The bottom line is that Junkyard Jam Band is a winner that describes how to build instruments suitable for all ages.
I have to say that I'm becoming a big fan of the folks at No Starch Press -- a book publisher whose claim to fame is to offer "The finest in geek entertainment," focusing on computing, security, hacking, programming, alternative operating systems, science and math (they had me at "geek entertainment").
A few months ago I reviewed The Maker's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse by Simon Monk. As a result of reading that book, I now have a 100W solar panel, a 7A solar charge controller, and a very large truck battery siting here in my office (just in case the dark days come).
Over Christmas, I read another offering from No Starch Press -- Junkyard Jam Band by David Erik Nelson. This little scamp offers step-by-step guides to making a wide array of musical projects, starting with a simple Slinkiphone design taking only 20 minutes, and working one's way up to creating a very cool 8-Step Analog Sequencer.
(Source: No Starch Press)
Each project starts with an overview of what you are going to do, including the estimated build time, the tools you'll need, and any supplies you'll require. This is followed by detailed build instructions featuring lots of close-up photographs, instructions on playing the instrument, and tips, tricks, and suggested modifications you can undertake on your own.
Junkyard Jam Band is divided into two main sections -- the first features a variety of quick designs, while the second focuses on slightly more complicated "weekend" projects as summarized below:
Part I: Quick Projects and Tinkering
- Project 1: The Slinkiphone
- Project 2: The Plasti-Pickup
- Project 3: The Elephant Trumpet
- Project 4: The CVPC Slide Whistle
- Project 5: The Scratchbox
- Project 6: The Droid Voicebox
- Project 7: Circuit Bending for Beginners
- Project 8: Junkshop Percussion
Part II: Weekend Projects
- Project 9: The Playing-Card Pickup
- Project 10: The Robo-Tiki Steel-Stringed Ukulele
- Project 11: The Twang & Roar Kalimba
- Project 12: The Mud-n-Sizzle Preamp
- Project 13: The Universal LFO
- Project 14: The Twin-T Phaser/Wah
- Project 15: The Single-Chip Space Invader Synth
- Project 16: The Beepbox 8-Step Analog Sequencer
There are also a number of appendices giving a crash course in music theory, explaining electronic components, and teaching how to do things like solder (and de-solder) and use tools like a multimeter.
I really like the way this book starts off with simple projects to get the reader into the swing of things. In the case of the first project, the Slinkiphone, for example, the 5-minute version of this instrument only involves attaching a full-sized metal slinky to a disposable 16-ounce disposable plastic cup. The full-up 20-minute version of the project includes adding a piezoelectric pickup and plugging the Slinkiphone into an amplifier.
Another thing I like is the author's sense of humor. In the case of the Slinkiphone, for example, we see a graph shown in Figure 1-5 as illustrated below:
(Source: No Starch Press)
This is accompanied by a note saying: "…guaranteed to entertain and delight children of all ages along the inverse bell curve shown in Figure 1-5: a kindergartner will laser-blast this acoustic Slinkiphone all afternoon, middle-schoolers will shout into it for a half-hour, teens will distain it and then warm up once they see their kid sister belting 'Party Rockin' into it, and grown men will laser-blast it all afternoon."
There's also a note that this graph has a confidence interval of 97%, so I think we have to take it seriously.
I actually learned some interesting stuff myself from this book. Take the Playing-Card Pickup in Project 9, for example. This is a true magnetic pickup that's based on the same basic design principles as the pickups built into professionally made electric guitars. The thing is that, although I've struck the occasional chord on an electric guitar (I recall one time I was even in tune, but no one was there to hear it), I've never really considered how the pickups work. This is one of those things that have fallen under the category of "If I ever need to know it, I'll look it up." But as soon as I read the Guitar Pickups Demystified sidebar, I thought "Ah, so that's how they do it!"
Once you've built the Playing-Card Pickup, you can use it in conjunction with any number of steel-stringed instruments, including lutes, mandolins, strum-sticks, mountain dulcimers, and so forth. Also, you can use it with the Robo-Tiki Steel-Stringed Ukulele and the Twang & Roar Kalimba projects later in this book.
So, who is the main audience for this book? Well, if I had been fortunate enough to have laid my hands on a copy when I was 14 to 16 years old, I think it's fair to say that I would have stormed through it building all of the projects.
These days, I have so many of my own hobby projects on the go that I probably won’t build any of the instruments in this book, but that's mainly because my son is now 21 years old and so is typically out-and-about with his friends. If he were 6 to 10 years old, then I would almost certainly construct some of the simpler projects for him to play with. Alternatively, if he were say 10 to 16 years old, then I can imagine us having a happy time building a lot of these little rascals together.
The bottom line is that Junkyard Jam Band is a winner that boasts instruments for all ages. Even really young kids can have fun with the Elephant Trumpet, the CPVC Slide Whistle, and the Droid Voicebox, for example, while older kids would really appreciate playing an electric guitar for which they had constructed the pickup. For parents who have a bunch of kids, I can totally see them building all of the instruments described in the book and maybe even forming a modest family band. (Quite apart from anything else, this would be a great way to ensure that any annoying in-laws found excuses to stay away during the holidays.)
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting