|The cookie tin erhu was a project inspired in part by the creative
genius of Dennis Havlena,
a musical tinkerer of extraordinary talents.
About the Erhu
The erhu is a traditional Chinese fiddle (for more information, see musicofchina.com). There are variations of this instrument, generically referred to as "stick fiddles", throughout Asia and the Middle East. It is characterized by a simple stick body that runs through the sound box. In the case of most of the Asian variants, the strings run from the tuning pegs to the tail, passing over a bridge, but lacking a fingerboard. The strings are simply stopped by pressing down on them in mid-air, often using a sliding (portamento) or vibrating motion. The two-stringed erhu and its cousins use a captive bow, i.e., the bow hair actually runs between the strings so that the higher pitched string is played by pressing down with the bow, while the lower pitched string is played by lifting up against it. This is actually a more efficient way of playing a two-stringed instrument than changing the arc direction of the stroke as is customary on the violin and other multi-stringed instruments.
About the Project
My idea for a cookie tin erhu was spurred by the arrival of an appropriate size box of cookies as a holiday gift. I immediately claimed the box for this purpose, but didn't get around to actually building the thing until several months later. The project appealed to me in part because I love the erhu and wanted to learn to play one before I actually decide to buy one, and in part because I like the idea of making impromptu instruments. Since I had thought about this for a long time, it wasn't exactly impromptu, but I did accomplish the task in a single afternoon, largely with materials at hand. Since this was summer time in Arizona and I was working in the garage, I didn't want to have to spend much time constructing it in the 110 degree heat.
I couldn't convince my house mate to give up a broom for this project, so I did have to go buy a wooden broom handle at the local dollar store for - you guessed it - a dollar. I had lots of guitar and cello) strings laying about that would have worked, but I thought it would be more appropriate to use flat-wound guitar strings for the erhu, so I bought a couple of strings at my local music store. The bridge was just a piece of scrap wood. I happened to have some old junky cello pegs in my parts drawer, which made that part very easy (really made the whole thing possible). I also had the simple bamboo bow that I've had for nearly 40 years. I can't really remember where I got it. (Probably Pier One). I don't suppose most folks would have those . . .
The only other materials were a piece of string to act as a nut, and some heavy brass wire.
Well, frankly it's not great. The bow is too light and flexible. The lid of the cookie tin is pretty necessary for structural integrity, but the thing would benefit from a sound hole, which I may add later. And of course it sounds rather metallic. In all, the project was fun and worth doing.
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