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Artist/Musician Invents Easy-to-Play Instrument

Artist/Musician Invents Easy-to-Play Instrumenti
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May 03, 2013
The annual Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C., is the most prestigious show of its kind in the U.S. - and one of the most difficult for artists to get into. This year, more than 120 craft artists working in 12 different media - from furniture to glass and wearable art - displayed their work in the historic National Building Museum. VOA’s Julie Taboh spoke with one of the artists, Bob McNally, who considers himself both an artist and a musician. He invented the instrument he calls a Strumstick.

Artist/Musician Invents Easy-to-Play Instrument

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— Bob McNally, who considers himself both an artist and a musician, put both of those talents to use when he developed the Strumstick, an instrument that looks a little like a guitar, only with  a long, narrow neck and a smaller body.

He designed it that way to encourage everyone, and not just musicians, to play music.

“People are capable of playing a musical instrument, but if you play an instrument and get frustrated with it early enough, you decide, it’s you, there’s something lacking in you,” he said. “I wanted to make an instrument that was a frontal assault on that misunderstanding."

And it only has three stings, which according to McNally, makes it a lot easier to play than other stringed instruments.

"The frets are spaced to give you just a major scale do-re-mi…and that means that when people squeeze one string, they get a couple of notes in the background for free, and they get the notes of a major scale, no wrong notes," he said. "So you can cover maybe 80 percent of most popular music with a Strumstick, but you’re only playing in one key at a time.”

  • The 2013 Smithsonian Craft Show, National Building Museum, Washington, D.C.
  • Bob McNally invented the “Strumstick,” an instrument he designed so that anyone could play music.
  • Ceramic art by Jennifer McCurdy at the 2013 Smithsonian Craft Show.
  • Shaker boxes by wood artist Tim Arnold at the 2013 Smithsonian Craft Show.
  • Glass art by Carrie Gustafson at the 2013 Smithsonian Craft Show.
  • Wearable art by Ignatius Creegan and Rod Givens at the 2013 Smithsonian Craft Show.
  • A porcelain figure, from “The Shadow Circus” collection by Kirsten Stingle at the 2013 Smithsonian Craft Show.
  • Twig furniture by Bill Perkins at the 2013 Smithsonian Craft Show.
  • A table by furniture maker Greg Klassen a the 2013 Smithsonian Craft Show.

McNally sells about 3,000 Strumsticks a year. The price ranges from $170 to double that, depending on the woods used and decorative elements.   

Many of his sales come from events like the Smithsonian Craft Show, one of the most difficult craft shows to get into.  

This year, about 120 artists were selected to present a wide variety of one-of-a-kind or limited edition works in 12 different media; everything from jewelry boxes disguised as books and bookends, to ceramics, glass and so-called wearable art.

“I’m always extremely grateful when I get in,” said McNally, “because it’s obviously a good show to do in terms of business, but the thing that’s almost more important is that the people who come to the show, the public, are very educated about craft.”

Proceeds from ticket sales and donations go towards education, research and outreach at the Smithsonian Institution.

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