PALESTINE — Doyle Campbell called an odd-looking musical instrument in his hands a "pot luck mandolin." He made it from a cat-watering pan, mother of pearl buttons off his late mother's gowns and layers of coiled veneer wood.
Despite its origins, clearly recognizable strains of the old song "Ghost Riders in the Sky" filled the air as Campbell played the strange instrument. Then he played an old-time fiddler song, "Soldier's Joy."
It is just one of many musical instruments that Campbell, who lives in rural Anderson County near Palestine, has created out of odd materials.
One made from a stainless steel bedpan can be played like a steel guitar, or it can be played as a Dobro, Campbell said. Fingering the instrument, Campbell said, "You wouldn't think that (music) would come out of a bedpan would you?"
"I have a stainless steel adaptor that goes on it, and you can raise the strings up and play it like a Dobro, the forerunner of the steel Hawaiian guitar," he said. All of his instruments are kind of crossovers and unusual, Campbell noted.
It is attached to a frame that is a hanging hook from a chicken house in Arkansas to hold the instrument away from the player's body, because holding it next to the body kills the sound, Campbell said.
He called that one a resonator guitar.
Campbell explained that he did 42 calculations to set the frets using a mathematical formula that dates to 550 B.C. for how sound travels.
Campbell made another instrument that looks like a makeshift banjo but plays like a tenor ukulele by taking a pot off a banjo and a nick off a guitar and using clothes pins.
"I've got one made out of a toilet seat and a stainless steel salad bowl. It's played like a guitar," Campbell said. "I've got a violin made out of a Japanese fishing cane. I made it into an electric violin. You'd think it was a Stradivarius playing, but it's nothing but a fishing cane."
Campbell made "scrappy" in 1994, an instrument made out of scraps including different kinds of mahogany, ebony, aspen, drill bits, figurines off a cuckoo clock and "all kinds of things."
Since Campbell is a retired mathematics and science teacher, he put circles and right triangles in it, making the bottom part look like a jack-o'-lantern. "But turn it upside down and it looks like it's whistling at you," Campbell said with a laugh.
"It's one-of-a-kind I guess," Campbell said. He has a case for scrappy that looks like a mummy's casket.
Still another instrument Campbell created is named the "Gitcho," made out of a turnip green can and pieces of cedar with the frets out of a welding rod.
The "Gitcho" is a cross between a guitar and a banjo. It has two guitar strings but has a modified scale of a mountain dulcimer.
"If you want a different key to play in, you tune the first string to that key and then tune the other one to that string as a harmony note and you can play in that key," Campbell said.
Campbell led a workshop on how to build a "Gitcho" at Palestine Public Library.
He also built what he calls the "rub board rhythm machine." It consists of an old fashion rub board once used for washing clothes, cowbells with different tones, a horn, a small siren and castanets made out of gourds.
"There's always something on the drawing board," Campbell said. But he said he doesn't know how he thinks up using improbable materials to make musical instruments.
He attributed part of his motivation to curiosity to see how sound travels through different mediums at different speeds. Different woods produce different sounds, he said.
"If you have a spruce top on something and a mahogany back, the combination of the two give a unique sound," he said. "If you have Brazilian rosewood on the back and a cedar top or a spruce top, you get a different sound. I experiment. I have about as many failures as I have successes."
Campbell goes to hardware stores for supplies and he goes to garage sales to acquire pots or pans.
"I found out you got to have something with a ring in it. I pick up a pot or a pan and I thump it. If it's got a ring to it, then I can make a musical instrument out of it. If it has a dead sound, you can't. I found out mainly stainless steel works the best," Campbell said.
He became interested in making musical instruments as a child.
"As a kid, my granddad made me a little old banjo-looking thing out of a syrup bucket, and he had some old violin strings and whittled out a nick and put on it. I was 5 or 6. It started from there," Campbell said.
As time passed, Campbell said, he started repairing some instruments and eventually started "messing around building different things."
Although his granddad taught him how to play the violin, Campbell said his ability to play different instruments is "kind of a natural thing,"
Campbell's family plays mostly in Anderson County gospel music, blue grass, country and old-time folk music, sometimes called mountain music.
They performs mainly at Salmon Lake Park at Grapeland but also have performed for benefits and churches. He has performed at the dulcimer festival in Palestine, at blue grass festivals in Oklahoma, the Ozark Folk Center in Mena, Ark., and the Louisiana Hay Ride.