Brendon Bussy

How to build a People’s Harp (was Top Secret)

Posted in Design, Invention, New Old Old New by Brendon Bussy on February 10, 2012

In the spirit of freeing the People from the hegenomy of low quality  industrially extruded musical instruments, I’ve decided to fully disclose and publicly release instructions for assembling a People’s Harp.

My invention is vaguely based on a Congolese Kundi harp. The reason I say ‘vaguely’, is that the Kundi normally has at least five strings, whereas mine has one. However my harp is held and played in a similar manner. Some may say that that is where the resemblance ends. However, I can persuasively argue that my harp is in spirit a Kundi harp 🙂 And that despite being made of plastic bottles, it is surprisingly loud and sonorous (posts on how to play the harp will follow).

Let the People walk the streets with a harp in hand, rhythm in heart and happiness in head!

assembled Harp with People

a close up

Sound of People playing a harp:

Here we have the method:
Materials

– 2 PET plastic bottles e.g. spring water bottles. One must have a larger mouth than the other.
– Gut (also called nylon filament, fishing line or builder’s line): 0.6mm.
[After you’ve made your first harp, you can experiment with using other sizes between 0.45mm (smaller bottles) and 0.8mm (larger bottles)]
– 30 cm length of wire
– disposable bamboo chopstick

two bottles ready to be harped

Tools
– wire cutting pliers
– drill and drill bit (1 – 2mm)
– scissors or knife
– small hacksaw (optional)
– bradawl
– table vice or G clamp
– pencil
– indelible marker pen
– ruler or tape measure

1) Ensure that bottles can lock together without the smaller one slipping out: insert the smaller bottle neck into the larger and whilst holding a bottle in each hand, bend the assembly to emulate string tension. If slipping occurs, experiment with a variety of bottles.

check that the smaller bottle can't easily slip out of the mouth of the larger

2) Separate the two bottles. Then mark string hole locations for drilling on the base of each bottle using an indelible marker pen. Choose a point above centre and in line with a groove (if there is a groove). The groove will stop the string slipping when under tension.

mark drill hole off center and opposite a groove

3) Use bradawl to mark each hole for drilling. This will stop the drill bit from wandering off target. If the plastic is soft enough, this might be enough to make a hole, but the plastic at the bottom of a bottle is usually very hard.

use a bradawl or sharp point to prepare for drilling

4) Drill holes in each bottle using a drill bit a little larger than the nylon gut that we will using i.e. between 1mm and 2mm (clamp or hold the bottle securely).

remember to hold the bottle securely using a clamp

5) Now we need to prepare the bamboo chopstick to make string stoppers. Using a pencil, mark off the bamboo in two centimeter lengths. Secure in table vice (or with G clamp). In the centre of each length use the bradawl to make a mark for drilling. Then drill a hole slightly larger than the gut thickness e.g. 1mm. Once you’ve drilled all of the holes, cut the 2cm lengths off using a hacksaw or wire cutter.

finished bamboo stops - you'll need two for this harp

6) From your spindle of gut, unroll and cut off an amount roughly twice the length of the two bottles combined i.e. [2x (bottle A + bottle B)] and insert one loose end into the drilled hole of one of the bottles.

insert the gut into the drilled hole of one of the bottles

7) Feed the gut through the bottle until you can pull it out the mouth of the bottle. If necessary, use the piece of wire bent into a hook to grab the end of the gut inside the bottle.

use a wire hook to pull the gut out of the bottle's mouth

8) Take the gut end, insert it through one of your bamboo stoppers and tie a stop knot large enough to stop the gut pulling through. Simple stop knot (shown here): double up the gut by looping it back on itself, then tie a double knot in the loop.

tie a stop knot large enough not to slip through the hole in the bamboo

9) Pull the bamboo stop back into the bottle so that it rests against the bottom of the bottle. Then insert the free end of the gut through the drilled hole in the bottom of the other bottle. And as with the first bottle, feed the gut out of the bottle’s mouth (using the wire hook if needed), and through a bamboo stop. But don’t tie the stop knot yet!

It should be looking something like this – two bottles bottom to bottom:

two bottles bottom to bottom with un- knotted gut's free end threaded through bamboo stop

10) Now the mildly tricky step which when mastered, will mark you as a true bottle harp master.

Before tying the stop knot we need to determine where to put the knot. The position of the knot will determine the tension of the gut – too loose and the gut will be too floppy to play a note, too tight and it will be too difficult to assemble the harp. The easiest way to work this out is through a process of trial and error:

– tie a stop knot right at the end of the gut
– assemble the harp by rotating the bottles and inserting the smaller bottle’s neck into the larger bottle’s neck.
– you’ll probably find that the gut is too loose. If so, tie another knot to shorten the gut and try assembling again.
– repeat making knots, taking small incremental steps until the gut is just the right tension.

gradually shorten the gut until it's the right length by tying knots

If the string tension is just a little too loose, making it too difficult to add another knot, insert a bottle lid underneath the gut. Like a bridge on a violin, the lid will hold up the gut and increase the tension. The lid is also useful for adjusting the tuning of the harp.

You can also try rotating one of the bottles to increase the string tension. Fiddle a bit and you should get it right.

a bottle lid underneath the gut increases string tension and can be used to adjust tuning

So that’s the basic harp! There are a number of ways of customising your harp, but I’ll cover those in later posts.

And if you could please send questions and feedback.

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  1. […] a look here and here to get an idea of the kinds of things we make at Noisemakers […]


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