Upcycling Your Musical Instruments

Old guitar

Music may calm the savage beast but sometimes the beast plays its musical instruments pretty savagely.

As a result, instruments don’t often last forever. As much as we fall in love with our drums, guitars, and everything else we crash, bang, strum, and blow, eventually they give out.

Then what? To the landfill?

What an unthinkable cruelty for something so long loved and enjoyed.

Instead of abandoning well-enjoyed instruments after their best-before date, these folks came up with incredible ways to upcycle musical instruments of all kinds. Here are some ideas to consider for your out-of-date instruments.

Reinventing Pianos

Pianos can be made into anything from media centers and aquariums to bars, as this page demonstrates. There’s a whole world of piano upcycling out there, and it’s worth some research if you’ve got one collecting cobwebs in the cellar. For starters, consider this amazing grand piano turned into a garden feature that both houses plants and provides a water fountain, designed and built by one Bill Metzgar, who clearly is a genius.

Then there’s Ohio piano teacher Joy Morin, who goes well beyond just plunking the old ivories, for she studies the reinvention of pianos too. Here’s a list of her favorite upcycling ideas for uprights, baby grands, and other pianos worth living another life. Whether you attach some legs to a baby grand lid to make a unique table, or you gut an upright to turn it into a tool cupboard or a media center, your options are myriad for old pianos.

All brassed out

Moving on from the ivories to the brasses, by scouring the web, you can find many different styles of horns reinvented as lamps and sconces. It seems easily done no matter how you style it, so it might just be the next life for your old trumpet, thanks to affordable lighting kits and simple stands.

Sure, that’s cute, but not too far from where I live, a Canadian artist has made a name for himself creating the most amazing water fountains for outdoor garden use, featuring an array of decommissioned old brass horns. Douglas Walker allows tours of his property and also sells these works, if you’re as blown away as me by his artistic talents.

Here’s a far simpler, but still wonderful, use of old horns. This tuba becomes a much-loved bird-bath in the center of a garden’s fountain. Once mounted upright, it looks like an easy project.

Reincarnating guitars

If brass was never your thing and you’re into the strings, like guitar, then let’s take another nod to my local talent. One of my favorite regional musicians is a guitar dude who plays his acoustic guitars so aggressively that he travels with a Samsonite toolkit onstage, and has a website called ibreakstrings.com. Since at least 2004, his wife has been making his broken strings into amazing jewelry. There’s a lot more you can do with guitar strings if you get creative, too.

Guitars, and their cases, get a lot of love in the upcycling world. A lot of different examples are kicking around for how people have fashioned shelving units from guitar cases, and I like those styles and shapes a lot. But taking a kick-ass old electric guitar, adding an old vinyl single, and throwing in a clock kit gets you this amazing upcycled guitar clock that sells for about $350 in Her Majesty’s England.

Drumming up a new life

Of course, drums are the instrument we actually design to take a beating and then some, so they’re destined for retirement sooner or later. Tables are an easy way to reinvent them. Add some legs (or not), cover with some glass or custom-cut wood, or just veneer the heck out of the skins, and presto — side tables of all sizes.

But that’s a little oversimplified, that example of the drum-to-table thing. Every now and then someone takes these things to another level, like Connecticut upcycling fiend Tim Sway, who once sold this really funky drum table through Etsy. A big old birch bass drum that has been cut and styled, with a neat drumstick surface, it’s got a totally different aesthetic than your normal drum table.

In the middle on the complexity scale is this nice drum table kitted out with a larger glass top so it serves greater use and won’t hide any of the beautiful original construction.

My favorite drumkit reinvention, though, goes to Demilked.com and Ludwig Metals, who generously share a look at on how to DIY this elaborate drumkit light installation. Ordered by a restaurant for a dramatic centerpiece, it comes complete with cool cymbal to ensure a crashing first impression for all who enter the eatery. 

The big finish

And the ultimate winner in brilliant re-use of an instrument goes to artist Marttine Bedin, who created this incredible, jaw-dropping low loft staircase from an old piano as a nod to the recent culinary trend of “nose-to-tail” cookery. Words really can’t do justice to this example of deconstructive genius. Bedin has amazing found art and upcycled creations on her site, so it’s really worth scouring, whether it’s a bay window bench made from an old piano or a chair with a seat made from old piano keys.

In the end, if you can come up with an idea for an old instrument or its carrying case, all you need to do is get creative about ways to make that happen. If music be the food of love, play on, said Shakespeare. Well, the harbingers of love should never be landfill-destined. Hopefully this post has given you some inspiration to ensure you’ll never be a party to such a tragic demise.

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