A kazoo is a musical instrument that creates a buzzing sound when the player hums into it. A kazoo is part of the mirliton family of percussion instruments. Mirlitons have a vibrating membrane that amplifies the humming sound and are derived from ancient African instruments. The first kazoo was manufactured in the 1800s. Today, most are made from plastic and are used as easy-to-play musical toys for children.
A kazoo can be considered an unconventional wind instrument since, unlike conventional wind instruments, it has no buttons or valves and is played differently as well. The kazoo depends solely on the player's voice to create the sound. The humming causes the membrane to vibrate and changes with the sounds in the player's voice. In other brass and woodwind instruments, the sound is just amplified by the humming produced by the lips.
A kazoo is open on both ends and has a tapered end at the bottom. The membrane is in a section on the top of the kazoo called a turret. Kazoos are usually short and tube-shaped, but can be made in almost any shape as long as both ends of it are open.
Alabama Vest invented the modern kazoo in the 1840s and took his blueprint for the instrument to clock maker Thaddeus VonClegg. Vest and VonClegg held kazoo demonstrations at the Georgia State Fair in 1852 and received a good response to their new instrument. Emil Sorg and Michael McIntyre created a large scale manufacturing method to make kazoos in the early 1900s. McIntyre received a patent in 1923 and founded the Original American Kazoo Company.
Although kazoos today are usually made of plastic, a kazoo can be made of wood, metal or glass. Some kazoos are made of silver or even gold. Wax paper was originally the material used for the vibrating membrane, but silicone plastic replaced it since wax paper tears and is not long lasting. The vibrating membrane is vital in a kazoo as the thin film resonates the sound of the player's voice.
The kazoo's three pieces are injection molded and then put together, decorated and packaged. Some kazoos are sold as promotional items and are decorated with company logos. Most kazoos have simple stickers applied to them while others have a silkscreen design. The silkscreen process can machine print the colored ink directly onto the kazoo. The ink is fast-drying enough to allow the kazoo to dry before it leaves the machine.