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The DIY Musician: 'Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred' Offers Great DIY Instrument Projects, Demystifies Stompbox Building

Hey, DIY freaks!

There’s so much happening in the world of homemade musical instruments. This past weekend, I launched a new subcategory on Reddit for homemade musical instruments.

If you’re a Redditor, make sure to get involved. I’ll be posting info on upcoming stories in there and getting your feedback. Also, we’ve begun a “Halloween Build-Off” competition at, looking for the coolest in macabre musical instruments. There’s already some stiff competition (pun intended).

OK, so let’s dive into this great book I just discovered, Snip, Burn Solder, Shred: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids [No Starch Press, $24.95]. This book, originally published in 2011, offers 24 different projects that are perfect for parents and kids. (Quite honestly, I’m geeked out to do these things for my own amusement!) Author David Eric Nelson is a former high school teacher and used these projects in his alternative-education classes.

The book covers an array of subjects and is divided into three sections dealing with everything from PVC teepees and simple screen printing to boomerangs. Our focus will be the section on musical instruments, which is worth the price of the book alone.

Some of these projects involve soldering and electronics, and Nelson doesn’t expect the readers to know any advanced schematics or technology. Instead, he uses some great step-by-step pictures to guide even the biggest soldering morons like me. He really takes the fear out out of these projects. (I never once considered making my own fuzz box or reverb tank in the past. After reading this, I’m heading to Radio Shack with a big list of parts.)

There also are primers on different types of pickups including piezo, limited-range microphones and magnetic pickups. His use of simple playing cards as materials for magnetic pickup covers was an eye opener to me because I’m always looking for thinner magnetic pickups to fit on my cigar box guitars.

Instrument projects covered in the book:

Guitar amp made from simple components and housed in a cigar box (with notes on turning it into a Frampton-style talk box)
Electric Diddley Bow made from a cookie tin – with info on winding your own pickups
Homemade spring reverb made from a couple piezo discs, paper clips, a small spring and some Radio Shack electronics. Joe Meek would kill for this unit. (What...too soon?)
Tremolo stomp box driven by LEDs, photoresistors and some more Radio Shack parts.
Fuzzbox made from two transistors and Radio Shack parts
Cigar-Box Synthesizer, also known as an Atari Punk Console, which delivers convincing Moog tones from Ed Wood-style knob controls. This will be one of the coolest projects you make!
Talking Drum made from over-exposed X-Ray film
Thunderdrum made from a coffee can, more X-Ray film and a screen door spring
Electric Didgeridoo made from PVC pipe and an old headphone speaker

Do not buy this book for your Kindle or Nook. Get the actual softcover version. Not only will you want to make comments on the edges and dog-ear the pages, but it also features a special binding that lays the book flat when open. My copy is only a week old and I’ve already started to fill it with notes.

I devour DIY instrument books, and Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred is one of the better ones out there. It’s easy to read, lighthearted and accessible to most skill levels, although advanced electronics guys will probably find it a little too elementary. And if you have a kid over age 9 who is spending too much time gaming, get them this book. You'll thank me later.

Besides, the world needs more toolboxes and fewer Xboxes!

Shane Speal is "King of the Cigar Box Guitar" and the creator of the modern cigar box guitar movement. Hear the music, see the instruments and read about his Cigar Box Guitar Museum at Speal's latest album, Holler! is on C. B. Gitty Records.