Maker Faire: Andy Graham’s Handmade Instruments

Maker Faire: Andy Graham’s Handmade Instruments

MFBA150.gifHandmade music has been a big component of Maker Faire every year. This year’s Maker Faire Bay Area, the world’s largest DIY festival, will take place at the San Mateo Fairgrounds on May 22nd and 23rd. And one of the musical makers present will be Andy Graham. The amazing thing about handmade music is that these makers are not constrained by instruments that already exist — they invent and craft their own, producing some genuinely original sounds. Andy Graham is no exception. He took some time to answer a handful question for us and here are the pearls of wisdom he has to offer.

1. Tell us about the project you’re bringing to Maker Faire.

Well, the project I’m bringing to Maker Faire is actually two-fold: The first part is my unusual approach to performing live through simultaneous didgeridoo and drum playing. This was something that really happened by accident. In 1996, when I was still learning to play the didge, I was also playing drums in a world-music band. I decided I really wanted to incorporate this new instrument into the band’s music. The problem was that I was stuck behind a set of drums and playing the didgeridoo requires that the instrument, a large, heavy tree branch, be supported somehow.

With this in mind, I invented this didgeridoo rack-mounting system [shown above] to hold 3 didgeridoos right next to my head so I could occasionally play while not playing the drums. This system worked out great… while the band lasted, anyway. Due to several personality issues between 2 band members, the project quickly dissolved.

Finding myself bandless with this didgeridoo drumkit (, I decided to try out the crazy idea of playing didge and drums at the same time. After many hours of practice, I managed to somewhat pull it off. The best part was that the combination of the two (didge and drums) sounded good no matter what patterns I came up with. It was nice making music without depending on a band. I decided to try this solo at a local coffee shop and it went over better than I had hoped. I have been developing the act ever since.

I’m also bringing to Maker Faire some of my stringed didges I’ve made over the last 10 years. Working in metal fabrication, I get ideas from scrap metal all the time. Using this piece of curved bronze handrail, I came up with 2 stringed didges: the Electric Stringed Didgeridoo , and the Dijbow.


Another one, which I’m still working the bugs out of, is called the Dijbass. It’s an electric bass guitar and didgeridoo combo.


2. How did you hear about Maker Faire and why did you decide to participate?

Some friends told me about it a couple years ago. They told me that I had to go because they were people that think like myself. They were right. It’s the best event I have attended and I’ll be there every year from now on.

3. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started making things and who are your inspirations?

I’ve always been profoundly interested in how things work. My earliest memories involve taking apart my toys anytime I could get my hands on some tools. (I later developed an interest in putting the toys back together.)

Having an Erector Set was my first real turning point in inventing. Of course, I never followed the directions and made dangerous things like a makeshift weed whacker with the set by attaching a connecting beam directly to the motor with tape and nearly cutting my finger off (it did cut weeds, though).

Thomas Edison is a big influence, but really, the most inspiration came from my crazy friends I had growing up. I was lucky to have friends who were equally interested in machines and anything else mechanical.

4. Is your project strictly a hobby or a budding business? Does it relate to your day job?

I’d say inventing is more of a lifestyle. The music bounces between hobby and business, but is quickly moving more towards business, which is my goal.

5. What new idea (in or outside of your field) has excited you most recently?

There’s an event called the Handcar Regatta that happens up here in Santa Rosa that is really right up there with Maker Faire in terms of creative people getting together and sharing their inventions. This time, they build steam-punkish vehicles to race down the train tracks.

I built this huge Willy Wonka-esque racing machine called the Screaming Vortex. It’s a four-person petal car with 7-foot-diameter fan blades that actually push the vehicle down the tracks. This was probably the most exciting project I’ve been involved with in a long time. It is certainly the biggest machine I’ve built to date. I will be racing it again this year.

andy graham screaming vortex.jpg

6. What is your motto?

It’s not about thinking outside the box — it’s about ignoring the box altogether.

7. What advice would you give to the young makers out there just getting started?

Learn to use as many kinds of tools as you can. Learn to use basic machine tools like a lathe and mill, but never forget the importance of using chisels and files. Learn to weld! As you know, ideas can disappear as quickly as they come! The more skills you have, the faster you take advantage of your ideas and make them tangible.

Another important thing: creativity is infectious. It’s important to hang out with like-minded friends. Inventing is about being inspired, and you do not want boring, uncreative people discouraging you by draining your creative force (these people exist!). If people discourage you, it’s likely they’re jealous. Ditch ’em. Never be afraid to try something new and mix everything with everything.

Being considered “weird” is always an advantage! Very few (if any) great inventors were thought of as “normal” people.

Thanks, Andy! True indeed. You can still get discounted tickets until May 12. For all the information you need, head over to the Maker Faire website.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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