Putting The ‘ooh’ in Kazoo

By Kelly Rae Smith, South Carolina Living

Erin Moody takes a break from the assembly line to greet two new guests at the Kazoobie Kazoo Museum, Factory and Gift Shop in Beaufort. Emerging from the back, where a team of four employees hand-builds thousands of instruments each day, Moody puts on her tour-guide hat, so to speak, and begins one more fantastical journey into the wonderful world of kazoos.

The short-and-sweet factory tour starts with two videos that walk guests through the history of the kazoo, which begins in the 1840s with an African-American inventor named Alabama Vest. When Vest met German-American clockmaker Thaddeus Von Clegg, the two collaborated to create a prototype of a curious musical contraption made of tin. In 1852, the pair finally presented their kazoo at the Georgia State Fair, calling it the Down South Submarine.

It wasn’t until 1912 that commercial production began on the kazoo, and the whimsical little instrument went on to be popularized the world over by blues, jazz and jug bands alike—and even Ringo Starr, who gave Paul McCartney a kazoo solo in his cover of “You’re Sixteen.”

But you don’t have to be a Beatle to play the kazoo. Moody continues the tour by demonstrating the simple art of humming—nope, not blowing—with just about every kind of kazoo there is: a metal kazoo, an electric kazoo, a French-horn-shaped kazoo and more.

“And you can accessorize your kazoo,” she says. “You have a wazoo horn that goes in the top of the tower. That picks up the noise coming off from the resonator and makes it louder. Or we can add a trumpet end to the front, which makes it slightly higher pitched. Or you can do both at the same time.”

Every time you take something away from or add to the kazoo, it becomes a new instrument, so it gets a new name, like a wazoo, kazoogle or wazoogle. But it all starts with the three basic parts of the kazoo—the mouthpiece, resonator and cap—which are made by Kazoobie Kazoos, the only plastic kazoo manufacturer in the country.

Following the kazoo demonstrations and—be warned—a brief quiz, the tour continues in the factory, where all the magic happens. From cutting out every small, round resonator and bagging kazoos to doing custom designs, a human oversees it all.

“We do everything by hand here, except for one thing: we don’t count the kazoos,” Moody admits. “We’d never get anything else done. Also, I’d probably never be right.”

Whether or not you take the official tour, you can still explore the mini museum and gift shop. Inside the museum, discover everything from pipe-shaped Popeye “jazoos” from the 1930s to a Japanese “street singer,” aka a hum-a-zoo, from the early 1900s. Gift-shop wonders include Kazoobie goodies as well as Acme-made contraptions that mimic a siren horn, referee whistle and British police officer whistle. Need a 24K-gold kazoo? They’ve got it. A nose flute? Oh, yes, they have plenty.

So what’s the highlight of the tour? Without a doubt, the chance to assemble your own instrument puts the “ooh” in kazoo. After choosing the mouthpiece and cap color you like best, simply snap your kazoo into place with Kazoobie’s air compressor box, and voila.

And then, while humming a tune with your tour guide, you’ll feel just like a kid again—a kid with your very own, hand-assembled Down South Submarine.

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Get There

The Kazoobie Kazoo Museum, Factory and Gift Shop is located at 12 John Galt Road in Beaufort, just off Highway 21.

Hours: Tours are offered Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. No appointment necessary. The gift shop is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission: The gift shop and museum are free. Factory tours are $5 per person.

Details: Call (843) 982-6387 or visit thekazoofactory.com.

 

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