New Bottle-Cap Contact Microphones

by Creme DeMentia

I just finished a new batch of Bottle-Cap Contact Microphones in time for the recent GetLoFi Experimental Garage Sale, which was loads of fun!  I also recently modified a pair of maracas with piezo-discs in a simple and useful way.  I’ll share my process of modifying these maracas after a brief overview of the new batch of microphones.

Rolling Rock Caps Galore

I had built up lots of green 2-liter caps to use for the 1/4″ jack barrels, so I was on the lookout for metal bottle-caps to use that would look nice with them.  I found just what I was looking for when I went up to visit my mom in Wisconsin; the previous owner had lodged tons of Rolling Rock bottle-caps into styrofoam used to insulate a barn on the property she now owns.

Monster Magnet

I pulled them all down with a magnet and sorted out the damaged caps.  There were still hundreds of caps in really good shape.  I dedicated all the green 2-liter caps I had on hand to making a run of microphones to feature these iconic caps.  In addition I got some green hot glue and zip ties and mixed some special green plasti-dip for the run.  They came out looking like this:

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A number of people have already received these in the mail, and they might have noted the slight change  in the design over previous batches.  Unlike before, I decided to also Plasti-dip the cables connecting the mic element to the 1/4″ jack barrels, and I think that made a big difference in their look.  I think the colored hot glue sharpens their appearance as well.  My friend Jesus has been using one of these new mics on his melodica and throat for live performances of his music.  His records and performs under the name Los Osos Voladores.  Check out the knitted cozy he made for the mic.

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I recently decided to realize an idea using piezo-electric discs that was given to me by Miss Pussycat.   Miss Pussycat is married to Quintron and they’ve released numerous albums together.   I have been a fan of their music since high school, and back then I screen-printed a bunch of t-shirts with the design of Quintron’s excellent album “These Hands of Mine” on the front (“These Hands of Mine” was the first place I heard Quintron’s invention the Drum Buddy).

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In order to print the shirts, I first asked their permission, and their only stipulation was that I had to send them two of the shirts. So, since then, I’ll send them things in the mail from time to time just for fun.  I sent along two contact microphones from my last batch, and Miss Pussycat wrote me back later to say that she was trying them with her maracas.

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It seemed to me that it would be somewhat awkward to affix the mics to maracas, so I decided I would see about making a pair of maracas that had contact mics built into them.  This led to a fun and quick project – “Electric” Maracas!

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I started out by looking at what there was in the way of maracas on eBay.  I was thinking cheap and plastic would be good criteria for selection, as they would be easy to work with and modify and I wouldn’t feel too bad if I destroyed them.  Pretty quickly I came across some maracas made by Manos Percussion that looked like the perfect candidates.

The maracas consist of hollow plastic bulbs attached to the ends of wooden handles with upholstery tacks.  I immediately removed the bulbs by pulling out the upholstery tacks.  I did this because I didn’t like the sound of the shaker filler inside the maracas, which were large plastic pellets that were too loud and clunky.

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The hollow plastic bulb has a flat area about the size of a quarter where the company logo is – “MP.” This seemed like the perfect spot to put the piezo-electric elements, which I affixed with hot glue after attaching wire leads.

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I carefully zip-tied the wires to the bulbs through some small holes I drilled and left wire tails hanging off about 1′ long.  I put protective (color-coordinated AND descriptive) bottle-caps over the piezo elements on the maracas (Redhook – R, Leinie’s – L).  I used red hot glue and Plasti-Dip to completely affix the cords and caps to the maraca bulbs.

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I drilled the maraca handles out end-to-end so that the cord could fit through.

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I then drilled one hole from the side of the handle to the hole I had drilled from end to end so that the cord could be slipped in the side and then out through the bottom of the handle.

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The top end of the handle that would fit into the bulb I covered with hot glue, so the hole I drilled through the length of the handle would be filled.  I threaded the wires through the handles and trimmed the wire tail to length below the handle.  I then added the 1/4″ jack assembly to the ends of the cables.

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I saw the opportunity to modify the maracas in a useful way when removing the harsh sounding plastic pellets; it gave me the idea to use hose-clamps instead of the upholstery tacks to hold the bulbs in place.  This now means that the user can fill and refill the maracas individually with whatever and how much shaker material they desire.  Rather than figure out what to put in them, I decided to send them straight to Miss Pussycat and see what she recommended, since she had given me the idea in the first place.  Of what she’s tried so far, she said that macaroni and beans both sounded good.

Quintron and Miss Pussycat are about to finish a Summer West Coast tour, so it may be a while before you can see them perform live near you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t download an album or visit them on myspace!