History of the Strumstick

History of the Strumstick
The Strumstick was developed by Bob McNally in 1981, starting as a variation on the design of his Backpacker Guitar (1980). Seeking to make an instrument that would be very accessible to non-musicians, he made a small three-stringed instrument on the principles of the appalachian dulcimer called “The Stringed Pennywhistle.” This name was meant to suggest a stringed equivalent to the irish tinwhistle, rather than meaning a wind instrument with strings on it. Like the dulcimer, it combined diatonic fretting with strings tuned to a drone, but it was held like a guitar for ease of playing. The body was a reduced size interpretation of the Backpacker Guitar.

The success of the little Stringed Pennywhistle (~950 made) inspired the making of an even simpler instrument, with one string, which was the original Strumstick (it was a mere 1/2” wide, over most of it’s 28” length.) The single string was as simple as you could get, and fun for playing melodies, but had no possibility for harmony or real rhythmic strumming.

After making a hundred or so of the single string models, the design idea started to get bigger again. What we now know as the McNally Strumstick, a three-stringed instrument, was an enlarging of the one-stringed Strumstick into a larger instrument that improved on the Stringed Pennywhistle tonally (having a larger soundbox), while being less complex to make. Tuned G,D,G, the Strumstick was an instant hit. Playable by beginners right from the start, yet versatile enough for experienced players, it was also beautiful and well made. Later, the Grand Strumstick was designed. It was larger and designed to play in key of D, pitched a fourth lower than the Standard Strumstick in G. Considering the desirability of playing in any key, a 4 string Chromatic was developed. The Alto Strumstick followed, shorter than the standard, tuned to C (a fourth above the Standard) and with a high, mandolin-like sound. More recently, a Ukulele tuned model was added.

Recent variations have included decorative rosette soundhole inlays in koa wood and abalone, and a series of fancy wood tops such as rosewood, koa, and Padouk. 

About Bob McNally
Bob McNally Is the designer of the McNally Strumstick, along with numerous other instruments.
Born and raised in Albany NY. Graduated Lowell Tech (Lowell, Mass) 1970, bachelor’s degree Plastics Engineering..
Began teaching guitar and reparing guitars in 1972.
Began making instruments around 1973, professionally around 1975.
Started McNally Instruments in 1975.
Patented Backpackers Guitar and Strumstick in 1983.
Began Handcrafted Recordings label in 1981.
Has released 5 CD titles, with sales combined over 200,000 in independent distribution.
Licensed Backpackers Guitar design to C.F. Martin Guitars in 1994.
Exhibited at most of the prestigious juried craft shows such as The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, The Smithsonian Craft Show, The original Rhinebeck Craft Fair, and many more.
Created the Space Guitar, a backpacker guitar specially designed to be taken on the Space Shuttle in 1994. This guitar became the first American guitar in space, and the first musical instrument ever designed to go to space.
Currently continues to make, sell and develop new instruments, residing in Northern NJ.
He holds the ceremonial, position of World’s Leading Strumstick player, by virtue of senority.

About McNally Instruments
McNally Instruments LLC is the overall business name encompassing The McNally Backpackers Guitar®, The McNally Strumstick®, HandCrafted Recordings™, and miscellaneous other instruments designed and made by Bob McNally and associates.

The Backpackers Guitar® is also manufactured by C. F. Martin and Co, Inc, the world famous guitar maker, under license from McNally Instruments.

HandCrafted Recordings™ is the Bob McNally's record label. The now classic “Handmade Christmas Music” was followed by a very successful collaboration with harper Laurie Riley, “The Flowers of Edinburgh” and its sequel, “Castle Kelly.” These two interpretations of Celtic Harp music were outstanding successes in independent distribution, and were many people’s first exposure to the beauty of the Celtic Harp. With the addition of later recordings “Spotted Cow” and “Handmade Christmas music Vol II,” HandCrafted Recordings helped pioneer the selling of independently produced music in non-record store venues, such as gift stores, craft shops, florists, and the like.



McNally Instruments
Box 387, Hibernia NJ 07842
800-397-6563 (973-625-7794 fax)