Wonderful, cheap musical instruments
September 24, 2009 1:41 PM   Subscribe

From bagpipes to xylophones, Dennis Havlena's legendary website will show you how to make musical instruments, cheaply. Some of them sound pretty good [YouTube].
posted by mecran01 (20 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, is this seriously the first time he's been been the subject of an FPP? I know he's been mentioned in passing a lot, hell, I've mentioned him myself, but I can't believe he's never gotten his own post.

It's nice to see he's finally gotten a better url. Much easier to remember than that old mess he used to use.

I've mentioned it before, but I've built a couple of projects based on his plans. I had to cheat a lot, 'cause my tool selection's pretty limited, but it's amazing the results you can get for minimal work. No, any prospective DIY luthier isn't going to achieve professional-quality results, but that's not the point. The point is to make something that makes noise and then have fun annoying your neighbors with it.

The nice part about Dennis Havlena's website is that he shows that the results don't have to be perfect to be fun.
posted by lekvar at 1:56 PM on September 24, 2009

I searched and googled, and he's been mentioned about 20 times. I didn't see a FPP, but my Mefi-search-fu is weak. I actually sprung for the CD he is hawking, and it was worth it. And I didn't search under his old URL, so this could be a DUPE.
posted by mecran01 at 2:03 PM on September 24, 2009

Ah, I found the old URL and there is, in fact, a dedicated Havlena link from 2001.
posted by mecran01 at 2:07 PM on September 24, 2009

It really is amazing what you can make out of cheap materials. I just got myself a bass made out of a cardboard box, and it sounds astoundingly good.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:12 PM on September 24, 2009

Oh, don't get me wrong, that wasn't a callout, just stunned disbelief. I did a couple of searches too, and other than the post you found he's only ever been mentioned as a part of a bigger post, or in comments.

'Bout time he got an update on the blue, if you ask me.
posted by lekvar at 2:13 PM on September 24, 2009

Oooooh, I've been wanting to make one of those for ages, AZ. I made a two-string bass out of a pine plank and a six-gallon metal drum. It sounded great (in a bad way) but took up too much space. Maybe I'll try again with cardboard.

Not Havelena, but I love this washtub bass. Waaaaaay beyond my capabilities though.
posted by lekvar at 2:21 PM on September 24, 2009

Amazing stuff on that site. I'm often evangelizing folk instruments in order to get people to play more music, but building one's own instruments too? That's great.
posted by Maximian at 2:21 PM on September 24, 2009

More homemade instruments on Mefi.
posted by mecran01 at 2:42 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

More from the Make Your Own Instruments past posts: carrot ocarina AND broccoli ocarina, raddish flute, cucumber trumpet, and the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:49 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've wanted to make the aeolian harp shown there for some time. His website his one of my longest-lived bookmarks.
posted by jquinby at 2:55 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cool stuff, but I remember coming on this site when I first got hipped to the inerwebs in the 90s. Having worked with all kinds of folk instruments, especially east European bagpipes, my advice is to get a decent instrument made by a good maker if you want to learn, especially something outside of western standard music. it makes it so much easier, and with ebay you can get just about anything played at a normal price - I used to sell Bulgarian and Turkish instruments at festivals but today you can get it all at a decent price and quality on the net. So I am out of a job. The Black sea lyra I now play was ordered from aTurkish maker the internet and was cheaper and better than the ones I played when I was learning in Turkey. Lesson: a good instrument is the way to learn folk music. If you want to make an instrument, master it first and play shitloads of them. Than you will have a standard to match.
posted by zaelic at 2:57 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just love how egalitarian the whole site is. I agree that learning to play is immensely easier with a good instrument, but there is plenty here to noodle around with.

A few words here about "determination". Musical ability counts a small
bit, but BY FAR the most important consideration in becoming a
successful piper is determination, aka "stick-to-it-ness". By FAR.

In fact all one really has to do is "trend in the direction" & he'll
eventually surprise himself by realizing one day "Hey - I'm a

I cannot stress strongly enough the power of determination. The vast
majority of my students who quit did so due to lack of determination.
When they saw that they wouldn't be an "instant piper" in a few days
time, their initial enthusiasm and determination waned.

Another observation of mine over the years is that undoubtedly, if
more people knew how easy it is to play the bagpipe, a lot more would
be pipers. There's a popular myth that bagpiping requires at least a
lifetime to do properly. Just ain't so. In the most a year's time,
anyone can pipe good enough to please themselves and others. Anyone.

posted by mecran01 at 3:27 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I attended a talk at Stanford once on the history of bagpipes. The lecture had examples from all over the world (they're not just a northern European thing), and it was pretty clear from all of his old pipes that the first thing you needed to construct a set was a dead goat.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:47 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just got myself a bass made out of a cardboard box, and it sounds astoundingly good.

Wow, that's incredible. I've never even imagined such a thing.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:40 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've had his site bookmarked for so long now, but I never have the motivation to start on of his projects. It's given me great ideas though - especially about making my own gourds using plaster and string and balloons and stuff. If I ever get round to actually making something I'll have him to thank.
posted by robotot at 6:59 PM on September 24, 2009

Cool Cardboard Instruments is fun too. I need to start a cardboard instrument club so we all motivate each other to make something.
posted by mecran01 at 10:12 PM on September 24, 2009

There is no reason whatsoever on this planet for bagpipes, homemade or otherwise.
They make an evil, nasuseating and insanity-inducing, despicably out-of-tune sound, what with that damn fifth in the bass droning on and on through every single "song", most of which are always in the same key anyway. What a horror. Otherwise, this was an interesting post. I think I will try to make a kalimba, however.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 10:30 PM on September 24, 2009

Wow. That really is impressive. I love the propane tank instrument.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:14 PM on September 24, 2009

I easily built this thing in a single day (actually about half a day -- the other half was devoted to re-caulking in the bathroom).

You've got to love the Interwebs.
posted by srt19170 at 6:09 AM on September 25, 2009

Regarding cardboard instruments, one of the best* drummers I've seen play was doing his thing on a cardboard box using a couple of brushes. The sound was surprisingly good, and loud enough to keep up with an acoustic guitar. By nudging the edge of the box up and down with his foot, the drummer was able to approximate a bass drum as well.

Now I'm having an "All-Cardboard Band" fantasy.

*for varying values of "best."
posted by lekvar at 11:57 AM on September 25, 2009

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