How to Make and Play the Bazooka Instrument
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How to Make and Play the Bazooka Instrument

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The bazooka was invented and popularized by Bob Burns--an equivalent instrument called the "funnel phone" was used by jazz musician Noon Johnson; Sanford Kendrick played western swing music on one, too. You can make your own bazooka from rolled and taped paper tubes, soldered copper or brass tubes, welded steel tubes, thin wooden tubes, or plastic tubes. Any competent brass musician will be able to perform masterfully on bazooka. Non-brass players will struggle to produce notes and tunes, but making one is well worth a try.







All parts pictured in the schematic drawing above are required except for the long handle F, the mouthpiece A, and the leadpipe B. In the video down below, Bob Burns states clearly that he *only* used two pipes, a funnel, and a handle. However, bazooka is *much* easier to play if a mouthpiece and leadpipe is included. For example, the zoomorphic "slide serpent" or "buccin bazooka" also pictured above employs a Bach 6 and 1/2 AL small shanked trombone mouthpiece inserted into a concealed cylindrical leadpipe--a 12" length of 1/2" diameter soft vinyl tubing. Hall's unique buccin bazooka, clearly referencing bazooka, buccin trombones, and also the old church serpent, Russian bassoon, bass horn, and even ophicleide, emits 2 and 1/2 octaves of chromatic notes ranging from the deep, fat, and punchy pedals way on up to clear, soft, and lyrical highs.

MAKING A BAZOOKA

In the schematic drawing above, consider optional part A to be the plastic cap from a handheld water bottle, a small PCV pipe cap, or a similar cup shaped object. A hole has been drilled through it and a short, narrow length of tubing has been inserted--several inches of soda straw, for example. This small tube part B is held in place within the bottle cap by friction. In all, this assembly copies the form of a large trumpet or small trombone mouthpiece with its shank and leadpipe integrated together.

The mouthpiece assembly needs to be fixed inside the outer tube marked C--in reference to our pictured example, this tube could be made by rolling up and taping a piece of printer paper. You can make the mouthpiece attach to the tube with tape.

As you can see, tube C slides *over* tube D--tube D is yet another rolled up and taped tube of printer paper which has been created in a slightly *smaller* diameter. Tolerances matter very little--it's fine if tube D slides quite freely inside tube C. It's also okay if you do this backwards making tube D in a bigger diameter than tube C (as was done with PVC pipes in the case of Hall's buccin bazooka).

The inner tube D needs to have the bell of the bazooka attached to it--again, this part (marked E in the diagram) is made out of paper and tape. Just make a cone by rolling up a "dunce cap" shape out of printer paper, taping it, and cutting it to finish the shape. This part amplifies the sound like a megaphone.

You might make optional part F, the slide handle, for a paper bazooka by cutting and taping on a bamboo skewer or cut a long piece of stiff cardboard to the shape needed.

PLAYING BAZOOKA

To play the bazooka, grasp both tubes, C and D (or grab C and handle F if you included it). Put the small, bare pipe end (or the mouthpiece if you made one) to your lips and prepare to "blow raspberries" into it.

Now, telescope the instrument out to almost full open position. If you are a trombone or baritone player, *think* about low tuning Bb--the one you tend to start your warm-up scale with. Try to blow that Bb note into the bazooka-—do not yet move the slide. When you’ve got that Bb sounding good, go ahead and use lip tensioning *alone* to try to go up the Bb major diatonic scale: do, re, mi, fa, etc. How? It’s simply a matter of listening, tightening your lip tension, and adjusting your breath pressure. Again, do *not* yet move the slide.

Once you are warmed up and you can go up and down that eight note scale easily, it is time to try going on down into the deep pedal notes—as far down as you can go. Again, do *not* move the slide as you seek out these pedal notes: just find the notes with your lip and ear.

Regarding diatonic and chromatic notes: they are *all* easily accessible using this simple lip tension adjustment technique! What is going on here?

Unlike the trombone, the bazooka slide does *not* change specific pitches—you use your lip to do that. On the other hand, the slide *does* change the tone--as you move it back and forth, you will hear an audible tone shift coming from the bazooka.

Now, go ahead and play a tune with your buzzing lip technique. As you play, make the slide shift in and out each time you change notes in your melody--you will hear a slight wah-wah effect occurring as you play.

BAZOOKA SCIENCE REVEALED

The bazooka is a falset horn: all pitches it emits are created in falset with lip buzzes entering the bare pipe or the built-in mouthpiece/leadpipe unit, depending on your construction choice. The buzzing of the lips is *not* intended to resonate in perfect sympathy with a scientifically-scaled tube. Notes produced within the instrument are amplified as they travel through the lengths of tubing and the expanding bell.

A key consideration that strongly effects tone and compass (pitch range, low to high) is: how will you construct your mouthpiece? If you use no mouthpiece, you will have the most severely limited range of notes low to high and a very "airy", loose-lipped sound--perhaps most like hoots played on didgeridoo. If you do use a mouthpiece and include a short leadpipe, then you will have a more focused sound with a range limited to perhaps 1 and 1/2 octaves. With a short leadpipe, you probably won't be able to as easily play low pedal notes. As you add more and more cyclindrical leadpipe to your mouthpiece, you get a tighter, "buzzier" tone with more enhanced low to high pitch range--up to about 2.5 chromatic octaves. If you abandon cylindrical leadpipes entirely and construct a truly conical one instead, the tone that results should be much more pure, hornlike, and sonorous.

updated 10/8/2013

LINKS

Bob Burns explains his instrument at YouTube...

Noon Johnson, another famous bazooka player who included a brass plumbing union as the mouthpiece for his "funnel phone"...

More info about Noon Johnson...

Sanford Kendrick, yet another famous bazooka player...

Taiki Watanabe, a contemporary bazooka player performing live in Tokyo with The Jazzboilers...

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