David McCauley is the Co-Director and an Artist at the Void Projects. He is the Founder of the Rise Up Gallery and the Laundromat Art Space. He is also an Ambassador for the Impossible Dream Project.
He has enjoyed playing multiple instruments, including the guitar. Following an injury, he became a C6 quadriplegic with limited use of his hands. For some people, that might have been the end of their musical aspirations. But David has found new ways to keep playing music by making some really smart adaptations.
First, he bought a lap steel guitar. Steel guitars are placed horizontally, so that it’s normally played in a seated position. Also, steel guitarists don’t use individual fingers to press strings down to the fretboard, but instead use a polished steel bar to slide easily along the strings. This gives the instrument its unique “portamento” capabilities, or the ability to glide smoothly over every pitch between notes. Per Wikipedia, “this opens up the the instrument to produce a sinuous crying sound and deep vibrato emulating the human singing voice.”
Steel guitars can play very expressive single-note melodies, or the strings can be tuned differently and strummed simultaneously to play chords.
David’s second adaptation was for that iconic steel bar. His good friend Eric Abernathy appended a wooden handle that was cut and sanded down to the perfect size and shape, to make the slide much easier to hold. So now with the perfect instrument and the custom-fit slide, he began making music again, now much more effectively.
He plugged in his electric steel, turned on some distortion, and hasn’t stopped playing yet. Distortion, overdrive, and fuzz pedals are one general type of effect among many other great effects that can be controlled by foot pedals, or stomp boxes. These units can alter the audio signal before it reaches the amplifier, whenever you stomp them on or off. Other effects include reverb, wah-wah, flangers, chorus, delay, echo, loopers, and more. So many more.
And so here’s the third great idea: David added a loop pedal to his system, which allows him to perform a segment of music, record it, and then repeat it over and over again in real time. This loop pedal has opened up an opportunity to build layers of sound. Instead of playing only one note at a time, now a second note can be added on top of the first, and a third, a fourth, and more.
However, in David’s words, “Only problem is it’s a foot pedal and my legs don't work. LOL.” So how do we solve this problem? “Therefore, I was exploring ways to make it more functional for me by adding a switch that I can use with my elbow, jaw/shoulder, or mouth (sip&puff).”
This is about the time he called Music Therapy St. Pete, and struck up a conversation with James. We weren’t sure if we were going to need some electrical engineering to re-wire a loop pedal to work with some adaptive equipment, but David found a loop pedal that solved the problem for us. The DigiTech Trio+ Band Creator and Looper Pedal can actually listen to your playing and automatically create bass and drum accompaniment, but it’s onboard looper system is able to work with a plugged in external device instead of a built-in foot switch. David now plugs in an AirTurn Bite Switch to trigger the loop function.
David continues to play, improving his adaptive set-up, sharpening his skills, honing in on his style, and expanding his new musical voice. But he also wants to share everything he’s learned and created so that more people might be able to play music. There are so many other people who can enjoy playing music if they just have the right instrument, the right set-up. One last tip: you can very easily modify a regular acoustic guitar to to be played more like a steel guitar with Slide Guitar Extension Nut, which lifts the strings further off the fretboard and allows you to use a guitar slide to play something beautiful. So let’s get started, and make some music!