“Crude Theremin” – Tube Oscillator and Homemade Electromagnetic Guitar Pickup

I was making an extra three-string removable pickup from my JSA Nd144 Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar Pickup and started thinking about some of its other features.

I recently found an old tube oscillator at the antique mall and thought I might be able to do something interesting with it. So I hooked up the removable pickup to my amp and powered on the oscillator. With one hand on the frequency knob and the other manipulating the volume via pickup proximity, you can get some pretty cool brassy synth tones.

The removable pickup is made of a 9v adapter coil and a homemade 1/4″ jack.

Follow this link to view step-by-step build instructions for the 9v adapter pickup:

https://wp.me/P3WRqw-86

Follow this link to view the homemade 1/4″ jack build instructions:

https://wp.me/P3WRqw-PP

The wiring is simple—two terminals on the pickup: one attached to the hot on the jack and the other to the ground on the jack. Then, I just taped them together.

I need a bit more practice, but here is a quick and dirty video for now:

Thanks,

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“Road Ready Polymer” – All-Plastic, First Act Electro-Acoustic Modification

I found this plastic First Act acoustic for six dollars at Goodwill—why not…everyone has to get their hands dirty at some point.

Here are the before pictures:

Body and Finish:

The body and “finish” were in fairly good shape, but I had to do something the change it’s appearance. I decided to leave the back, sides, and neck alone, so I painted only the top of the body and front of the head.

I wanted to make the deterioration on the finish more interesting so first I painted the top and head Safety Red then I painted Hammered, Burnished Amber. The thinking is that the amber will first wear down to red, then to the original “burst” finish.

Another interesting aspect of this guitar is the inner structure. The guitar seems rather sound, so I’m confident that it should holdup to 11’s.

Tuners:

I changed out the tuners—the replacements were second-hand, crappy yes, but not as bad as the originals. The classical acoustic tuners fit perfectly without modification and the addition of brass screws finished off the abomination perfectly.

Pickup and Bridge:

Of course for the pickup, I taped together two Nd144 Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar Pickups. I drilled and installed a 1/4″ jack in the lower-right and wired it straight to the pickup.

For pickup installation, I taped two washers in the bridge position with Command Strips—the magnets on the pickups attached to the washers for easy installation.

The bridge is a 3/16 brass bar that helps enhance the steel strings, serves as a grounding point and adds a focal point.

Final thoughts:

Otherwise, it works—it cost $22, plus scrap parts, and took a few hours to enhance. Plus, the top will look pretty cool once it acquires some genuine wear and tear.

Check out this quick and dirty video, which offers some haphazard slide work:

Thanks,

“Slice of Deliverance” – Steel-String Resonator Banjolele w/ Removable Pickup

I chanced upon this banjo uke for a steal at the local antique mall and couldn’t pass up a new project. From what I’ve read, this style of banjo ukulele was produced through the 20’s and 30’s and it’s in really great shape compared to some I have seen for sale online.

This instrument came with a traditional drumhead, but no bridge. Against the advice of most ukulele enthusiast sites my plan was to string it up with steel strings, so that I could add a removable pickup, which is apparently I’ll advised because the neck could succumb to the pressure.

The Before Pictures:

Finish:

The finished was scratched, but was otherwise in fine shape; however, I wanted to add my own style, so I sanded off the finish and stained it with a vinegar and steel wool concoction.

I started with the white vinegar mix that adds a rusty, yellow hue while darkening deep spots. Then, I finished with an apple cider mix that adds a bit more color, grain depth and shine. The mix results in a distressed look that enhances the natural grain, while adding subtle nuances as well as dramatic extremes.

Drumhead and Bridge:

I began by cutting a piece of brass rod for the bridge and then strung it with the top four strings from a pack of DR Pure Blues 9’s.

The uke tuned up, but the drumhead was strained, which lowered the action to the point of rubbing on the rim. So I had to find a new material for the head that would be thin enough to offer as good of a voice as the drumhead.

I had a paint can lid laying on the bench and it appeared to be the right size, so I cut off the rim and it was a perfect fit to replace the drumhead.

Tuners and Tailpiece:

The tuners weren’t complete trash, but I didn’t like the look of them and since I was going to use steel strings, it seemed like a good idea to install decent tuners. I found a set of Grovers that worked great and had a lower profile.

The tailpiece was meant for holding strings with smaller balls ends, so I had to drill small holes in the body to accommodate the steel string balls and allow the tailpiece to sit flat against the body.

Pickup:

Since the paint can worked out so well, it created a perfect opportunity for using a removable pickup made from two of my Nd144 Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar Pickups. I had originally built a similar pickup for the “Teeth for Days” build, which had a body that was to thin to house a permanently installed pickup.

Therefore, I created a compact pickup and 1/4″ jack combination that could be easily installed and removed. Since the paint can lid is made of magnetically sensitive material, the pickup can be installed at a whim.

This solves two problems—first, placing the pickup directly on the paint can lid stifles the resonating effect to some degree, so easy installation and removable allows the user to play acoustically without compromise. Second, installation via the inherent magnets keeps me from having to drill extra holes and add unsightly hardware for both the pickup and the output jack. In short, the pickup is fully functionally electric without radically changing the acoustic nature of the instrument.

The most interesting and functional aspect of this pickup is its ability to be removed and potentially used to electrify/amplify another guitar with a body made from magnetically sensitive material, such as a lunch box or cookie tin. The pickup and output jack is wired up and taped together as one unit to simplify this process.

A second feature is the exposed, copper ground wire that makes contact with the paint can lid upon installation. This signal travels through the all magnetically sensitive materials that come in contact with the chain, so the paint can lid, bridge (if changed to steel), strings, and tailpiece all become a place to ground the signal, thus reducing amplifier noise/hum.

Accessories:

I added a strap button comprised of a security bolt and a brass knurled nut. I simply drilled a larger hole in the body and tailpiece to accommodate the larger bolt.

The strap was made from duct tape printed with an American flag design and the headstock strap tie was made of black duct tape with a brass binding screw to hold everything together.

Final Word…

This was a cool project and I developed and appreciation for the ukulele and the benefits of its small size, along with this instrument’s marriage with the banjo.

Check out this quick video that offers this instrument’s amplified and acoustic tones:

Thanks,

“His Dudeness” – Electro-Acoustic Resonator Guitar Modification

Follow this link for additional photos and build notes:

https://wp.me/P3WRqw-VO

Call it The Dude, His Dudeness, Duder, or even El Duderino, but don’t call it Mr. Lebowski.

I received a request to modify this old classical, parlor acoustic. The gentleman had seen a few of my other acoustic modifications and wanted something similar for his acoustic. He gave me full artistic control, so I added materials based on the guitar’s size, shape and the condition of the neck.

Here are some before pictures:

Check out these quick and dirty demonstration videos—one is amplified with distortion the other is unplugged and ends with a little Nuge, but hey, it’s a free for all:

Thanks,

“TSA Certified” SlipStick Carry-on Electric Steel Guitar

Well…this steel guitar is not actually TSA Certified, but at a length of 20-3/4 inches it does fit diagonally in a carry-on suitcase. I had built the first incarnation of this steel guitar a few years back when I had to go on a business trip and wanted an instrument to take along. I was only taking a carry-on so it had to be small enough to fit inside—it turned out to be a perfect fit.

Follow this link to the official project page for additional photos and build notes:

https://wp.me/P3WRqw-NH

Thanks,

PVC Bamboom Stick

PVC Bamboom Stick

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The handle on Bennet’s Bamboom Stick failed during its first use. Bamboo is strong for its thickness, but, in addition to the handle, the frame cracked in four places, while I was cutting and shaping the instrument. The cracks were easy to fix with glue and clamps, but I’m not sure how it will hold up over time. Surely the handle will hold up with the addition of a dowel, but there was still reason for concern.

This led me to look for a more resilient material. PVC is strong and flexible and easy to manipulate. 1-1/4″ PVC pipe is an excellent size for the body and 1″ is perfect for the handle, as 1″ PVC fits close inside of 1-1/4″ pipe.

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For the handle slot, I made horizontal cuts on the body with a hacksaw and then used a 1-1/8 spade bit to remove most of the material on the front and back of the frame. The rest of the handle slot was shaped with files. I cut the handle from a 1″ piece of PVC; it fit snug within the opening. I also slipped a piece of 1″ wooden dowel into to 1″ PVC to reinforce the handle.

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I cut the pickup hole in the same fashion that I shaped the handle slot. Much like the bamboo version, it allows limited range, but a bit more room to install the piece of angle that would hold the simple tuner and the 1/4″ jack. The wall of the 1-1/4″ PVC was too thick for the nut on the 1/4″ jack to fit, so I filed down the outer side of the frame, around the hole, until installation was possible. Although it appears ugly, I have started using hot glue to strengthen my solder joints; it keeps me from having unexpected delays.

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To create more clearance at the front of the handle, I cut down a 1″ cap and glued it to the front portion of the handle. I filed a small triangular notch into the top of the handle and used a screw to tighten the string down. A binding screw worked well to allow the handle to pivot. I added an eye bolt, bent to an angle, to act as a nut and to set a consistent action. For this PVC version, I decided to use heavier eye bolts than I used on the bamboo version to further strengthen the instrument.

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Because of the limited space, I had to set the piece of angle, then install and solder the jack to the pickup, then install the bent eye bolt, and finally, set the pickup in place. In this PVC version, the JSA Nd144 pickup sat loose in the hole, so I cut and shaped a small piece of 1″ PVC to fill the space. I filed the inner sides of the 1″ piece of PVC until the pickup fit snug. After that, I added the usual simple machine to set the open note/octave.

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I added two 1-1/4 jacks to the top and bottom of the frame and a 1″ cap to the back of the handle. For the bottom, I installed a screw-on rubber bumper so that it doesn’t slide on the floor. Additionally, I left the remaining string intact, since there is no easy way to keep the instrument grounded. The jack is grounded to the bridge eye bolt, so one must simply hold the remaining string against the handle, while playing, to keep a constant ground.

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Just like the bamboo version, there is only one E string, but the instrument has a lot of range. I added a simple tuner so that the player can set the open note/octave. The player controls the pitch by tightening and slacking the string with the handle and there is definitely a learning curve, as the player has to listen for the note correct pitch—I place the difficulty level somewhere between playing slide guitar and trombone.

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It seems important to note that when I tested this instrument the string broke rather than the frame or handle.

Check out this quick and thoroughly awful video:

Thanks,
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Bennet’s Bamboom Stick

Bennet’s Bamboom Stick

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“Bamboom” was how Bennet used to pronounce “bamboo” when he was younger. In Army of Darkness, Ash called his shotgun a “boom stick”—no real correlation, just a fun fact.

This instrument was commissioned by Bennet. I can’t remember what it is really called, but Bennet fell in love after playing one at the St. Louis Cigar Box Guitar Club. Both the frame and handle are constructed entirely of bamboo. The one that he saw included a cigar box and piezo pickup, but I wanted to streamline the design, so I cut a hole and installed a JSC Nd144 electromagnetic pickup. 

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Bamboo is incredibly strong for its thickness and weight, but it is easy to manipulate once a hole is created. I made horizontal cuts with a hacksaw and then drilled a couple of holes, where I wanted to cut vertically, and sawed a half inch strip out of the center. After that, a sharp chisel cut the rest relatively easy, with a surprising amount of control over how much material was removed.

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I cut a handle from a smaller diameter piece of bamboo; it fit snug within the opening. Build note: if you are thinking about constructing a similar instrument and use a bamboo handle, consider reinforcing the handle with a piece of dowel rod. The handle on this instrument cracked during its first use. I’ll just remove the twine and then glue and clamp the handle on Bennet’s, but it’s better to reinforce the handle from the start.

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From the pickup hole, I had limited range to place the piece of angle that would hold the tuner and the 1/4″ jack, but that was the only access that I had without creating more holes. It was tight, but it all fit without interfering with the connections. IMG_1642IMG_1643IMG_1645

I filed a large rectangular notch into the top of the handle and use a 1/4″ bolt and rod coupling to tighten the string down. A couple of brass pieces and binding screw worked well to allow the handle to pivot. I also rounded out the back of the frame to allow the handle more range and added an eye bolt, bent to an angle, to act as a bridge and set a consistent action.

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Because of the limited space, I had to set the piece of angle, then install and solder the jack to the pickup, then install the bent eye bolt, and finally seat the pickup. I was extremely happy that it all worked the first time. After that, I added the usual simple machine to set the open note/octave.

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For the bottom, I added a screw-on rubber bumper so that it doesn’t slide on the floor. I fit perfectly, with a little persuasion.

There is only one E string, but the instrument has a lot of range. I added the simple tuner so that the player can set the open note/octave. The player controls the pitch by tightening and slacking the string with the handle and there is definitely a learning curve, as the player has to listen for the note correct pitch—I place the difficulty level somewhere between playing slide guitar and trombone. Good times.

Thanks,

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