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There are no rules or limits to creating instruments for one Tāmaki Makaurau-based piano tuner and music-maker.

Photos: Frances Carter

Nancy Howie views average household objects and materials a little differently than most. In her eyes, the potential for dog bowls, string, old boxes and fishing nylon is limitless. With a bit of ingenuity, Nancy knows well a combination of these objects can create music. 


A growing collection of 18 hand-made instruments are dotted around her Auckland living room. One guitar resting against a shelf is made from a plywood box, a piece of decking timber, a belt buckle and a dog bowl. Its frets have been crafted from nails with the sharp ends sawn off, its tuning pegs from bolts. Another cello-like instrument has been made with recycled floorboards. “I daydream a lot about ideas for instruments, once I started it was hard to stop.”


Nancy, a musician and piano tuner by trade, started experimenting with instrument-making during Aotearoa’s first Covid lockdown in 2020. “I was making a cover of a song for a friend from home, and I thought it really needed a string section. I didn’t have one to make the sound I wanted, so I thought I’d go around the house and see if I could make one.” With no access to hardware or DIY stores, a fence post, an old guitar string and a tin can was her best bet for the instrument’s body. A bow was crafted with a branch from her garden and a length of fishing line, then on a beach walk resin was scraped from pines to use as rosin (the solid substance used to create friction between a bow and strings). 


“I kept going, maybe out of curiosity, maybe as a coping mechanism with everything that was going on at the time. There’s a lot I found I could do though with objects I had around.” Each time she made an instrument, she wrote a song...

Want to keep reading? Find the full story in Womenclan: Journal Two, available now.

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