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Re: Wash Tub bass

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Posted by Barefoot Larry on December 13, 2001 at 01:26:08:

In Reply to: Wash Tub bass posted by Tracy on December 11, 2001 at 13:09:02:

: Is a wash tub bass difficult to play?

It depends on who you are. I've had 4 Upright players try their hand at mine, and only one was able to do anything at all. One of those who tried unsuccessfully (3 times)played upright bass with the symphony, and I KNOW he had a better bass ear than I do. In fact, they probably all did.

The one who had moderate success was a 19 year old who plays with Cave Catt Sammy, a rockabilly group. He would have sounded better if he could have fully made the conceptual transition, and not tried so hard to slap it, but he sounded very good, nonetheless. It may have been because he had no fear. At age 19, nobody had ever told him he couldn't do it, so he just stepped up with no fear, and sure enough, it worked out.

WTB is both easier and harder to play than a wooden bass.

It's harder because it's ALL by ear. You don't even have remembered hand positions on a fingerboard for reference. You can't get a feel for how far your fingers need to be apart to get from one note to the next, or whatever system you might start out with on an upright.

However, you never have to worry about what key anyone's playing in, and there's no fingering to learn, or worry about.

If you play a note that's not right on, and you're quick, you can "adjust" it a little bit, quickly putting a touch more or less tension on the staff. Also, if you're using a parachute chord or cotton clothesline cord for a string, you can get a lot of notes, and once you get in the right range, you can keep the same mostly the same tension on the string, just pulling back or letting off the staff very smoothly in small amounts, and this will also help you to stay in whatever the key may be.

If you use a stainless-steel aircraft control cable (from True Value Hardware), you won't get nearly as many notes (cable doesn't flex much), you will need a leather work glove to save your fingers, and it won't sound as much like a wooden upright. The symphonic player said he was fascinated, because when he turned his back to go get something from his car, he could have sworn it was a wooden bass playing.

Traditionally a WTB uses 3/16 cotton clothesline cord for a string, but parachute cord sounds as good, looks as good (if you use white), and lasts longer. You can get about a 1 1/2 octave range out of a parachute-cord or clothesline cord.

Most folks who use a cable string only play 3 or 4 notes, and if they just get a good "thump" they're satisfied with that. In truth, you'd be surprised what they can do with those 3 or 4 notes, but I prefer to play walking bass lines, so I favor an actual string for a string.

Visit there you can check out the links on building & playing Washtub Bass. You'll find a complete parts list, where to find those parts, and how to construct. A True-Value Hardware store will have everything you need, except 5 feet of parachute cord.

I play guitar, and it took me about 4 hours over the course of a week to switch over to WTB. I got out some Western Swing CD's, turned up the bass response on my stereo, and just played along with Hank Thompson, Asleep At The Wheel, etc.

A week later, I was taking it out to acoustic jam sessions, and by the end of the third month (about 10 jam sessions), I was playing it for pay.

It takes about $45 and 4 hours to build a WTB, and that includes going out to buy the parts.

For tools, You need a saw (hand, coping, or circular), a drill motor and one drill bit, and a pair of large pliers to pry the handles off with, and a crescent wrench for tightening up the one nut that's used.

You drill a hole in the staff, another one in the tub, and cut a slot in the bottom of the staff, and the rest is just nuts, bolts, and knots!

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