About the Instruments

Udu Martin Zonghu Helmut Guzheng

Some people collect art, or toys, or teacups. I collect musical instruments. I try to use each and every one of them in a musical recording, eventually. I've grouped them below into Strings, Wind, Percussion, and Electronic.


S T R I N G S

I had the good fortune to visit New Delhi, India as a computer programmer many years ago. While there I found my Rikhi Ram Sitar, a sweet old thing much too good for me. But I try to love it and learn to play it and I hope to find a good home for it before I go. I found it in a store in New Delhi hanging in the back, covered in dust. It was not out for sale, but when I expressed interest, they let me try it. I LOVED it. None of the new sitars had that sound. But they were happy to sell it. First they wanted to do some quick cosmetic repairs, which sounded great to me. Then I heard hammering and was crushed when I realized he had just hammered nails into things to hold them down. But I do not think it had any adverse effects - they did know what they were doing! The cats have since knocked it over once and damaged it, but I had it repaired and it is still pretty sweet when I have it all cleaned up and tuned.

This dulcimer offshoot is called The Woodrow and is made nearby in North Carolina. I picked it up at our local Farmer's Market.

Another one of my favorite instruments is the Chinese Guzheng. It has the lovely tones of a harp whle being very easy to play. Since it is pentatonic (the black notes on the piano), you really can't go wrong - the notes all go together. Add the ease of bending notes and this gets my vote as one of the worlds most playable instruments. I have had friends who cannot play a musical instrument make nice music with the guzheng on the first try. It is all over my music, especially on Return to Self.

I have become a little addicted to the Chinese violin family, such as the Erhu and Zhonghu. The playing position and techniques seem to suit me better than the western violin. Plus, there are only two strings to worry about. It definitely lacks the richness of the western violin sound, but I enjoy playing it so much I can get past that. I feel sorry for the listener sometimes, but I am having a blast. This is a VERY expressive instrument.

I first saw this when my father was showing me the 12 Girl Band from China. They were playing the Chinese version of the instrument, based on something from Vietnam. I bought the original Vietnamese instrument which is called the Dan Bau. It has limited range, but it is a fascinating instrument to play and it can be very expressive. It is the squiggle in With My Squiggle Out.

Matt's Baglama - I borrowed Matt's baglama for Sushi Bar Blues. It gives it a slightly different sound than a guitar would and I love it. I need to use it again.

My acoustic guitar is a Martin SWDGT. Guitar was my original instrument, but I learned to rely on keyboard a lot in school when learning music theory, because the technical aspects of music are much clearer on a keyboard. You can SEE what is going on much easier than on a guitar.

My nylon string classical guitar was made by Helmut Buchsteiner in Germany in 1979, and is a model B5. I absolutely adore this guitar, as do most who have played it.

Ibanez electric bass - nothing special but completely functional at a reasonable price.

I picked up this Kay Swingmaster at the local Flea market. Time will tell if I will get any better at playing it. Meanwhile, I should be able to hide my lack of playing ability with careful editing and composition. As I do with most everything anyway!

I picked up my Ovation ukulele while visiting my father in Hawaii many years ago. It does not appear in a lot of songs, but I get it in once in a while.

I rarely use this cheap-ass Mandolin I bought 30 years ago, but it can be fun when I do. It is the Mandy in Helmut, Mandy, and Gus.


W I N D

I have a weakness for Flutes and Whistles, which I play with feeling, if not skill.

Yet another Chinese instrument I have been playing around with is the Hulusi. This is a double-reed instrument, but the reeds are enclosed in a mouthpiece, which makes it much easier to play than most double-reeds (or so I am told). Also, I have the wrong ombiture for double-reeds, but I can play this (ok, it's debatable).


P E R C U S S I O N

I must have had this Kalimba for close to 40 years. I still don't know if I have seen ones as well made as this, which I bought in Palo Alto so many years ago. I wish I could have afforded one of his really fancy ones!

percussion / chimes

I recently picked up this little Gong which I used as a cymbal, until I broke down and bought a real cymbal. I still find uses for it, and everyone always wants to give it a whack so it is fun to have around.

I finally broke down and grabbed a cheap Snare and Cymbal. Even this minimal drum kit added so much to my music that it eventually led to my purchasing the Octapad.

I don't use it often, but the Ocean Harp deserves mention if we are talking unusual instruments. I grabbed this at Lark in the Morning, where I was introduced to many of my instruments.

Way back in college I bought this Prayer Drum at the flea market in Santa Cruz from a friendly hippy dude. It is another inmstrument I don't get the most out of. When I heard a real percussionist play it it was tremendous! I am improving. So much percussion involves letting go and trusting your hands to show up on time.

While in India I also grabbed some Tablas. I grabbed several pairs because they were so inexpensive when bought right there, and gave some away to my best friends.

While living in Santa Clara I discovered we had a gentleman from Africa whose tribe invented the Udu. Joe Agu turned out to be a very amiable fellow who hooked us up with Udus and other of his wonderful instruments. Look him up at afrorhythms.com.


E L E C T R O N I C

Kawai MP9500 digital piano - this is my primary workhorse. Digital pianos have the feel and responsiveness of a real piano which makes them pleasant to play. I use MIDI to hook the piano to my Roland GR-1 guitar synthesier which I use as a sound module. This means I can play the piano but I can use any of the 400 sounds on the GR-1 in addition to all of the sounds on the Kawai.

I have a sweet old Moog Prodigy which I bought from my friend Bryan about 100 years ago. I don't use it as much as the Kawai because it is less versatile, but it has a unique and special sound that I need to use more.

After playing with a friend's digital drums, I decided I needed to take the plunge. But space was an issue and I am not really a drummer, so I went for a Roland Octapad. I have very good luck with Roland over the years and the compactness of this unit made it my selection. It is not as "fun" to play as drums, but it has many other charms and features that make it the right choice for me.

- Walter

Email: wjb@wujiba.com