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Making guitars means that there are often offcuts of attractively figured wood left over. One thing to do with them is to turn them into musical boxes. As well as making amusing presents, they demonstrate how even a tiny box and soundboard act to produce a surprisingly loud sound from a mechanism that, on its own, is whisper quiet.

The musical mechanism can be bought from novelty shops quite cheaply. A range of tunes is available of which two are shown below.

The mechanism is a steel comb whose teeth are tuned to a scale. Rotating the hand cranked drum causes the raised pimples on it to ‘ping’ notes as they first bend a tooth and then release it.

Held in the hand, turning the handle produces a tune so quiet as to be almost inaudible. But pressed against something that can itself vibrate – even a table top or a wooden box – the volume of sound is substantially increased.

If you go to the trouble of mounting the mechanism on a thin plate of spruce (I simply glue it with a little epoxy), the sound is really quite loud. Here’s one in a walnut box. The mechanism is mounted upside down beneath the top and hidden inside the box so that only the handle protrudes.

And two views of another, this time with four mechanisms each playing a different tune.

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