How to build a washtub bass pt. 1 – materials

So. Who you do know wants to build a washtub bass? In this, the first of three installments to show you how, the Viper details the materials you’ll need, all of which can be picked up at your local hardware store. A transcript follows the video.

The bass you see being put together here will make its public debut on Friday night, May 7, in the very capable hands of Riley Broach. Riley, along with John Peacock and the Viper, will be playing with The Viper and His Second String as part of a four-band jug-music show at the Coffee House, below Redeemer Lutheran Church on 631 N. 19th St. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Also featured are Larry Penn’s Washboard Band (featuring Dave Fox), Peter Lee, and the Grumpystiltskyn Jug Band.) The show starts at 8:00 p.m. It’s a Food Pantry Benefit, and so a donation of $4 and two cans of food is requested.


Today, we’re going to be building a washtub bass. I’m following almost word for word the instructions by Barefoot Larry Collins that you can find at

WASHTUB: To build a bass, you need a few basic materials. The first, and most important, is, of course, the washtub. This is a “hot-dipped” tub. The galvanized ones are cheaper and you can find those at Home Depot. This, you have to go to a hardware store, but it’s a little bit stronger. We’re going to be taking off the handles and drilling a hole through the bottom. The size is a #3 washtub. This one holds 17 gallons and it’s 24″ across the mouth. The other important detail is you need to make sure the washtub you get has a rim on the back, here, because that’s where the staff is going to rest. (We’re going to cut a notch in the staff and put it there.)

STAFF: The staff should be a piece of hardwood — like a handle from a tool — at least four feet long. Hardwood is stronger than pine. This is a 60″ eye-hoe handle — also from Ace Hardware — 1 and 3/4″ round-eye, Bulldog brand. We’re going to be carving a notch in the bottom, and we’re going to be drilling a hole in the top where the string will go through. Your hand will rest above that, and you want something nice to grip. You know it’s hardwood if it has a grain.

STRING: The string that you’ll pluck can be many things. This is the most basic one: it’s a 3/16″ clothesline — cotton clothesline. Larry Collins recommends parachute cord as slightly better. I haven’t made that jump yet, but that would probably be the next upgrade I would make.

HARDWARE: The next thing is the hardware assembly. (And I’m going to come up here to show you this.) What we have here is an eye bolt: 3/8″ cast. That’s where the string is going to attach, and this is on the outside of the tub. It should have a nut that comes with it. Then the next thing you’ll want is a lock washer, just to hold it together; Fender washer, which will distribute the strain on the tub a little better. That’ll go on the outside of the tub. On the inside, a second Fender washer, second lock washer, and a lock nut. The string itself will clamp on using the 1/8″ clamp set, “for use with wire rope.” This looks like this. And, you know, that unscrews, and the rope will go through, and it’ll be pulled together.

PLUNGER: And the final item you’ll want is just a basic plunger that we’ll cut a notch in. This will sit on the ground, and the bottom rim of the tub will sit in it, and that will hold it slightly off the ground to let the sound out.

And next, we’ll actually put this thing together.

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