Grow Your Own Musical Instrument - an Environmentally-sustainable Conch-substitute.




About: The answer is lasers, now, what was the question? If you need help, feel free to contact me. Find me on Reddit, Tumblr and Twitter as @KitemanX

I have some friends living in a tank in my lab - Giant African Land Snails. Although ownership of GALs is illegal in the US, they make popular pets in the UK. Easy to care for, quite long-lived (an average of five years) and easy to breed they are also popular in schools.

Every so often, one dies. It's no big deal, they're only snails after all, and they lay hundreds of eggs a year if they're reasonably-well looked after. The only problem is what to do with the corpse.

I have found that the easiest way to deal with the body is to bury it for a few weeks and let minibeasts do their work. After that, it's only a matter of washing the shell out with plenty of hot water and a peg on your nose.

But what do you do with a slowly-growing pile of large shells?

Inspiration came in the form of CanDo's Conch Shell Horn Instructable.

Step 1: What You Will Need

As well as your donor shell, you will need something to cut and polish the shell. I used a rotary tool with a cutting disc and grinding bit.

You will also need eye-protection and preferably a dust-mask.

Step 2: Making the Horn

Goggles on, mask on - this is dusty, and there is a risk of flying splinters or shattered cutting discs (well, if you will buy cheap Dremel copies...).

Based on the size of your shell, and of your mouth, saw the pointed end of the shell off. You are aiming for a hole around 1.5cm across (about half an inch).

Take it easy, and start in one of the grooves in the spiral of the shell (it's thinner there), but be careful not to follow the spiral round - you need to cut across the shell to make a circular end. If you are not sure how big to make the hole, start small and enlarge it later (it's kind of hard to do it the other way round!).

Switch to the grinding bit and round off the edges so that you do not cut your lips.

You will also need to grind away part of the central spiral revealed by the cut. You need to grind it off smoothly, and lower down than the edge of the shell, or you will not be able to blow it properly.

Wash off the dust, and rinse out the shell, because ground snail-shell tastes exactly like the stuff the dentist grinds off your teeth when you go for a filling.

Step 3: Playing the Horn

If you've ever played a brass instrument, this will be easy.

Purse your lips as if you are about to give your maiden aunt a peck on the cheek. Squeeze it tight so you look like you sucked a very strong lemon. This is called your embouchure.

If you blow now, you should make a noise like a very high-pitched raspberry.

Press your embouchure against the polished hole of the shell, and blow hard. You should be able, after a few moments' practice, to make enough noise to stir racial memories in foxes half a county away.

I'm no musician, but I was able to get a blast out of mine at the first attempt - have a look at the video for an example.



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    43 Discussions

    Is their any possible way to acquire one of these Great African Land Snail shells other than having a dead snail? ( I live in the U.S. by the way so I apparently can not lawfully have one of these creatures in my possession even if I wanted one.)

    2 replies

    I get a lot of it living im my Backyard, here in brazil, we have a pest of African Snails, we can Exterminate them freely, if you want some shel contact me.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    To help clean the shell after the mini beasts are done with it, try something I learned about that works with cow horns: Denture cleaning tablets. I would fill the horn with warm (not hot ) water and drop a tablet inside. Prop it upright and wait for it to quit foaming and rinse it out. Repeat until all the gunky suff is gone.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Aww... I'm part way through making a proper conch shell version, but the darn thing is so hard I've worn out three grinding bits and four cutting discs on it so far...


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Actually, it sounded a lot better than I'd originally expected it to. I'd originally thought that the natural twists and nicks and what all inside the shell would distort the sound something awful, but it really sounded pretty good. But the reason why I compared it to a trumpet is because it does sound like a brass instrument, but the tone is somewhat muffled. Good luck with the 2.0!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I would like to respectfully suggest that an alternative to the "moto tool" method of mouthpiece formation for Conch shells exists. I have done the whole job twice using a heavy stone. The shell does not react like a glass structure when breaking, so with carefull hitting, one can remove the 1-2 cm round, end of the conch. This will leave a pretty rough surface to put your lips on, but that can be taken care of by rubbing on a rougher stone surface or sandpaper, if you want to go that far into smoothing it. I'm not against Dremel et al. , but sometimes one has to work without noise and dust.All this I learned from my friend Ben Hume of NYC.

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I may have tried that, had I the courage! Plus, GAL shells are considerably more fragile than conches, and a heavy weight can crush then instead of snapping bits off.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    hah, i have gotta get me some of those snails (and no, not to just make horns out of) I am beginning to wonder how long it will be before the UK gets hot enough for them to live wild thanks to global warming...


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    LOL - that's my cutting board - the squares are 1cm across, which shows the size of the shell.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    i havve the same one or looks like the same one its made by de serres and i bought for a sale at like 8 bucks and i use it alot:p

    The music reminds me of when I was growing up, the youngest of ten chilluns. At christmas time, after the presents was a wrapped, we'd play similar tunes on the tubes what the wrapping paper did come on (when not using them for lightsaber duels). We used a lot of wrapping paper. What I'm a wondering (being by no means a competent biologist) is if the wrapping paper tubes are a similar species to the snails. They both are constructed in spiral fashion, they makes a similar noise when blown into, etc. The main differences are one is made up of cellulose and the other is calcium carbonate. The wrapping paper tube is somewhat more convenient, having already holes on either end. Has anyone ever seen a live wrapping paper tube snail?