about & faq

about2Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m Jeff Stephens and Tinkers Damn is where I post information about the hillbilly instruments I make; ukuleles, dulcimers (a.k.a. dulcitars), canjos, and some day soon a five string banjeaurine.

After being bitten by the ukulele bug in 2005 by a wedding gift from a friend in Maui, I had to try my hand at a cigar box uke. The result of that experiment was a fever to make more instruments. Several cookie tins, a couple of documentaries on the making of steelpan drums, and a whole lot of hammering later, I was on my way to Tinkers Damn, where junk that isn’t worth a tinker’s damn turns into swell instruments that don’t play second fiddle.

three at Maker FaireThings I’m asked often:

  • Where do you sell these? – For now this is just barely a hobby. Making it a business is a ways off. Selling these directly through this web site is a little clunky. I figure a body needs to play an instrument in person before buying one, but there are available instruments listed here. Take a look at my email if you are itching to get in touch or dying to buy something.
  • I bought one of your weird instruments, now how do I tune the idiot thing? – Have a look at the illustrations in tuning your instrument.
  • Rats, I broke a string! – Most of my instruments use loop end plain steel strings (not wound). Inside the tin on the neck extension I write the original string sizes. A good instrument shop will have ’em or you can order online. Canjos are another matter. Those strings are scavenged from “braided” steel cable. Drop me a line and I may have one to send you or you can get creative.
  • How long does it take to make one? – I don’t know for certain (If I timed it I’m certain that I would cry at how little I manage to sell these things for), but an ukulele or dulcimer will take two weeks of working every evening after my day job and the better part of both weekends. A canjo is a much simpler thing and I will often make them in a batch of four or five in one weekend. For more about how I make instruments, have a look at the evolving how it’s made link in the top menu.
  • Why cookie tins? – I took a real shine to the brash banjo like sound of steel strings and a steel resonator after I made my first cookie tin dulcimer. It had lots of barking, favored resonant frequencies as a result of the flat can surface and how the string tension changed its shape. Once I started shaping the tin bottoms and got them to behave, there was no going back. Every tin is an adventure in a thousand hammer blows.
  • How do you shape the tins? – That’s easy and complicated. I hit them over and over again with a ball-peen hammer over a curved anvil. The metal stretches, becomes harder, and more brittle as I work. It’s loud and sweaty work. I have posted some pictures of the process in the how it’s made link in the top menu. More to come.
  • Can a cookie tin instrument get LOUDER? – Why, yes! have a look at the electric link in the top menu.
  • Why not nylon strings? – I like the itch of the steel strings but I am getting around to making some instruments with the familiar and forgiving plastic strings.