This is the fifth of a number of posts pertaining to the progress of my 21M.299 (The Social Lives of Instruments) final project, The Springboard.
Taking what I learned from my first prototype, I went ahead and modified the first to create the second prototype.
I began by flipping the layout- the hook bridge was now at the very top of the instrument, and the screws at the bottom. The screws were staggered to approximate the angle at which I bowed, as pictured.
Playability improved immensely. The bow no longer got caught on the screws, and, by adjusting the height of the springs in relation to each other, the springs could easily be bowed sequentially or in pairs.
In the first prototype, the output jack wasn’t physically attached to the instrument; this has changed and the output jack is now on the instrument, which means I’m no longer hesitant about unplugging and plugging it in. You can see its position on the above photo.
While trying to figure out how to best play notes on the instrument, I began experimenting with different materials in my room. As mentioned in the previous post, sliding your fingers along the spring doesn’t work, as the texture is too grabby. I first tried a piece of wax that had melted off of a candle with the idea that it was soft like skin but smoother. While it worked (glissandos and movement on the neck became substantially easier) the wax would build up on the springs. I then remembered that lap steel guitars use glass or metal slides; not having a slide on hand I awkwardly used a glass candle jar, and it worked!
A quick trip to the local big-box music store and I had a legitimate bottle neck slide. The tone improved considerably and I was now able to play something resembling a melody.
My next improvement happened by accident. While playing the instrument, my knee pressed against the back of the piezo sensor, instantly giving me a much fuller tone. After a bit of research, I learned that the piezo sensor performs better if pressure is applied to the center/rear of the sensor. I currently have it mounted using hot glue around the edges, which results in a brittle weak tone. The next prototype or model will take advantage of this by sandwiching the sensor with wood.
While practicing the instrument, my friend took some candid video of me. It’s not the best quality, but it gives an idea of the sound and how it’s played. My awkward positioning is due to the fact that I am using my knee to press the sensor- usually I don’t play with my chin at the top of the instrument. Here I’m using the glass slide and demonstrating some bad attempts at glissando near the end. The instrument is being fed into my Strymon BigSky reverb pedal, creating an ethereal and haunting sound.
A better direct recording of the instrument will be made with the third prototype.
Reflections (What Needs to Change)
I am beginning to question my need for multiple springs. The different sized springs provide differing timbres, but cover the same / very similar pitch range. The larger and skinnier springs have enough of a tone difference to warrant the inclusion of both, however the middle spring doesn’t sound all that different than either and tends to get in the way. Furthermore, playing pairs of springs is difficult; sometimes one spring doesn’t vibrate correctly and finding pitch pairs that are useful is difficult. I will have to decide whether to use two or keep the three.
Playing the springs in open position is useless at the moment- their pitch is far too low to be used and just sounds like noise. Additionally, most of the useful pitch is in the lower 3rd of the neck’s length. The same friend who took the video suggested placing a bridge somewhere along the neck to make the open pitches useful- I will likely do this.
The edges of the board should be rounded, or tapered so that the bow strings are not rubbing against the hard edge.
Overall I think the instrument is coming along nicely, especially for being made from what was essentially junk. Though I was a bit dismayed at the initial results, discovering the tone improvement and working on my bowing has really improved the sound and my feelings about it. When I initially thought of this instrument, I wanted to create haunting ethereal tones, and I think it’s getting there.
[Update 5/14/2017] Because of time constraints, this second prototype has become the basis for the final instrument. No resonating chamber will be used.