- Associated Press - Saturday, October 4, 2014

ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) - It all started with a ukulele Brian Archer received as a Christmas gift.

He loved it, but the $300 price tag to upgrade his instrument made him wonder if he could build something better for less.

That single quest grew into full-fledged hobby. Today, without plans or patterns, Archer, an amateur woodworker in Stewartville, builds quirky instruments, such as cigar-box mandolas and what he calls a “canjo” - a banjo built around a No. 10 can.

Some of his instruments, such as his kalimba harp, first existed only in his imagination. It crosses the kalimba - an African instrument sometimes called a thumb piano - with an eight-stringed harp.

The whimsical instrument looks like something from a Dr. Seuss book, built on a semi-square frame of black plastic ABS pipe that serves as a resonator for both strings and 25 tines. One section of the pipe curves forward, leaving an open sound hole that lets the musician “bend” notes by rapidly covering and uncovering it with a hand.

This might account for the name Brian gave his endeavor: Bent Note Instruments.

Archer grew up in a family of woodworkers, including his grandfather, George, and father, Alan, and he had access to tools and the know-how to make wooden instruments, the Post-Bulletin (http://bit.ly/1rpNur4 ) reported.

His first effort, rather than the ukulele he originally intended, was a simpler three-stringed dulcitar. Considering it now, Archer points out the neck’s squareness and compares it to the more contoured necks of his improved recent instruments.

Born in Rochester, Archer moved to St. Paul for several years, where he worked at a hardware store. There, without access to the family woodshop, Brian’s instrument-making focused on nontraditional materials such as chlorinated polyvinyl chloride and electrician’s ground bars. These materials surrounded him every day, and he could shape them at his kitchen table.

A beautiful Native American flute he made from CPVC is one of the instruments he brought with him from St. Paul. It looks like a white double-barreled recorder including an airway into two sounding chambers, one fingered and one drone. The instrument yields a pleasantly low harmonized whistle.

Archer has built “panjoleles” (a banjo/ukulele with a cake pan as a resonator), an electric mandolin, a liquid talking drum, shotgun-shell shakers, a suitcase bass drum, a chordal kalimba with 41 tines, and cajons.

A forest of more than 20 stringed instruments surrounds his bed, along with a humorous woodworker’s sign, showing a felled pine tree and the caption, “Who cut one?”

Having purchased the domain name Bent Note Instruments, Archer hopes one day to sell his instruments online, but for now he frequents local fairs like Stewartville’s Fall Festival.

Archer jokes that it’s nice to have instruments to show for his work instead of the sore hands he used to earn as a mechanic. He’s motivated by the joy his instruments create.

“I like to see music make people happy,” he said.

With this in mind, he makes easy-to-play instruments that beginners can make music with immediately.

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Information from: Post-Bulletin, http://www.postbulletin.com

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