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Samuel Burt has been building daxophones since 2011, sending them to Belgium, France, Germany, the UK, and all over the United States. This page provides information about the instrument and pictures of Burt's creations.

Playing a Daxophone
--Necessary and Optional Equipment
--Tongues

Sounds of the daxophone

The Desk Badger
--small-footprint daxophone for desks and tables


 
Other Daxophone Designs
--Open Body
--Bandsaw Daxophone
--Styrophone
--Cutting Board Daxohpone
--Traditional Tripod

Purchasing

Daxophones sing, squawk, squeel, chirrup, grunt, growl, and cackle. Their fluid approach to pitch is similar to that of a theremin or bowed saw. The wood adds natural resonances that mimic the human voice.

A typical performance involves clamping a long piece of wood to the body then bowing the wood. This is no simple task. The daxophone virtuosi have mastered delicate variations in bow pressure and placement. They must also take care of the placement of the dax, a heavy teardrop-shaped piece of wood that stops the vibration at select points along the length of the wooden tongue. In combination, these manipulations allow a performance that is akin to playing a modular synthesizer or chains of guitar pedals, with complex, unpredictable results.

The body is just an amplification surface with a piezo microphone element inside. Other small objects can be placed atop and amplified.

Pictographic demonstration of how to assemble and play a daxophone. See description above.

Equipment

In order to play the daxophone, you will need a bow. German bass bows work great. You'll also need an amp. Acoustic guitar amps sound fantastic, but any powered speaker will work.

If you plan to plug into a mixer, consider going through a Direct Input box, because the daxophone's piezo has a really high electrical impedance. You might also consider a piezo preamplifier, although this isn't strickly necessary to get a desirable sound. A volume pedal is useful not only to bring down the level when its too strong but to also silence the daxophone while swapping out tongues. A tasteful level on a reverberation pedal can give the daxophone a little more sustain while a well-chosen compressor pedal can help control some of the strong spikes of direct signal that the daxophone can generate in some circumstances.

The daxophone can sound a bit like an ondes Martenot. I've constructed a diffuseur métallique from a speaker cabinet, an amplifier, an audio transducer, and a gong. I've also got parts to build a palme diffuseur. Playing the daxophone through non-traditional speakers can result in new, delightful resonances.

Picture of eight daxophone tongues, flat pieces of wood about 33cm long of various shapes and colors

Tongues

The tongue is the core of the daxophone's sound. Each tongue is differentiated by size, shape, wood type, and grain structures. Few tongues provide a reliable two octave playing range. Fewer still, three octaves. Many have wolf tones or yodel points.

When constucting a tongue, consider hard wood with tight grains, about 33 centimeters in length and about 5 millimeters thick. Thinner will result in floppier tongues with low, even subaudible frequencies. Tongues thicker than 6 millimeters will be highly resistant to sounding. Focus particularly on the top edge, where you will bow. Holes will interrupt the continuity of pitch across a tongue, but will also create vocal resonances like "WOW", "YOW", and "WHY". Experimentation is the key to learning! Do the opposite of what I've suggested here!

All of the following recordings feature daxohones and tongues built by Samuel Burt.

Compositions consisting of recorded daxophone sounds:

A composition for an ensemble of two daxophone players and percussion:

Compositions involving daxophone samples that have been radically transformed or sequenced:

An album of daxophone, synthesizer, and other instruments composed by Samuel Burt and Maria Shesiuk:

Picture of Desk Badger. The top part of the image shows the Desk Badger in playing position. The second image flips it over to show the bottom. The daxophone features a wood piece on the left that clamps to a table. On the right is a body with a quarter-inch jack and a flat top. The first piece acts as a clamp for the second and they are connected with a big wooden knob on a bolt. The bottom of the daxophone has a whole cut where the quarter-inch jack is embedded and a oval hole providing access to two piezo elements attached to the top plate.

In 2011, I discovered Hans Reichel's wood cut plans and instruction manual. I began building daxophones adapted from his specifications. Anyone with a small amount of woodworking skill and the desire should build a daxophone. It's the most wonderful thing you can do with a piezo contact mic!

Reichel's original design simply clamped onto the side of a table. He encountered performance experiences that involved comically large tables in proportion to his tiny instrument. He evolved the daxophone to stand on its own, with three legs. In the process, he worked out a 45 degree playing angle, which allows better control over bowing and manipulating the dax along the top edge of a tongue. Unfortunately, the stability of this instrument depends on long legs that don't pack and travel well.

With the need for a smaller instrument that can fit in a suitcase, I designed the Desk Badger. It's great for clamping next to your modular synthesizer or on the desk of your home studio. The daxophone has returned to the table now with the convenient 45 degree playing angle.

Pictured is my most recent design. I've left the internals exposed so one can fix solder connections or experiment with placement of the piezo elements which are secured with blue plasti-tak.

Reichel didn't want people to feel constrained by his ideas. He believed that if others experiented, they would discover other ways to make daxophones and tongues. I encourage others to do so, but if you must purchase a daxophone from someone, I build them, one at a time with love. See the bottom of this page for purchasing details. I've posted a copy of Reichel's plans here for anyone looking for a starting place. I'm happy to provide advice, too. Get in touch!

Picture of table clamp daxophone. The top part of the image shows a daxophone in the playing position. The left part of the daxophone is cut to the shape of a thin flat piece of wood that is 45-degrees off axis. The body features a clamp piece consisting of a rectangle on top connecting through the body via a bolt to a wooden knob on the bottom. The bottom part of the image reveals that the daxophone was constructed by attaching two side panels to the block on the back where the clamp goes through. A quarter-inch jack is embedded in one of the side panels. It is connected to a piezo element that is attached to the underside of the flat top plate.

Open Body

This was my first design for a table clamp daxophone. They are easier to construct and use less wood than the Desk Badger. The latter is hewn from a solid block. The former is more easily built using two side panels.

I'm looking at plans to build a daxophone with Eurorack CV and ENV outputs. This open body plan could accommodate a circuit board.

The back side of this daxophone clamps to a table and is clearly an unfinished 2x4. The rest of the daxophone has been cut at an angle to form a thin flat plate. Near the back side a rectangular clamp connects via a bolt through the flat plate to a wooden knob on the bottom. On the underside, a piezo element is wired to a quarter-inch jack that opens out to the top.

Bandsaw Daxophone

This is a very simple daxophone design that anyone could make with a bandsaw. To simply even further, one could substitute the wooden clamp for a C-clamp.

Image of a daxophone clamp going through a large, thick styrofoam container.

Styrophone or Daxofoam

Styrofoam also makes a great acoustic resonator. Clamping tongues to a large cooler like those seafood restaurants use both recycles the styrofoam into something useful and provides ampflication without the need for electricity!

Image of a daxophone body extended on a wooden arm from a flat cutting-board-sized-base connected at a hinge and stabilization arm.

Cutting Board Daxophone

Daxophones can take many shapes. The basic requirements are a clamp and a surface that provides amplification to the wooden tongues. Pictured is a design inspired by Daniel Fishkin's Starship Daxophones. Instead of clamping the body to a table or standing it on legs, you sit on a flat paddle while the body extends outward on a hinged arm.

Image of a daxophone body standing on three steel pole legs. A tongue is attached to the top via a clamp.

Traditional Tripod Daxophone

For years I worked with Hans Reichel's design, eventually adding threading to the legs to improve stabilization. This form requires the most precision and care of construction.

Cartoon images of a badger, mostly black and white.

You would do to construct a daxophone for yourself, but if you must order one, I am happy to do the work. It's typically a two to three month turnaround. Continental U.S. orders get free shipping. I'll also send a selection of tongues so you can choose what you like.

Icon for desk badger

The Desk Badger

$500

Made of hand-selected hardwood. Parts include: clamp top with 45-degree playing angle, wooden clamp knob, body, thin ultra-dense top piece, quarter-inch female jack, and internal piezo elements. Assembled and ready to play. Finished with teak oil.

Icon for dax

The Dax

$175

Made of Lignum Vitae or Argentine Lignum Vitae, the heaviest wood on Earth. Cut to a gentle curve and fretted on one side. Designed for evoking smooth or stepped notes from a daxophone tongue. Also useful on a guitar or inside a piano.

Icon of daxophone tongues

The Tongues

$60 | 5 for $250

Made from a wide variety of tongues in an array of shapes. All hand-cut (no laser burns). Guaranteed one tongue with flexible and wide pitch range. Upon request, I can send you a variety of tongues to try. Buy the ones you like and send back the rest.

Interested? Questions? Building your own?

Contact me at composer[dot]samuel[dot]burt[at]gmail.com.