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June 2024
Vol. 23, No. 9

All the Bells and Whistles

It’s National Buy a Musical Instrument Day!

by Scott PaulsonMay 2021

A child-size zither.

Plastic recorders



Melody harp

May 22 is a designated celebration of National Buy a Musical Instrument Day! This is a lesser-known celebration with forgotten roots and no stated founder but worth marking on your calendar!
The implied purpose of the date is probably to visit a local music store, and during this less-restricted Covid month, those stores could use your patronage. You might find an economical instrument that opens up a new creative outlet. Haven’t you always wanted a ukulele? Maybe a harmonica with a bonus chromatic trigger key? An in-person visit can be more enlightening than online browsing—as you might meet knowledgeable staff with a mutual fiddle fascination or notice postings about autoharp instructors of interest!
Educational toys, modest beginner instrument models, and odd music novelties, on display at the more general stores, come in all price ranges. Who wouldn’t want a nose whistle? (The trick is to place it gently sealed over mouth and nose and exhale THROUGH YOUR NOSE ONLY.) Maybe a kazoo is in your future. (The trick is to put the bigger end in your mouth and you don’t blow, you hum.) Even a plastic recorder has the ability to connect you with music from many eras, stretching back to pre-Renaissance. (The trick is: do not forcefully blow into the instrument, you gently sigh into it. “Hot Cross Buns” will sound ever so excellent if you take this advice.)
San Diego County has many music stores worth visiting, some designed to work with public school music programs—setting up young students with promising equipment and onsite instructors. Other beloved stores are dedicated to specific instruments (guitar!) and a handful are specifically dedicated to repair needs.
Here are some of my favorites:
Nick Rail Music is still thriving in the Poway area (a blessed zip code with school systems featuring organized music programs)
Full service and fully professional!
The Windsmith in North Park continues as an excellent repair store.
Repairs only…a life-saving resource!
La Jolla Music is smaller these days (across the street from its original location on Pearl Street with a smaller inventory.)
Elegant instructor studios here!
McCrea Music Company
Delightfully cluttered and always an adventure!
Alan’s Music Center
Another reason to love La Mesa!
Bertrand’s Music
The Rancho Penasquitos location is truly worth visiting!
Guitar Center
So much inventory and such knowledgeable staff!
Obviously, there are also plenty of online opportunities for musical items, like Lark in the Morning. They are my go-to store for music novelties. I hope to visit their brick and mortar location up North some year.
Musical instruments from all over the world – Lark in the Morning
In conclusion:
Here are three instruments from my youth that molded my love for music. Every household should consider these for Buy a Musical Instrument Day:
The Kalimba 
This African treasure is held like a book and flicking the attached metal tines can take you on a musical journey. Many Americans know about this instrument through the work of ethnomusicologist/entrepreneur Hugh Travers Tracey (that model still available everywhere, including Amazon) but you might prefer to order a kalimba online from an African-based artisan, perhaps from DingIswayo Juma at
The Stylophone is a modern novelty with a hipster following. It looks like an old-school transistor radio and has a naïve battery-operated synthesized sound controlled by a tiny stylus. David Bowie made this instrument famous when he confessed that it was the only musical tool that he travelled with (and, in fact, he composed sections of “Space Oddity” on the very odd instrument while on holiday.) 
The zither-like Melody Harp was a part of many Boomer-era households. The ingenious sheet music for this harp slides directly under the strings for easy melodic guidance. 
Here’s one you build yourself! 
P.S. Let me know if I didn’t list your favorite music store (or favorite music novelty) this time around…just email me at or use the comment feature through the San Diego Troubadour.
Scott Paulson is a monthly columnist for the San Diego Troubadour.  He’s also the silent film curator at the La Jolla Historical Society, a live radio drama host at’s “Ether Tale Radio Theatre” and an exhibit and events coordinator at the UC San Diego Library.

Paulson is also the University Carillonneur at UCSD, performing commissioned works and fulfilling song requests for the clock chimes atop Geisel Library. As a travelling and performing exhibitor, Scott presents themed shows involving everything from toy pianos to miniature paper theatres to vintage multi-media and electronica-of-interest.


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