6 great acts who make their own instruments

I’ve blogged a few times about Buke and Gass, and one of the things I’ve made frequent mention of is that they play instruments that they’ve modified themselves. There’s something inherently interesting about home-made instruments that always makes me want to hear more.

My friend Andrew sent me this link to Kent ‘Snubby J’ Jenkins performing with his home-made PVC instrument for a talent show. The 17 year-old appeared on the last season of America’s Got Talent, and showed quite some ability with his plastic pipes, playing everything from Bad Romance to the Mario theme.

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He was, of course, influenced by the Blue Man Group, who have been delighting audiences for years with their inventive use of common objects. The act is so popular that the founding trio have taken on administrative roles in Blue Man Productions, which produces Blue Man Group shows all over the world and employs over 50 people.

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Jay Wasco brings new meaning to the term “solo act”, as he sings and plays all the instruments himself – all at the same time! “That guy is possibly the most insane and creative person I’ve ever met. I can’t even begin to understand how talented the guy is” says one Youtube commenter.

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One of the most celebrated acts who design their own instruments are Einstürzende Neubauten, who for the past 30 years have assembled a variety of metal plates, pipes and other everyday objects to create their own unique percussion. NU Unhruh (aka Andrew Chudy) met singer Blixa Bargeld (also of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds) in school. Rudolf Moser, the other percussionist, was also in post-rock band Die Haut with Neubauten’s Jochen Arbeit.

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Another, earlier pioneer of electronic music also went DIY when they couldn’t get the bits they needed. In the mid-1970s, Kraftwerk‘s Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos performed live on self-made electronic percussion instruments in the days before electronic drum kits were generally available. At this point their sound centred around the use of the Minimoog and vocoder – though by the 1980s, the band were using items such as the Texas Instruments Language Translator to supply their famous robot-like vocals.

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Of course, if you’re Rahsaan Roland Kirk, you don’t need to invent your own instruments. He just played several at once! Kirk, who became blind at an early age, appeared with legends such as Quincy Jones and Charles Mingus. Hendrix reportedly idolised him. He used circular breathing to sustain his extraordinary multi-instrument performances and could even play the flute through his nose! Despite his ability to play several regular instruments at the same time, he did have to modify his instruments in 1975, after suffering a stroke, to enable him to play with one arm.

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