From the suggestion box at CDM, we’re taking a look at DIY party-rocking sound system technology from the birth of Hip-Hop. Ed.: Resident DIY expert and editor-at-large Michael Una returns – and the man has been known to do strange things with speakers himself.

Say you’re an up-and-coming crew with a turntable and some mics. You’ve got a gig this Friday at the middle school gym (the janitor has been bribed appropriately) and the boys on the corner have been passing out your flyers to all the lovely ladies. Everything’s set, except you heard that Kool Herc is coming to battle. Herc and his mighty sound system schooled you last go-round, so you know you need something fresh to rock the bodies proper. Your DIY solution? The 55-gallon drum sound system.

Step 1: Get yourself two steel 55-gallon barrels and two 15-inch subwoofer cones.

(Kool Herc shown for scale)

Step 2: Have one of your buddies who works at the auto shop around the corner cut a hole in the bottom of each barrel. Drill some holes to mount the speaker facing out from the bottom of the barrel.

put the sub on the can

Step 3: Face the can towards the floor and have your buddy weld some 6-inch pieces of pipe on to boost it up a bit. Hook up your dad’s hi-fi stereo amp, plug in your mixer, and turn it up as loud as it will go (10 block radius). Get those bodies movin’.

rock it

Big thanks to DJ Mister P-Body and the book Yes Yes Y’All: The Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-Hop’s First Decade. This idea comes from a story told by Tony Tone and DJ Baron about their early experiences as an MC/DJ duo.

Ed.: Now I can add this to my regrets about school, along with not taking shop to hone my welding skills — seriously, that should be mandatory. (Yeah, like I needed that extra AP. Dumb.) But I’m curious: have any of our readers tried this? Any tips to share? Perhaps we need a DIY speaker summit to try as many amplification and transduction options as possible — complete with welding lessons, natch. -PK

  • Eoj

    They look awesome! I was just speaking to my friend today about DIY speakers made from two wooden salad bowls, but its fair to say that these take the biscuit.

  • Oh man! me and my brother used to make these out of cheapie car speakers, crossovers and spackle buckets.

    We called them "Buckets O' Bass".

    They work quite well. I mean it's all about moving air at that point.

  • oh one other thing that's better about a spackle bucket than a 55 galon drum …

    "Buckets O' Bass" have handles.

    Man, I miss high school ingenuity … good times those were πŸ™‚

  • Justin Reed

    create digital music?

    still love the post – that's crafty as fuck…i'd love to hear it…function 1 eat your heart out!

    also-dunno who your dad is but my dad's hifi wouldn't twitch those 15's…they still need to be properly driven by a power amp am i right?

  • DIY Speakers are a lot of fun!

    I made a speaker box out of a shoebox, tv speakers, duct tape and undercoating (the stuff the spray on the underside of a car to reduce outside noise from coming inside).

    I hooked my minidisc (old school) up to it and they sounded great and were very portable.

  • Aaah, man, this thing brings back memories.

    now that you mention transduction, my friends and I did another interesting thing in high school, which was to take a cheapie 12 inch woofer and make it into an interesting sounding electric drum.

    What you do is to stretch quite a few layers of plastic wrap over the cone, so it's like a flimsy drum head. Then you take leads off the speaker and feed them into a guitar amp. gradually crank up the gain and tap the "drum head" with your fingers, or carefully with a drum stick. It sounds like crap, which is kinda what we were after.

    Add pedals and effects to taste.

  • Oh Man,

    Almost all my time in high school that wasn't devoted to flirting with girls and driving recklessly was spend designing and building speakers. Radio Shack used to even sell a book devoted to the concept which led us to tuning ported enclosures based on the helmholtz equation and trying all sorts of different materials for acoustic dampening.

    I even still have a pair somewhere. The craftsmanship on them is aweful, but they sound pretty good.

  • Cool Character

    @Justin Reed

    Even digital music needs analog speakers.

  • never used a oil drum but i have used a wardrobe

    and mounted big 14 inch woofers in the door hole

  • Imagine doing an Ableton Laptop set through home made gramophone horns…DIY stuff is fun but better to head over to craigslist, find a PA being sold by someone giving up the game, and build your sound piece by piece using quality components. Peavey and Cerwin Vega's are good starts…JBL's are choice. I'm not trying to hate on DIY or early pioneer techniques, like tapping into a street lamp for your electrical needs it's just that these days, audiences are "used to" certain ways in which audio is projected (i.e concerts, movie theaters, home theaters, night clubs) compared to the 60's and 70's. The modern day PA has a higher standard in order to get a crowd groovin properly. Even if it's teenagers at a school gym. – Regend 17+ of mobile sound done right. This is similar to posts from a few years back about mixing for a CD Master vs. Mixing for digital content on the web. The mass consumer doesn't know the difference between the 128K mp3 and 16bit 44.1k CD quality but i think the people on the dance floor can tell the difference…then of course…there's the audiophile/purist folks out there.

  • Captain Howdy

    Yeah, great way to pollute the planet with even more loud, crappy music.

  • ocp

    Here's a photo I added to the cdm flickr group of a creative use of 55-gallon barrels:

    Here they work as resonators.


    how many litres are 55 gallons? πŸ™‚

  • Great !! πŸ˜€


    55 US gallons = 208.197648 liters

    The could be useful for sound installations where using expensive speaker cabs could be financially impractical(outdoors in the weather for example).

  • jp

    there's a big sub cult of people building subs inside the tubes used to pour concrete footings..obviously indoor use though.

    fiddy five G cans are HEAVY though..

  • djo2

    Seems like you'd have phase cancellation galore with the back-end of the drivers being out in the open.

    What if you took 2 more barrels, cut them in half, and welded each over the back/bottom of the existing rig to give those drivers a sealed air space to bounce off? Wouldn't that give you more volume per watt of amp power and better sound, too?

  • Yes, Create Digital Music. All speakers are analog – at least until we become cyborgs. πŸ˜‰

  • wouldn't it be better if we just shut the fuck up and not make music? i mean come on… seriously; i'm sick of people trying to have fun. NO FUN PLEASE.

  • It won't be nice-sounding bass, but there will be a hell of a lot of it!

    if you're interested in making speakers, check out

    such a huge source of knowledge.

  • A quick introduction:

    Speaker design involves some serious (and arcane) maths… To achieve high sensitivity and flat frequency response, the dimensions and shape of the enclosure need to be precisely designed around the parameters of the driver.

    …and when you think you've got your head around that, you discover Horn-loaded speakers, which use even more insane maths!

    Luckily WinISD will do a lot of the sums for you:

  • kwiz

    LOL, funny thing is I remember those days! (showing my age)

    I grew up in the bronx and actually saw Afrika Bambatta, DJ Mario, The L brothers, Busy Bee Starsky and others using that same oil barrel sub woofer setup at one time or another.

  • Michael Una

    @Kwiz – Seriously? Did I get the design right? I was guessing based on some vague descriptions from a book. That's awesome- I'm sure you saw some excellent shows!

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