Homemade Instruments Make Homegrown Music

Make your own homemade instruments, including the washtub bass, the washboard, the playing spoons and so much more, and jam out to your own homegrown music.


| March/April 1978



Grassroots Musicians and Their Homemade Instruments

Marc Bristol and other Washington State grassroots musicians wail away on a washtub bass, washboard, jug and axe (don't worry, the axe is just a gag).


PHOTO: TOM ALLEN

One way to save money and have a good time all at once is by making your own music — and your own musical instruments — at home. Here are a few ideas for making homemade instruments that do just that without spending a lot of cash or even going down to the local music store! 

The Gutbucket

Any homegrown music, whether hammered out on the piano, guitar, banjo, fiddle or whatever, becomes more interesting and more fun for everyone involved as more and more instruments are added to the festivities. Especially if those instruments contribute some tonal and rhythmic coloring of their own. And one of the most basic of all the additions you can make to any "pickin' and grinnin'" group is the down-home washtub bass or "gutbucket." Although the instrument's strong suit is solid rhythmic accompaniment, it can produce true notes (much to the amazement of electric bass players!) and has a range of about an octave and a half.

Start this construction project by scrounging up a No. 1 or No. 2 washtub or similar large metal container. Don't settle for one with its bottom rusted out because for this purpose that bottom has to be strong. Buy a new tub if you have to (and it won't break you, since a new No. 1 washtub costs only about $15).

The neck for your gutbucket should be approximately 4 1/2 feet long and can be anything from a whittled-down hardwood sapling to an old rake handle or even a piece of steel conduit that is attached to the tub with a strap hinge. Closet hanger dowel (1 1/4 inch) — or an old oar — works real well. The stronger the neck of your instrument the better since lighter ones tend to absorb string vibration and dampen a gutbucket's sound.

For that string (you only need one), I'd recommend starting with plastic-coated, steel-core, nylon clothesline. It's both the least expensive and the best according to Quentin Rhoton (the bass player in the accompanying picture). "It's easy on your fingers," Quentin says, "that's why it's the best. 'Course, you can use piano wire or a gut D-string from a bass fiddle if you want to. Try anything you can find that looks like it might work. Remember, though, that resiliency is important: Your string has to stretch for the higher notes and then spring back again. "

The string is attached to the center of the upside-down washtub, usually by either one of two methods: [1] drill a hole a little larger than the gutbucket's string in the bottom of the tub, thread the string through the opening and knot the line on the other side to hold it in place, or [2] bolt a small hasp or eyebolt to the center of the tub's bottom and tie your string to it.





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