About


The Waterphone was invented and is patented by Richard Waters (pat.#3896696). Each instrument is unique and made to order. Richard personally makes, tunes, signs and dates each Waterphone. The sound of the Waterphone has been compared to the haunting melodies of the Humpback Whale and voices from inner/outer space. Waterphones have been described as acoustic synthesizers, Waterharps, a musical "Aladdin's Lamp," and "Whalephones."

Waterphones are in fact stainless steel and bronze monolithic, one-of-a-kind, acoustic, tonal-friction instruments that utilize water in the interior of their resonators to bend tones and create water echos. In the world family of musical instruments, the Waterphone is between a Tibetian Water Drum, an African Kalimba (thumb piano) and a 16th century Peg or Nail Violin. Each Waterphone is custom made using a hot metal process developed over the past 40 years. The tonal rods are tuned to a combination of micro-tonal and diatonic relationships presented in two distinct but integrated scales having both even and uneven increments.

The Waterphone Story

"While in graduate school at the California College of Arts & Crafts (1963-65) I was introduced to an unusual musical instrument call a “Tibetan Water Drum” which was a round, slightly flattened, bronze, drum with an aperture in the center top. This drum was designed in such a way that when the top surface was struck with finger or hands the drum would rock a little, thereby moving the small amount of water creating pre-echoes and tone bending. I only spent a few hours playing this instrument but I was very impressed with it. I have never seen one since. In a Haight Asbury parade in 1968 I heard my first Kalimba (African Thumb Piano). The amount of quality sound coming from such a small instrument was also impressive. At the time I was painting and welding kinetic sculptures, some of which made sound. I began making what I called “American Thumb Pianos,” which were tin cans with bronze rod brazed to the rim. It was played much like an African Thumb Piano, only being that they were round, these devices needed to be revolved in order to play all of the rods. These American Thumb Pianos were throwaway, primitive, instruments as eventually the cans gave up or the rods broke off. I made these in endless configurations then changed to assembling the resonators out of hubcaps and enameled salad bowls and the playing technique was different as these were struck with mallets. It was about that time when I took one of these to my friend, Lee Charlton, a jazz drummer and in his studio we put a small amount of water into the resonator of one of these and applied a well rosined bow to the rods on this device. This was the first Waterphone which Lee still has in Santa Rosa, California. I immediately began working on the patent process which turned out to be a long and expensive road." - Richard A. Waters






Not long afterwards in 1969 we formed a band called the Gravity Adjusters Expansion Band and began playing & performing free music utilizing my sonic designs and other oddities that Lee had collected as well as some conventional instruments played in unconventional ways. The band was open for new players to sit-in and we often had some very unusual instruments from around the world. A few musicians started showing up to purchase the newly invented Waterphone. Shelly Manne and Emil Richards were two of the first to fly up from L.A. and attend our music sessions. They each bought several Waterphones and Emil invited me down to Los Angeles to stay at his home as he had a number of friends that wanted Waterphones and other items that I was making. I took a van load of instruments and sonic sculptures to L.A. and sold them all in a week. I made more money in that one week than I had as a painter for the previous year, which suggested that the time was right to make a career change.

I began selling through art galleries, museums and music stores. Shortly after that I started having problems with people copying my designs, especailly in Los Angeles and New York. By this time I had the patent (3896696) but not much money, so finding and going after the patent infringers was difficult as they would submerge as soon as questions were asked. I realized that I needed to upgrade my instruments and hopefully in the process out distance my imitators. At the same time I put all music stores on notice that they were subject to law suites if they sold imitations of the Waterphone. I began doing more research into materials and processes and decided that stainless steel would be the way to go but there were many problems to be worked out which did take some time. Eventually I began making all of my resonators from stainless steel and most attachments in bronze. This made it more difficult for my imitators and I have yet to see an imitation Waterphone that either sounds as good or is as durable as what I make.

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Brooks Hubbert III is a multimedia artist, musician, and inventor from Pensacola, Florida. With creative pursuits in various fields, he is lauded for his musicianship and sculpture-based photography and was nationally recognized for his Sonic Clamp invention in 2012. A friend and collaborator of the late Richard Waters, Hubbert’s musical background, holistic artistry and passion for innovation renders him uniquely qualified to continue the legacy of the Waterphone. Hubbert has kept with the Waters’ tradition of sonic experimentation and is developing new applications for water resonators.

"It’s an honor to carry on my friend Richard Waters’ incredible legacy of sound and vision. Overall, Richard Waters was my biggest influence in learning how to combine disciplines and forge new ones. Out of our friendship bore an exchange of ideas, a mentorship, and a supportive confidant during the creative process."- Brooks Hubbert III

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