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Washtub Bass String Question

08 Jan 03 - 11:07 AM (#861536)
Subject: Washtub Bass String Question
From: wilco

Lot's of great threads on washtub bases, but I have a question that I couldn't find there. I've just built a washtub bass, and several people have suggested using a string from a regular upright bass, instead of my nylon 1/2" rope. They suggested an A string. Any ideas?


Wilco in Tennessee

08 Jan 03 - 11:27 AM (#861567)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: pattyClink

Our local player who is fabulous, uses the all Wal-mart method: tub, mop handle, and standard clothesline. I thought his was cotton, but I'm not sure. Your 1/2" sounds massive, is that the correct diameter?

08 Jan 03 - 11:46 AM (#861585)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: GUEST,Chip A.

After some trial and error we settled on a piece of lawnmower starter cord. This is only about 1/4" diameter, is easy on the fingers and doesn't stretch like most cord. Available in any length at all small engine repair shops.


08 Jan 03 - 11:48 AM (#861588)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: Sorcha

Herb used to use a piece of leather "wang"--about 1/4", like a long bootlace.

08 Jan 03 - 11:49 AM (#861592)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: GUEST,chris jammalot

i've tried a bass string, too expensive.
and i tried a brake cable, steel isn't fun.
and i tried cotton clothes line, a nice warm sound.
and i tried twine-rope, no way!
and i tried .080 gage vinyl weed whacker twine, yep!

i think it's perfect...
the white weed whacker twine is smooth to feel...
the texture on the orange colored weed whacker twine
works FANTASTIC with a bow!
and a nice fat warm sound with a 17 gallon washtub...

by the way, i give info at each asking...
i make em,
i sell em,
tubs, sticks, twine's a plenty!...
new tubs, used tubs(seasoned) , kits, or readdy made... <---- e mail

08 Jan 03 - 01:37 PM (#861719)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: JohnInKansas

My tub double bass uses a tuned string and a fingerboard, instead of relying on just varying the string tension. Used this way, almost any of the common gutbucket strings stretch 'way too much to stay in tune.

The "ideal" string - for this kind of bucket - is lawnmower starter cord. It's a tightly woven (braided) cord that doesn't stretch (much) after your get it tightened up, and has a platic "impreg" on the surface that keeps it smooth on the fingers - and more or less water-proof.

Note that the starter cord comes in at least two sizes - a heavy and a light - and the lighter weight works much the best on my instrument. I bought a "reel" so I'd have replacement strings, but my original has been on there for over 10 years now and doesn't show even a respectable amount of wear.

For a typical "broom handle" bass, one of the heavier "weedwhacker" cords is probably better - simply becasue you can stretch it a little.

Buying a "real bass" string for a tub borders on the ree-dik-yew-louse, since one of those puppies would cost more than the rest of the instrument; but if you can find one that someone took off to re-string, it might be worth trying. Trouble is, I think those guys only change strings about once per century, so you might have a long wait.


08 Jan 03 - 03:30 PM (#861859)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: GutBucketeer

I use a real bass string (a G string I think) that was given to me after it had worn out its usefullness on a regular upright. I find that it works perfect for me and since it was free I like the price. I've tried weed wacker and clothesline and find that they stretch to much to provide any good control of the notes that you would like to play. So in my mind the key factors are low string stretch, small diamter (from 1/8" to 3/8"), and sustain. You want a string that has fairly long natural sustain since you can always muffle it as needed. So I agree with JohnInKansas about the lawnmower starter cord, and I've also heard that a vinly covered wire clothesline does pretty good.


Since all washtub basses are essentially customized to the taste of the individual you will never get consensus on this topic. Likewise, everybody I've come across plays them with a different technique based on how they can best internally relate what they do to the sound that comes out. I both finger and stretch the string when I play. I'm also trying to figure out how to use a "slap that bass" technique. I've seen others just stretch, or just finger. Last, I've heard of a guy that plays his almost like a percussion instrument with a stick.

08 Jan 03 - 04:36 PM (#861926)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: GUEST,RiGGy @Work

My bud from our Sunday Irish session, Glen Olsen, swears by twisted sausage casings !!

08 Jan 03 - 07:06 PM (#862057)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: wilco

Thanks for input. I'm usinh 3/16 cord now. I'm gonna try to find a G string from an upright. Thanks!!!!


08 Jan 03 - 10:34 PM (#862205)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question

Well, here's another washtub bass query for you guys: I'm short [5'1"] and I also teach elementary-aged kids. I would love to have a WTB at school, but wouldn't I need to shorten the broom stick and string to accomodate the vertically challenged? Do any of you already have the specs [recipe] for doing this? -I'd really like to not have to reinvent here...thanks! T

09 Jan 03 - 12:03 AM (#862248)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: JohnInKansas


One of the great things about WTBs is that you make them to suit your own notions about what fits. Certainly, if you rig something that's comfortable for your 5'1" size, the kids will manage it. Remember that they're faced with an "adult sized" world that they're trying to grow into -- gives them an incentive to grow up.

If you want to make something that really fits the little ones, you probably want something like a dishpan bass rather than a washtub. Where you'd use a 2" dia hoe handle on an adult size, you'd use one of those cheap 5/8" dia mop handles from the supermarket for the little ones.

Anything that has a little "boom" to it when you slap it good can make the sound box. Don't be afraid to consider plastic buckets, wastebaskets, wooden boxes, or anything else you can tie a string to. If you can get the orchestra outdoors, a piece of binder twine tied to the latch handle on the barn door works pretty good. (And a 10' long string works fine, if you tie it to the kid that puts the tension to it so he/she can put a little body weight to it.)

Remember too, that if you make an instrument that "speaks" at orchestral levels, the kids'll drive you batty with the noise.


09 Jan 03 - 06:24 PM (#863033)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question

Thanks, John-
You've given me some direction/ideas I can use here. I had printed out plans for a WTB months ago, and they seemed to require specific materials. But experimenting with the stuff you mentioned will add to the instruction as well.

BTW- they don't need an incentive to grow up- they think they already are! Ever see a 6 year old dress like/unconsciously mimic Brittney Spears, etc. AAARRGGGHHHHH!

09 Jan 03 - 07:25 PM (#863080)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: Cap't Bob

My wash tub bass is actually a garbage can bass that I built using the plans on Dennis Havelena's webpage. I have tried the standard wash tub base but find the garbage can bass to be a whole lot easier to play. It has an arm like a pump that you use to change the tension on the string.

Dennis recommends using dacron rope for this particular instrument. Dacron was also recommended by a woman that plays in a local group "The Wash Tub Band". I had trouble finding dacron rope (we live back in the sticks, however I had an old piece of dacron braided line from my boat. You can usually tell the difference between nylon and dacron in that the dacron seems to have a lot of loose fibers sticking out here and there.   

If you want to check out the webpage go to:

Oh well, what can I say.

73 Cap't Bob

09 Jan 03 - 07:27 PM (#863083)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: Cap't Bob

I know you will find that confusing ~~ try this:

Cap't Bob

09 Jan 03 - 09:41 PM (#863200)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question

What a cool website, Capt Bob! Lots of instrument plans I can use at school with the kids.

And did you say garbage can? Like a galvanized one? I have one of those!

The lever thingy on the bass is great- easier for small hands/short people to negotiate.

Here's another question: how does the string end inside the can or tub? Is it simply knotted or is there other hardware involved, or does it matter?

This is going to be fun- thank you guys!

10 Jan 03 - 03:38 AM (#863348)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: Kaleea

I'm 4'11&3/4" tall, & I have marvelous galvanized garbage (looks like a smaller verson of the regular old fashioned garbage can everybody used to have) can bass with cotton clothesline for my string. A 2 x 2 was used for the vertical piece to which is attached the best part--which is that, about my shoulder height there is a **horizontal** piece of 2 x 2 attached to the vertical 2 x 2. The clothesline is attached to the vertical piece of wood! Therefore, I can easily bend my elbow to bring my left hand up & grasp the **vertical** "handle"--it is this which adjusts the tightness of the cotton clothesline! If I tip it back towards me, it is just perfect for me. It was made for me by a real PRO who has basses down to a science. It makes a Fabulous sound, & I have the line tied so that I can PLAY the pitches for bluegrass/traditional keys such as D & G, & A. I also have had little kids as well as big kids playing it at jams, & EVERYBODY wants a chance to play!!   Good Luck, & happy plunkin' !

10 Jan 03 - 03:54 AM (#863355)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: JohnInKansas

As with anything else related to WTBs, how you fasten the string depends on what you're using - for both the tub and the string - and on how you've set it up to play.

If the string tension will not be too high, and if the tub material is strong enough, a simple knot in the end of the string (after you slip it through a hole) works fine.

If the knot pulls back out, or if the tub material "tears" out, you can tie something on the end of the string that's large enough to resist pulling through. Running the string through a small washer inside the tub, and knotting the string so that the washer is pulled back against the tub when you apply tension, may be sufficient.

For really "high-tension" or in soft material like plastic buckets, you can use the 50-cent setup consisting of a small "eye-bolt," with a "fender washer" and nut on each side of the tub, so that the eye-bolt is clamped to the tub. The string can be tied through the eye of the bolt that sticks up on the outside of the bucket.

(The fender washer has a hole just like a normal washer but a larger outer diameter to resist pulling through thin material. Your "hardware store guy" will know.)


10 Jan 03 - 12:55 PM (#863619)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: Cap't Bob

TENDARLIN ~ I use the method that John describes. It's just a washer with a small hole and if necessary can be glued to the carbage can. If you plan on making some of the projects on this website you may want to purchase one of his cd's. They show very detailed photos, descriptions, and sound bites of the various instruments. He only charges $7.50 for the cd and that includes shipping (well worth the money). It's very useful if you get stumped on some point in the construction process.   

The main thing I like about the garbage can version is that its easy to play. You can play it while relaxing in a lawn chair. They are a lot of fun and have a real nice sound.

Cap't Bob

11 Jan 03 - 01:02 PM (#864499)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: BanjoRay

In the UK all the homemade basses I've seen are made from tea chests, about a yard high with a 2ft x 2ft top. They sound great, and they look good too, usually with a brand name stenciled on the side. People often attach a U or O shaped piece of plywood on the top surface to stop the end of the broomhandle from sliding off.

11 Jan 03 - 10:51 PM (#864920)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: Cap't Bob

I've never seen a tea chest bass or even a tea chest until searching around for them on the internet. Most of the tea chests I found were rather tiny things. One selling for $179 was only large enough to hold one tea bag. I did locate a couple of rather poor pictures of a tea chest bass. Do any of you happen to know of a website that has a decent picture of one of these things?
Cap't Bob

12 Jan 03 - 04:13 AM (#865019)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: Roger the Skiffler

Try HERE (especially if you scroll down).

21 May 22 - 05:14 PM (#4142206)
Subject: RE: Washtub Bass String Question
From: GUEST,Beetheshit -

Surprised no one else uses parachord? I been using it for almost ten years now. I mean it does a number on your skin at first they toughen up. As far as .85 or .80 weed Wacker cord , I do heard orange does resignate the best, this has been always associated to those who use a pick up on their tub and go electric for those purest who acoustic their tub and use a plunger head and mic I can see the lawn mower rip cord being of proper string, same hillbillies , different accent is what I've learned. Even in canada.