One-String Tin Can Instrument Project

Outline of plans to develop one-string fretted instruments and publish as I go during January 2018
I have been building ‘String Cans’ since the mid nineties. My early designs featured a stretchy string across a high bridge and pitch was found using tension, not length. They are quite difficult to play in tune. The Graeme Leak String Quartet featured a range of sizes from bass to soprano. I made a particularly nice one for Patrick Cronin’s 40th and immediately borrowed it back. He’s never seen it since, except when we toured with the Spaghetti Western Orchestra. It even appeared on stage at the Royal Albert Hall. To see the video look here at the 11min mark. 






I recently made a string can with a fret board  for my daughter Alex’s 30th. The ‘Imperial’ uses a ruler and has two strings but remains fretless. I have borrowed it a few times… 

In Girgarre I found folks were way ahead of me. Their ‘Junstrements’ project was well underway, with some fantastic models using oil cans, biscuit tins, tennis rackets and milo cans. The standout is Wallace Williams’ violin. This extraordinary piece is hand hammered from galvanised sheet metal and is a fully working, well trimmed and tuned fiddle. Wallace is a retired cow farmer in his eighties and is a fine musician and singer also.

I have done a lot of work with junk and found percussion, and developed some ways of getting mixed skill level groups playing rhythms pretty quickly. See what happened after one rehearsal, also in Girgarre, earlier this year here

When I return to Girgarre next February we are going to put together a town ‘Junkestra’. I want to add notes, melody and harmony to the junk rhythms and I’ve been wrestling with ideas for an instrument that can be easily made and played by non-musicians to do the job.

How about we create six single-stringed, fretted instruments, each with one string that matches a guitar string? If six people pluck a note together it will sound (a bit) like an open chord on one guitar. I believe it will be possible for folks to learn to press a certain fret at a given moment to achieve some group chord changes and harmonies. Guitar, uke, banjo and mandolin players can join in reading a traditional chord chart. The Girgarre Junkestra will be on song!

2 thoughts on “One-String Tin Can Instrument Project

  1. Linda Burgdorf says:

    Loved being a parto f the Junkestra last April in Girgarre. A highlight of my musical journey. Thank you.

    • Graeme Leak says:

      thanks Linda – did you have trouble posting your comment? seems to be black on black typing so not so easy! must fix…

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