Introduction: Tooth Phonograph!

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Teeth aren't just for chomping anymore! Now you can hear Miles Davis with your molars and The Cure with your canines. With only a few basic supplies, you can tap into the physical grooves of records as they vibrate your jaw, playing music and resonating inside your head. Never before have record stores and dentistry been so tightly linked. Toothfully, you just have to try it. It's amazing.

  • What: Tooth Phonograph!
  • Who: Every band you've ever listened to
  • Concepts: sound, vibration, physics, resonance
  • Cost: ~ $0.50
  • Time: ~ 15 minutes to set up
  • Materials:
    • Records! (grab at thrift store)
    • Cardboard
    • Pencil
    • Needle (record needle if available, or sewing needle)
    • Rubber bands
    • Thin dowel
    • Masking tape
    • Ear Plugs (optional)
  • Tools:
    • X-acto blade
    • Hot glue gun
    • Pliers

The phonograph is one of many inventions that history chalks up to the illustrious Thomas Edison. His invention was the first that could record and playback sound, originally playing from cylinders. He came up with the zigzag pattern that you still see in record grooves today, which are simply fascinating to see up close. The tooth phonograph is a way for us to access the physical nature of the record in a very visceral way. If you want to check out another way to listen to music through your teeth, you should also check out the "Bite-Sized Boombox."

Let's get those LPs spinning!

Step 1: Cut a Cardboard Base

Trace on of your records including the central hole on a piece of cardboard. Use an X-acto blade to cut along the perimeter, and cut an "X" where the central hole is.

Most records that are meant to spun at 33 1/3 rpm are approximately 16", and this is what you'll mostly find out there. However, the evolution of the physical record in all its sizes, grooves, and playing speeds is absolutely fascinating, and is worth a read.

Step 2: Spear With Pencil

Number 2 pencils are your number one spindle. Slide one through the central "X" you cut in the cardboard and add some hot blue on the bottom (toward the pointy end) to keep it in place. You can also add some rubber band wrapped around to add a physical stop as well to keep your cardboard level.

Step 3: Throw a Record On

I found that the spindle hole in a record is just small enough that you first have to remove the metal eraser holder with a pair of pliers. After that, you should be able to slide records on and off the cardboard base with a little friction to hold it in place. Take it for a spin!

Step 4: Make Your Bite Stick

Take the skinny dowel or shish kabob stick, and tape your needle to the end of it. You can play with the angle of the two, but I found the best for me was to make them parallel. The tighter you tape it, the clearer the sound you'll get.

If you're doing this with a group of people, each can make their own bite stick, and you can actually have multiple people listening to a record at once, all different parts at the same time!

Step 5: Spin That Music!

You're ready to jam! Or at least explore some science. Take your record for a spin, put in some ear plugs, bite down on the dowel, and let the needle drag through the grooves. It may take a while to get everything just right to hear a whole song, but hand-spun melodies will be popping in to your head in no time!

Here are a couple tips in starting off, but of course, experiment on your own:

  • For even better sound, plug your ears with both hands, and have a friend spin the record
  • Don't put your hand on the bite stick, or it will take away a lot of the vibration
  • Place the needle on the side of the record so that spinning drags it away from you.
  • If you're not hearing music, try a skinnier needle that will fit in the grooves.

And here are some things to play with:

  • Try spinning at different speeds. What happens to the music?
  • Try spinning it backwards? What happens then?
  • Try different parts of the record to find different tracks
  • To go further, you can build a structure to hold the pencil upright
  • Also, you can tape a needle to a cup to get the music to play out loud

I'd love to hear what you do with yours! Write in the comments below, and I'll respond! Have fun, rock out, and as always, keep exploring.