Meanderings

How to Build and Play a Washtub Bass

My good friend Carlos returned from a trip to Cuba a few years back and was inspired by the local musicians to build a wash tub. After I played a few notes on it, I was smitten by the bug. I'd never been addicted to an instrument like that. It was love at first note.

 I went straight home and built my own.

First I bought a big metal wash tub and a length of clothes line.

Next I cut a long thin broom handle sized branch from a tree.

I knocked a shoe lace sized hole in the centre of the bass of the tub with the help of a hammer and large nail. Then I passed about 6 feet of the clothes line through the hole. I tied a belly button knot in it to keep it tight. I tied the other end of the string to one end of the branch. Now it looked like a fishing pole with an upside down tub as bait.

At the loose end of the stick, I notched a groove like on a screw that would stop the stick slipping from the rim of the tub. Now the instrument was complete.

The branch I used had a fork at its upper end which made attaching the line much easier. Without a fork, the string will tend to slip down the pole unless you bore a hole through it.

Watch out too for elastic ropes as these will stretch. They may need played and retied a few times before they settle in.

Now to play the wash tub.

Place the tub upside down. Place one foot on the tub. If the pole is in your right hand, place your left foot on the left side of the tub. (And vice versa) Hold the pole (about chin height) almost upright and slot the pole notch onto the rim of the tub at the side away from your foot. When the pole is completely vertical the string should tighten up. If it doesn't then your string is too long. You will have to experiment a few times to get it just right. Twang it with a fore finger and a deep resonating sound should occur. I recommend wearing a garden glove to avoid blistered fingers.

By subtly moving the pole backwards and forwards, the pitch can be altered. Don't yank it about like crazy; the notes can be changed by the slightest movement. Hardly an inch or two back and forth is required. To the unwitting bystander it may look like you are doing nothing, yet the notes will be changing. It should sound very like a one string double bass. Which in effect is what it is.

If the metal handles on your tub are rattling, simply duct tape them down against the tub sides.

Total expenditure was twelve dollars for the tub and three dollars for a giant length of rope.

Any questions? Drop me a line.