Here are all the instruments, both familiar and unfamiliar, that have been used in Broadside Electric.
Appalachian dulcimer: This is, as the name implies, an American folk instrument. Also called a mountain or lap dulcimer, it is a zither, descended from European instruments such as the Norwegian langeleik and the French epinette. It is a stringed instrument with frets traditionally corresponding to the notes of the Mixolydian mode (a major scale with a flat seventh). This should not be confused with a hammer (or hammered) dulcimer, which is a much larger trapezoidal zither with a harplike sound. (In the first two years or so of the band's history, Jim occasionally played a hammer dulcimer on "Por La Tu Puerta.")
Designs vary, but those most commonly seen have four strings and a long, narrow, hourglass-shaped body which runs the entire length of the instrument (there is no "neck"). Typically, the two highest strings form a pair tuned to the same pitch and are used to play melodies while the lower strings produce a drone accompaniment. Modern dulcimers add an extra fret or two and sometimes extra strings, and the strings are often arranged differently; these changes give the instrument a wider chordal palette.
Melissa Demian's main dulcimer is a Sunhearth, which she sets up with four evenly-spaced strings. Tom has taken up the dulcimer "part-time" since Melissa's departure from the band; his is a Folkcraft, set up with two single strings and paired melody strings. [Top]
Bass guitar: Disappointing, isn't it? That small, weird, trapezoidal black thing with a neck but no apparent tuning pegs is just a bass. Well, not just any bass. It's a Steinberger L-series five-string, cast from a molded polycarbon resin. Not a shred of wood on the thing. The tuners are on the bridge. (Jim) [Top]
Bodhran: A traditional frame drum from Ireland, typically 14 to 18 inches in diameter and three or four inches deep, with a goatskin head (some modern ones are made with synthetic heads). The drum is held by a cross-brace in the open back, and played with a short wooden stick (the tipper) or with bare hands. Usually played to accompany dance tunes.
We used the bodhran irregularly in Broadside from 1990 to 1993 or so, and I think everybody in the band played it at one time or another, except Helene. We have yet to get Joe to play it properly. For some reason he insists on using it as part of his drumkit! [Top]
Bones: Broadside Electric got two pairs of these for me as a holiday gift. These short, flattened sticks make all kinds of interesting clicking sounds, especially triplets. I use two pairs of Danforth Bones made of cherry. (Joe) [Top]
Capped double-reed instruments (crumhorn and rauschpfiefe): This is a family of woodwind instruments which today is almost entirely extinct. To visualize a double-reed: picture a plastic drinking straw which has been flattened at one end such that it produces a kazoo-like noise when blown. This is the idea behind double-reeded instruments which are UN-capped such as the oboe, bassoon, shawm, doudouk, zurna, etc. The player's lips touch the reed, giving a large control over the tone, pitch, and volume. To visualize CAPPED wind instruments, picture a tube-like housing which fits over and totally surrounds the reed, but does not touch it. The player blows into the mouthpiece end of this tube, and the reed vibrates by means of the air pressure alone. Now there is very little or no mouth control of the sound, and, in this way, capped double-reed instruments are much easier to play than uncapped double-reeds. The trick to playing capped wind instruments is to maintain an almost unreasonably steady and sometimes exhausting breath pressure, so that all the notes come out like they're supposed to. Perhaps not surprisingly, the only surviving capped double-reed instrument today is the bagpipe. I am not personally aware of any capped SINGLE-reed instruments. (Jim) [Top]
Chapman Stick®: This is a 10- or 12-stringed electric instrument which consists of a single long fretboard. To play it, you hang it from your belt and a shoulder strap and tap on the strings with both hands. There's no need to pluck or strum; the pickups are very sensitive. The strings are divided into treble and bass groups, which have separate pickups. The sound of the instrument is not unlike an electric bass and an electric guitar combined, but more percussive in the attack.
Jim plays a 12-stringed "Grand Stick" which is fitted with a MIDI pickup on the treble side. He began using the Stick in the band in 1994, after Broadside became a trio.
Cittern: In 1998 I acquired an instrument which I call a "cittern" for convenience. It is somewhat similar to the Renaissance cittern (a 16th- or 17th-century instrument resembling a flat-backed lute, with four to six courses of two or three wire strings each). Mine is basically a big mandolin, tuned an octave lower, with the lower two courses of strings being octave-tuned (as on a 12-string guitar) for a rich, ringing sound. I intend to use this instrument mostly as an alternative to rhythm guitar and for acoustic performances.
This instrument is sometimes called an octave mandola or octave mandolin, although no member of the conventional mandolin family uses octave-tuned courses. It's occasionally called a bouzouki, although that term is usually applied to instruments with longer necks than mine has. (Tom) [Top]
Clarinet: A single reed instrument with a straight bore. Pretty basic equipment, as goes the evolution of instruments. No frills. Just blow and cover the holes. I play a regular Bb soprano, as well as a Bb bass clarinet, both made by Buffet in the 1920's and 30's respectively. The bass sounds an octave lower than the soprano. (Jim) [Top]
Conga: A tall, narrow, barrel-shaped drum, typically played with the hands, although I've been known to use sticks, brushes, and any other nearby object to make sounds with it. You can typically hear me play it during wild fits of jigs and reels, like the "Gravel Walk" section of "Three Pounds Ten." (Joe) [Top]
Crumhorn: A capped double-reed wind instrument from the Renaissance, the crumhorn was a very popular instrument all over Europe in the 16th - 18th centuries, from Britain to Turkey. Looks like a large umbrella handle and sounds somewhat like a bagpipe, or perhaps an annoyed goose. "Crum" is from the German word for "bent." Nevertheless, the shape of the bore is straight, meaning the inside diameter of the instrument is the same at the neck as it is just before the end of the flared bell. The fingering is similar to a recorder, but because of the reed it is considerably harder to blow. (Jim/Tom)
Jim's crumhorn is a tenor, built from a kit from the Early Music Workshop of New England.
Drumkit: I currently use a five-piece Tama Rockstar with Evans Genera heads and Sabian AAX cymbals. For those who are curious, the cymbals are, from my left-to-right: Splash, Hi-Hat, Crash, Ride and China. Now you know! (Joe) [Top]
Egg Shakers: These small, hollow (and egg-shaped) containers are filled with small pellets. They have a sound not unlike a child's rattle, though far more versatile, far less annoying and not at all made of brightly colored plastic. (Joe) [Top]
English concertina: A member of the free-reed instrument family resembling a small button accordion. Concertinas (sometimes called "squeezeboxes") typically sound only a single reed when a button is pressed, giving them a somewhat harmonica-like sound (in fact, the German name for the instrument is "hand-harmonika"). There are three major families of concertinas: English, Anglo-German (usually just "Anglo") and duet. Unlike an accordion, the layout of buttons is substantially the same on both ends of the instrument. The English concertina is a fully chromatic instrument and sounds the same notes whether the bellows is drawn or squeezed, which gives it a very fluid sound. The notes of the scale alternate sides of the instrument, so that to play a scale the player alternately presses buttons on the left and right sides. They are made in different ranges; the treble range (probably the most common) has approximately the same compass as the violin and is often used for violin music. Concertinas attained widespread popularity in the 19th century.
Flute: I play a metal flute that my dad got for me at a garage sale in exchange for a deer rifle. (A good trade, I think!) More common in Irish music is the open-holed wooden flute, which has a breathier tone. The open holes make it possible to play certain ornaments, like sliding into a note, which one also does on tin whistle.
As of 1998, I have just bought a wooden flute and am learning to play it, so it may appear in the near future!" (Amy) [Top]
Guitars: I have used a variety of guitars in the band. For a long time, the main acoustic guitar was my Yamaha FG365SE dreadnought, but this has now been supplanted by a new Taylor 810 series. Up through the end of 1992 (and on Black-Edged Visiting Card) my electric guitar was a Schecter "strat" copy which I bought from an old college roommate. Since then I have played a guitar of my own construction, which resembles a semi-hollow ("thinline") Telecaster, but with humbucking pickups. My twelve-string guitar (which I no longer play in Broadside) is an Ovation Custom Balladeer, but on BEVC I borrowed Alan Rose's Taylor for "The Six Questions." I have also recently acquired a twelve-string electric guitar (a Fender Squier Venus XII) which I am occasionally bringing to gigs ... it's lots of fun on the tunes. (Tom) [Top]
Juice Bottle Caps: Why not? The vacuum seal / tamper resistant indentation on the cap makes a nice sharp "click" that you can play triplets on. Gotta love those triplets. (Joe) [Top]
Keyboards: We've used a few different keyboard instruments in the past.
Rachel Hall played some piano in the original B.E. lineup, Tom played it on "Wild Mountain Thyme," and Jim played piano and synthesizer on a few songs. The only recorded instances are on Black-Edged Visiting Card.
Eventually, the inconvenience of bringing the keyboard equipment to gigs outweighed its musical value and it was dropped. The same fate befell a set of bass pedals (electronic "organ pedals" which play notes on a synthesizer), which Tom used in the early days of Broadside's third (trio) lineup. These days, Jim has a MIDI synth setup hooked up to his Chapman Stick®, but it has seldom been used in Broadside's arrangements. [Top]
Mandolin: A small-bodied lute- or guitar-like instrument with four courses of two strings, tuned in fifths like a violin. The mandolin as we know it today is descended from types developed in Italy in the mid-eighteenth century.
NS/Stick Guitar-Bass: Part Chapman Stick, part Steinberger bass, this instrument is designed for both right-hand plucking and both-hand tapping. It has eight stings, the lowest tuned to B (like a bass) and the strings go up by intervals of 4ths (also like a bass) to a highest string Bb. Up at the first fret is a damper (like a Stick) to silence any ringing strings once one's fingertips are removed from tapping. This damper is manually withdrawn when playing the instrument with a bass style, when open notes are desired to ring. (Jim) [Top]
Oboe: A popular (uncapped) double reed instrument commonly found in orchestras, playing the "A" to tune the orchestra at the beginning of the concert. (We use electronic tuners instead). It's related to, and higher pitched than, the English horn and bassoon. (Amy) [Top]
Rauschpfiefe: Another capped double-reed instrument from the Renaissance. This instrument has a conical bore, and a rather more powerful sound than most capped winds. It was designed to be played outdoors, it's volume intended to compete with crowd noises and emerging brass instruments. It is a relative latecomer to Renaissance instruments, and didn't catch on very well outside Germany. (Jim)
Jim's rauschpfiefe is a soprano, and sounds a bit like a trumpet with a mild mute on. It was made by Korber, around 1970 is Jim's guess. [Top]
Recorder: A wind instrument that has survived almost unchanged for hundreds of years. The sound is generated at the block in the mouthpiece, as air passes at an angle to the cut of the wood. It's a bit like blowing over the top of a bottle. The bore is tapered, meaning that the width of the interior actually narrows as it approaches the bell. I'm no expert, but I believe that this is quite unusual for an instrument.
Saxophone - 1841: Aha! It's about time someone invented this thing. The major innovation of the saxophone is its conical bore. That is, it's narrower toward the mouthpiece, and regularly widens out toward the bell. I play a Yamaha alto sax, but only in the studio. (Jim) [Top]
Tambourine: The Merriam Webster dictionary claims the word tambourine is from the Middle French tambourin, the diminutive of tambour, but I also heard that it has its origins in the Irish bodhran! Or perhaps that's also from the Middle French. Anyway, these are traditionally shallow, one-headed drums with loose metallic discs at the sides. You can play it by shaking or by striking with the hand at various angles. I use RhythmTech tambourines, and these do not, in fact, have any heads at all. They're crescent-shaped to fit neatly in the hand and they have a nice cushioned handle. Naturally, I like to play in comfort whenever I can. (Joe) [Top]
Tin Whistle: Also called a pennywhistle, because they are traditionally inexpensive and made out of tin. They work roughly the same way as a recorder, but have a different tone. The most common kind, made by Generation, Walton's, Oak, and several other companies, are cylindrical, with a plastic head. Another common type has a tapered bore made of one piece of tin wrapped around a wooden block. This kind (made by Clarke and Shaw) has a breathier sound which I like and use for the dream sequence in "Bruton Town." The kind I use most often is a Clarke Sweetone, designed by Michael Copeland, a Philadelphia flute and whistle maker who also makes incredibly nice silver and brass whistles. The Sweetone has a conical tin body but a plastic head which makes it easier to play than the regular Clarkes, but with a nicer tone than the Generation. For a truly poststructural tinwhistle internet experience, try chiff & fipple. (Amy) [Top]
Vibra-Slap: You've heard this effect on countless radio-friendly tunes. Trust me. In fact, it's purported to be the most often recorded percussion effect. The original Vibra-Slaps were made out of a donkey's jaw. The jaw was such that you could slap it and the teeth would chatter wildly. They would also easily shatter after a while, so the folks at LP Music came up with something far superior. Their design incorporates short metal cylinders that are more or less suspended within your choice of wood or metal casings. The casing, in turn, is attached to a rather oddly-shaped, thick metal rod with a wooden ball on the other end. You play it by holding the instrument at the center of the rod (shaped to form somewhat of a handle), then you "slap" the ball with the palm of your other hand (or the other way around, if you want). The vibration caused by the slap travels down to the casing which in turn causes the "teeth" to chatter. Incredible. No wonder it's patented. (Joe) [Top]
Violin, Acoustic: Helene's violin is from the early part of this century and is of unknown make, having a very prestigious fake label stuck inside. She got it from her late uncle Jerry Spero, who was a violinist as well as a collector of violins. Not only was he a great musician, but also a patient duet partner to Helene and teacher to his children and grandchildren. Helene loves the violin's mellow tone, not to mention its lovely shape and finish. She will play it as long as she is able, as Uncle Jerry did. [Top]
Violin, Electric: Helene's main instrument is an electric violin, the Jazz model built by the Zeta company of San Francisco. It has five strings (the extra is a low 'C' which provides the bottom of the viola range) and a solid wooden body. Each string has a pair of piezoelectric pickups (similar to those typically used in acoustic guitars). Compared to a normal acoustic violin (which Helene also uses), the Zeta has a lower string tension, requires less effort to play, and is better suited to an amplified environment (because it has a more consistent amplified sound and is almost immune to feedback). [Top]
Violin, Small: A violin that was exposed to a little too much humidity and shrunk to a fraction of its original size. While it isn't all that playable anymore, it still makes appearances every now and then, especially at the hot, sticky, summertime venues (to remind me why I let Helene play all the tough violin parts instead of me). (Joe) [Top]
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