Baby Bass Tootophone -- a Reed Instrument





Introduction: Baby Bass Tootophone -- a Reed Instrument

About: I'm a refugee from Los Angeles, living in backwoods Puerto Rico for about 35 years now and loving it. I built my own home from discarded nylon fishnet and cement.

This is a small reed instrument with a mighty deep voice for its size.  It belongs to the Tootophone family, of which I am the father (see:  ).  You might call this one Baby Bass. 

The rubber reed is a new variation, one that gives it the deep voice.  It is not as springy as stiffer plastic reeds, and is probably a little heavier.  That makes it vibrate more slowly and create lower pitches.  The reed is made with a new clay-like rubbery product called Sugru.

The silicone rubber cartridge body adds resonance and volume. 

It is intuitively easy to play, with no fingering.   Be sure to click on the .mp3 file in the last step to hear how it sounds. 

Step 1: Forming the Mouthpiece

The mouthpiece is made from the plastic tubing of a discarded ballpoint pen.   The original angle cut can be made with a saw, or just sanded down with heavy sandpaper. 

The most important part of the shaping is the curve in step 2 of the diagram.   By having a continual curve, instead of a straight cut, the reed will always form a tangent line when the player's lip presses it to the body of the mouthpiece.  The reed must have room to vibrate in order to make sound.  Shorter vibrating sections will vibrate more rapidly and make higher pitches. 

Shape the curve by pressing the tubing down on sandpaper, pushing it forward and back in a rocking motion. 

Step 2: Making the Reed Material

Put some Sugru on a non-stick work surface.  (I used polyethylene plastic.)   Spread it around with your finger, or a spreading tool such as a palette knife.   I tapered the thickness so that the reed would be thinner at the vibrating end of it. 

Reeds can be thicker or thinner, depending on personal preference.  Any variation will make it perform differently.   If at first you don't succeed, try making another one. 

Step 3: Shaping the Reed

Peel the Sugru off the non-stick work surface and cut a strip of it a little wider and longer than you need to make the reed. 

Trim the base of the reed first and tape it to the plastic tubing of the mouthpiece.  That holds the Sugru steady as you trim around the mouthpiece, using scissors, to make the final contour of the reed. 

Step 4: The Silicone Rubber Cartridge

When I empty a cartridge of silicone rubber, I always clean out and save the cartridge.  The Baby Bass Tootophone is one of many good uses for the empty containers.  Always think of recycling. 

Since the nozzle on the cartridge tapers, it is a simple matter to trim it with a knife to make a tight fit for the plastic tubing of the mouthpiece.  I cut mine even tighter and then used a drill to ream it out to the right diameter. 

The mouthpiece can just push in with a friction fit, but if it fits loosely, you can always use a little electrical tape to hold it in place. 

Step 5: Playing the Baby Bass Tootophone

Playing a tootophone is a lot like singing, only without using the vocal cords. 

Curl your lower lip into your mouth some, to avoid slobbering all over the reed and making it sticky with saliva.  Position your lip up and down the reed, depending on the sounds you are after.  Press hard, or softly with your lip. 

Breath control is important.   Practice.  Practice. 

There is no fingering with the Baby Bass.  Use both of your hands to cup the end of the body, opening and closing the air escape to modify the notes you make.   It's kind of like doing a wa-waa with the mute on a trumpet. 

Step 6: Hear the Baby Bass Tootophone

You should be able to click on the file icon below to open an .mp3 audio file and hear what the Baby Bass sounds like.  

New instruments open up opportunities for new music.  It will be interesting to see what this new instrument leads to. 

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    16 Discussions

    Cut your own reeds from a small piece of bamboo or other wood/reed that doesn't splinter..
    A 1/8" thick strip 3/8 to 1/2" wide (or the width of your pen tube) by 2-1/2 to 3" long.
    Grain running lengthwise.
    Shave or sand the thickness down tapering to almost nothing at the tip.

    You may want to use (or try) a oboe reed. I can't remember what their called but it's not like a normal reed. Although I'm in band in highschool, I don't play a reed instrument, so I wouldn't pay attention to their reeds. But great 'ible, keep up the good work. 5 stars

    8 replies

    Thanks much.

    I have no personal experience with oboe reeds. I think it may be a double reed, like a bassoon, but I'm just guessing, and I have no experience with bassoon reeds, either. Given the basic concepts, I try to improvise with materials at hand.

    I'm having a really good day today, evolving bass tootophones, learning about different bodies and mouthpiece angles, mostly. Anyway, I'll see if I can find a picture of an oboe reed and figure out a way to duplicate it.

    Oboes do indeed use double reeds, and would produce a much higher pitched sound than the Sugru one being used in this instructable. It would also be difficult to make out of Sugru, it being a double reed.

    Do you know of any advantage to using a double reed over a single reed? Are they harder to play? Louder? A different sound quality?

    I wonder, too, what would be the effect of having a rubbery mouthpiece and a regular reed. I would have no idea of how to shape a Sugru mouthpiece, though. It seems like something that would have to be molded. It wouldn't have the deep base sound of the slow vibrating Sugru reed, though.

    O haven't played one (like I said before) but I know that they are way more difficult to play, and yes, there is a different tone and sound quality. To me, the sound is kind of realted to a bag pipe. If you go on YouTube I'm sure there are videos of people playing the oboe. The sound is higher pitched than a normal reed, so this may help the tootophone family to have a branch of mid, to high staff instruments instead of bass. They are more difficult to make, yes, and the reel reed is a lot more expensive I do know that. When I used to play alto sax, it was $43 10 regular reeds. I'm sure it would be about $10-$15 for one double reed. All a double reed really is is two small reeds, tied back to back. Except each one is slightly crescent shaped so theirs a small gap in between them for vibration. Hope this helps.

    Thanks. I doubt I'll be buying any reeds at those prices, but maybe I can figure out a way to make one. The crescent shape sounds difficult, though. Flat reeds are a lot simpler.

    try a bassoon reed. the inside diameter of the end is about 3-4mm.
    google miller marketing. they sell good bassoon reeds for $11.95 plus shipping from pennsylvania

    Great sound. Standard wood reeds would be safer, however. Sugru is expressly not safe for direct contact with food (containers, pots etc.) so having it in your mouth might not be a great idea.

    1 reply

    At this point in my tootophone evolution, I'm willing to accept a little risk to learn new things, and this rubber reed idea is exciting. The Sugru is easy to work with, and has nice sound. I may experiment with regular RTV silicone rubber next, and if the resulting sounds are comparable, switch over completely to it later.

    For the moment, I am noticing no ill effects from lip contact with the cured Sugru.

    I imagine that not many rubber materials are designed for in-mouth use. I'm used to not knowing exactly what I'm getting into. Anyway, thanks for your concern. It is just contact. I'm not eating it. I'll let everybody know if I notice any bad effects from the lip contact.

    I like it! Thanks for the idea.

    I have some empty silicon cartridges, I will do one of these!

    I like the way it sounds but I had to turn it off as Possum (dog) was going nuts barking. Great ible.

    1 reply