Tin-Can Bass

Some of you out there may be familiar with the tin-can theremin, also known as the lumivox. Here's a new sibling - the tin-can bass.

What's that? A bass in a tin can? That costs only £1.50 to make? What the hell does it sound like? Try these:

sound1

sound2

sound3

Ingredients

You'll also need soldering equipment (a soldering iron and some solder), and a device for making holes in tin cans (I used a penknife and a screwdriver).

Construction

Before we start, I feel strangely compelled to say this: be careful. It is your responsibility to make sure you don't hurt yourself with blades or soldering irons or pieces of string - except if you're only young, in which case it's your parents/guardians' responsibility, so you might want to get them to help.

Take the tin can (which, by the way, should be empty and clean, and without the lid) and make two small holes in the circular end-piece. The holes should be a couple of millimetres in from the edge of the can, and diametrically opposite each other. The holes should be big enough so you can thread the string through them.

Now make a hole in the side of the can, through which the end of the jack socket will poke. It's not particularly important where the hole is in relation to the other two holes. Remember to take the washer and stuff off the socket before you estimate the size needed. It's quite important that this hole is the correct size, so that the socket will fit in comfortably and not fall out or anything. My technique was to make a hole which was a bit too small, and then gradually widen the hole until I could only just get the end of the socket to go through. You'll also need to remove or flatten any bits of tin which might poke out or in as a result of your hole-making endeavours and which would stop the socket fitting snugly.

Soldering. This is quite simple. There are two connections on the socket, and two leads from the transducer. Solder the leads to the connections. I don't think it matters which way round the connections go.

You can now place the transducer into the bottom of the tin can. Put it in the centre and fix it in position with some sticky tack around the transducer's edges. Screw the output jack firmly into its hole. The picture of a completed tin-can bass (below) might help you to understand the arrangement:

[completed tin can bass, seen from inside]

Now attach the string. Thread it from outside the can through one of the holes, over the transducer, and back out of the other hole. Tie a knot in one end of the string - it doesn't really matter which end, as long as the knot is big enough to stop the string pulling back through the hole. Pull it tight so the knot is snug against the can, and the string inside the can is not at all loose.

Playing

You play the tin-can bass by placing it on the floor, with the "open" end of the can facing downwards. Connect the output socket to an amp of some sort, place one foot on top of the tin-can bass, and stretch the string up to shoulder height. A good way to get the right amount of string is to wind the free string around your hand. Now you need to play the string, by plucking it (or even bowing it, if you have a bow available) - the easiest way to change the note is to vary how tightly you're holding string, which may sound ridiculously difficult, but it just takes a bit of getting used to.

An alternative method to holding the free end of the string in your hand is find a handy stick such as a broom, which you can make a notch in. Put the end of the string over the top of the broom. You can then "fret" the string against the stick. If you happen to have a ring of some sort which will fit over the thickness of the broom-handle, try fretting the note with this, too.

The tin-can bass also doubles as an odd lo-fi microphone: try picking it up and singing into the open end of the tin!