Monday, March 24, 2014

More Home-made Stringed Instruments - How to Make a String-ophone

I'm a music 'junkie' in more ways than one! (1) I am  definitely hooked on music. I can't imagine life without it. (2) I hear music in everything - movement, language, environments, machinery, and junk. And if you follow my blog, you know I get a kick out of making instruments from throw-away and found items.

In my last post about how to make a bottle guitar, I promised more to come, so here are a few of my chordophone gems. These aren't just noise-makers; they are instruments capable of a fairly decent tone and a pitch range between four and eight notes. I have made these with groups of 20-30 students at a time (having done the cutting and drilling ahead of time). Here's a demo video of the twist-top instrument (pictures and instructions below).

A plastic bottle with a twist-top lid (rigid enough to support string tension)
String - heavy fishing line, thin wire, or a piece of a broken guitar string
Two plastic pony beads or buttons

An electric drill  (Please have an adult do the drilling and cutting.)
An X-acto knife, pocket knife or small paring knife
Felt-tip marker

How To
(1)  Drill a small hole in the bottom center of your bottle.

(2)  Mark the area you want to cut out for a sound hole (approximately 3 cm wide by 8 cm long, or 1.2 in by 3 in). Puncture the bottle with your knife in the center of the area you have marked, and then carefully cut to and around the inside edge of your line. Note: Avoid cutting the opening too big because it will weaken the bottle. On some bottles, you can use scissors to cut the plastic once the hole is started.

(3)  Tie one end of your string to a bead (or button) using a square knot. 

(4)  Twist the lid to the open position, remove it from the bottle and keep it close by.

(5) Push the free end of the string into the hole you drilled in the bottom of the bottle. Guide the string through the bottle and out the top.  Then push the string through the twist-top lid and screw the lid back onto the bottle.

(6)  Pull the string as tight as possible with one hand while turning the twist-top to the closed position with your other. 

(7)  Draw the top piece of string through a bead (or button) a couple of times, pulling tightly. Then tie a square knot under the bead and trim excess string.

(8)  Decorate with stickers or marker if desired. Enjoy! As in the video above, pluck the string through the sound hole and twist the lid to change pitch.

Here are some variations using various bottles (including a 2 liter pop bottle, a pancake syrup bottle, and a one liter pop bottle). In place of a twist top, tie the string to a clothespin or short wooden dowel and tip the stick to create tension on the string.

Here's a link to a great website by a fellow music 'junkie,' Nick Penny. Check out his video instructions for making a 'Poptar' with a 2 liter bottle:


  1. I just wanted to say thank you so much for all of these wonderful posts on homemade instruments! My students and I have had SO much during our instrument unit! I wish I could buy you a Coke and show you the pictures!!! Bless you! :)

  2. Your comment made my day. Thank you, Fitchie! I'm delighted to know this has been helpful and fun for you and your students. : )

  3. thank you your guitar is amazing i am your biggest fan


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