Work Abroad

Make and Sell Instruments in the Street

Turn those melodies into miles around the world.

I knew this English guy who was traveling in the US and he ran out of money. Finding himself down to $80 he bit the bullet and went down to town and spent more than half of it on plastic tubes and a paint set. He then walked off into the woods, made a fire and began to warp the plastic tubes over the flames, almost poisoning himself in the process.

Once he had the shape he required, he took out the paint set and began covering the tubes with Aboriginal style dot designs. Once the paint dried, hey presto! – he had a plastic didgeridoo. He walked back down to town and sold the first one in a music store for $75. After that he just played the didge in the street and, though it couldn’t of course compare to the real eucalyptus version, it was the first time those rural Americans had seen the instrument and he drew a crowd every time, several of whom were willing to buy one if he gave them a quick lesson.

He traveled another 3 months in the US, selling didgeridoos as he went.

What Instruments Will Sell?

Ideally, you want to be selling either something you can make or something light enough that you can carry a quantity of them around. You also need to be able to play at least well enough to convince the public that it’s worth owning…

Here are a few suggestions:

the “Jew’s harp

The Jew’s harp or Jaw harp”: fits in your pocket and tough it’s one of the oldest instruments in the world it’s still something of a novelty. Pull one out and begin to twang some acoustic trance music and you’ll soon have a crowd – just check out this busker (who happens to be my uncle)


Up and down the street in Pahar Ganj, Delhi, there are guys who have a little basket on their back full of wooden flutes. They play themes from Bollywood movies until they catch someone’s eye and then promptly sell them a flute, assuring them that they’ll learn in no time. Wooden and bamboo flutes are actually quite tough to play well but they look easy enough and that’s all you need to make a sale.

The Diddley Bow

The Diddley Bow is a one string blues guitar that has recently been brought back to fashion by hobo performer, Seasick Steve, seen below. You can essentially just nail a bit of wire into a a piece of wood and play it with a bottleneck slide that can be bought in any guitar store. Add a box on one end to increase the volume and you’ve got a taste of the old can’t-afford-to-buy-a-guitar blues that induced the original blues men to invent it.


If you’ve got rhythm then you can always sell percussion instruments. There are loads of homemade drums and shakers that can be put together for next to nothing, producing a variety of catchy beats and ethereal tones. Everyone can tap or shake out a rhythm and so the learning curve makes for an easy intro. Here’s where to go to learn how to make homemade percussion instruments The Thumb Piano

The thumb piano, or mbira is an instrument that everyone loves to dabble at. You can pick up some great varieties in Africa, particularly around the Congo, and if you got good at playing it then you’d sell them in the street no problem.

How to Sell Your Instruments

It would help if you had a vehicle to carry around your stock but the example instruments given above will fit easily into a backpack though you’ll probably need to put them into some protective casing to make sure they don’t get smashed when hauled onto the top of a bus.

To sell your instruments you just need to start playing them anywhere near potential customers. This could be in the street, at a market, in a cafe, on the beach or just walking around town like a peddler. You don’t have the hassle of performing for money like a busker, instead you get into conversations with all kinds of people and hopefully make a few bucks…

And instruments are fun to take on the road, anyways.