Wish you were here

How I imagine a guitar would be conceived and realised in a Martian environment

Julian Parsons

I’m sitting in my sleeping pod staring out of the pod portal at the bleak but beautiful Martian landscape. My thoughts turn to Earth and my friends and family whom I left many moons ago. For an unknown reason one of my favourite Earth songs starts to play in my head:

How I wish, how I wish you were here

We’re just two lost souls

Swimming in a fish bowl

Year after year

Running over the same old ground

What have we found?

The same old fears

Wish you were here

My grandad used to play this song on his mechanical rotating player in the 70s, with the song somehow impregnated in the hard plastic he placed on the device.

In my mind the guitar solo starts and, in that moment, I am determined to build myself a guitar from whatever I can find in the community of pods.

I have some aluminium ducting in my store, and I know pod 4 have some aluminium tubes that I could trade for some of the spices I have grown in hydroponics. The trade works and I then head to the community space where the weekly market takes place. I swap some electrical wiring for a small piece of wood from a plant packing case. I cash in some of my community credits for a bag of salvaged nuts and bolts. A high price but it’s the only way I can think to tension the strings and keep the guitar in tune. Back in my pod I take a small electric motor from a drone that crashed after a navigation malfunction.

I take everything to my repair bench where I have a range of simple hand tools mainly made from scrap materials. Using my last tubes of epoxy resin I glue the ducting together to create the neck. I drill the wood and insert the aluminium tubes to create the guitar body. The tuners are made by gluing the nuts into pre-drilled holes, and bolts are screwed in to act as string tensioners. I deconstruct the motor carefully unwinding the delicate copper wire and rewinding onto the pickup frame. The magnets from the motor are glued into the pickup. I glue steel wire from an old air con system into slots I have laboriously cut using my pod made hacksaw.

The guitar is ready, but I have to wait 4 tortuous months for the next supply vessel. I have used 6g of my 20g allowance for a set of electric guitar strings. They finally arrive and I string the guitar hoping that my designs will work and that I haven’t wasted these precious resources.

I plug the reclaimed cable into the coffee can housing the comms circuit amp and speaker. There’s some crackling and popping which stops as I adjust the cable. I hold the guitar in what I believe to be a G major chord. My muscle memory is fading and I have to concentrate hard to reposition my fingers. I draw my right hand across the strings and hear the root, third and fifth notes ring out from the speaker. It’s tinny and slightly out of tune but I feel elated, I have made music on Mars. 

Building a Martian Guitar

How a Martian Guitar was actually conceived and realised on Earth.

Confined in a Martian house with limited opportunities for meaningful, fun activities would be a challenge for most people. Music is thought to be good for wellbeing and playing an instrument as an individual or in a group could have many benefits in such an environment. In this project the idea was to try and build a viable instrument from materials that could be salvaged from a spacecraft, or that could be grown/ manufactured in such an environment.

Tools would be either have to be taken to Mars or manufactured from available materials, therefore, it was decided to use only hand tools that might be available. The one exception was the electric drill. It was envisaged that aluminium components could be salvaged along with nuts and bolts, but that no specialist manufactured components would be available. Some wood has been used in the construction, but this could be replaced by aluminium alloys or hard but workable plastics.

The actual prototype Guitar has been made with recycled aluminium tube (old curtain rail), square section aluminium rod, steel nuts and bolts, and wood from an old worktop. Epoxy glue was used to glue most of the components together. This would have to have been brought to Mars from Earth.

One of the most difficult things to design and make was the tuning system. On Earth constructed guitars the specialist components are made using complex machines. On Mars limited components and tools would be available. The system was designed using a nut and bolt arrangement to tension the strings and therefore allow independent tuning of each string.

The electric guitar pick-up converts the string vibrations into a small electrical signal that is amplified and then converted back to sound via a loudspeaker. In the prototype an electromagnetic coil from an old guitar pickup was used. On Mars it could be possible to utilise the coil from a small electrical motor to produce a handmade pickup.

The guitar was fretted using steel wire that was glued into slots in the fretboard. T section fret wire is normally used but this would be unavailable on Mars.

It seemed easier to create an electric guitar rather than an acoustic guitar, as an acoustic guitar tends to rely on the properties of wood, generally unavailable on Mars. However, an electric guitar requires amplification. A simple amplifier electrical circuit, that could be found in a communications device, was built into a Coffee can and a small loudspeaker added to convert the signal into soundwaves.

Tumeric was used to dye the fret board and bridge yellow, to add interest. Tumeric could be grown in the hydroponics area.

The strap was made from kite fabric. This could be obtained from the parachutes, and their harnesses, used to slow down spacecraft entering the Martian atmosphere.

Finally, the experiment did result in a playable instrument. The coffee can amplifier produced a very raw sound quality but of a musical nature. The guitar and amplifier could provide much needed relaxation and stimulation during leisure time.

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