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9 February 2014

Kazoo like nobody's listening...

I've noticed a trend over the last year for reviving the Kazoo. It's very popular with ukers who are wanting to add something a little different to their songs. Some really pull it off, getting sounds that aren't a million miles away from that of a trumpet. Surely I couldn't let this fad pass me by?

I've never actually ever played a Kazoo before...


Look what I bought on ebay - a second-hand kazoo. It works too! Everyone except for Mrs Uke seems happy with my new purchase. 


How does a kazoo work? Could I make my own? How do you play one? There were many questions running about my mind. I needed to do some research. What I discovered is that the kazoo only has one moving part and this is the diaphragm aka resonator or membrane. To play a kazoo, you don't blow, but hum. The kazoo diaphragm vibrates and noise is made. It's as simple as that!


Look at this! I found the patent for the submarine style kazoo that I have in Google Patent search (No 700986). This flavour of kazoo dates all the way back to 1902! G D Smith came up with this novel design following frustration with earlier models which he claimed were "practically valueless in the hands of an unskilled operator". I think he might be talking about me there. Ha ha.


Having realised that the diaphragm is the heart of the kazoo, I started wondering where you get them from. I think I only found one place in America selling them. What interested me was the above video where Doc Kazoo shows us how to make our own diaphragm!

I watched in awe. This had all the hallmarks of turning into a little project for me!

When I got to the end I resolve to make myself a kazoo diaphragm... whether I needed one or not!


Here you can see that I've dismantled my kazoo. The top unscrews and out pops the diaphragm. It's slightly larger than a new 5 pence piece. 


My first attempt at a diaphragm was to cut a circle out of card which I superglued to a bit of a plastic shopping bag . I trimmed it all back and the bloody superglue came unstuck. FAIL! What is it with superglue? The only thing it sticks really well are my bloody fingers!

This attempt might have failed, but you get the general idea of making a diaphragm... a circle or card stuck to a plastic bag...


Take two was to dispense with glue altogether. Surely the act of screwing the top in would make enough pressure to hold things together? There was only one way to find out...

It worked! I have a video below to prove it. One trick to call out is that the diaphragm doesn't work if you have the plastic too tight. The way I got round this was to press it down with my finger in the middle prior to screwing the top on. This stretched it a little.


Here are all six of me giving a quick demo on my home-made kazoo diaphragm. You will notice that I'm also experimenting with some French throat-rolling at the same time ;-) There really is no stopping me! Ha ha.

I'll need to have a think how I incorporate my new skill into a proper song.


If you want to see how the pros play kazoo then I'd recommend checking out the lovely Suzie and Shoe in the above video with their heart-wrenching version of the classic Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It really did bring a tear to my eye. Be sure to keep listening til the 1:13 mark. I guarantee that you won't regret it. ;-)


3 comments:

  1. Hmm...I might be able to actually play this instrument.

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  2. Hey! I have one just like your, King, and I have done all kind of weird stuff with it: I clipped a Sony lavalier mic, pit it through a distortion pedal + a chorus board and played a very weird cover of Sleepwalk (Electrick uke was rythm). My brother, who was listening from afar, thought it was a real guitar!

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  3. "I might be able to actually play this instrument." - YES! Definitely Daz! Do it!

    @Thiago. Yes, I reckon that there is all sorts of possibilities with my kazoo. I had picked up on the fact that you can get kazoo mics, but of course, any mic will do! I've actually bought a clip on mic for one of my ukes, so this is something I should experiment with. Wow... lots of potential here!

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