Musical instruments

This is the first page of three describing instrumentation. Click the links above (or at the bottom) to view the drum page and the sound system page.

guitars, mandolins, and dolphin sticks


In this work of interspecies communication, we are constantly researching new musical instruments and audio technology to optimize real time interactions with whales and dolphins out on the ocean. Interspecies recently received a letter from a visitor to this website, urging us to make a page displaying these instruments, and with notes about why we might choose various instruments for specific species or circumstances. The request made us recognize that if any researcher is going to continue this work, simply knowing what has already been tried will be a big help in knowing what to try next.

With a history dating back to the mid-1970s, it has taken three pages to display the most notable instruments and systems.

The first among several instruments, is the Prince guitar, shown here. It was a gift to Interspecies from Oregon luthier Phil Cacopardo in 1979. Jim Nollman had recently been interviewed in Guitar Player magazine. Phil responded to the interview by contacting him. He thought this whale work would benefit by using a unique instrument for a unique musical gig, and he could build an electric guitar to any specifications. When Jim responded that he had no money for a custom, hand-built instrument, Phil said there would be no charge.

Ironically, in those days Interspecies was only beginning to produce oceanic projects. Nollman had no idea what he needed, beyond a well-built instrument. At the time, he was playing a lot of mandolin, and so he suggested a teardrop shaped body and a very clean sound— and whatever artistic extras Phil wished to add that would, somehow, tell the world that this instrument was, indeed, being played with cetaceans.

Nollman didn't hear from Phil again until 1982. One day he called, saying the instrument was done, and that Jim needed to drive to southern Oregon to pick it up. So he did, and the two artists spent a few days together setting up the instrument, and getting it photographed for an article that soon appeared in Guitar Player magazine, depicting it as "the world's only guitar made to be played with animals. The body is walnut. The neck maple, the fingerboard is uniquely thick piece of ebony.

In the past 25 years, Jim has made some changes, but only to the pickups. For the electric guitar players reading this, notice a brass-lined hole holding the two bridge pickups. This little hole between the pickups adds a rich and unique resonance to the sound, slightly reminiscent of an old Gretsch like the Beatles used. It has been played almost every summer saince 1983, with the orca pods of northern Vancouver Island. The orca excerpts you hear on, are all made using this incredible instrument.

The Peavey Mandolin

Nollman's first instrument was a mandolin, and he still considers it his instrument of choice when playing in an ensemble. In the early 1980s he needed an instrument to play with high pitched dolphins, while directing a project in Mexico for John and Toni Lilly. He noticed this soprano solid body guitar advertised by the Peavey company, and wrote the owner, Hartley Peavey, about his work and his need. Peavey gratiously sent him one. Soon thereafter Jim met the pickup maker, Seymour Duncan, who offered to build a special pickup for this unique soprano guitar. Then, Seattle Luthier Chris Larson, added a custom nu, and bridge to further accentuate the high end. Finally, luthier Bobby Warren of Friday Harbor WA, gave it a sex change from a six string guitar to an eight string mandolin. And here it is, on the left.

This instrument was used for 6 months with spotted dolphins on Interspecies' Lilly project. Much later it was featured in a National Geographic film shot in 2005 of Nollman working with right whale dolphins and grampus in Monterey Bay.

Interspecies would trade it for a true mandolin with a built-in transducer. specifically, we seek a Draleon Royale or an Eastman 2-point, or possibly a Paris Swing Nuages, to use on an upcoming film project with beluga whales.

Will Trade or Sell

The Beluga Guitar

This guitar started out life as an off-the-rack Peavey solid body that Nollman used for playing rock and roll in the mid-1970s. It then lay in a closet for over 20 years. In 2000 he was asked to attempt communication with beluga whales in arctic Russia for a film project with the Russian Academy of Sciences. Interspecies sought funding and received it: to visually modify this guitar specifically for the film. Extensive carving resulted to cut the weight of the instrument in half. The stylized whale was then carved and lacquered. New pickups were added. The controls were redone in turquoise and black stones, and set in the blue corroded copper plate.

This guitar ought to be in a museum. Unfortunately, we don't know where that museum is, or if it even exists. If we can sell it, we'll use the money for a new mandolin to play with dolphins.

For Sale

The Dolphin Sticks

For 1000s of years, Australian Aborigines have clicked sticks similar to these, underwater, to call dolphins into shore. The complete story of these sticks' construction and mythology can be found in great detail in a chapter of the book The Man Who Talks to Whales (Sentient Publications). These sticks were carved in Careyes Mexico from an unknown wood species found in a local cabinet maker's shop. They are so heavy they sink in water, which necessitates the cord to attach them to one's body while floating. The symbols on the lower stick, essentially read, "Don't Give Up."

sound system
guitar/whale excerpts