Over many years people have asked me about how I come up with the crazy instruments I build. Surely I must have a phenomenally creative mind. Um, no. I just look at other “real” instruments and think “what’s the simplest possible way to make a version of this, preferably one that is incredibly cheap and extremely hard to break, and that very young children will be able to play successfully”.
I’m very proud of my instruments – I think they are pretty darn wonderful, and other people seem to think so too, especially the children I work with – but they are not complex. My over-riding design principle is KISS. If I cant build it simply I don’t build it at all. If I can also make it from recycled junk that’s a bonus.
People also assume that I must have wonderful manual arts skills, that I am a trained woodworker and metal machinist. Nope. To be honest, my skills are very limited. I’m not proud of this, but I failed woodwork and metalwork in first year high school, and I think of myself as a self-taught wood-butcher and metal-hacker. OK, I had a lot of experience working with PVC pipe when I used to be a professional gardener, but a 5 year old child can cut PVC pipe just as well as I can.
Nor do I have a state-of the art workshop with milling machines, band saws, thicknessers, router tables and the like. I mainly work with manual hand tools of the simplest kind. In fact the only power tools I use are:
- a cordless drill
- a drill press
- an angle grinder;
- an electric jigsaw
- a 1/3rd sheet electric sander
- a hand-held electric planer
You could outfit my entire workshop by going to any major hardware store with $1000 and come away with plenty of change. Indeed there is not one of my instruments that actually requires power tools to make – they just save a lot of time, but if necessary I could make them just with hand tools.