Homemade musical instruments

Sharing a tent at this summer’s Lowell Folk Festival, Eric Royer and Robbie Phillips demonstrated their hand made musical instruments as part of the “Crafting Sound” crafts area.

Eric Royer invented the guitar machine in 1994 while living in Arizona, where he found it  difficult to find other musicians to play traditional bluegrass and old-time country music. Eric’s guitar machine features foot-controlled bass and acoustic guitars suspended on a copper pipe frame. Metal can be found in the banjo, resonator guitar (dobro), harmonica, and kazoo. Pedals use mechanical action to cause different effects; capos go up and down, strings are plucked, a golf ball hits the cowbell, and the “Pretty Polly” doll dances.

“Washtub Robbie” Phillips is known for his creation of odd and fanciful musical instruments. The majority of them are mono-chord (single string) instruments called diddley bows. Typically played with a slide, the diddley bow is ideal for improvising.


Robbie got started making instruments years ago when he was dissatisfied with the sound of the washtub bass he was playing and decided to make his own.  He uses recycled materials – pieces of old furniture, blocks of discarded wood, car parts, and left-over paint. The colorful instruments have a unique finish to them. After a base coat of paint, Robbie applies Elmer’s glue over the surface. Before the glue dries, he sprays latex paint, which shrinks upon drying, creating a crackled surface.

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