Homemade Musical Instruments: Washtub Bass and Scrub Board

For any devotee of homemade music and homemade musical instruments, the washtub bass and scrub board are essential equipment.

| September/October 1980

  • 065 homemade instruments - Marc Bristol
    Marc Bristol, a down-home musician and promoter of homemade musical instruments, sings and strums a tune at a local music festival.
  • 065 homemade instruments - upright washtub bass
    Diagram displays the parts of an upright washtub bass.
  • 065 homemade musical instruments - Jimmie Fadden's tub design
    Diagram shows modifications Jimmie Fadden of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band made to his washtub bass.

  • 065 homemade instruments - Marc Bristol
  • 065 homemade instruments - upright washtub bass
  • 065 homemade musical instruments - Jimmie Fadden's tub design
Even homesteaders need to relax and enjoy themselves from time to time, right? And almost everybody these days wants to cut his or her cost of living. So how about a little do-it-yourself entertainment?

That's what this column is about. Homegrown music... and sometimes homemade musical instruments to play it on.

Bass and Washboard Update

As almost anybody who's the least bit musically inclined can tell you, a band wouldn't be complete without bass and percussion instruments. The rhythm-makers add definition and focus to any piece of music and seem to make the melody bounce along more naturally. And, in most homegrown music, these necessary roles are played by the washtub bass and the scrub board... two instruments that I introduced to you in my first column.

Since that initial article, though, I've picked up a whole passel of new information on the two homegrown musicmakers (some of it from readers of this column, and some gathered during interviews and workshops) ... and now I'm going to wrap up all those gleanings into a neat package for you.

A New Tub Design

The first item I'd like to pass along was described to me by a MOTHER EARTH NEWS-reader, Kevin Potter. He calls the invention an upright washtub bass ... and it's essentially a banjo-style version of the bull fiddle, which uses the tub for a "pot."

Kevin's creation is a hybrid instrument ... made partly from scrounged pieces and partly from elements of a conventional bass fiddle. The neck of the musicmaker is a hardwood push-mower handle, and the stand is actually a chair or table leg. The fiddle's tuning peg, bridge, and string are the same as those used on a "real" instrument. (Kevin and I agree that it is possible to make the same pieces out of any good hardwood scraps ... and that you could use nylon filament, or even clothesline, for the string.)

In addition, you'll have to find a length of 2" X 3" wood for a back support (actually, any board that's close to those dimensions will work, as long as it comfortably spans the diameter of the tub at the container's open end). You'll also need a U-shaped brace ... which can be welded together out of scraps of steel or iron. At its open end, this brace straddles the neck of the instrument and is bolted to it ... while its closed end is lag bolted—through the tub—into one end of the back support.

Kristie doll
11/26/2018 1:38:02 PM

I am in NM and would like to have a simple (original washtub bass, but I need it by Saturday. do you have one I can buy/lease and get here on time on an expedited basis. As washtboard would be nice also. Please let me know ASAP. email to klsayre@aol.com or call 5054048684 or40455606998. thank you very much. Kristie Doll in New Mexico

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