How I Built a Diddley Bow


It is summer time, and this makes for extra time for summer projects. One could easily assume that my ambition to make a one string diddley bow stems from Jack White making his own in the first five minutes of the movie “It might get loud”. In truth, the idea comes from one of four of my recently and first ever line up of guitar heroes. For those curious they are Ihsahn, Guthrie Govan, and Paul Gilbert. The fourth is a lesser known blues man by the name of Seasick Steve and I have been a fan since 2010. After watching his performance at Pinkpop 2012 on YouTube, I felt I had to make a diddley bow. I now present a challenge to those of you at to make your own. This is your chance to be creative in a new way.

fvg6SHSThe simple instrument was in fact an African instrument that was carried over with the slaves and survived as an easily crafted childs toy. At some point it became something of a “beginner” instrument for children who wanted to learn on a six string. Those who shown promise with the single string, graduated to six and pretty well never touched the diddley bow again. I figure it was a touch of nostalgia in some folk or just that it always was a po’ boys instrument, that that bought it back in time to be recorded by people like One String Sam, who you can still find on YouTube. I remember something about people making them directly on the porch railing. The thought made me laugh when I imagined the missing portion of the deck when people want to get together for a jam.

5YAnAJaThis is a project I had in mind for some time now since I do tend to tinker with items. A diddley bow is easy to make for the most part. The height of my challenge that I found was playing enough tension to the one end of the string. Youtubers simply used a machine and I avoided that something fierce, but in time, i gave it. I wanted to make my diddley bow with items I had around the house, and I still could but that would include me taking apart what I already have. Only in hindsight I found an alternative. Patience though.

Step one is easy enough. Obtain a plank of wood. The dimensions can very as much as you want it to, but I would suggest a minimum of a 2×2 at a length of a foot. Step two is is ya grab a few nails, place one on the end of the board and two on top no less then 3 inches in. This will hold whatever piece you use as a bridge in place. The string will hold the other side just fine. Step three is find a bridge. I used a Coney Island Barrel-Aged Human Blockhead beer bottle. We Canadians do rip on American beer companies, but I for one have my favorites from over the boarder; Budweiser need not apply (shutter). Other material that can be used can be but not limited to a Campbells soup can, mint tin, rain gutter or even a rock. Steve used a couple crushed cans, but he meant from the beginning to make an electric diddley bow. Step four: get some wire, twain (metal if your going to use a pickup) and strap it down. Again, here is where I had trouble. Obviously most of us will use a guitar string because some of us change them like socks. Personally if I ain’t playing a show, I strum those things until they sound like dead leather. Connect them over your bridge at both ends by any means, be it more nails or however you come up with.

Now my alternative I was talking about was a simple fix. I would have to make a trip to the hardware store for it but it would have worked. The most difficult homework I have ever done for is trying to find a name for this damn piece of hardware but here it is depicted above. If you keep the “nut” at a high angle and you can drill a hole, this piece can be used for tuning. This is my alternative after the fact.

With the exception of a pickup, you are done. I had a humbucker laying around and maybe you do, but if you don’t, you could go out and by a Piezo Transducer. Maybe you have a broken Radio Shack or Rockband microphone. With nothing to loose, you could try busting them apart. Unfortunately, I am little help in this matter, but the key focus on this project is to be creative and have fun. Without the pickup, you could finish this project in under an hour. I feel I failed in making my diddley bow with common house hold items, but if I inspired you to make yours and post the pictures in the comment box below, I will feel I have accomplished something.

Here is mine! Now show me yours!

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About the Author: Started playing bass at 15. It was Danko Jones who inspired me to play at all, and in a small town I couldn't be picky on what I can get my hands on, so I bought a squire with pride. Obtained a B.C. Rich guitar months later. Moved to the city at 17. At 19 joined my first metal band as a bassist which ended at 20. Joined a bass heavy rock band, which I loved being in whole heartily. I now wait to venture into a new project. For the time being though, I am exploring my abilities as a writer.

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