Like many beginning didge players I began on a piece of pvc pipe. I cut it from an 8’ x 1 ½" to 48" and fashioned a beeswax mouthpiece on it. Well after about the 4th one I became a didgeridoo building expert. (ha ha) I read that somewhere and I always keep it in the back of my mind. Hopefully you will not get the impression that I think I am an expert. If anything thing I am obsessed. You really do learn more and more with each didge you make and each builder you talk to. I have had the good fortune to have talked to a few back in the beginning and they gave my great advice and tips. I had originally thought about doing a tutorial about this method but decided not to at this time. It would be difficult to try to explain many of the steps even if I included pics.You can visit my didge building page for the steps I take in building my didgeridoos. I will however offer help or answer questions on how to build like this. Don’t hesitate to contact me, I would be glad to help or share knowledge. Back to the story.
So…..after stretching, bending and dimpling pvc I began to work with yucca and agaves.After much research and experimenting with many stalks I became a yucca and agave didgeridoo building expert. (hahaha again)Actually I have produced some fairly decent yucca didges. If you ever get a chance to play a Geoff Frost or Tyler Spencer yucca didge you will know what they are supposed to sound like.
Although my didge building was getting better, I was still producing "mystery" didges. You know, not knowing the key until or how well they played, tooted, back pressure ect. Until they were almost all finished. I would put hours into them only to have them play like a paper towel roll. I would want an E, it would come out a D. Then the trimming would start and soon it would be as long as a paper towel roll.
One day I took a trip to The Didgeridoo Store when Graham and Trish were in So. Cal.. I must have played every didge in the store at least twice. Well I settled on a eucalyptus in the key of D. After playing this awhile I began to wonder again about creating but than decided I would probably always play eucalyptus. On another trip to The Didgeridoo Store I played a monster of a didge made from maple by Chad Butler. This didge haunted me for weeks until I had to go back and buy it. What a stick. Excellent sound, explosive power and awesome overtones. I really can’t tell you how sweet that didge is. Well I started building again. I considered making sandwich hardwoods. The only trees on my property are palm trees and they are not so good for didgeridoo building. Oh sure I could locate some suitable timber but than why not just go back to the Didgeridoo Store or LA Outback and save myself the trouble. I think for me it is really the challenge of creating instruments and experimenting with tones and characteristics of different applications. I started thinking away from all the methods I have seen or tried, after all this was my own quest and didn’t really have to amount to anything other than personal knowledge of understanding how and what makes the instrument work. One of the first challenges I put for myself was to create a quick E with good harmonics. I racked my brain to find a way to create it in my own workshop. Sure wood was a good idea. I have been there and done that. Plywood and solid woods, squares and octagons. Good sound but has been being done forever. I started thinking of alternative materials. Maybe recyclable. I wanted to build the didge from the bore out. I wanted to manipulate the bore and roughly tune it before I put all the finish steps on. Well here’s how it went.
I had read about heavy cardboard tubes like the ones used for carpets. Supposedly they sound pretty good. I decided to try cardboard for the bore. The thought was that I could wet it and shape it any way I wanted. After it dried I could epoxy it put a paint job and mouthpiece on it and there ya go. Although it went almost as planned it pretty much sounded like………..well…………a big paper towel roll. DUH! It was f&*%^)g cardboard!!!!! What was I thinking???? We used to put cardboard up in band rooms to DEADEN the sound. Best word to describe my cardboard creation is didge-aster. Back to the drawing board. I needed a harder material that could still be manipulated. How about sheet metal. I have tried some metal pipe didgeridoos and they sounded pretty good. Although it was a little hard to bend and manipulate it was very playable. It was a start. It was very thin but the volume was low. I needed to find a way to insulate the walls to direct the sound out of the bell instead of all over. Well…I had read about Bondo didges. Although I know it would work, for the amount I needed would cost a fortune. It smells horrible and I have found it hard to work with on other projects. I keep searching for a shell material. I keep thinking of some sort of putty. Most wood type putties would cost more than the Bondo. I really didn’t want to build a $500.00 didge that sounded like a paper towel roll. I remembered using water-soluble putty when I was a house painter. We used it to fix large holes. It was water soluble, easy to mix, no smell and it dried as hard as a rock. I compare it to about the consistency as ceramic. Well it was very messy and it cracked many times because it does not work well in very thin coats. I still liked the material so I kept trying. Finally I got a shell on my sheet metal creation. I sanded for days and days. I painted it and put a couple coats of epoxy on it and dun da dada! A pretty good sounding didge. It cost about $60.00 for materials and only 6000 hours of labor spanning over a month, but pretty good results. I continued to quest along these lines for producing instruments. Although it turned out to be a reasonable start it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. I really wanted to manipulate the bore material easier. I wanted to play it before all the hours of finishing. It needed to be fairly rigid but flexible enough to be manipulated. Well how about aluminum. How about aluminum cans cut at both ends and taped together. So we got to drinking and saving aluminum cans. Four hours of cutting and a few dozen open wounds and I had myself an aluminum tube. So I crinkled and cut and taped and added a mouthpiece. Gave it a blow and……like wind through a tunnel. Too many air leaks to get anything close to a drone. I went ahead and ran a couple of pours of epoxy down the inside. Once it dried, I tried again. I got a nice drone, harmonics, overtones and all in a nice key of E. I gave my gypsum-based shell another try. Sanded and primed and put a paint job on it. I finished it off with a couple coats of epoxy and I had a very nice sounding didge. This didge actually sounded better than most of the didges I had in my quiver at the time. It became my favorite didgeridoo. I played the living crap out of it. I actually still play this didge from time to time. I re-painted it with a large goudlian finch on a black background. You can see this in my gallery. That process has evolved over the last couple of years but the basic principles remain the same. I now use rolled aluminum, epoxy, gypsum based shell and than wrap with fiberglass cloth. I started documenting each creation, sort of blue printing for future reference. This made it possible to make improvements on new didges to reflect what a previous stick was missing. I will go into a little more detail about the process on my "about my didgeridoos" page.
Before I put an end to this section I would like to add some of "my views" concerning didgeridoos so you can get an idea of where I am coming from.
As I mention in the "about us" page, I started playing for my Australian finches. Like most players I became hooked from the first drone. I can’t really explain it, just felt like it was something I was missing and have now found. I am a drummer and played in bands but I had not sat on a kit in years. I think I missed that sort of an outlet, maybe music creativity and getting lost in a groove. I usually explain it as it was like a fire was ignited inside me. Like the fuel was there for many years and now finally it has been lit. I have been a musician and artist most of my life and playing and building didgeridoos fit in well. I consider myself a player first and foremost. I practice religiously and relentlessly.
I started to build sticks for my own knowledge and use. I didn't plan on selling them. Out of necessity for room, numerous requests and justification to keep building I have arrived at this junction. I don’t see this as a way to make money. I only build if I feel like it. I don’t produce any more didges than I care to. Consequently my production varies. I really enjoy custom type building and artwork and it obviously takes a lot more time.
I really never thought of selling my synthetics. I really didn’t want to get involved in any controversy. I just loved playing the thing. One thing I love about the didgeridoo community is the diversity of its members and the ability to co-exist with all the different views and beliefs. Really makes you wonder why everyone else can’t be as accepting of things as our didgeridoo community. I really had a lot more to say but I remember a Quote on Frank Thill’s web page and it really sums it all up. I wouldn’t publish it without his permission but it really gave me the encouragement to continue my building journey. You should visit his page.
In closing. I will probably say this over and over and in many ways, but, I want to make this point clear. My synthetic didgeridoos are just that, synthetic. They are not wood, eucalyptus, and they certainly are not Yidaki’s. They are not Aboriginal, Australian or even Indian for that matter. They are not ancient. They are made by me in the US and I don’t claim them to be anything other than an American made modern synthetic didgeridoo.
Playing some Hick's Sticks JT 2004. Ben had some awesome sticks as usual.
Spent a lot of time in Geoff Frost and Tyler Spencer's booth. Awesome stuff.
Photos courtesy of Bob Foster