Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I have been thinking about a logo for a while now, I find that I give more credence to things that have a name, whether it is verbal or visual.  So I made the logo in the masthead, deliberately patterning it after the some of the logos used by the Industrial Workers of the World.  The idea of accessible instruments for all seems in keeping with some of the ideals of the IWW, as does the fact that the IWW was known as the "singing union," which might need some instruments.

I made a stamp of the logo, which I will put on all SCFOIW instruments, along with a stamp of the number chronologically of each instrument.  Which is a lesson in itself:  If you want an identity, if you want to mark your place in the world, all it takes is making the decision to do it, to name yourself, to carve for yourself your place in the wilderness.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Union Leader Banjo (IW#004)

It has become a little bit of a sickness.  Now when I walk through the flea market I can not help but look for things that might make good instruments.  This week I found this lovely little Union Leader Tobacco tin.

How could I not make that into an instrument?  I have been wanting to make a canjo like this, and it is May, after all, so this can be my May Day contribution.  I had two tuners left over from another project, so this became a two-string instrument, which is nicely symmetrical, I have now made instruments with 1, 2, 3, and 4 strings.  After a 5 string banjo I think I am going to stop adding to the number of strings.

Since there are only two strings, I decided to use screws for the nut (again, good joke there, the nut is screws), and for the first time I tried coping out the head to get the placement of the tuners right, a practice I think I will continue, as it seemed to work well.

No frets on this one, and it has a pretty good tinny sound, and is pretty loud, I have to say.  The top of the can, which is the back of the banjo, is open and as long as I do not dampen it against my body as I play it really rings out.  Nice low action and easy to play. Not too sure what to tune it, so it is currently tuned to C and G, which is ok but I have been trying other tunings as well.  Here it what it sounds like:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The first Canjo (IW#003)

I started to come across images and videos of these in my research, and thought I should probably make one.  This is at the forefront of what really resonates with me about found-object instruments:  accessibility.  Much of the exploration that has led to the founding of SCFOIW was driven by the cult of the expensive guitar.  I was in my local music shop (a great locally owned joint filled to bursting with new and vintage instruments and a couple of guys who really know their stuff.  None of this cooler-than-thou pimply-faced tattooed hipster crap you see at Guitar Center), and picked up a 1960's Gibson J-45.  Now, this is a beautiful guitar, and I coveted it at first sight.  I played it a little, and it has that mellow sound that old Gibsons have, and it was just a joy.

It was also several thousand dollars.  Too rich for my blood.

Which got me thinking about the inequities of price and about how we fetishize expensive things.  Which led to IW#001 that I wrote about a few days ago.  This canjo is the next step in that line, an attempt to make the cheapest and most accessible instrument possible, with a parts cost of about five bucks.  The most expensive thing is the string.  Also accessible to play, as it is one string only and it is pretty easy to pick out a melody on it.  Fun to rock out with as well, because when you squeeze the can it acts like a whammy bar.  Here is what it sounds like.

Now, a couple of people have called this kind of thing a diddley-bow, but that is built differently, and I think I might make one of those sometime soon.  This is a different instrument, though, as the bottom of the can creates the sound board and the string interacts directly with it, instead of being strung across it.  Although calling this a canjo is a little confusing as well, that name can apply to another instrument entirely as will be seen in my next post.

The Miss Syracuse Ukelele (IW#002)

Among the many things that Syracuse has is a pretty amazing flea market every Sunday.  This has become the provider of a lot of parts and pieces for the instruments that the Instrument Works has been turning out.  This little beauty is a case in point.

I did not even know that there was such a thing as a Miss Syracuse brand cigar, but when I saw the beauty on the lid of this box I knew she had to have a voice.  I have never owned a uke before, and the box is just exactly the right size, so it seemed fated to be.  The neck is red oak that was part of a church pew from a local church, which gives her a mildly sacred presence, I think.  The box was pretty fragile, and I ended up taking it apart and gluing it back together, which made a huge difference in the sound.  Here is what she sounds like:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Design Ranch Slide Guitar (IW#001)

This little number was the first instrument I made.  I wrote extensively about it here.  It remains my favorite so far, fun to play and full of memories.  It is tuned D A D, which is a little strange, but works well for that instrument.  Here is what it sounds like:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What is SCFOIW?

Salt City Found-Object Instrument Works is a place for me to store descriptions and images of the cigar box guitars, banjos, canjos, diddley-bows, fiddles, and other noisemakers that fall together as I tinker around in my shop.  Most things are for sale, and I do take commissions, as long as you aren't in a hurry.  Hope this is enjoyable, or at least not too annoying.