Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Junk Percussion Treasure - The Grandpa Guiro

About 10 years ago I was going through our local thrift shop hunting for junk percussion, (unusual sounding household items). I always check the knick knack and kitchen area out for anything that might have musical potential. So here I am clanking and clunking on things, scraping them, shaking them, etc. People see me doing this, and think I have a bolt loose. But hey, it’s okay, I’ll suffer for percussion.

I spotted this old grandpa’s thermos. One of those old aluminum ones with the ribbed sides. I ran a spoon along it, and I smiled with delight at the Santana groove that was waiting there to jump out. The price was three bucks, what a bargain. To them it was barely saleable junk, to me, it was a treasure. These are REALLY hard to find in thrift shops, because they are vintage. You can’t imagine how fun one of these are to play, but more importantly, it sounds fantastic. It gets a lot of laughs when you start jamming on one at a drum circle. I mean, think about it, you’re sitting there playing a djembe, and then you pull out a thermos. People think you are getting a drink or something, and then you start jamming out on it. It is hilarious.

To prepare it for public mayhem, I suggest that you first break the glass out of the inside. I do that by putting a few rocks inside it, put the cap back on. Shake it a few times, or whack it on the ground, and you will hear it break. Then you carefully dump it in the dumpster, whack it a few times to get all the glass out. Then I rinse it out with some water and let it dry out. Put the lid back on, even the cup! All you need then, is to make a scraper for it, or go buy one at a music store, (but it costs more than the thermos!), and you are good to go.

Not only does it make a great sounding guiro, but it also makes a nifty shaker. You can add some plastic beads, rice, popcorn, whatever you can find inside there, and screw the lid back on tight. (I put a piece of tape over it so that people don’t try to open it. Plus, you don’t want that crap all over the floor or something.

My preference for the shaker material is a mixture of stuff, and then you get a nice warm shaker sound. Metal BB’s or something like that is a little bit loud against the aluminum. But if you want a vicious shaker, that will do it.

If you choose not to add shaker materials, you can change the pitch by adding various levels of sand, or some other powered material inside of it. Experiment a little until you get the sound you like.

I had two sizes of these as part of my percussion kit in my gig bag when I played in a few bands back in the day, before back in the day. Now I play them all the time at drum circles, and people are always asking to try it. It looks like fun, and it is. I get a kick out of seeing people playing one. I usually set out baskets of percussion items, and this old thermos guiro is probably the most popular item. Be sure to keep an eye out for other junk percussion treasures. Objects like old brass candlestick holders sometimes have beautiful chime tones, or a thick brass bell can make a great singing bowl. Keep an eye out for washboards. Those are a blast to play with thimbles.

So where to find one of those old thermoses? Thrift stores, yard sales? Sometimes if you are lucky. In places like Ebay, I’ve seen a few for under five bucks. Both the large and small thermoses. What’s plural for that anyway? Thermi? Anyway, try a search with the keywords vintage thermos, or aluminum thermos, and you should be able to find your own Grandpa Guiro.

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