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Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?

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GUEST,Ray 31 Jan 21 - 04:22 AM
GUEST 30 Jan 21 - 04:51 PM
GUEST,Harry Tubman 30 Jan 21 - 04:23 AM
Stilly River Sage 11 Jul 16 - 10:32 PM
GUEST,Harry Tubman 11 Jul 16 - 06:55 PM
GUEST,dddiam 16 Nov 13 - 11:01 AM
JohnInKansas 16 Nov 13 - 10:28 AM
GUEST,dddiam 16 Nov 13 - 10:03 AM
McGrath of Harlow 04 Nov 13 - 08:38 PM
JohnInKansas 04 Nov 13 - 12:12 AM
GUEST,dddiam 03 Nov 13 - 10:48 PM
GutBucketeer 10 May 12 - 05:57 PM
JohnInKansas 24 Apr 12 - 01:30 PM
GUEST,Abby the spoon lady 24 Apr 12 - 09:01 AM
GUEST,Debra 20 Jan 12 - 03:52 AM
GUEST,The Raindance Kid 04 Aug 11 - 09:26 PM
Charley Noble 21 Jul 11 - 08:23 PM
GUEST,Nervous Paulvis 21 Jul 11 - 03:46 PM
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reggie miles 29 Mar 11 - 12:11 AM
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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GUEST,Ray
Date: 31 Jan 21 - 04:22 AM

Usually coated in treacle?

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
Date: 30 Jan 21 - 04:51 PM

Baler twine. Known round 'ere as Macclesfield 'inge.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GUEST,Harry Tubman
Date: 30 Jan 21 - 04:23 AM

Harry Tubman you ass! It's you from the future. After your girlfriend stole tubby and drowned it in the river at the very music festival you preen yourself at. good news! you mop up the tub bass competition at carp camp. they all bow to you and say "we're not worthy!" bad news, that's the last time you play it. strong is your ability to get a new one eh? prepare to mope around like a shlub for 2 years depressed while all your friends fall off. but if it falls off you didn't need it RIGHT NERD?? YOURE SCREWED AND YOU DONT EVEN KNOW IT YET.

I went through your pictures tonight and you took more photos of tubby than of your girlfriend, who was always jealous of the pedestal you put that bass on. I mean, you're writing your special book about it instead of her. dude you even played her like a tub bass in your sleep. it's so obvious in the pictures and you couldn't even tell in real life. oh you're so good at paying attention huh? lol she wanted to drown that thing from day one.

And what's with you thinking you know a damn? you're always like "oh there's no wrong way to play the tub bass" and now I see you on these forums telling everybody there's "a way"? christ! I can't take you anywhere. good news, you keep getting smarter. bad news, you're an idiot.

man you didn't even look that hard. you had all these dreams where you're reunited with your precious bass and you wake up every time like "$H%#!". to be fair, as soon as she admitted it and told you where she drowned it, you do go back looking for it with your best friend and a box of mamas cookies (and in the night someone even stole mamas cookies can you believe it? but you also left them out and it could have been racoons. in the morning you two were like, "did you wake up in the night and eat all the cookies?" "no, I thought you did") another bass player, sympathetic to your mission, loans you his canoe so you can a-paddlin down the river, pokin sticks into the water like you're looking for a dead body. you even bring a snorkel but it's too muddy. it could have been inches from your fingertips and you'll never know. it could have been just around the next corner. if you had just looked a liiiiittle bit further or put up one more flyer or talked to one more person, maybe you two would still be together and you'd have the craziest musical instrument story of all time and you two could grow old together like willie nelson and trigger. like BB king saving lucille from a burning building. you'll think about this for the rest of your life.

if you'd just play a stupid wooden instrument like everyone else then when your jealous ex lover drowns it in the river you'd at least know it was dead and wouldn't have to go the rest of your life wondering if it's too late to buy scuba gear.

good news, you are still writing your book. bad news, you are still writing your book. you're all confidently telling everyone how to play the bass... give me a break. here's a tip, try to keep it out of the river, noob. lol you're like a bird in a cage screwing its bell.

good news, you didn't marry her. (the girl, that is.) bad news, actually there is no bad news. you have your health, a little worse teeth, your hair looks GREAT, you could maybe even be considered attractive in the right light, when you're in good shape and you're excited about something and when the other person is on drugs. you're much wiser than you were before. the kids look up to you, you lead the family in song on each christmas (congrats), you eventually get over your depression even though you practically see tubby every time you close your eyes. you proooobably didn't need a hit of lsd as soon as you realized it was gone. that was a horrible idea. lol. you're all curled up in your tent with a blanket over your head having the worst trip of your life and it's winfield so you hear all these tub basses all over the place and they all sound like tubby. oh man, you were wandering around the place like a boy looking for his lost dog. that's what people said. you really love(d) that broken fiberglass bass more than anything. which is not pathetic at all dude, you two kick(ed) ass together unlike a lot of human couples.

one time, I don't think you've done it yet, (spoiler alert) you go floating down the river on tubby like a boat, paddling with the stick and string having a gay ole time. and tubbys taking on water, you know, so you get on back to shore, lift this fiberglass bass body with 4 winfield stickers on it up above your head and all this water pours out the f holes like a cartoon and you two slog up the muddy river banks and back into the festival grounds lookin like swamp thing, wide eyed and lucid as the day you were born and the first person you see is this real clean cut guy with his rv and rug and awning, and his grill and apron with some dumb saying on it and his flawless martin guitar that he probably rubs with a diaper sittin there on it's own little stand and you lock eyes and his mouth hangs open and you two just stand there starin at each other like two different species in the jungle encountering each other for the first time. you head back to camp feeling like you have discovered something very important.

so anyway, good luck and try not to kill yourself.

-future you

ps: now would be a good time to invest in bitcoin

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 11 Jul 16 - 10:32 PM

This last post is really great reading! And I sure do miss JohnInKansas. He'd have loved this post. Thank you Harry Tubman.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GUEST,Harry Tubman
Date: 11 Jul 16 - 06:55 PM

I use a broken fiberglass upright bass body for my 'tub'. It has no neck or hardware. I lay it down on it's back and attach my string where the bridge normally sits. Enter the 'downright bass'. Sounds better than a washtub, teachest or file cabinet.

Do not attach the stick to the body. This is your secret weapon. You can't unlock the potential of this instrument if you bolt down the neck and fret it like a bass. The body and the stick must only attach to the string.

Paracord works great for string. I played for 7 hours straight at the walnut valley music festival. no gloves, no blisters. Not even a callous in the two years I've been playing religiously. As far as thickness, this is your preference. 3/16 works fine, 1/4 works fine. Depends if you want more low notes or high notes.

You can grab the string higher up on the neck if you want to 'capo' and get a higher register of notes.

Practice playing and talking in sync. This makes people laugh. Sounds like satan is talking.

You can lean your head against the stick to monitor yourself.

Don't forget to use harmonics. Rest your thumb on the string on a harmonic node (1/2, 1/3, 1/4, etc) while you pluck with your finger to achieve harmonics. Helps to mark the string. You can now play bugle songs without changing the position of the stick. Washtub players need not brag about how many octaves they can reach. With one string, your range is infinity low to infinity high. If you can only hit four octaves that's your fault, not god's.

There are two alternative stances I've never seen tub bassers use before that greatly reduce the physical difficulty in playing the instrument.

1. Switch hands. That's right. Switch your left and right hand so you're pushing the stick instead of pulling it. You're now reaching around the stick with your other hand to pluck it. You're now playing 'lefty'. To play 'righty' again, just stand on the other side of the tub. This takes advantage of your weight and makes you work less pulling the stick. If you're standing, this is the way to play. Trust.

2. Sit on a stool and put both feet up on the tub. This is very simple, and makes playing a breeze. This is 'the new way' to play tub bass.

If you're sitting, you can also lift a foot up, press it against the string, and now you have a 'foot capo'

Sitting offers you the remarkable new ability to drum with your feet while you play. You're now a drummer and a bass player. Tap your toe for a snare and use your heel for a kick drum. Barefoot works great. You can now cover bands like prodigy and rage against the machine.

Learn to play left handed. Sometimes you get a cramp and you need to switch hands in the middle of a song, or between songs. This instrument entirely strains one side of your body. Unless you want one big arm and one little arm, learn to play lefty.

Also, sing! Its generally thought to be impossible to sing and play tub. Not so! You just have to split your brain in two like a dual core processor. If you imagine your voice on one side of your mind and the tub on the other side, you can, with concentration, produce two competent notes at once, harmonizing with yourself or singplaying in unison. You can play articulate bass lines while singing complicated vocals if you practice splitting your brain in twain. It helps to close your eyes.

Thumb strumming. make your strumming hand into a fist, but with your thumb on top, like you're holding an invisible scepter. Use the tip of your thumb like a pick. Now you can play very fast chicka-chicka-chicka rhythms at a previously impossible pace, yet still accurate.

What else..

There is no need for any metal hardware to attach the string. Just tie knots and loop through holes or notches to attach the string. No eyebolt or bracket necessary. These things weigh you down, physically and spiritually. When I eliminated metal, I no longer had to bring a wrench 'in case something goes wrong' Now there is less to go wrong.

Tub's break. Teachests break. The bass drum contraption seems especially fragile (not waterproof either). One day I will sail my fiberglass bass across the river to safety.

You can snap your fingers while playing. Snap your fingers. Notice how your middle finger is sort of 'plucking' your thumb? Now, pretend the string of the tub bass is your thumb, and try to snap while plucking. Do this every other pluck and now you're snapping on the offbeat. This will appear to the audience like a miracle.

There are many visual tricks you can use to entertain the audience. Pretend to draw an arrow from your quiver and fire it from your string. Sheath and unsheath your stick like it's a sword. Reach across the stage with your stick and tap your bandmate on the other shoulder, so they look the wrong way. This makes the audience laugh, but confuses your bandmate.

Stand on it! Your bass is strong and so is your ability to get a new one. You only live once. Stand on your bass. I've learned to climb through the triangular space between the body, stick and string while playing, and without setting foot on the ground. If you think that's tricky, go watch a video of Rodney Mullin riding a skateboard. If you're not doing kickflips, backflips and handstands while playing walking basslines, you're not trying. Try to imagine what the X-Games version of tub bass playing would look like. Now do that.

First impressions are everything. When you're heading to the gig, carrying your home made whatever-it's-called down the street and into the bar, don't just carry it in your arms like a wimp, wrap the string around the end of the stick over and over (by rolling the stick in your hands) until there is no more slack and the stick is tight up against the body. Now sling that bad boy over your shoulder like a bindle and walk it around like you own the place. If your tub is heavy enough (mine is), you can swing the whole thing around like a hammer and smash it through somebody's windshield.

Finally, chapter 11 from the Tao Te Ching:

"Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness comes from what is not there."

In other words, we already got too much crap! The next great invention is the eraser! Long live the one string bass!

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GUEST,dddiam
Date: 16 Nov 13 - 11:01 AM


   You mentioned that you got best results from "old curtain sashes". Were they cotton or nylon?

David D.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 16 Nov 13 - 10:28 AM

A "real bass string" is usually used at something like 60 pound tension, and will probably be much too heavy to "pull to pitch" on your type of tub bass. That's also about the most expensive choice you can find unless you can find one while dumpster diving.

Cotton clothesline may be about the right weight, and probably will have a "plastic" core to limit stretch to reasonable amounts, which will likely be a help. Some of it loses a lot of strength if it's really wet when you pull on it. (It seems strange it would be like that when it's made for hanging wet stuff on it?) That might not be a problem, since if the string is wet enough to show the effect your fingers are probably too soggy to play it. (The strength mostly comes back when the rope dries out a little.)

It might be worth noting that even a "real bass" doesn't produce the same "ring" when fingered far down the string. Most "pluckers" stay mostly on the bottom third of the pitch for each string, and switch to a bow for the high notes.

(There's nothing inherently wrong with using a bow on a wastub bass, but I've only seen a very few players who tried it.)


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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GUEST,dddiam
Date: 16 Nov 13 - 10:03 AM

Well, I am getting closer to a string that works for my basic "pulled pole" type washtub bass.

My initial attempt, 1/8" low-stretch nylon string (sailboat halyard), had great, clear tone in the higher bass octaves, but did not go all the way down to the tub's natural resonance.

I just tried 3/16" paracord, which yielded significant improvement. It is not a clear or bright of a sound in the upper octave as the other string, but it does play all the way down to the tubs natural resonance. Unfortunately, in the lowest register, the string is loose and floppy, and thus produces no appreciable volume.

My next attempt will be to try curtain drawstring cord, since that was recommended in a previous post.

If the curtain cord does not work, I will then go to cotton clothesline, since that worked beautifully for my old washtub bass, many decades ago.

Gosh do I wish that I still had that old tub. It was a smaller washtub than my new tub, but was made out of thicker metal (circa 1950s I think). It had a full, round tone that would but an orchestral double bass to shame. (Sigh!)

David D.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 04 Nov 13 - 08:38 PM

There are no rules, just find what does the job.

I remember once at a festival there was a group from Madagascar or somewhere. They'd got a kind of washtub bass, but with a more musical tone. The "string" they used was a weird wiggly metal thing they'd got off a packing case. They said that when they got some bookings they went out and bought a proper bass string from a music shop, but it just didn't make the right sound, so they wen't back to the binding wire, and it sounded fine.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 04 Nov 13 - 12:12 AM

I had a "double bass" washtub for a couple of decades (two tubs, connected) with fingerboard, and found a lawnmower starter cord (the smaller of the two common diameters) about optimum to simulate the lower end of a standard stand-up bass with about a 50 inch long string, but it needed at least 40 or 50 lb tension to get it up to where it would "ring" right. I used an electric fence stretcher for a tuning knob and a 2x4 split lenghtwise and rounded a little for a fingerboard. String tension was high enough that I had to "brace" the tub bottom where the string attached to keep from pulling the bottom out.

That kind of string would not be well suited to a "bender" type bass (unless you're built like Godzilla).

For a "bender" type tub, it's likely that you'll get better control and a wider range of usable pitches with a lighter string with some stretch, although too much stretchy isn't good either. I'd say you should avoid string that "creeps" when you stretch it (like most monofilament line), but when the string stretches a little the diameter shrinks a little which gives a slight additional change in pitch to help with both pitch range and control of pich accuracy.

One exhibitionist we've seen recently used a 5 ft diameter tub and about 1/4" diameter aircraft control cable, with an old doubletree for a pole. He sweated a lot, and needed leather gloves with steel "caps" on the fingers to play it. (I was much less impressed with him than he was.)

For best effect, you need to consider both the string pitch, and the tub pitch as separately adjustable parts.

The string pitch depends on the weight of the string and its tension. The heavier (pounds per foot) the string the lower the pitch. Increaing the tension raises the pitch. For conventional instruments, it's usual to target the tension to about 80% of the "yield strength" of the string, since anything less than that will sound "flabby" at best. For a manually manipulated string like what you're considering, probably 20% to 30% is more reasonable, and should give decent results.

Ideally, the tub should have an "air resonance" near the lowest pitch you want to play, and the fundaments air resonance (its Helmholtz frequency) is proportional to the total cross section of all the holes in the volume, divided by the total volume of air it contains.

You can lower the "tub frequency" by closing off most of the "open side," with only a "tuning hole" to let the air flow in and out. Adjusting the hole size will tune the air volume. YOu'll get arguments about it, but you DO NOT NEED to have a big hole to "let the sound out" if you get the right tuning, since the vibrations of the metal will drive far more "acoustic motion" than you can get from pumping air through a big hole. To get to an air resonance close to the lower third of a stand-up bass range you probably shouldn't have more than 3 to 6 square inches of "air leaks" for a 30-40 gallon tub.

Most builders of "bender" type WTBs ignore the tub tuning, and that's permissible if it sounds good to the builder.

For maximum volume, you need the heaviest string you can handle, but that also means higher tension, so there are definite tradeoffs. You likely can get a better compromise (IMO) with a fiber string than with a monofilament, and for fibers a woven construction probably is better than just a twisted rope.

Obviously, lots of people have built instruments of this kind, and nobody ever built the second best one. You can expect any advice to be contradicted by the next advisor - but that's part of the fun.


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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GUEST,dddiam
Date: 03 Nov 13 - 10:48 PM

I am still experimenting with strings for a traditional wash tub base (one where you pull the pole sideways, rather than fingering a rigid neck).

There are dozens of different opinions on the web regarding one's favorite strings. Unfortunately those postings do not always indicate which type of WTB -- rigid neck vs. pulled pole.

I have a new 32" diameter, 35-gallon, round tub. I tried a low-stretch nylon 1/8" string. It has a clear sound, but does not go very deep into the bass note region, nor is it very loud. I am about to try a low-stretch nylon 3/16" string for comparison.

A few decades ago, I had a smaller WTB with cotton clothes line that had a wonderful deep, loud, bass register.

David D.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GutBucketeer
Date: 10 May 12 - 05:57 PM

Thanks John!

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 01:30 PM

I guess I must have gotten blown away by some of the hot air mentioned above, so I missed Gutbucketeer's question about a "tuned port."

Helmholtz did the calculations about a hundred years ago.

If you divide the VOLUME (cubic inches) of an enclosed air space by the "sum of the areas of all the holes" (square inches) in the container, the result is inversely proportional to the frequency at which the air will resonate. (Proportional to the wavelength of the sound.) More holes, or one bigger one, will raise the pitch. Of course there's a "scale factor" to multiply by that depends on whether you want cycles per second or radians per second of the sine wave, but you'll probably just "do it by ear" so it doesn't matter much what the number is.

If you start with a closed can, and put a fairly small hole in it, it will have an "air pitch." Make the hole bigger to raise the pitch to where you want it. A bigger can starts with a lower pitch, so if you want "bass" there's a sort of minimum volume needed for the can you start with, and if the hole gets too big relative to the volume the pitch gets "sloppy" - hence different sized instruments for different pitch ranges.

The air that goes in and out of the "can" doesn't really do all that much for the volume of a stringed instrument. It's the air pushed around by the vibrations of a large surface of the instrument that gets the noise out, hence the attention paid to creating an efficient "sound board" in most such instruments.

Note that you can't use an open bottom tub to "let the sound out" in any practical way and still have a "tuned" instrument.

The "f-holes" in a fiddle are made that way because very precise tuning is wanted there (although every builder has a different idea of what they should be tuned to). It's easier to "tweak" a crooked hole by making it a little "differently crooked" than it is to change the size of a round hole accurately while still keeping it round. (Guitars can (usually) use a round hole 'cause "pitching" the box is less critical when you play lots of strings with a range of frequencies at the same time.)


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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GUEST,Abby the spoon lady
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 09:01 AM

WEED-WHACKER CHORD!! If you get the thick one that is also ROUND (they start going square or somethin) it sounds great, and can be very accurate. and, TO ANYONE THAT SAYS THEY "JUST RATHER PLAY A REAL INSTRUMENT"..... GO TO SCHOOL AND GET EDUCATED, BECAUSE YOU SOUND DUMB TALKING THAT WAY.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GUEST,Debra
Date: 20 Jan 12 - 03:52 AM

I have had 3 tub basses (one was plastic) and this third one is the simplest design and best. I use a dowel to attach the string under the bass and keep it from popping through the hole. I have another dowel to hold the string in place near the hole we put in the mop handle. The mop handle has a notch cut on the bottom to let it rest more easily on the rim of the bass. I do "let the sound out" with a notched piece of wood that fits the bottom rim of the bass. It's getting hard to find tubs that aren't too thin in the middle to use.

I use cotton string-never get sore fingers even at an all-weekend jam fest. I have also tried something like a weed-wacker string on someone else's bass, but it didn't behave like I expected. What I like best is old curtain sashes, but they are brittle, since they were used in this house circa 1969. But they get the cleanest pitches. My first bass had nylon parachute chord- too stretchy to get clean pitches.

I have played in a couple of old-time/bluegrass singing trios and two instrumental contra-dance bands. To amplify the bass, I use a sneaker with a good dipped heel cup. Place the mic inside the sneaker with the head sticking up out of the heel. Place that underneath, inside the bass on the floor. If your guitar player taps his foot on the stage, the sneaker pads the mic so it doesn't pick that up.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GUEST,The Raindance Kid
Date: 04 Aug 11 - 09:26 PM

I play a simple washtub bass: stick, string and tub. The tub gets attention cause I painted it metal flake black and mounted a vintage Fender insignia on it.
I am a former sail maker and have been playing WTB for about 30 years. I have always used 505 polyester leech cord for the string. About 3/16", good tone, balance of tension and elasticity, holds a knot and is impossible to break. Any sail loft should have it.
The stick is a small, straight cedar tree which transmits vibration well.
I play fairly accurately with only string tension to get pitch. The stick is tall enough that I can lean my head against it to really hear the notes.
I have recently achieved the best rattle free tone from the tub by eliminating the handles and beating the bottom into a relatively smooth dome. I was thinking of going over to some sort of wooden box, but now the tub sounds so good, I probably won't.
The string is attached to the tub by tying it to a screw eye which goes through a hole in the bottom and into a small wooden block inside.
Thanks for the thread....

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: Charley Noble
Date: 21 Jul 11 - 08:23 PM

I'll see if I can get one of my band mates to explain how his washtub bass is put together. He's been playing the thing for over 20 years, and finally bought a new string last spring. As I recall he said picking the right washtub is not an easy thing for a beginner. He tested them for resonance by sticking them over his head and singing, amusing the other folks in the hardware store no end. He also pounded out flat the first inner ring because he found it a structural weak point; he is a quality control engineer.

Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GUEST,Nervous Paulvis
Date: 21 Jul 11 - 03:46 PM


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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GUEST,Nervous Paulvis
Date: 21 Jul 11 - 03:31 PM



From No-one??

Oh well, as usual Paulvis gets the Last Word


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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GUEST,Nervous Paulvis
Date: 03 Jun 11 - 11:48 PM

GB- That last message was from me man


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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
Date: 03 Jun 11 - 11:47 PM


Sir, you're back, while I've been away for a month or two.

Where is it that you play, I'd like to visit and see you for real?

Tis good to finally read a word from the wise, esp as Reggie kinda withered on his own vine

But you did misspell my name, so I guess nobody's perfect, least of all me.

But my basses are, at least as close as you can get and they got more resonance than you can shake a stick at Mister.

Yes sir, siree.

Have you actually checked out any of my sites yet cause I don't know where you got that resonance idea.

Or was that just your gut instinct?

My playing may be a different matter, but the light-weight super-strong string I use and the cross-string method I employ for resonation makes playing so easy and the instrument so tonal that I too can play for hours without gloves.

And I'm talking playing man, Red Hot Rockabilly Blues Inspired New Age Progressive Skiffle, not tapping out a back beat to some old-school Ken Colyer foot-tapper

To me the word Bass, when applied to these instruments is a misnomer, sure I can get a bass note and plod along in the background but I don't wanna!!

I can and mostly do play my T-Box more like a lead instrument and often find myself following the vocals and running against the damn drummer.

Your cross-piece design for the stick on the tub-top (or bottom really) sure gives you better control but you are always going to be limited by the lack of flexibility in the standard upside down tub you traditionalists still use at the moment.

With my little stick-cup and light-weight strings I can play the string from super slack to tight enough to cut a mans hand off.

And because the open end of the tub is now the right way up you get more of the sound coming out of it, tho according to fools jewels not for the reasons I thought.

Still serendipitous genius eh?

You shouldn't cut up your old tub just yet though.

Least wise not til you've tried some of these ideas out on a cheap new one first.

I like what you've done with the wooden lid but the sound is still trapped inside (muffled) cause you got your box on upside down.

It's not a backless banjo because the strings meet in the middle of the inside of the box.

So here's how to make the sound come out of the tub.

1. Turn it up the right way round
2. Cut 4 small holes on opposite sides.
3. Thread a piece of thin gauge plumbline cord through these holes to form a cross inside the tub.
4. Tighten these cross-strings as much as possible, use a stick through each loop to really tighten them.
5. Tie a similar piece of string through the middle of the cross so as to tie all the loops together.
6. Measure and tie this string to the top of your playing stick while the top is bent over to be above the centre point - about 45º.
7. Place one foot inside the bass, watch the cross-strings!! - a small piece of carpet or sheepskin down here makes it more comfortable for your foot to stand on - or you can also attach an exterior bass base.
8. If you can attach a stick cup on the lip of the tub use that, otherwise place the stick on the floor
9. Start picking

I'm not sure what you mean by a tuned port google says it's a type of turbo-charged fuel injection system and if so sir I take my hat off to you.

And put my crash helmet on.

I think though that you may mean some type of balanced output for plugging your bass into an amp or PA?

Well the easiest way to amp a Tea-Chest (which then means it don't matter which way the sound comes out so long as the joints don't creak) is to stick a little stick-on piezo-pick up on the outside (these are about £15-20 in music shops or Amazon and are sold primarily to let classical guitars, violins and mandolins etc be amp'd up without cutting holes in them.

These have a cable attached with a standard jack plug which you can then plug directly into any amp or PA that has a guitar jack input.

To get the best out of this type of unbalanced output though is to first plug the jack from the pick-up into a DI Box which then transforms it into a balanced signal and which has an XLR socket to attach a mic cable to.

A competent sound-engineer can thus transform the dullest of T-Tubs into the richness of tone more often associated with regular instruments.

I'm good tho because I stuck at learning how to play guitar and then when I finally learned how to play three chords, I kinda naturally how to find the right note at the right time for whatever other people are playing.

People ask me how I play it and I usually answer "Magic" hahaha

Nice vids and mp3's but I can't hear you too well without my headphones which I can't find at the moment and the vid clip doesn't show your tub,cept for a quick flash of the wooden top (bottom).

Send us more tho please.

In the meantime go and see me at

and tell me about resonance!!


Paulvis -(:

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GutBucketeer
Date: 04 May 11 - 01:51 PM

And for the bluegrass folks here are two examples of tub playing with some slapping thrown in:

Orange Blossom Special

Florida Blues

Both are from when I was playing a little with Notable Strings featuring Speedy Tolliver on Fiddle and Jerry Steward on Mandolin.


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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GutBucketeer
Date: 04 May 11 - 01:40 PM

Wow - I can't believe I missed this whole 2011 discussion on tub construction, strings, and things. I've been playing. A lot of good thoughts in the above threads (and some fairly thick hot air too).

Check the earlier posts for my thoughts on design etc.

I still think the best innovation is having a cross piece or using some other means to reduce the angle of the stick to the string. It allows more control and reduces the force on the fingering hand. I can play all day without gloves, and no longer get blisters.

There are tons of tub designs and they all work.

I've tried the drum idea with a smaller floor tom (i think it was a tom)with about an 18' diameter head and it didn't work out for me. If I ever find a used bass drum at a junk shop I'm going to experiment some more. One of the things that is important with this design is to cut a leather ring or reinforce it some other way where it goes through the drum head.

I've replaced the steel head in my tub with a thin piece of Luann plywood, and it sounds fantastic!

The type of string to use depends on your playing style and whether the neck is fixed or not. You have more note control if there is less stretch. I both pull back and finger so I like a smooth string that has mass but not much stress. Right now I use either a bike deraileur cable (which is very smooth to ensure accurate movement across the cable wheels) or a standup g string that has a multiple strand braided inner core.

I think the tub enclosure does matter. My bass is LOUD! but a little muddy. If I lift it totally off the floor it looses some of its tone. I've been afraid to cut a hole in the side, but would love to figure out how to put a tuned port in it (I use an old tub that is heavier than the newer ones and don't want to screw it up). Fooles Troop, if there are any sites that explain how to do a tuned port that would be cool.

Norvous- Your tub would probably sound better if you could follow some of the design principles for a resonating sound box. I suspect that right now you aren't getting any resonance from the box. There has been a ton of discussion on this topic in the cigar box guitar forums. If the holes are too big or its just open you basically have an open back banjo type instrument.

All that said, the more I see others play and the more I hear the differences between good and bad examples of tub playing, the more I'm convinced that it all boils down to the player learning to play their instrument. They have to say I'm going to practice until I can control the notes. Second, they have to keep it up until they can contol the notes across the full range, and increase their plucking speed. Others sound lousy on my tub. I can take a tub that sounds lousy and at least get decent notes out of it.

Norvous, you've gotten good because you have stuck with it over the years.

This assumes that they atleast have built a tub that isn't a 1/2 inch piece of cotton cord attached by an eyebolt to the bottom of the tub.

Nuff' said.

Yes Sir shows some of my playing from last Monday night.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
Date: 18 Apr 11 - 01:05 PM

Great Thread Gents! Mahalo!
I play electric bass guitar for a ukulele band here in Kona on the Big Island, and one day two of our ladies come in and say Richard we saw two aunties playing ukes and this uncle was playing this washtub bass and it sounded good. Could you make one?

I was thinking that there is no way its gonna sound very good, but to satisfy my curiousity and keep the girls happy -- well, why not. Like I tell my son, 'see that smile on your mother's face? That means we're happy". So I'll make a good effort, then I could go back to a real bass.

A trip to Ace started the journey. Tried weedwhacker .95 & .105 but too stretchy and took too long to come back, but surprised me with a pretty good sound, then Ace plastic covered clothesline wire, better but not great sustain, finally at Home Depot a 1/16th cable with a thin green plastic cover - bingo. Easy on the hands, good sustain, nice deep sound. Holy shit, now I'm starting to worry.

Put the 74" pole end on a stick that was lying across the washtub bottom, so the end was about 4"-5" from the tub center so I had a lot of mechanical advantage, and now the string was pretty close to the pole so it could be fretted. Put the tub up on some short legs - 1" 1x2s - with some felt on the bottoms for anti-rattle, and on the front put a rim notched 2x2 2-footer across outside the drum with a couple of 3/4" pegs sticking up. This lifted the front of the tub. Stuck some 10# barbell weights on the pegs and don't have to hold the tub with my foot. Two small pillows inside the tub tamed the mids.

Damn thing sounds as good as my Warwick, but more appropriate for the Hawaiian with the pedal steel sort of feel.

Hey, I put on some country and some bluegrass music and started working out some basslines, and damned if this instrument isn't about the most fun in the whole damned world. The uke group is loving it, and so am I.

One thing that may have helped to get the great tone. I played it for about 3 weeks, then I saw a small crack starting next to the eye bolt. Cut a 3"x3" galvanized sheet metal patch, flattened the center of the tub and put the patch and a fender washer under and a fender washer over. Temporarily bolted it together and soldered the washers and patch, then removed the bolt and put the eye bolt back. This made the center a bit heavier, and the tone had the perfect level of fundamental. Its easy to play, and sounds a lot like an upright. My Warwick is downright indignant.

Also, this thing - on its own - is as loud as I play with the warwick against 10-15 ukuleles and vocals. And the tub is punchier if i dig into it. What a well kept secret.

Another thing I learned. If you ever do want to plug this thing in, take a pair of headphones with pretty good bass response, wrap them up in a small towel so they don't rattle and stick them under the tub and plug them into the input of a bass amp or a PA. They make a great pickup if you need the extra volume for on stage. I don't think you could buy a better one.

Mahalo again for all the help and ideas.
Grass Shack Records
Kona, Hawaii

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
Date: 11 Apr 11 - 10:03 PM

Hi Reggie,

"I'm merely saying that even via their best efforts on a variety of different types and approaches to one string bass builds, none has been able to equal what my friend could do with his. If and when I do hear one better, you can bet that I'll be happy to post about it."

But it seems that you haven't - checked out my sites and heard one better, - - or if you have you're not going to admit it.

Ah well, I notice you've been touting your friend's drum-head bass around these pages for a few years now Reggie but like you say without much response.

I've tried to offer you a reason for this but you stick to your guns insisting that nothing sounds as good as your mate's drum-head and then when I direct you to a site where you will find those good sounds you seem to disappear from the board.

Seems a bit flakey to me but thanx for the rubber-band idea, when my balloon burst the other day I carried on playing with the scrap of rubber and got the same sound as an inflated balloon!!

So why bother with a balloon then?

Or a box?

Or even a stick??

A piece of string tied to a bunch of rubber bands will do the job just as well - though you do need a pick-up unless you just play it with your thumb in your ear.

I've no pix to show, nor no sounds just yet, but you heard it hear first - The Rubber Band Bass!! - it will take over the world - ha ha hee hee…

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: NervousPaulvis
Date: 30 Mar 11 - 01:41 AM

And then there's

So there's your replacement skins…

And I'm sure it must be possible to make a balloon kazoo too

Then a Balloon Guitar and balloon keyboard - hahaha

And we've got the whole orchestra -(:

Nice one Reggie, have you visited any of MY sites yet?


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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: reggie miles
Date: 29 Mar 11 - 12:11 AM

Pretty wild! Amazing what the right pickup and an amp can do for you when playing with balloons. I checked out one of the videos. The guy had great technique but his left hand work looked a bit tricky to emulate. He almost had a cat's cradle going on when reaching for those upper notes. Still, what a hoot! There seems like plenty of room here for imagination to play a role in the continuing development of this idea.

I've heard folks using a simple rubber band as a reed instrument. Years ago, there used to be rubber band player in a local band. He was quite good.

The first time that I noticed the resonance factor of a balloon was over 30 years ago. We were hangin' out and playin' on the street in Santa Cruz. One afternoon, when there were too few folks to entertain and we were doin' more hangin' than playin', I got bored and decided that it was time to inflate the 6 foot weather balloon that I had, for some odd reason, decided to bring with me in my backpack on this hitchhiking/busking tour that we were on.

Since I only had my lungs to use to inflate the thing, it took me a while. My buddies just stood around and watched as I became more and more hyperventilated while in the process of trying to get it fully filled with air. I noticed that I became rather light headed in the process. It was a strange sensation that I had not experienced before and a lot of bad puns seemed to accompany my attempt. Balloonatic was one word that came to mind.

I halted my inflationary mission when the thing was about four feet in diameter. I figured that was big enough. That's when I noticed the sound that the balloon could make when my fingers plucked its surface. I put my ear next to it and heard an amazing kind of reverberation of the sound of surface being plucked. I had always wanted to get another 6 foot weather balloon since then and explore that aspect further.

I see that someone else has discovered at least one other really cool musical property regarding playing with balloons. Balloonatics untie!

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: NervousPaulvis
Date: 28 Mar 11 - 10:16 PM

Hi y'all,

Just a note to say I have totally changed my philosophy concerning Tea-Chest Basses and when you go to check out the score at you'll understand why.

The Balloon Bass!!

Wot a Fantastic Idea!!

No more heavy boxes or unwieldy sticks to bother with, just a bag of balloons and a ball of string - whoop de woo!!

Look out (musical) world

The revolution is on it's wah-heyy!!

Balloon Bass

Balloon Bass

I can't stop talking about it…

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: NervousPaulvis
Date: 26 Mar 11 - 05:26 PM

Sorry Reggie, you're right, it was Banjo Ray who suggested the Clove Hitch and groove, whereas I advocate the fixed loop and screw-hook.

What you got wrong was assigning the string as the hypotenuse in your Pythagorus formula as this wouldn't put any tension on the string and therefore make it un=playable.

Your picture should actually look like this:¤t=T-Boxes1-23.jpg

Hmm not posted links before so I don't know if that will work.

And again I agree that your friend's drum-head bass is going to sound a lot better than most of the traditional upside-down bass boxes, such as you've heard other people play, thumping away with the string tied to the floor of the box/tub.

They're probably not bad players they're just not playing very good basses.

But you ain't heard me and mine yet and I maintain that my radical cross-string design will give a drum skin a fair old run for it's money and is by it's very nature a more accessible, easier, cheaper, more Tea-Chesty-Traditional way of achieving this kind of sound, and without having to source and cannibalise another musical instrument.

Enough talking though, you have to compare for yourself, so go and listen to the kind of sounds I'm talking about at my Bass-Ek Instinct video-clips on how to make a Tea-Chest Bass sound really good:

And you can hear me playing the thing on a proper studio recording - with added percussive pieces tied to my wrist and ankles - at

Pretty darn sensitive I think you'll agree but as you can hear we play at quite a lick compared to most jug bands - raw jump boogie blooze indeed - and I think this style of playing would take it's toll on most drum skins even if reinforced with leather patches etc, far quicker than it does on the cross-strings.

It isn't always playing them that can tear the skin either, I lost a skin to my harp player's size 11 boot once, not at a gig thank goodness, but should that ever happen to your friend, for whatever reason, where be your drum-head bass player then?

Off stage searching for a roll of gaffa tape and then heading to the music shop…

Me, I just carry a roll of string in my pocket and should a cross-string break (maybe once in two years) I can get it fixed and playing again before the end of the song.

I love the digital spoons idea though, brilliant, I've had bird's chirping, telephones ringing and helicopters flying out of my T-Box before now but the wah-wah peddle to get tone shifting for melodies is pure - what did Foolstroupe Robin say?

Serendipitous Genius.

Yeah Man

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: reggie miles
Date: 26 Mar 11 - 07:13 AM

"you don't even know how to string the thing properly, nor even connect the string to a stick "

It seems that you misread my post above. I didn't offer a description of how to "string the thing properly, nor even connect the string to a stick" because I've seen enough players and playing styles to know that seldom are two ever exactly alike. Hence, why I said what I did.

"Keep in mind that this is just a starting place to work from and your actual measurements may vary to work best with your purposes and individual approach to playing."

The reason that I've touted my friend's approach is because I've heard plenty of others and nothing that I've heard has been even close to his. Period. By that, I'm not saying that other one string bass players were bad. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I've seen some wild and freaky thumpers that were absolutely astonishing in their efforts. I haven't seen them all and in all likelihood, I won't get that opportunity. I'm merely saying that even via their best efforts on a variety of different types and approaches to one string bass builds, none has been able to equal what my friend could do with his. If and when I do hear one better, you can bet that I'll be happy to post about it.

Now, please understand, that this is just my opinion. Hey, the next guy might think that he sucks and that I'm a tone deaf mutant. We all have our own ideas regarding what we like and why.

I understand what you're getting at, regarding the use of something that might be more costly than what you're willing to invest in for such a project. I can imagine that new drum heads might be pricey items to purchase. I wouldn't go that route. As for me, I seldom purchase new items and prefer to shop at garage sales, junk stores and swap meets. I've had an old bass drum in the basement for years that I've been threatening to turn into a drum bass. At the moment, I have lots of other more pressing projects but I'll get around to it.

I don't know how many drum heads that my friend might have gone through in his experimentation to create what he did. Being curious about that aspect of his concept, I did asked him how he managed to keep the tugging on his string from pulling through the head and he explained how he managed that part to me. I will restate that because of the sensitivity of the plastic drum head, there is no need to apply even a fraction of the pressure needed to play an average steel tub bass. So, I never saw him lose a head at any time when we played together. Back then, he primarily played in an acoustic jug band configuration.

Hey, speaking of digital dreams, my friend, who plays spoons, managed to attach a pickup to one of his spoons and pumped it into a digital effect processor and looper. I liked the way he could alter the sound to make his spoons sound like anything within the sound bank from birds chirping to you name it. A wah pedal became a tonal shifter so he could play melodies as well. I've been wanting to take some of my pursuits into that same realm. The best of luck to you in your digital designs.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: NervousPaulvis
Date: 26 Mar 11 - 04:16 AM

And Reggie, I don't see the need for all your curfuffle about not wanting to return to the stone-age etc… most of which is pretty obvious but it has nothing to do with the points I was making.

Which is simply, that using an old musical instrument may give a better sound but in my opinion using an old or new anything that isn't a musical instrument gives a better feeling.

And that old drum heads are not soooo easy to find, and new ones are prohibitively expensive, compared to stuff like old or even new boxes, buckets, garbage cans, wash tubs and tea chests etc…

I think what was nagging me about your original post and which caused me to reply in the first place was your implication that a drum-head bass was the be-all and end-all and that nothing else could/would ever do so well and that people might be put off trying to make one if they couldn't find an old drum to use.

And I wanted to say that you can get as good a sound as a drum-skin by using the cross-strings method on any old box, requiring a similar level of technical dexterity to put it together.

And also, that I, as a player, on a personal level, get a far greater intrinsic enjoyment from producing sounds from objects that no matter whether they were made in a factory, workshop or garden shed, were not originally made as a musical instrument.

The same thing applies to using professional double bass strings, which was where my OEggnTHP comment was actually aimed, - and try finding ONE of those, second-hand in a junk shop - they are not designed for a One-String Bass and a One-String Bass is not designed to need them, so using them in my opinion is an unnecessary and in terms of the rest of the instrument, extremely expensive, affection.

Same thing when the drum skin breaks, a trip to the music store, to pay top $$$ for a professionally made piece of brand-new MUSICAL kit.

So yeah, unless you got a spare drum, skins and bass strings lying around handy or a local store with a good cheap supply of used items, or you're in a band and you steal the other player's kit - which is totally allowed BTW - to me it's Over-Egging the pudding!!

Which ain't bad, just a bit unnecessary. Like my Strad-Box.

But I said all along that this was my personal player's opinion and invited other players to comment.

But you're not a player, most of your postings were bass'd(sic) on assumptions of what your friend thinks and does, you don't even know how to string the thing properly, nor even connect the string to a stick - your diagram was bass'd(sic) on guesswork and all you've done with your last post is try to belittle my input by suggesting I am advocating some extreme Luddite viewpoint and that I would consider the use of any professionally made item an affront to the art of Bass-Making.

Which ain't what I said at all.

In fact I think it would be really great to be able to go into my local music shop and pick a brand-new Gretsch/Fender/Gibson/Martin etc… T-Bass off the shelf, I'd love one!!


And like I said before, if there's anyone out there with the seed money, I've already got the plans ready for the Electric-MIDI-T-Box Synthesiser Sequencer Sampler Thingy

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: NervousPaulvis
Date: 26 Mar 11 - 03:15 AM

Hi PoppaG, thanks for the good word inre: my screw-head and bottle cap idea for T-Stick holding.

It's advantage over the V-wedge on tub-lip method is that the stick is a lot more sensitive and light to move and can be moved in any direction too.

And the screw-head - I use a 1/2" O-ring now- stands up to a lot more punishment than the V-wedge.

And as I said before, it helps to use the cross-strings system and not invert the tub.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: reggie miles
Date: 26 Mar 11 - 12:38 AM

Nervous, "over-egging the pudding?"

While a tub, a piece of rope, or a broom stick might not be very costly items, the manufacturing process used to create them took an enormous initial financial investment to fashion the industrial machines that create them today.

There is nothing inherently wrong with using things that were "professionally" made to craft a homemade or DIY instrument. Most every player of a one string bass that I know about used something in their construction of that instrument that was made "professionally" by some manufacturing company. Whether the string or rope, the tub, the stick, the tea chest, the drum, the wire or the hardware to hold it all together, it was all "professionally" made by some manufacturing company, and you can count on the fact that it wasn't originally crafted for use as a one string bass. Using such items is exactly the idea that those who pioneered this musical folk art, of crafting your own makeshift homemade musical instruments from miscellany, had in mind.

Few makers of a one string bass, if any, would take on the task of manufacturing their own tub, drum or tea chest box for such an endeavor. Though, I think that a wooden box might be the simplest of the three ideas to craft, even that requires time, skill and tools that few might possess to complete such a project. Why craft something that you can find already made. Even less would consider making, from scratch, their own rope, broomstick, or any of the miscellaneous hardware needed to complete such a project. We've relied upon industries of all kinds to manufacture such items for many years.

There was a time, many years ago, when industry's production of such items was not common and as such, we each relied on individual craftsmen skilled in specific disciplines to fulfill our needs for those specialized items. We also relied heavily on our own ability to craft what we needed or desired.

Though, I have friends who still cling to those old ways of building their own log houses, making their own furniture, crafting their own hardware, in their own blacksmith shop, creating their own wagons, to be pulled by their own draft horses, that they've raised themselves, raising their own farm animals, growing their own food... I know of none that are so dedicated to those tasks that they also only use their own hand made tools to accomplish all of that they endeavor to do. The manufacturing of tools and products is not an bad thing. Neither is taking those already manufactured items and using them to make our own musical instruments.

Fashioning a drum body from a hand hewed tree, felled with your own ax that you created yourself from (?) and then covering it with the skin of an animal that you hunted and killed with your own self-created weapon (bow and arrow or whatever) and then skinned with your own self-made knife and tanned yourself, using wholly self supplied know-how and means, is nearly a lost art and craft, that few, if any, possess these days. In these post industrial revolution times, where manufacturing processes have become arts and crafts of such precision, that they enabled us to place men on the moon and allow people all across the world to exchange ideas via desktop and hand held electronic devices, the creation of musical items, out of the remnants of unwanted junk is, very nearly, also a lost art. It shouldn't be discouraged, or thought less of, simply because we no longer possess the skills, tools or knowledge, that we once did, to create and supply our own needs.

Part of the charm of these handmade, homemade or handcrafted instruments is that they can be created out of such common and sometimes used or discarded items. One man's trash becomes another man's treasured musical and artistic expression, to the delight of all who experience it thumping out a bass line, strumming a chord or scratching a rhythm.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 25 Mar 11 - 04:39 PM

Interesting idea, screwing a round-headed screw into the bottom of the stick and fastening a recessed gizmo (liker a bottlecap) to the washtub/soundbox in which to rest the stick.

The way I handled it, back when I had a washtub bass years ago, was to cut a V-shaped notch into the bottom of the stick and rest it on the lip of the inverted tub. The kind of real galvanized washtub you could buy at a hardware store (or salvage), at least back then, always had a ridge around the bottom which nicely accommodated a notched rake-handle or whatever you were using as the "neck" of your homemade bass.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: NervousPaulvis
Date: 16 Mar 11 - 07:53 PM

Well Hello Sailor -(:

You might think I'm trying to slip you a line or even string you along - lol

But take my word for it - or at least try it for yourself - your string does need to stretch a bit.

You'll most likely do yourself, or your instrument, an injury by using a too thick, too strong string.

3/16th's - yee-gods that's almost 5mm - ouch!!


"The thinner the twine - the greater the twang"

esp, when used with the cross-strings and amp system.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GUEST,Bill in L.A.
Date: 16 Mar 11 - 02:43 PM

Reggie. Thanks for your thoughtful comments and suggestions for one who is just starting out. I will have to go to your links and digest all these fruitful tips. BTW, I'm a sailor so I just put a small brass cleat at the top of the stick, which allows easy adjustment of the line length. Also, I'm experimenting with 3/16" stayset Sampson non-stretchable line. Being slippery, it is easy on the fingers and has absolutely no stretch whatsoever. This is the line that is used in place of twisted stainless rigging cables. I'd be interested to know if anyone has a comment on this line. It was much better than the 1/8" nylon/polyester combo that I first tried. You can get this line at any sailing store (chandlery). Bill in L.A.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: NervousPaulvis
Date: 16 Mar 11 - 04:05 AM

And Hi again Reggie,

Like I said I'm not knocking the achievements of your friend - tho t'would be interesting to hear his take on these discussions - and I'm sure his discovery of the drum-bass concept was just as much a "stroke of genius" as was mine - tho my cross-string idea seems to be a first and for that reason has to be counted as even more geniusistic.

It's not even mentioned in the Inbindi Family Tree pic from which I've put up at -¤t=T-Chestfamily_tree_small.jpg - for yours and other's elucidation.

Of course you're right to suggest that not many people are going to rush off to a luthier's workshop to order, or build a hand-built Strad-Box like mine.

But that project came to fruition only after 30 years of me making all different kinds of these things from scratch, wooden boxes, metal tubs, plastic buckets, broom handles, different strings and a sharp knife.

Not really beyond the means of anyone, certainly not someone who can knock up a drum-head bass.

My point about drum basses is that whether they are made from new, old, junked or partly destroyed drum heads, they were at one time professionally made pieces of musical kit, designed and built in a factory and were sold at least one time to somebody for lottsa $$$ - as too of course are double bass strings - in re: my points to Bill above.

Now even though I do possess THE BEST TEA-CHEST BASS IN THE WORLD!! - probably.

I'm still experimenting and thinking up new designs - and want to try out other types from around the world too.

The Indonesian instrument I mentioned in a previous post is called a Dan-Bau and imposes a precise degree of Zen concentration to the art of single-string thumping to produce tones bordering on the celestial.

I want, but can't afford, a Whamola™ Stick - so if there's any generous patrons out there with $500 bucks to spare - just pop along to - - and do the needful - cheers!!

So now, having sort of mastered the art of playing these kind of single string instruments I'm inherently intrigued by the possibilities of the so many different stick/box/string/combinations available to a player and really I just want to play them ALL!!

I would expect the majority of other tub-thumpers to share this urge of forever striving for better and/or different ways to create an ever wider range of sounds and tones.

So I dig that Jim's drum-head is a real cool part of the world of tub-thumping but there's so much more to it too.

So happy tub-thumping and keep experimenting and exploring.


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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: NervousPaulvis
Date: 16 Mar 11 - 01:50 AM

Hi Bill,

I know they're a long read - but my posts above, tell you EVERYTHING you need to know about building and playing a tea/wash - chest/tub - one-string bass.

1. First of all using a "real" professionally wound double bass string, is not only over-egging the pudding, in my opinion somewhat like using professionally made drum-heads / skins for the resonator.

But for different reasons; a real bass string cannot be easily pulled to the tension needed to produce the correct tones and will put an immense strain on your bass box not to mention your arm and shoulder muscles too.

The TC/WT/One String Bass is not in the same instrument category as a double bass and the components of one do not naturally apply to the other.

By far and away the best kind of string to use is an extremely THIN one - 1.5 - 2mm - 1/16th inch cotton braided, high twist nylon builders cord is the D'Addiaro of T-Box strings and gives as good if not better resonance, is easier on the fingers and the instrument and is much much much cheaper than using a double bass string - you can also cut it to any length you require.

2. How long is a piece of string? - Well if you follow Reggie's model and tie from the box to the top of the "upright" stick, you will have no tension in the string and be unable to play any notes until you have pulled the stick so far back it'll fall off the box..

So first tie the string to the bass box (or cross-strings) and measure the string from this point to the stick - NOT the other way around!!

You then need to move the top of the stick foward from the perpendicular to at least 30º for a thick string.
And with a thinner string, you should bend the stick right over, until the top of the stick is directly above the centre of the box (usually 45º) and then measure your string to this length. so the stick is the hypotenuse of the triangle NOT the string as it is in Reggie's model.

Then tie/loop/hook the string to the stick and then when you pull the stick back towards the upright, the string will come under tension and you can start playing notes.

NB: The string will keep stretching for a while but you can tie knots along it's length to keep it in "tune".

It's always good to tie one knot in the middle of the string for better finger-work and stick slapping.

3. How long is a piece of stick? - Well the longer the stick = the longer the string = the lower the tone.

The best size for a stick is one that reaches just above the top of your head when placed in it's playing hole on the bass box (or on the ground if you're an ultra-traditionalist) and pulled upright - so if you're a shrimp use a short-stick and if you're a long-fellow use a long one.

4. How to connect string to stick? - oh come on now were you never a kid - cowboys & indians, Robin Hood, bows & arrows??

OK, you just cut a notch in the stick and tie a loop in the string - ez-pz!!

A less awkward and more secure method is to screw a screw-hook (nail, widget, guitar strap holder whatever - brass boat cleat - excellent choice) into the top of the stick and loop your string over this.

5. You didn't ask and I forgot to mention it previously but the best way to hold the stick in place is to screw a small round-headed screw into the bottom of the stick to act as the pivot - this gives a better feel and more control of the stick's movement.

Also you should attach an upturned jar lid, bottle top, or even the heel of a shoe to the bass-box for the stick to rest inside whilst playing - it's best to line these playing-holes with something like blu-tack, or a piece of leather to deaden any scratching between the bottom of the stick and the surface of the bass.

There now what else? Oh yeah, to get the best best sound out of your bass, try my radical method and turn your tub upside down (right way up for washing) and tie four or more cross-string loops across the middle, tighten these up to full tension and tie your playing string to where these strings meet and you'll achieve far better resonance than from a nickle-ass or tinplate bottom.

And the sound will then come out of the hole at the top, instead of being trapped inside. - Dah-DAAHHH!!

Go see how to do this at -¤t=T-Boxes1-23.jpg - where I have updated Reggie's somewhat misleading diagram and added some self-explanatory notes.

You can see me build and play these at

Now you won't produce such a loud acoustic sound with the cross-strings on a metal tub as you would with a wooden tea-chest but the sound is there and if you attach a stick-on piezo pick-up (about $15) to the side of the box (use blu-tak to deaden any snap.crackles or pops)) and plug it into an amp you'll definitely appreciate the better tonal quality of the cross strings.

And even more so if you have access to a DI box to plug your lead into before going to the amp, or better still a friendly neighbourhood sound-engineer can bring tones out of a well strung and properly amp'd up TC/WT Bass that will absolutely astound you - I guarantee it.

Of course a metal tub would be strong enough for you to use both methods of stringing so you could play it upright or downside according to your needs at the time - a double-single bass - you'd definitely get different tones from each method so would be almost like having an effects pedal.

One last point, to get a better acoustic sound, you can actually cut one or two small (fist-sized) sound-holes in the sides (or even bottom) of a metal tub without detrimentally affecting the resonance and so do away with the need for a clumsy girt wedge at the bottom.

Better again if you cover these holes with a skin and do the 4-drum/cross-string method outlined in my previous posts.

But seriously, do try the cross-strings, you will be amazed!!


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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GUEST,Bill in L.A.
Date: 14 Mar 11 - 05:49 PM

Ray. Thanks for your knot suggestion. You triggerd anothe idea for m:e--I bought a real small brass boat cleat to tie the cord off. It works. Now, in the case of a real Bass string (A, G, etc) what top fastening system might you or others suggest? My A string requires a lot of tension to get it going. Right now, I'm having a great time riffing with Cliff Stuart and His San Francisco Boys (last heard of them playing in The Borough Lounge in Queens, about 1951).

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: BanjoRay
Date: 11 Mar 11 - 08:58 PM

I'd try a clove hitch - great for tying a string to a bar. Cut a groove round the stick near the top. Take the end of the string in your left hand and make a 2 inch counter clockwise loop in it (right over left). Now make another nearer the end of the string. Place the second loop under the first loop and pass both loops over the stick and round the groove. Tighten it up and you've got a clove hitch. To keep it secure, maybe add a hitch or two.
I'm sure there's a web site with diagrams somewhere!

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
Date: 11 Mar 11 - 08:40 PM

Thanks a lot, Reggie. Helpful diagram. For my build, I have a no.2 tub and a stick right now is a bit long, I'd say. It is 5.5 feet from rim of tub to point where the string enters. In fact, I have an A bass string and it seems on the short side for this length stick. I may have to cut it off. Any lineal

Next question: How does one fasten a metal wound string tot the top of the stick? Any comments are most welcome. Bill

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: BanjoRay
Date: 11 Mar 11 - 08:22 AM

Has anybody checked out Janice Birchfield yet? I think her playing with the Roane Mountain Hilltoppers is about as good as it gets. The music starts about 2 minutes in.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: reggie miles
Date: 10 Mar 11 - 03:27 PM


Wow! I had no idea that so many others were also exploring a similar drum bass path with their musical pursuits, or, that the idea had such history. Perhaps Jim was not the author of the idea but he created his own wonderful slant on it.

Jim has been performing in upstate NY for the last several decades. We met in New Orleans about 30 years ago.

I agree, that if one does possess the necessary knowledge, skills, tools and time to handcraft a musical instrument from scratch, that it's a very sweet and most definitely a very worthwhile exploration. However, not all possess such means to that end.

You might be misunderstanding one aspect of my friend Jim's drum bass. I think that the idea, in Jim's case, was to make his instrument as inexpensively as possible. When we met, he was playing in a jug band on the street in The French Quarter. He lived a meager lifestyle, in one of the poorer parts of town. I know for a fact that he didn't run out to a music store to purchase some highfalutin brand new drum for big $$$ to create his drum bass. Like me, and my own endeavors to create my resophonic guitars out of recycled garage sale junk, Jim was a junker too. He loved haunting the local thrift stores, garage sales and swap meets looking for old 78rpm records and other cool junk. He reused an 'old' used R&R kick drum for his bass. He probably found it at one of those garage sales, or at some thrift store along the way.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: reggie miles
Date: 10 Mar 11 - 02:53 PM

Hey GUEST Bill, I think that the length of the string and/or stick might simply be a personal preference but there may actually be a formula to achieve the best results. I would think that you could simply start by holding the stick in as upright a position as possible when mounted on the edge of your tub and then measure down to where it meets the center of your tub's face. If you want to get technical, the length of the string would then become part of a simple mathematical formula called the Pythagorean theorem, (A squared + B squared = C squared).

Below is a link to a simple image that I sketched indicating the A,B and C that you'd plug into the above formula. Keep in mind that this is just a starting place to work from and your actual measurements may vary to work best with your purposes and individual approach to playing.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: GUEST,Bill
Date: 10 Mar 11 - 12:21 AM

I am making my first washtub bass. Of course, the type of line you use would vary somewhat. Still, can anyone recommend the approximate length of the string from tub to top of stick? Thanks.

P.S. Where can I get a Wheeling No 2 tub?

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: Roger the Skiffler
Date: 06 Mar 11 - 03:19 AM

NP, I'm in Ascot UK but by popular request the Washboard of Mass Destruction and the Voice that Talent Forgot only perform in my padded cell!


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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 05 Mar 11 - 08:42 AM

It's "Foolestroupe" with an 'e' Google 'Fooles Troupe Home Page'...

I'm no real expert, but I do get occasional 'flashes of inspiration' ...

I haven't really thought about your 'Magic Stick' - God knows, at my age, I have enough trouble with mine ... :-P

But with your Magic Stick™ you seem to have created an instrument similar to the Shamisen, or similar construction. If the 'string' has sufficient tension, it can create an appreciable degree of sound, even without any attachment of a resonator. There's a North American Indian instrument of a hunting bow and a gourd, but you can get quite a degree of volume out of just plucking the bow.

I did actually many years ago, study one of our tea chests rather intently, and put a lot of thought into it, but I never did anything physical with it (ooo, er ...)...

I did think about doing what you did with the string mounting point. I also thought about whether one should use the exact center of the panels for the mounting point, or somewhere else. It probably should be between there and the points where you get a 'node point' of an overtone of the full length of the height of the side. One even thought about 'The Golden Ratio', and all that esoteric nonsense ...

Then I said stuff it! At Bass frequencies, we are talking wavelengths of meters! (200 Hz -> ~ 1.72 m) and the damn box is only about a meter or so high! So the best place would then be of course, right in the middle, where you instinctively placed it! Would give the most 'throb' for the least 'thump', most efficient, and least 'energy loss' ... :-)

As to your question of putting the lid back on the top, and cutting a hole, etc, I don't really have the experience to say much. I'm not sure that it would do much though. Maybe sealing the whole box and attaching the lid to the bottom where the top panel is excited using the traditional construction method might do something, but I think the slight leakage or having an edge lifted may do more in transferring the energy efficiently - if bass ports get too large, they don't have enough 'impedance' to do the loading sufficiently, I suspect.

One thing from loudspeaker design I thought you might want to play with is if you stuff the box full of the sound deadener filling, but I suspect that since you are not using a 'loudspeaker driver' with maybe hundreds of watts of power, but just a plucked string, is that that idea robs lots of power to stop internal reflections, and that is not what you want in a hand plucked instrument!

I think your cross string design is about as far as you can go in that line. The ply sides are not really all that great.

The drum head, is of course a different matter, as it is thinner and DESIGNED to vibrate efficiently... so there is less energy loss compare with the ply.

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: NervousPaulvis
Date: 05 Mar 11 - 07:08 AM

BTW - EVERYBODY should go and check out the contraptions at

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: NervousPaulvis
Date: 05 Mar 11 - 05:08 AM

And so, now to Mr Miles,

Hi ya Reggie, the results weren't really that surprising, once I had the ideas, I kind of knew they were all going to work - see above - it was the little things like smoothing out the clicks and clacks and applying reinforcements and stuff that took the experimentation.

As for being more technical, well again, not really reggie, tying those strings together takes a lot less technical know-how and ability than it does to skin a drum.

I'm not trying to be rude to you or your friend who's case you so earnestly make but only to try to let you see that:

Although you are right on every count in re: drum head basses producing a better sound, wider range of notes, easier portability, more exact touch and feel and an overall nicer betterness than trying to plonk on a piece of wood or metal.

It's just that:

1) Jim's not the first to use a drumhead / skin combo,
* I did it myself many years ago - and also put my cross strings through the sides of the drum as well, so I could play it with a double-resonator ie: strings & skin together yee-haw!! or either way up ie: a double-double-single-string bass - (:

* Studio Stu has been getting paid lotsa $$$ for playing his own drum head bass for many years on the NY jazz circuit.

* The original Inbindi (Earth drum) was made by African tribes-people by stretching an animal skin across a hardened hollow - ie: making a drum - and attaching a "string" to the centre of the skin and the other end to a tree branch so they could "Play the Earth" daddi-o (and how does that work please Robin?).

* An Indian Ek-tara (One-String) is often made by stretching a goat skin across a hollowed out portion of coconut tree-trunk, a thin wire is attached to the skin and a slightly pliant bamboo stick which is also attached to the outside of the trunk. This instrument is held on the lap and played sitting down to produce a high pitched drone similar that from a sitar.

* You can cut a hole in your bass and attach a piece of skin to use for the resonator like I did with my four-drum cross-string bass - see above - which does as good a job as a real drum but because they are tensioned by the cross-strings, the skin(s) don't need to be pre-tensioned like on a drum.

2) My real point though is that to my way of thinking, as a "Player", unless you first make your own drum-head or bass box yourself, or fan-dangle it from a non musical piece of something else like a tea-chest or washtub, it just ain't the real thing!!

So OK this is a personal opinion but I think other players - maybe even Jim - might share with me.

Now even though I love the sound and portability of my little tom-tom bass, I can't escape the knowledge that the majority of the instrument was made by the Trixon Drum Making Company of Germany and my input into making the instrument was merely a bastardisation of somebody else's art.

Maybe I'm being a bit too purist but I only use this bass as part of a novelty act in my show, just to show what's possible and yeah let people see how easy it is to get started if they've got an unwanted drum head floating about.

Or want to go and buy one.

But that's my point on this, it's like turning a saxophone into a kazoo!!

The greatest kazoo in the world - perhaps but…

There's just something slightly, effete is the best word I can think of, and to me that word seems to fit people like Studio Stu and the whole jazz world too - about using a professionally produced instrument to produce a what was it Robin? "cheap and nasty folk instrument".

Well I don't quite go with that - tho there have been a lot of cheap and nasty basses made, most of the good ones are good and a hand made instrument made by the hands of the player is just so inherently different and from an artist's point of view should be more personally satisfying and from an artistic point of view more ENTERTAINING!! yeah? than plucking on a Premier™ Box.

So with all respect to your friend and the sound he gets, to my mind there will always be something lacking and a true gutbucketeer (if I may borrow your nom-de-plume sir - and hope you may re-join this discussion soon) would and should, I think, look to create an instrument that bears their own full personal stamp.

So sure, go ahead and make one Jim, a hand-made drum-head bass is a thing of beauty and wonderment but also blooming hard to make.

But, my cross-stringing technique which I outlined in my earlier message kind of creates a virtual drum-skin in it's own right - issat right Robin? - certainly when used with skinned holes as per my 4-drum/cross hair bass.

This technique produces just those kind of snappy notes, and gives the player a sophisticated technical touch as exact as that produced with someone else's drum-skins.

It can be used to make any style or size of bass - I've made one with a dixie-cup and lollipop stick and I want to make one using a gasometer or grain silo - whoo-hoo!!

Which makes it even more portable than carrying a drum-head!!

With the Magic Stick™ there's not even a box to carry!!

That all said, there's a lot to be said for helping to produce cheap and easy starter models and the drum-head bass is a good starter no doubt, but that to my mind is all it ever will be, a pointer in the right direction, irrespective of how technically superior it may be.

I have though designed a prototype of a professionally made one-string bass (The STICK-IN-A-BOX™) to help young children learn the rudiments of gut-thumping (and sound) - far easier than forcing piano, violin or guitar lessons on em methinx.

It would be made from rigid and moulded plastics and use the 4-drum cross-string method of resonation and have a built-in active pick-up, wired into a small MIDI voice controller, loudspeaker and headphone/line-out port - with a MIDI-out on the pro-model.

So it can be set to produce different instrument voices - guitar, piano, trumpet etc and fun voices - telephone, spaceship, moo-cow, duck-quack etc etc… - toned to wherever they pull the stick and hit the string.

This could in fact be made into a serious professional instrument.

So if there's any skiffle-crazy venture capitalists out there who'd like to help me make this become a reality - preferably with Robin's help if you're interested? - I need about £25-50K of seed capital and then, and then…


"Wash Tub's Take Over The World" hahaha -(:

Or somebody just gissa paying/playing job!!

Gee-Whiz, I didn't realise there'd been such a gut-bucket revival while I've been sunning myself out here with the hippies.

But I'm heading west soon, UK, Europe, USA maybe…

So if'n anybody out there knows of a regularly gigging (and getting paid for it) done-gone-groovy jug/blues/skiffle band, who might be needing a certified One String Super-Star with'n the nicestest, bestestest, coolestest, most incredibly amazingly wonderful god-durned Gut-Bucket Bass in the World!!- probably…

Then do please pass my details onto them pronto - - or their's onto me.

Or here of course at this here mudcat thing, which I guess I'd best sign up to as a member, if'n this here old rickety dial-up internet connection I'm having to use out here in the wilds of Goa, will let me get through.

Hmm, I think that's happened, already.

Ok dokie, that'll do for now, I'll leave all that technical wrangling as to the why's and wherefore's etc to the rest of you'se all.

But I sure would like some more feedback in re: Bass-Ek Instincts and a gig or a job or an investor would be nice too.

In the meantime, I'm gonna have me a damn good pluck on my Magic Stick™.


See y'all

Paulvis - yee-haw!!

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Subject: RE: Washtub Bass: What kind of string & why?
From: NervousPaulvis
Date: 05 Mar 11 - 04:46 AM

And to Mr Foolestroup:

Or issit Mrs, Ms, Miss, Dr, Rev, or any other combination of salutations?

I can see that I shall have to be even more pedantically exact than I usually am, while addressing your good self, or bad self, or whatever…

So thank you for correcting my over egotistical English and of course the correct opening to that sentence should have read:

"My" secret in getting the acoustic sound out of the box…


Thank you too for acknowledging my genies-tic stroke and too the in-depth analysis of exactly why it works, I didn't read your f-hole explanation until just after I posted my own thesis and kinda wished I'd known about you first so I could have double-checked my assumptions before posting it.

But no matter, 'tween the two of us, I think we have laid bare this particular secret.

But now would you also please explain just how my "Magic Stick" aka the Tubless Washtub Bass, works.

Cause if you think the "string-thing" is a stroke of genius then this, when played, virtually INVISIBLE bass must be bordering on outright insanity hahahaa -(:

As for the "cheap & nasty folk instrument" bit - I didn't say that, and nor do I buy it really, as the traditions of these kind of instruments stretch back thousands of years across many cultures, and a well-made Indian Ek-tara or better still the Korean instrument that no-body can tell me the name of, are very far from cheap or nasty.

But yeah I thought of first cross-stringing all the sides together and then turning the thing upright - and then just amping the stick haha!! - before I was aware of any of these ethnic instruments.

And I already knew there was a difference between four orthagonal resonators and a throbbing coinoid but didn't know how to say it - so thanx 4 that 2.

The fact that things are pulsing in and out at the same time is an interesting revelation, do other instruments work this way or just T-tub's?

And I even think I get what you mean about end-around effect robbing energy if that's about not having the resonator at the end of the instrument, or touching a player's foot or something - yeah?

As for the anti-phase/sound envelope thing, I think you're trying to say that if I put a lid back over the top of the box (playing the string through a small specially cut vent hole with rubber flap seals if you wish) would technically produce a louder sound as the anti-phase effect (currently 20%) would be cut to a fraction.

But - Surely you wouldn't be able to hear it cause the sound would be trapped inside the box?

I mean I dig on that f-hole page you made the point about the sound coming from the outside but that's where the bridge is - on my t-boxes the bridge is of course right inside at the centre of the cubio-spheroid and well it sure sounds louder from the top than from any of the sides, though if I put it on a hard wood floor the whole house shakes.

I dunno, maybe I didn't quite get you - but I started off by simply cutting small then larger and larger holes in the top of my basses and found that there is a kind of trade-off between anti-phase and sound hole projection (OK I didn't know it was called that at the time but I do now) and 5:1 is about the best ratio I got.

Except the time I cut circular holes in all four sides of one of my boxes and glued a piece of goat skin across each one - effectively creating four drums, Reggie!! - and strung these together with the cross-strings, which sounded fantastic (I guess it extended the 5:1 ratio even further as the sides had a larger area, when the skins were stretched than the top) and though I was tempted to put a similar skin across my luthiered beauty I decided to just stick with the strings and the wood for safety's sake.

And it's just about perfect, even if I do say so myself.

Wow! physics lessons at fifty heh heh

And an A+ for my project, gee-whizz thanx teacher.

"Serendipitous Genius" eh?

Aw, I bet you say that to all the Serendipitous Geniuses…

But well I dunno, I did know it was going to work, it wasn't accidental or fortuitous, I just knew that five sides plus one open would do the job better than one side closed - it was maths really 1 over 5 or 5 over 1 - simples!! -(:

Cheers, Robin yeah?

My surname's Eagle!!

Bird's of a feather eh?

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