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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
reggie miles Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why? (153* d) RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why? 01 Jan 11

There are few players that can truly do justice to washtub bass playing. It's a tough instrument to manage and even tougher to master. It's physically very demanding and the tub itself makes the task challenging.

I've always liked my friend Jim Sherpa's design concept. It takes the work out of playing a tub bass and improved both the volume and tonal capabilities far beyond anything that any metal washtub player or even any upright bassist has been able to produce. Jim simply replaced the tub with a small diameter bass drum.

It was far easier to carry because it didn't weigh as much as a steel tub and was also smaller in size than what most tub players usually use. Jim's design still included a stick that rested on the edge of the drum body, as in most washtub bass designs. Jim also passed a string through the center of the plastic drum head, in the same way as most steel tubs used by players. When he played, he also put a wedge under one edge of the drum, to more easily allow sound created within the body to escape and he rested his foot on top, just like most tub players do, to counter the pulling he did on the stick to change the tension on the string.

The huge difference was in tonal capability and volume that the drum's head could produce. A steel tub is unable to do the same work, as the very resonant drum head. Nor could a steel tub offer the same results. The drum head is extremely responsive by comparison and that made the physical chore of playing almost nonexistent.

So, while Jim played in a similar fashion to most tub players, using a stick, a string and the standard washtub technique of stretching the string by applying outward pulling or tugging pressure to the stick to change notes, as well as fretting the stick, his break from the traditional steel tub made all the difference in the quality of sound his design was able to produce. While I'm certain there's validity in using traditional methods to building and to playing washtub bass, I believe that the root of this non-conventional music making is in it's innovative approach and techniques. In that aspect, Jim's unique original approach to the design of his drum bass was in keeping with those who pioneered this music.

If the good Dr. wasn't an entire continent away, in the upper right corner, I'd be begging him to play with me. The guy is a musical genius.

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