Adventures with a 3-string - Vulpestruments style

Inspired by playing some one-of-a-kind DIY gear at a Machines Room DIY and unusual instruments jam, I booked onto a Vulpestruments workshop run by Tom Fox. The aim - to learn about building instruments and come out with a playable 3-string in just a few hours. Little did I know it was the start of an adventure that would lead to a high tech hack at Music Tech Fest.

Tom Fox - by Terry Tyldesley

Vulpestruments founder Tom Fox is an all-round genius who makes beautiful and astonishing instruments from a harp to a book guitar, and encourages others to do the same. Vulpestruments are: ‘Reclaimed, Recycled and Scavenged Musical instruments and Noise makers’.

He started the workshop by explaining the principles of making a pickup, and how to turn discarded materials into strings. He managed to make complex ideas simple to understand for the group, who had a wide range of technical expertise, from beginner to seasoned hacker.

We would be working with piezo pickups, scrap wood, bicycle brake cables, nylon lawnmower string and some tuning pins from an old piano. We chose our bits of wood from a pile, though one participant had brought the neck and head of a broken cello to get her going.

We started by drilling holes into the wood, and reinforcing them. Unwinding brake cables gave us strings of varying tones, and the nylon string gave a less twangy, more nylon string guitar sound.

Tom carefully showed us how to put together our instruments, and helped those who were less familiar with the tools and processes needed.

The next step was tuning and you could tune the instrument to any notes you wanted, though you needed a wrench and a bit of force. At the end we each had an instrument, but were also armed with enough knowledge to be able to make more.

I’d used a combination of the strings, and gone for a more bassy sound.


I was scheduled to give a presentation at Music Tech Fest in Sweden, on DIY Music Tech Culture. As well as highlighting some of the most interesting band projects I’d seen recently and featured on Kitmonsters, I talked about Vulpestruments and gave my 3-string a bit of a twang. I ran it through some guitar pedals to give extra growl and tone, and was really happy with the result, even though I hadn’t had time to glue any frets in place!

Terry Tyldesley at Music Tech Fest

Axoloti’s Johannes Taelman had been watching and hatched a grand plan to join forces for the Hack Camp, to produce a Hi Tech / Low Tech mash up of an instrument. We dubbed the project KatAxoloti - a verbal mash up of Kat Five (my alter ego), Axoloti, and a guitar.

Johannes Taelman at Music Tech Fest

Johannes was armed with some highly sought after prototypes of his Indiegogo funded music platform. You can create and choose sounds on an Axoloti using the special Axoloti interface, and download them onto the powerful microcontroller board. Once that is done, you don’t need to run anything else, no computer or software. You are a free-standing unique sound design machine, ready to plug in and go.

Axoloti - pic Terry Tyldesley

He glued the Axoloti on to my 3-string and showed me how to recreate the distorted blues style sounds from my first presentation, and Johannes added some extra sounds, plus an on-board tweak control.

Axoloti - pic Terry Tyldesley

We were a late addition to the grand hacks going on, and I soon found myself presenting our little collaboration to high-level Hack Camp judges such as LJ Rich, Matt Black from Ninja Tune/Coldcut, Joshua Saunders from Warner Music UK, and Jon Eades from Abbey Road Studios tech incubator Abbey Road Red. Then Johannes and I presented it again on the main stage - an unexpected but fun event - with Jon Eades later dubbing it ‘like Seasick Steve on crack!’

We didn’t win a prize but it was a great little speedy project, and I was sad to have to give the Axoloti prototype back.

The 3-string designer - Tom Fox from Vulpestruments - went on to be a star turn at the following Music Tech Fest, in Slovenia, and got to jam with Matt Black (Ninja Tune/Coldcut) and others, as well as present his work. He also had an amazing time recording samples and loops for Matt’s NinjaJamm app.

Tom Fox, Matt Black, Obi Blanche - pic Andrew Dubber