Thursday, July 26, 2012

Making a Washtub Bass

© 2012 by Tom King       
Elements of a Washtub Bass

Here's a handy low-cost instrument to add to your song service band at church. It's a lot less expensive than a standup bass or an electric bass. If you buy a premium washtub it runs under $20 and has a lovely sound. It's also easy to learn to play if you have a good ear for a bass line. The kids used to play with the guitarists. Deacons could hear it out in the hall while the guitars didn't carry that far. Ever once in a while they would stick their heads in the back door to see what that thumpin' bass was all about. I highly recommend you add one to your band. They really do sound great!

Here’s what you need:
  1. Pan Washer 
  2. Flat Washer 
  3. Plastic Grommet
  4. Washtub
  5. Decorative Dowel
  6. Tool Handle (broom, shovel, hoe or something like that)
  7. Bass Fiddle G string, heavy weed whacker line or a length of half inch nylon braided rope
Here's what you do:
  1. Drill a 5/8” hole in the center of the bottom of the tub.
  2. Insert the rubber grommet to protect the sharp edges of the hole.
  3. Drill an appropriate sized hole in the tool handle near the top and glue in place a decorative dowel (the kind you hang a window sash on) perpendicular to the top of the tool handle (see below).

 Setup to Play:

  1. Tie either a length of 5/8” rope or a standup bass string to the top of the tool handle and run it through the grommet in the bottom of the washtub and through the pan washer and then the flat washer.
  2. Tie a figure 8 knot in the string to prevent it from escaping.
  3. Using the bass string may require you to improvise a smaller flat washer to keep it from slipping through the hole.  
  4. Make sure the string has solid contact with the metal bottom of the tub.

How to Play the Washtub Bass

When you play, place one foot on the rim of the tub opposite the point on the edge where the handle is braced against the rim.  Don’t put your foot flat on the bottom or you deaden the tone. Stretch and loosen the string to change the notes as you pluck the string in time to the music. I like to use my hand to hold the string firmly against the stick. Changing my hand position higher or lower changes the length of the plucked string. I grip different places depending on the key of the song. The washtub is very forgiving of mistakes in pitch

Care and Maintenance:
  • Don't leave it out in the rain.
  • Replace the string if it breaks.