Introduction: The Aquaharp

About: Hello, my name is Toglefritz. That’s obviously not my real name; my real name is Scott, but on the Internet I use the nom de plume, Toglefritz. I like to make things and I like to share my work with others. I …

If that video was not enough for you, watch this one. It is slightly less dramatic, but it does convey a bit more information about the actual function of the Aquaharp and the sound it produces.

The Aquaharp is based on the Waterphone, invented by Richard Waters.

Step 1: Materials / Tools


  • A Round Cake Pan - Just a metal cake pan
  • Some Thin Metal Rods - Old metal clothes hangers work perfectly
  • Sheet Metal It just has to be big enough to fit the cake pan on
  • A Metal Pipe - At least 1.5 inches in diameter
  • Rope - The more comfortable for your hands the better
  • Heavy Solder or Welding Supplies - Just something to melt metal
  • Waterproof Epoxy - Used to make the Aquaharp water-tight
  • Water - H2O
  • A Horse Hair Bow - Normally used to play violins, cellos and other similar instruments
  • Rosin - To put on the bow


  • A Drill and Drill Bits - Used to put holes in things
  • Sheet Metal Sheers - For cutting the sheet metal
  • Bolt Cutters - Used to cut the metal rods
  • A Metal File - Just for smoothing some of the metal pieces
  • Optional: Rotary Tool - It just makes some steps faster and easier
  • A Vice - Useful for holding stuff
  • A Tape Measure - For measuring the lengths of things
  • Leather Gloves - For safety while you cut the sheet metal
  • A Hot Glue Gun - It melts glue then shoots it out
  • A Soldering Iron or Gun - If you are using solder and not welding
  • Optional: Metal Polish - To make your Aquaharp look pretty

Step 2: The Tonal Rods

The metal rods, cut to different lengths, will produce different notes on our Aquaharp. Shorter rods will make higher notes when struck and longer rods will produce lower tones. On this instrument, we want to have a nice variety and arrangement of longer and shorter rods.

So, first measure and cut the rods to different lengths. I suggest using even intervals between each rod. For example, on my Aquaharp, each rod is either half an inch or 1.5 inches different in length from the one next to it. The number of rods required is equal to the circumference of the cake pan in inches. If you are using hangers like I did, use the bolt cutters to chop them up into straight sections before you can complete this step. Once your rods are cut, set them aside.

Step 3: Preparing the Cake Pan

The cake pan will be used as the base of the Aquaharp. It will hold the tonal rods we made in the last step. It will also hold water.
First, measure the rim of the pan and make a small mark every inch. Next, drill holes at each mark around the rim of the cake pan, the holes should be the same diameter as the rods. Because my cake pan was 28 inches in circumference, I drilled 28 holes. After you drill the holes, the metal will probably be extremely sharp and jagged on the opposite side, use the metal file to eliminate those edges. Once this is finished, set this piece aside as well.

Step 4: Makeing the Top for the Base

From the sheet metal we will cut a circle to fit over the cake pan. First, lay the pan, upside-down on the sheet metal. Second, draw around the pan onto the sheet metal. Next, cut out the circle. Be very, very careful, the sheet metal will be very sharp and will readily slice your hands open. Wear gloves.
After you have cut out the circle, place the pan back on top of the sheet metal and draw a dot through the holes in the pan onto the sheet metal. Then, drill a hole on each dot but this time, they should be slightly larger than the rods. Again, file off the sharp points.

Step 5: Makeing the Handle / Bell

A piece of pipe will serve as both a handle for the Aquaharp and a place for sound to escape. Just measure and cut a piece of pipe about 3/4 the length of the tallest rod. Make sure to file the ends smooth so the handle does not cut anybody.
Then, using hot glue, attach one end of the rope to the top of the pipe. Begin winding the rope around the pipe, adding more glue frequently. Continue this procedure until you have a grip on the pipe large enough to fit your hand around without touching the metal.

Step 6: Makeing a Hole for the Handle / Bell

The metal pipe will be used as both a handle and a bell out of which most of the sound will come. The first task to be acomplished is to find the center of the sheet metal circle you just cut. If you don't know how to do this, do not worry, I have created a video to explain the process:

Now that you know where the center of the sheet metal circle is, center the piece of pipe over the center of the round, sheet metal circle and draw a circle around the end of the pipe. Now, cut out that circle. The way I did it was drill small holes around the circle so that I could break the little sections between the holes, freeing the small circle. I then simply filed the circle smooth.

Step 7: Attach the Handle / Bell

Now, simply weld or solder the handle to the sheet metal circle. Make sure the end of the pipe is as flush with the sheet metal as possible. I used solder for this, simply because I do not own a welder, the solder worked wonderfully however so do not worry if you are in the same situation. A tip for soldering: roughen the surfaces to be soldered, that way, the solder will adhere better.

Step 8: Attach the Rods

Shift your attention from the sheet metal and the pipe to the cake pan and the rods. The first thing to do is arrange the rods in a pattern. I choose to arrange some sections from shortest to longest, and others I intertwined with rods going in the opposite direction. You can do whatever you think will sound good. The only important part is to have a short span short rods so that you can hold the handle without impaling your arm (always a good thing to avoid).
Take your first rod and clamp it to the side of a table or in a vice so that only a tiny bit is above the surface. Place the cake pan upside-down on with the rod through one of the holes. Now, solder/weld the rod in place. Do this for all the rods in the order you chose. The only problem you may run into is when you have done all but the last few rods, at that point you may need to enlist some help or get creative with clamps (see the picture below). Soldering Tip: If your cake pan is Teflon coated, you might have to grind off this coating to help the solder stick.

Step 9: Putting It All Together

Now, get both the cake pan section and the pipe section. Carefully, place the sheet metal circle on top of the pan by inserting each rod through its respective hole, starting with the tallest rods and ending with the shortest. The two pieces should slide together very nicely.
Once both halves of the Aquaharp are assembled, put a bead of waterproof epoxy around the edge where the sheet metal meets the pan. Squeeze as much epoxy into the crack as possible without breaking the contact between the pieces.
By this time it is probably late, so call it a night and get some sleep while the epoxy cures.

Step 10: Reinforce the Rods

The bottom of each rod needs to be connected to the sheet metal. So, apply a little solder to the bottom of each rod. Once this is done, your Aquaharp is finished!

Step 11: How to Play the Aquaharp

The first step to your first Aquaharp performance is to add the water. Pour a little into the handle, initally, start out with just enough to cover the bottom of the cake pan. Differing amounts of water produce different reverberation and distortion effects, the quantity of water you add is not an exact science, so experiment with it!
The Aquaharp can be played in a wide variety; again, experiment with different techniques and styles, even develop your own style, the sky's the limit - or in this case maybe the ocean is the limit. You can use pretty much any precussion mallet, as well as a bow. In many sci-fi movies (most notably The Matrix) a bow is used. But, again, experimentation is the key, the ocean's the limit, and good luck. Congratulations on building your very own Aquaharp.
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