Instructables

How to Build a Strum-Stick Musical Instrument

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Picture of How to Build a Strum-Stick Musical Instrument
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Here are the complete steps toward building a 3-stringed musical instrument, taught and inspired by the Andy Mackie Music Foundation. the instrument has a dulcimer's tuning, and sounds & plays beautifully. I teach a musical instrument building class to public middle school students in the adjacent high school wood-shop. Here, students have built dozens upon dozens of guitars, of various shapes and flavors. I shall make best attempts at teaching you my techniques, including what works well and areas needing improvement. Students get to bring home their finished instruments, such a joy to see their pride in ownership!
 
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Step 1: Start with a Stick!

Picture of Start with a Stick!
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When choosing your stick, make sure it is planed evenly on all four sides, doesn't bow or bend, and is straight & true!

I use "instrument-grade" wood such as mahogany and black walnut. Once I built one out of a African wood called bebinca. All our wood is donated to the Andy Mackie Music Foundation, for the purpose of teaching children to make and play their own musical instrument.

If acquiring these kinds of wood is just not possible, heck, then try using what is available to you, such as ash or another type of non-instrument-grade wood. The reason I suggest ash, is that it may bend more easily in a future step. Experimentation is most encouraged!

Here the measurements can vary. If you want to make a wider one to accommodate more than three strings, that will work too! Our kids have made many with varying lengths, including 12 inches longer than 30.5 inches, as well as shorter "ukulele-sized" instruments with less of a fretboard range.


Noting the direction of grain is important, such that when it is time to cut the fret wire grooves, the saw slices perpendicular to the grain.

Step 2: Measure the slope

Picture of Measure the slope
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Here we're measuring the slope, where the tuner-holes will eventually be drilled.
Darican6 months ago
This might be old news due to the age of the post, but I just ran into it. Anyway, I am psyched to do this with my son (and he wants to also...), but where can I get the wood. Home depot and Lowe's have lumber but not the nice wood you used. Any suggestions?
Thank you
evan808 (author)  Darican6 months ago
Sure, well... When I was working with Andy, he insisted that the wood be the musical instrument grade hard wood, but our local woodshop teacher here suggested otherwise, including the use of softer wood such as Ash. My belief is that a softer wood, or whichever you have available to you would work just fine, especially during the bending and glueing steps (will not snap as easily.) Please if you try a different wood, send me a note sometime letting me know how it worked out!
Also, the type of wood may produce a different sound as well. (the spruce on the front produces a warmer softer sound, and if switched to the harder maple on the front, produces a tinnier sharper sound.

Lastly, to answer your question, Here locally there is a fine woods store (Edensaw woods) , which although might not be in your local area, surely you might find an equivalent supplier?

Good luck,
Evan

InTheory10 months ago
Hi, brilliant project and I love all the pictures and steps. I really breaks it down. I do have a question thought.

Why is the bridge slanted? I can't ever recall seeing that on an instrument. I admit most of my instrument experience is viol biased (violin, viola, cello, bass) and none of these have a slanted bridge. Thank you in advance anyone that knows :)
wickedglass2 years ago
hi, thanks for this instructable, i built a gascan ukulele last weekend and my next project is a strum stick. Your instructable clarified a lot of things. I just wanted to point out that in the tuning video it's mentioned that the bridge is set at 57.7 millimeters and 57.8 millimeters from the bridge. This should obviously be centimeters, not milimeters, as 50 millimeters is about 2 inches and the strumstick looks a lot longer than that ;)

I'm very sorry your friend passed away, but thanks to your posting this, his legacy reaches even to Australia! Thanks again, I'm going to have a go at this soon!
friger2 years ago
This has got to be one of the most detailed Instructables I have ever read. Having done an ible on this instrument myself, I have learned things from yours that I will use on the next one I build. I do question why you chose to put the tuners on with the pegs facing up and why you put the bridge on in what in my mind is backwards. Personal preferences aside this is a wonderful build and you are doing a great service to the children of your community. Bravo!
evan808 (author)  friger2 years ago
Thank you Friger

Your comment made me realize that i had completely left out the step for making the bridge, as well as where to measure and place the bridge. I shall edit this, and add a step to alleviate confusion. (I wasn't sure what you meant as backwards.)

What I do realize is that I wasn't clear enough on the tuning measurements, That the Nut side close to the tuners, is where the first fret groove is sliced. Thanks for pointing out things I need to clarify!

Also, I guess we had put the tuner pegs facing up as a default, without much thought... I'll make a few with the tuners going the other way. (sometimes when they get set on a tabletop carelessly, the instruments will slip out of tune.)

Additionally, Your instructable taught me a few things which I'll modify for the next one we build! Thanks for that!

Evan
gduke evan8082 years ago
Well I am sitting here holding 1 stick from Friger instructable that is waiting for the hardware AND 2 Mackie Music Sticks! Their hardware is in hand and I just put the frets in. Just some oil, tuners in, strings on, and a bridge. Which brings me to my post. What are the measurements of the bridge itself? While waiting to hear an answer I will likely play around with different things laying around just so I can play it tonight!

I understand they are tuned to DGD. Do you know if DAD tab's work the same on the DGD?

Thank you
Guy
evan808 (author)  gduke2 years ago
Hello, I'm sorry I didn't specify. It is tuned well at exactly 8 (eight) inches from the last fret to the bridge!

DGD works of course, although I had often tuned them to GDG!

{{{}}}====<<<

gduke evan8082 years ago
Please, you misunderstood me. Not the measurement of the bridge placement, but of the bridge itself. Specifically how tall is the bridge you are using?

Mr. Mackie's family states the tuning for GDG but in the videos when Mr. Mackie hands the stick over to another person to tune it, he tunes it in DGD.

My first one is GDG right now but that may change. I'll string the next one tonight and perhaps in GDG to see how the TABS work in that tuning.

I plan to finish the Friger build in DAD like my dulcimer.

For now I guessed at a height for a bridge and it seems to work but I feel it is on the tall side, I guess it might be players choice in the end.

Thank you
Guy
friger evan8082 years ago
Thanks, I guess what I ment about the bridge is you indicate in the video that the curved or slopped face of the bridge is facing towards the nut. I've always done this type of bridge with the verticle side facing the nut. I my mind (which can be a scarry place sometimes) I want no chance of the "free board" string to come in contact with anything. Also it gives me a very precise edge to measure from when setting the scale. The curve side can allow for a smooth transition of the string up onto the bridge from the tail. Make sense? Perhaps this image will help explain my point.
bridge.bmp
lbeaudry2 years ago
how long would it take to make one?
evan808 (author)  lbeaudry2 years ago
Really you could make one in a weekend... The longest time spent would be the glue drying / setting! You could speed up the process by gluing the front and back plates on at the same time... Good luck!
Amazing instructable. Very detailed. I am sorry to hear of the passing of your friend Andy. What a legacy he has left however and the gift of music he bestowed will certainly live on. Keep up the great instructables!!!
lmoore92 years ago
would cherry wood work?
evan808 (author)  lmoore92 years ago
Cherry wood sounds ideal! The qualities of cherry range from having an excellent stability, (will not warp) to being resistant to decay. Choose the side for the fretboard to have minimal or none at all pin knots or gum pockets, because sawing a fret-groove might be very troublesome, if cutting into a knot. Cherry wood has a striking and favorable fine grain pattern, color, and an attractive figure. If you've got some cherry, use it! The price however, will range depending on how much figure or grain pattern it contains. Good luck!
lmoore92 years ago
Thanks Evan. I want to try to make one. I was wondering if Cherry wood would work? Thanks .
theshcan2 years ago
Hello mi name is Nestor, from Argentina.im geting started about building a strumstick for my son Piero. i would like to know wich strings from the guitar can I use in the strumstick. thanks, this is a great instrument.
Thanx evan,,
evan808 (author)  theshcan2 years ago
Thanks Nestor,

I just updated this post. The last step shows a picture of which strings to use. They are: GHS strings, for Dulcimer, Banjo, Tenor Banjo, or Mandolin. They come in a 4 string set. The thickest string measures: .020 inches diameter *(tuned to low G.) the next two strings measure: .012 inches diameter, and are tuned to D, and high G.

Sincerely, Evan
evan808 (author) 2 years ago
Dear Friends,
This last saturday, November 5th, Andy Mackie passed away. He was 72 years old. To those of us who all loved Andy, he will be very much missed. His legacy continues to flourish, bringing music to children.
Sincerely, Evan.

Here is the article in the peninsula daily newspaper:

http://www.peninsuladailynews.com/article/20111106/NEWS/311069987

corsi2 years ago
where did you get your fret wire?
also pic says #784 wire when the discription says #764. just saying
evan808 (author)  corsi2 years ago
The supplies, hardware, including tuners & fret wire came from the Stewart McDonald Catalogue. (http://www.stewmac.com/)

specifically for fret wire: http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Fretting_supplies/Stewart-MacDonald_Fretwire.html

764 is the correct size (for just the three below tuner holes) thanks for pointing out the error. The size on these probably don't matter as much, they can also be 141 size. The metal wire just prevents the strings from carving into the wood. Just make sure the NUT (first fret) is thicker size to ride higher above the rest of the fretboard wire.

corsi evan8082 years ago
thank ooo
CementTruck2 years ago
This is great! I just built a CBG and I have been wanting to build a Martin Backpacker for a while this 'ible will help me immensely.

FYI: Andy Mackie has visited my son's school a couple of times, and I have him myself. Very down to earth guy. He's one of my son's heroes and even asked me to take a picture of Andy and him together.

evan808 (author)  CementTruck2 years ago
Thanks CementTruck,

Andy is an inspiration to us all! I had the great privilege of working with Andy all during the 1st year at Chimacum. *(this is now the Third year of the program.)

As of this writing, he recently suffered from yet another heart attack, and is presently in the care of a hospital in Michigan. Please check his facebook page for updates. We are all thinking about him!
My son and Andy at a summer camp in Michigan.
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Can you tell me where in Michigan, and which hospital? I'm sure my son would want to know. You cam PM me if you wish.
gmjhowe2 years ago
Excellent work. The best bit was when I suddenly realised how you got the triangular body shape.
evan808 (author)  gmjhowe2 years ago
Thanks gmjhowe! Although the triangular shape technique is somewhat awkward, *(they break if spread too widely)* I'd like to improve upon this by getting / making a steamer to be able to bend and curve the wood for some rounded shapes!

Another technique I use, is to double or triple the thickness of the end piece. Then I just sand the corners until they're round on the belt sander.