Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Piano Dulcimer (IW#070)

This is by far the hardest thing I have built in a while.  The new owner said that he wanted a "walking stick dulcimer."  I had never heard of such a thing, so I did what any self-respecting researcher does int eh 21st centruy:  I googled it. Turns out it is a cane that is also a mountain lap dulcimer, which is a slightly weird combo.  So there are a series of problems that presented themselves:  structure is important, sound quality is important, and size is important.

It took a lot of monkeying around, and in the end it does not sound as good as I would like.  I was so worried about the structural thing that I sacrificed quality of sound.  It still makes a sound, but it is not as bright as I had hoped it would be.  Live and learn, I suppose.  There was some maple in the piano, so the bulk of the cane is made of that, with some mahogany running down the middle to add visual interest.  The maple had some flame to it, which is quite attractive.

Again, I do not play dulcimer, so forgive the clumsiness with the instrument.  I am pretty proud of this one, actually.

Piano Slide (IW#069)

This is a little three string slide based on the size of my very first instrument.  It is tuned D A D, and has a tenor guitar-ish scale.  Not a lot to say about it, it is a very playable little slide guitar.  I kept the action lower than I usually do for a slide so you can also finger the strings like a fretless banjo, which gives it a little more versatility.  Here it is:

Piano Uke (IW#67)

The second instrument from this group is a soprano ukulele.  I was only able to use one of the legs from the piano in this grouping, and here it is.  I used the leg as the neck for the instrument, and although it is a little funky it is totally playable and actually sounds pretty sweet.  I don't tend to do a central round sound hole because I tend to make "stick through" design instruments.  So there are two sound holes on either side of that stick.  I kept them lower and closer to the bridge because of the way that you strum a uke, you tend to do it up close to the neck and I did not want the player to get their finger caught in the sound holes.

Like the baritone that is also part of this group, the tail piece is a hinge from the ReStore and the bridge is from a sink drop from a solid surface counter top.  Here is how this one sounds:

Piano Baritone Ukulele (IW#066)

The first instrument in the Piano Family is a baritone uke.  Having built several of these, it was nice to start with something that is relatively familiar.  The future owner of this one asked for the angel wing design as the sound hole, which came out much more delicate than I was hoping for.  Is a bit fragile, owing to the grain pattern on the spruce.  The offset sound hole meant that there could be minimal bracing, which really helps the sound.

It is a pretty bright-sounding little box, though, and the action is pretty good.  I think that all of these will mature into a slightly fuller sound than they have right now.  The tailpiece is a hinge from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and the bridge is solid surface countertop material.  The fingerboard is a piece of the veneer from the outside of the piano, so that it matches the outside of the box.

Here is what it sounds like:

Piano Octave Mandolin (IW#068)

One member of the family that I made these for is a mandolin player (a mandolinist?  A mandoliner?), so I made him an octave mandolin.  Damn, that's a lot of strings!  It came out sounding pretty good, though, like the baritone uke it is a pretty bright instrument.  That spruce from the sound board sure is loud and responsive.

I did what I call a "shooting star" sound hole design, a series of holes that to me look like a meteor shooting through the sky.  It is all on the bass side so the sound from the instrument is a little bassy, but that is okay by me.  Again, the finger board is a piece of the outside of the piano, which means that the fingerboard is mahogany.  Apologies in the video, I am manifestly NOT a mando player.  The new owner is, though, and he can tear this thing up:

Piano Family (IW#'s 66-70)

The third piano came into my life this summer.  The first two ended up like this and this. It is a lot of fun to play around with old pianos, they are marvelous machines for making music, every bit as complicated and exactingly made as an mp3 player.  The piano I got this summer had a cracked sound board.  This is pretty much a death knell for a piano, it requires a LOT of work to replace the sound board in a piano.  Much more, in this case, than the piano was worth.

So the family who owned it asked me to make it into instruments for them.  I am going to do a separate post about each instrument, but I wanted to start by writing about them as a group.  Building five instruments together at one time was complex.  I know that production builders do this on a regular basis, but for a small shop like mine, it took a lot of marking and making sure that the back for each one actually ended up on the right body.

The piano had a stamp that identified it as having been built in 1951, which makes it the most modern piano I have so far dismantled, and there were marked differences:  The body was made of poplar instead of chestnut, for one thing, so the projects were full of the delight that I always get when I cut into poplar, which oxidises to a brown.  But freshly cut it can be (and in this case it was) a bright green.  The veneer on the outside was mahagony, so there was a nice contrast of green and deep red which I find very pleasing.  Seasonally appropriate as well.

In the end, I made an octave mandolin, a 3 string slide with a tenor scale, a baritone ukulele, a soprano ukulele, and maybe the hardest thing I have ever made:  a walking-stick dulcimer.  More on that in a later post.

Still left is the harp, which is still strung.  I am looking forward to hanging that in the yard this summer and playing it with a couple of hammers.  Should be a real hoot.