The Basic Manual Sound
Hands-on Advice from
On the radio drama list,
somebody asked "What would you include in a good basic sound
effects kit?" Here are my thoughts.
Of course, it all depends upon WHAT the radio play calls
for. I work almost exclusively with live, manual (hand or
foot operated) effects. I don't use sophisticated electronic
samplers (devices that trigger pre-recorded sounds) much for
live radio gigs--even though I host the
Pad, one of the world's most foremost websites devoted
to the powerful Kurzweil samplers. In this article I'll
stick with manual sound effects devices.
So, for a good SFX kit, I'd start with:
- CRASH BOX --made from a metal Christmas popcorn
container. This is the single most useful device I
have. See my "How to Make SFX" page
for details on this and several other items on this list.
- OLD DIAL TELEPHONE - and ringer bell box -- the
kind companies use for delivery doorbells. Don't bother
trying to make the old phone ring--it'll cost for a step
down transformer to deliver the 84 volts necessary to engage
the phone ring circuit. Just build a $10 ringer box. (See my
"advanced SFX" listing below).
- THUNDER SHEET - 2x4 foot 16th inch high-impact
polystyrene. Look in your local yellow pages for "Plastics"
and call around. It'll cost about $10.
- WALKBOARD - 2x3 foot doubled
3/4 inch plywood for footsteps. Put tile on one side to get
a different sound.
- SMALL DOOR - Ideally, cut a regular door
just after the latch and make a door frame to fit. I'll try
to add a "how to make a door" tutorial for a much smaller
unit to this site. Check back.
- GRAVEL BOX - Wooden drawer-type box with
gravel--for horses/dirt. Also, coconuts and short 2x4s as
- CAVEMAN CLUBS -- Large hollow caveman style
toy clubs--great for fights and bodies dropping to the
Hollywood Toys & Costumes (800) 554-3444. If you call,
they can ship them to you. ($10 each--get two!) Their
website doesn't list lots of small items, like phone toys
and the clubs
- STIFF PLASTIC BAGS - For fire, static, even
- CLIP BOARDS - For gun shots--but they need a
resonator box under them to sound "bigger". I think a metal
trash can might be the ticket.
- TOY RATCHET - Plastic New Year's noisemaker. Good
for handcuffs, winches, drawbridges... ratchets.
- VIBRO PEN - A "Dizzy Doodler" pen that writes
wobbly--for planes/jackhammers. Turn it on and apply the top
(not the pen) to a cardboard box for a convincing airplane.
Do the same on a stack of saucers and you'll have a great
jack-hammer. The KB Toy liquidator chain sells them for $4.
- TOY CELL-PHONE - For radars, space beeps, even
cell-phones! Lately, these have been really hard to find.
Toys & Costumes (800) 554-3444. If you call, they can
ship them to you. Their website doesn't list lots of small
items, like clubs and phone toys They also sell toy beepers.
- SLIDE WHISTLE - Besides eeeeeYOOOP, it can also be
quickly slid back and forth for radars and space sounds.
- PLASTIC EGG MARACAS - for jungles, rattlesnakes,
weirdness. You could make some with plastic Easter eggs and
rice, but many music stores sell them for $2 each and those
have a finer gravel that sounds very good.
- WIND MACHINE - also useful for other mechanical
sounds--machine guns, cars, rotors. See my
"How to Make SFX" page for
details on this and several other items on this list.
- TEACUP SAUCERS - Good "dishes" sound. Apply vibro-pen to
two stacked saucers for a great jack-hammer.
- METAL SPOONS/SPATULAS -- Get a really big pancake
flipping spatula and some large metal cooking spoons for
great sword fights.
- PLASTIC TUMBLER - For pouring water. Drop AA batteries
in empty tumblers for ice cubes.
- CIRCUIT BREAKER - A home circuit breaker (the kind that
go in electrical panels) gives you that old fashioned, LOUD
click of a light switch.
Advanced Sound Effects Devices
I'm also build more complicated devices. These are
modeled after old NBC and CBS SFX from the golden age. At
some point in 2005, I'll include "how to" instructions here
on the "How to Make SFX" page and
also offer them fully-built for sale.
- GLASS SCRATCH -- A box with a 6x6 inch plate of 1/4 inch
thick glass. It has a spring loaded X-brace with spikes in
it. You rotate a crank and it scratches the glass.
Sounds like a train brake or fingernails on a chalkboard.
- DOORBELLS/BUZZER/BELL -- A wooden box with the typical
ding-dong (and single "ding"--for hospital pages) and an
office door latch buzzer, and a ringing bell to simulate an
old style telephone--4 seconds on, two seconds off.
- CREAKER BOX - Cotton clothesline wrapped around a
dowel rubbed with violin rosin--sounds like a creaking
door or thumbscrews. It's rigged in a wooden shoe-box
sized thing. Wow!
- CREAKER DOWEL -- A 1/2 inch dowel wrapped by a rubber
hose with a hose clamp. It's a different kind of creak.
- BOING STICK -- A box with a plywood bow that has a banjo
string on it. You pluck the string and bend the bow
for the famous "Road Runner" cartoon "beeeeyoooooooo" boing
- SCREEN DOOR SLAMMER -- a hinged door with a long screen