Oliver Vardy mixes music and invention to create a unique instrument

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Vardy plays a tune on his new instrument.

"I'm at odds to put a name to it," Oliver Vardy says of his latest musical invention.

"People tell me I should use my name, so I'm thinking of calling it Oliver's Melody Chord Machine."

Oliver's Melody Chord Machine is a large wooden box made of Birch, Mahogany, and Oak, with 21 strings attached to the face of the box by harp pegs, and 11 sound holes placed under the strings.

The strings are grouped into five chords, made up of four strings each, which can be strummed in three different keys. There is a single string on the edge of the box that Vardy plays a melody on using a pick or a slide. This instrument is open to many possibilities.

"It's the ideal instrument for someone who wants to play the guitar with one hand," Vardy said. "It is perfect for Hawaiian music. Great for nice slow melodies, but not really designed for fast tunes."

The inventor in Vardy, who is 75, probably comes from the fact he spent years as a small engine repairman; fixing everything from electric appliances to gas powered motors.

While small engine repair was his living, music has been his life.

He has been playing guitar and other stringed instruments for years.

He regularly plays at Bethel Pentecostal Church in Hickman's Harbour and the Clarenville Retirement Centre, but he has not played his Melody Chord Machine in front of an audience yet.

"I'm learning to play it as I go," Vardy said.

His Melody Chord Machine has inspired him to write a new song. Vardy has written close to 50 hymns and Newfoundland songs. The song he is currently writing for the Melody Chord Machine is called "Picking Flowers Along the Hillside."

"It is a beautiful tune about gathering flowers to put on my mother's grave," Vardy said.

Vardy credits his mother, who died when he was a boy, with introducing him to music.

"She was a beautiful singer. She would play the piano and I would play the spoons beside her," Vardy said. "Then I played piano, and moved on to one instrument after another. I play 18 instruments. I found them easy to pick up."

Oliver's Melody Chord Machine is electric, but the new version he is currently working on, and another version he previously built, are acoustic.

He anticipates finishing the new version of his machine in two to three weeks.

When asked if he plans on patenting his Melody Chord Machine, Vardy said he'd look into the process, but he fears the expense.

For now, Vardy is content to continue tinkering with these machines in his studio workshop in Shoal Harbour.

These Melody Chord Machines are just a three of the many wonders in Vardy's workshop. In addition to homemade Karaoke machines, an electric infrared heater (Vardy said he invented it years before they came on the market), and a contraption that allows him to play a keyboard with his feet so his hands are free to play another instrument simultaneously, Vardy's little workshop is a testament to his profound love of music.

The walls are strewn with homemade Gospel, Newfoundland, Irish and country CDs, as well as guitars, button accordions, a mandolin, banjos, 13 harmonicas, and newspaper clippings celebrating his musical career.

"Age is coming on," Vardy said. "I'll go on playing a bit, but I won't be going to Nashville anytime soon."

Two years ago, Vardy was declared legally blind. He keeps magnifying glasses around his studio to help him read. He prefers to play music by ear instead of reading it from the sheet, so his vision does not prevent him from continuing to play. Still, it does get a bit annoying.

"I can't do as much as I could, but I certainly do what I can. I'm not sure how I designed that outfit," Vardy said, gesturing to his Melody Chord Machine. "The Lord was with me."

Organizations: Bethel Pentecostal Church, Clarenville Retirement Centre

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Hickman, Hillside Shoal Harbour Nashville

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  • Bev Green
    February 23, 2013 - 01:45

    Hi Dad! Looks like a nice pice of equipment you have there! We are soooo proud of you!! Love Bev, Randy, Dominic & Nicole

  • Donna Benson
    February 23, 2013 - 00:45

    This talented man has spent all of his life devoted to his musical passion. As a songwriter and storyteller he entertains and projects his love for the art whether playing just one instrument or many at the same time! I would really like to see him featured on an episode of Land and Sea so all of Canada can appreciate this man who truly reflects the Maritime spirit and love of music. So proud of all your accomplishments Oliver and wish you continued success! If you get a chance I know he would love to show you his studio and workshop!

  • Bev Green
    February 22, 2013 - 19:50

    Well done Dad!! Looks like a great piece you got there. We are all so proud of you! Bev, Randy, Dominic & Nicole

  • Winnie Vardy
    February 20, 2013 - 10:12

    This is wonderful, as I as well play by ear, so I can relate to Oliver. I have several of his CD's and love to listen to them regularly. Congratulations Oliver, another invention for your retirement.