Something of a follow-up to my “How to build a washtub bass” series, this video shows you how to prepare a ceramic jug for playing as a musical instrument, with some advice for finding a suitable jug. If you like, you can skip the video and read instead the transcript I’ve given below.
“How to make a jug band jug”
with The Viper
Today I’m going to talk about how to prepare a jug for playing. By “prepare,” I mean finding one and then cleaning it. Cleaning it will involve getting out all the stuff that might have gone into a ceramic jug in the past, and sterilizing it to get out any remaining funk. You can put that funk back in later when you play.
Stage 1: FIND A JUG
First: finding one. This is a 2-gallon stoneware ceramic jug of the sort that you might find in an antique store, a basement, an estate sale, things like that. They’re not that hard to find. But they are a little bit hard to find cheaply, unless you’re lucky.
The good news is, it’s not the only thing you can play. Really, anything of about this size and shape will work: a glass apple cider jug (although those are harder to find these days, as well), a wine jug, old bleach bottles, laundry detergent bottles. Even things like a milk jug will work, although [with] the sides, the plastic is probably too soft to really give you good tone. You want something with about this much volume — 2 gallons is about the right amount of resonance — and you want resilient, tough sides to hold their shape.
Well, now let’s talk about cleaning.
Stage 2: CLEAN YOUR JUG
So cleaning a jug isn’t rocket science. But it is materials science. In putting these instructions together, I’ve consulted the online advice of people who deal in antique ceramics but, perhaps more importantly, home brewers and distillers. If your jug is particularly valuable and irreplaceable, you may want to go beyond what I’m saying here to make sure I’m not giving you bad advice that might lead to a cracked or otherwise wrecked jug.
I’ve got some very basic materials here. I’m going to use vinegar and bleach. And if you’ve got a glass jug, [like an] apple cider jug from the supermarket, [it's] even easier: just warm soapy water (like you’d clean any dish). With ceramics, we have to worry a little bit more that the glaze inside may have not held up, may be porous; and any water of the kind that you might be spitting in would harm the jug and lead to funk, which will come right back at you when you play it.
I’m going to start just by rinsing it out. And, incidentally, one way that you can check for porousness is simply to fill it up to the lip with water. Let it sit for a couple of days; and if the water level goes down, then you know you have porousness.
Then I’ll pour some vinegar in — you know, swish it around, maybe let it sit for a while (you might know better than I do). And then when I’m happy with the amount it’s sat, pour it out, maybe do it again, fill it up with water — in other words, just give it a number of good rinsings to get out any of the big stuff.
Stage 3: STERILIZE YOUR JUG
And when I’m satisfied that I’ve got everything out, then I’m going to sterilize it. I’m going to start by filling it about halfway with water. Then I’m going to add 2 tablespoons of bleach for each gallon of water. So for a 2 gallon jug that’ll be 4 tablespoons of bleach. Fill it the rest of the way with water. Then I’m going to let it sit for 20 minutes while the bleach does its magic.
20 minutes later…
I pour out the bleach. And now to get rid of any remaining water and bleach and to sterilize the jug I’m going to bake it for two hours at 320 degrees. I don’t want to pre-heat the oven, because to avoid any cracking I want the jug to warm up slowly and then, again, I’m going to let it cool down slowly. Put in the jug. Now we’ll let it bake — 2 hours.
2 hours later…
Two hours are up and the jug is done, so I’ll turn off the heat. But, again, I’m going to leave the jug in to cool along with the oven to avoid any sudden temperature changes that might lead to cracking.
When the oven has cooled, then it’s time to take the jug out. And then when it’s cool to the touch — like it is right now — then it’s ready to play. Now, it’s your turn!