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How to Make Hillbilly Music Instruments

Updated April 17, 2017

Hillbilly music denotes the traditional music found in mountainous and secluded regions of America. It generally means music from the Appalachian or Ozark Mountains, although it can also mean rural music found throughout America. Traditional instruments include guitar, banjo, mandolin and fiddle. While these instruments require a professional for proper construction, other hillbilly instruments can be made at home as they have been for more than a hundred years. Two of those instruments are the washboard and the washtub bass.

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  1. Find a washboard. The washboard itself will need no alteration. Make sure it is well-constructed. If desired, small cymbals, metal cups, or even a bicycle horn can be added. However, these are not necessary, and most hillbilly music features plain unadulterated washboards.

  2. Bend coins or scrap metal using pliers. These should be bent enough to follow the natural curve of your fingers. Glue coins to each of the five fingers of a work glove and allow time for the glue to dry. Cloth work gloves will breath better than leather ones and are preferable for long periods of playing.

  3. To make a washtub bass, use a knife to create a groove on the end of a broom handle or stick. The groove should not be wider than the lip on the underside of your washtub. The groove should be deep enough to keep the stick from slipping from the lip of the washtub, even when the stick is angled away from the washtub. This means you will be able to create more notes while playing the washtub bass.

  4. Turn the washtub upside-down. This is the position the washtub will be in for playing. Drill a small hole 18 inches from the edge of the washtub. The hole needs to be large enough to feed the 3/16-inch cotton clothesline through. Place one washer over the hole and thread the clothesline through hole and tie the end firmly to a washer. This allows the string to be taut while not slipping through the drilled hole.

  5. Place the grooved end of the broom handle or stick on the lip of washtub. Place the unattached end of the clothesline at the end of the handle or stick. Attach the string to the handle or stick using iron clamps. Thread the clothesline through the clamp and tighten it with pliers. The clamp should ideally be the height of your chin. Make sure the line is taut. The clamps allow you to retighten the clothesline as it becomes loose with play.

  6. Tip

    Find friends or recordings to play with in order to master your instrument. You may wish to play your washtub bass with a work glove to avoid callouses or blisters caused by plucking the clothesline.

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Things You'll Need

  • Washboard
  • Work glove
  • Coins
  • Pliers
  • Adhesive glue
  • Washtub
  • Broom handle or large stick
  • Large knife
  • At least 4 feet of 3/16-inch cotton clothesline
  • 2 washers with a hole slightly larger than 3/16 inch
  • Drill
  • Iron clamp
  • Wrench

About the Author

Taylor Thorn brings expertise in English literature and sociological theory, as well as DIY home renovation and decoration. She graduated from Drury University, earning a Bachelor of Arts in English and writing with minors in gender studies and global studies.

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