How it Sounds
This thumb piano, like most of this type, has a very beautiful bell like tone. But like all thumb pianos, it also creates very ethereal and haunting overtones since all of the keys are open to ring at all times. Itís possible to change the resonance of the sound box significantly. By placing your thumb over the sound hole you can accentuate different notes. The sound box naturally resonates around the middle g, but you can lower the resonance to the low d by covering the sound hole about half way. By quickly removing and replacing your thumb over the sound hole, you can also make a warbling effect similar in sound to vibrato or a wah-wah pedal. The only hint I will give about playing is that I usually play with my thumb nail rather than the fleshy part of my thumb for a crisper tone and more comfortable playing. Otherwise, Iíll just leave you to experiment as I have: This is a great instrument for experimenting in order to find out how to play everything from simple tunes to intricate patterns.
The only major issue I have found playing this thumb piano is not being able to get enough tension on the keys to be able to consistently stop every key from buzzing at the bridge. I should have used four screws instead of two to allow for more, even pressure. Alternatively, it could also help to switch to flat-top, allen-head machine screws which would be easier to tighten and would allow higher tensions per screw. Unfortunately this type of screw isnít carried locally, but it can be found online at places like McMaster-Carr.
Variations on a Theme
The first version I made only had top binding and used birch plywood from a local home center for the top and back. Otherwise, it used the same type of setup as this thumb piano.
This was the first fully bound thumb piano I made. It still used birch ply for the top and back while the bridge and key set were taken from the Mark I to save building time. It came with a stand that was painted black and bolted onto the thumb pianoís back. This stand was primarily for display, but it also allows sound to transfer to a table, wall or door for an interesting effect on the sound, while still being held above the surface in playing position. This sometimes leads to buzzes when in contact with a surface, so it could use some kind of a hard rubber pad which would allow for better transfer, hopefully without dampening the sound too much.
Pocket Thumb Piano
This thumb piano was meant to be small enough to fit in a large jean or cargo pocket. It has eight tines so it can play one full octave of a major scale. The ironically curvaceous form was inspired by the notoriously boxy second generation scion xB.