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Diddley Bow

– How to Build A Traditional One String Instrument

Alright so today on Repairs101 I’ve got this great project for anyone over the age of about nine years old. Anyone who can tie a knot. And who can drive a nail into a piece of wood with a hammer can make their own Diddley Bow. And the beauty of it is that they can make it with no budget at all — no money.

Recycled junk

Yeah, you can spend some money and make it fancy. Or you can make it just with junk that you find laying around the streets or the garage or the dump.

OK so the first thing you’re going to need is a board. I chose this big heavy piece of fencepost because of its acoustical qualities. So I started scraping it down and cleaning it up. And ripping off the pieces I don’t need and pulling the nails. Then I squared up the ends and cut them off to thirty-six inches. So I picked this side of it as the face of the instrument because of its wood-grain pattern.

So you’re going to need some nails or possibly some screw-hooks.

One stringed instrument

Maybe the hard part for you will be finding a piece of wire. OK I’ve got an old guitar string here I’m going to use. Some baling wire, some picture framing wire. Although, the traditional method is to take the baling wire off an old broom. Something soft like this copper wire won’t work for you — it will just stretch until it breaks.

Tie the wire down at either end or both ends using a Backhand Hitch. Go around the nail. Pass it under itself, cross over back around the nail and secure it with two half hitches.

Then you’re going to need a thick walled glass bottle. Or a metal box of some kind to use as a resonator.

Percussion instrument

Diddley Bows are generally played with a stick, like a percussion instrument.

Well it sounded OK but I thought I could do better. So I measured up my guitar and carved a little platform off the end of the Diddley Bow.

And I was able to pick up this tensioner for just five dollars.

So for the nut of the Diddley Bow you can use just about anything, you know? A piece of antler or bone or a bottle-cap or a rock or a shell. Really, whatever.

Then I threaded a piece of picture framing wire through an old guitar string. Just to make it long enough to fit the bow.

So I marked the half way point to represent the twelfth fret of the guitar. A quarter of the way between the nut and the bridge is the fifth fret. And a third of the way between the nut and the bridge is the seventh fret.

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