, that will attach to the other end of the pipe.

This is where a bit of work is involved. Take the newly purchased pipe out behind your building where you will find many different sewer grates. If you don’t have any grates behind your house you can use the ones behind mine. Place the pipe about half way down the grate and start bending one end up. Jump on it if you have to. I did. Be forewarned that actions like this often causes your neighbors to stare in fear or disgust, just calmly let them know that you are in fact building a musical instrument, and not attempting to free the thousands of rats that inhabit most sewer systems. If this doesn’t work just start acting crazy again and go about your business. Eventually they’ll get bored and start yelling at somebody else.

Ok, moving right along. So now you have your bent pipe with all it’s accoutrements, a salad bowl, and a chicken cooker. What’s next you ask? Good question. Take your piped up floor flange with nipple and mount it to the side of your salad bowl. This involve pre-drilling four holes into the bowl, hopefully in the same place as the four holes on you flange. Once this is done bolting them together is easy, which reminds me. When at the hardware store pick up eight or ten nuts and bolts, they come in handy.

Now that you have this done we can move on to the face plate of your single string. By this point you should know where your string is going to run, which will make it very easy to place your pick up. On the original Single String I placed the pick up underneath the face plate with successful results, but in subsequent instruments the pick up was placed atop the face plate. The placement of your output jack is completely up to you.

We can now move on to the string. Bore a small hole into the end of the nipple so you can feed your string through. Then line up the string so it runs over top of your pick up all they way down to the end of the plate, This is where you are going to have to put your machine head. Bore another hole and mount the machine head. Now the face plate is ready to be attached. Again bore a few holes around the outer rime of the plate and the salad bowl. Line them up and start bolting away.

All that is left to do now is the tuning of the string. I leave that up to you. Personally I enjoy A, D, or G. I really dislike E, but again it’s all about personal preference. Some people like E.

That’s it. Your Single Stringed Chicken Cooker is done. You are now ready to start rocking out. If you’re into that kind of stuff.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The BMW of Single Strings

The name says it all. A piece commissioned by my good friend and sometimes blog photographer Mr. Pat Eves. The face plate is apparently a hubcap from a BMW that Pat had given me to build his new toy. I don’t know how he obtained the hubcap and I am most certainly not asking any questions. There is one piezo pickup placed on the underside of the hubcap just in front of the bridge, and a quarter inch output just to the left of the bridge. This single stringed instrument has the same kind of design as Fat Bob. I used a deeper and wider salad bowl to help eliminate some of the natural metallic sound that these materials can produce. It also looks nice and fat in the back end. I have a thing for fat bottomed instruments.

Slowly the single strings will grow in numbers and one day they will all play together. That’s right, six mighty strings playing at once.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Friday, June 09, 2006

Iner and the Single String

photo by Ravi Persaud
This is an image of me playing the single string with an Ebow. I run the instrument through an effects processor. Also running through the processor is a short wave radio I use to dial in foreign language radio station, or sometime just use it to play the static and other interesting sounds I find floating around the air waves. There is also a tone generator sitting underneath the short wave radio. Finding a tone and running it through a wah pedal and volume pedal will always produce interesting results. Click here to download a track Tony and I recorded called Lone Prairie. I used a lot of this junk to record my sound design for a short film i'm working on. Click on Caraticus Sea to hear some of the tracks, or click on Iner lost in time and space to see some of the images.

Sympathetic String with Bell
This was first shown at the Joseph D. Carrier Gallery in the Columbus Centre.

Materials used:
Disk Brakes found on the corner of Sorauren Ave. and Queen
A bunch of pipes
A lamp shade from Just Lights on Queen
1 stainless steel salad bowl
Some kind of steam cooker I found in the Goodwill
1 Tuning peg
1 electric guitar pick up
1 guitar string

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Iner and the Many Lives of Metalore

photo by Jennifer Schmitt

This is one of the only clear images I have of the original Metalore. Shot by Jen at the Gladstone gig (my first at the Gladstone Hotel) The instrument was damage severely in a fire at my friend Brians place. Along with about thirty paintings and about seven sculptures. There was also a whole bunch of instruments that Brian and his roommate owned that are now gone.
I tried to rebuild old Metalore into something new and wonderful, but the sounds it makes just doesn't seem to cut it. Now Metalore sounds flat and dead, even with the modification I put into it. Compare this one with the new one further down the page. The cosmetic changes are readily apparent, but it's the changes inside that should have made a difference. I had remove the guitar pick up which was never turned on, and permanently mounted a contact mic inside under the faceplate. There is also a telephone receiver implanted into the body of the instrument, which is only good for yelling into one of the openings I have in one of the many pipes that hold Metalore together.
I think it may be time to try and rebuild this one from scratch. Soon we shall all see.
As you can plainly see in this photo something terrible has gone wrong in the rebuilding of my sweet, sweet Metalore. I went wood crazy, and in a moment of madness I added leg rests. Now whenever I look at the remake I keep thinking it might fly away. Please fly away little ugly metalore.
Here was the first and last time I played the new metalore. After that Metalore found a permanent home on the walls of Mitzi's Sister. Aside from the instrument sounding dead after the rebuild, the rest of the night went great. It was the first time that Rami sang with us, and from that point on she has been a wonderful addition to the madness of Jon Was A Machine.
photo by Mathew Cook
Click on the play button below and you will hear a small bit of Mike Whitla playing sweet old Metalore. Mike is now the owner of this fine instrument.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Ok,here we have Mechano. Mechano is the French brother of Metalore, and boy is he weird. Some of the usual components include the chicken cooker face plate, a big metal salad bowl, and some common household plumbing pipes. Some of Mechano's more unusual parts are three separate motors controlled by push switches mounted on the face plate. One of the motors sits on the top of the neck and rubs gently on a aluminum swirl from one of my many fashion shows. The second is attached right on the face plate and when turned one vibrates one string mounted in there just for that purpose. The third motor sits just up towards the neck on the right hand side. That also rubs, and vibrates a string set there for that purpose (think hurdy gurdy only different) Mechano also has an old Victrola motor mounted on the left hand side that has a hand crank on it. Attached to the motor is a small hand designed piece of movable metal, that, depending on the rate of speed from the motor, and the placement height of the metal, you can in fact have it hit up to three separate strings, giving yourself accompaniment, or a beat to play to. Mechano keeps getting stranger. There is silver horn that jets out of Mechanos left side. This horn is here so that you can here the voices, and direct them either to a mic, or a certain sweet spot in the room. What comes out of the horn depends on what you say into the opening at the back of one of the necks pipes. There is a small mic up near the opening, which runs to a small amplifier inside, which then in turn runs to a small speaker, which of coarse is attached to the silver horn. You have complete volume control, and even a low end boost if one so desires. Just when you thought it couldn't get any more weird, it does. Lastly Mechano has a small portable tape deck mounted on the face plate. At first this was strictly for cosmetic purposes, cool moving parts and the sorts, but in leaving the head of the tape deck intact, I was able to run small pieces of recorded tape across it and have it play the tape. Back and forth, back and forth. All the sound being sent out through the silver horn. Unfortunately Mechano, who is still in fine working order was one of the instruments damaged in the fire. He still plays the same, but he don't look to pretty if you know what I mean.

photo by iner souster

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Fat Bobs Music Box

This Instrument is called Fat Bobs Music Box, actually has two strings attach to it. The body is from an old ceiling lamp, with a metal salad bowl secured to the side opening. From that bowl runs some common household plumbing pipes up to the end where they split off it to two separate ends. One being raised and off set slightly to the left. The instrument also has two music box mounted on the face plate, which was a round cooking tray I found at the Goodwill. Much like many of the single stringed designs, Fat Bob Music box can be played with an ebow, regular bow, slide, plucked, strummed, beat, and basically smacked around however you could think of. He's a fairly durable chunk of metal.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Fat Bob

.Now we come to Fat Bob. Fat Bob was the second single stringed instrument I ever made. It seems weird that I haven’t much to say about Fat Bob. Sometimes life is just hard and cruel that way. Fat Bob is a wonderful specimen of the single string community. The bowl on Fat Bob is much larger than most of the instruments I've built, which really adds to the over all warmth of the instruments sound. Of coarse the body is one big metal salad bowl. The face plate is that of a hub cap I found out on the street one day, so obviously I had to pick it up. That stuff is gold man, gold. Now Fat Bob was the first instrument that I designed to different pick up systems inside his fat belly. The first is just a regular guitar pick up mounted under the hub cap running parallel with the string. The second pick up is a contact mic that is just slightly off set. There is also a on off switch for both pick ups, so you could choose which sound you would like, or combine the two together. Fat Bob rocks

Rami is now the proud owner of Fat Bob

This is a portion of Bob in November recorded by Rami in her kitchen. To hear more of her stuff click here

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Beer Taps and Brass Bowls

Initially this wasn’t supposed to be a single string; it just worked out that way. With its motor boat sleekness and deep bass sounds this will be a welcome addition to the single string project I will be working on in 2006.

The Rabbits Backbone

This is what a Rabbits Backbone would look like if you were crazy, or how it would look if a crazy person made an instrument out of kitchen and bathroom supplies. In the continuing saga of the chicken cooker and a fretless instrument the Rabbits Backbone was pulled from the great ether of the universe. Now in its fifteenth incarnation the Backbone stands out as perhaps my best of the single string series. Single string you say, but this instrument has twenty one strings? Well I don'’t really have and answer for that yet, and maybe I never will. I don'’t make the rules.

The Backbone was a direct result of my need to fill the gap that Metalore left behind after his destruction then subsequent reconstruction of a fire related matter. I still get all teary eyed whenever I think of Metalore, but the time has come to move on. The Rabbits Backbone is where I moved on to. (That sounds weird)

The design of the strings is quite similar to that of Metalore. The placement has been altered to make the instrument playability more flowing. This could be the Tao of the single string.

Some of the features that are unique to this piece of work include the arrangement of the four main strings. Strung side by each and tuned to A, D, C, and G. Each one of these now runs in unison over the guitar pick up, making each one easy to use with an Ebow and slide. There is also a contact mic mounted on top of the face plate just to the right of the pickup. Previous instruments only had one string as the main source for sound, anything else was run underneath or far off to the sides. Underneath the set of four strings are six sympathetic strings

The three short strings on the face of the cooker are tuned to D, A, D and are meant as accent strings. There are also three different sets of strings that run on the bar or neck, depending on what makes you feel more comfortable. The first three are tuned to A, C, D. The second set is tuned to A, D, and the third set is tuned to C, D, and G. These strings are great for plucking and filling in the quiet spaces. Having the contact mic where it is helps pick up the sound of these strings, but not enough to over power the top four strings.

Both the guitar pick up and the contact mic are attached to a switch. You can use them individually are in unison.

One last feature of the Rabbits Backbone is the input wires that are attached to a small speaker mounted underneath the guitar pick up. Any kind of sound device can be hooked up to these wires and the pick up will transfer your sound with some interesting effects.

View this clip on Vimeo