This instrument was inspired by Richard A Water's Waterphone. Richard's instruments are far more sophisticated, using stainless steel and metal rods instead of strings; they are both astounding noise makers and visual works of art.

A glance at my waterharp betrays its hardware store origins. The base is a large mixing bowl, about 15in in diameter and 6in deep. The vertical post is a 36in length of 1/4in threaded iron rod.

I drilled 24 holes around the rim of the bowll, and small holes in 24 big fender washers. This step was tedious, but perfectly possible with a standard hand drill. Use a drill bit designed for metal, and keep everything lubricated with a bit of oil to prevent excess heat damaging the bit. Be careful yet thorough in cleaning up the nasty dust and tiny metal curlings that result from drilling...

I then alternately threaded the washers and nuts onto the rod. using four packs of cheap guitar strings, I then ran strings from the rim of the bowl to the holes in the washers. I tied the strings fairly tight, and used a wrench to screw the nuts back up the rod, pushing the washers and this tightening the strings. The tension on the rod pulled it out of shape, making it very difficult to get exact tunings, but I wasn't going for a recognizable scale anyway.

I screwed on round end caps on either end of the rod (a tiny bit of the rod protruded from the bottom of the bowl...), which prevented injuries and let the whole thing spin like a top. The final touch was a bit of silicon tub caulk around the joint of the rod and the bowl.

The instrument sounds interesting as is, with the metal resonance of the bowl and the sympathetic drone of the open strings. The strings can be plucked or bowed, and the bowl can be hit with mallets, or even bowed itself. However, the instrument really comes alive when a small amount of liquid is added to the bowl; tilting or spinning the bowl creates strange warbling pitch bends and modulations. Because the rod and washers are iron, they do rust, so I've switched to using oil; the higher viscosity also makes it a bit easier to get big warbles without spilling...

I usually hold the tip of the rod in one hand and a bow or stick in the other, balancing the harp on the protruding end cap bolt underneath the bowl. The rod is a bit flexible, allowing whammy bar effects. In addition, the whole harp can be spun like a top, adding more interesting modulation.

waterharp mp3

samples, loops, and Reason/Mach5 banks coming soon...