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What Do You Use?
  • ...Spectra 1/4 inch (4mm) braided cord that is made exclusively for control lines in small sailing boats. Spectra has zero stretch and fantastic tonal qualities. The sheath of this cord is soft to the touch which saves blisters when playing for hours. (Harmen Hielkema)

  • My string is 7-strand stainless steel cable with 22 ga galvanized steel wire hand-wound over it. This allows for the electric neck pick-up (Bill Lawrence) to be utilized and run thru an amp or PA. (Bob Nield)

  • ... macrame'd polyester cord (Norman Desrosiers)

  • The trick to making [your wtb] sound good is not using a lawn mower rope, but 1/8" braided nylon. It is softer and has a much better sound. It is made by The Lehigh Group #SNR46. I found it at Home Depot. #292311 (Warren Yates)

  • [For the E string on a 4-string model]... "5/32 inch vinyl coated clothesline wire" (product #955) bought at K-Mart. It has eight .012" hardened steel wires coated with smooth green, see-through vinyl. The sound and playability is much better than the next "runner up" & I am almost satisfied that I've found the elusive E string - almost! Oddly, there is no brand-name on the package other than the invitation to contact their website. (Dave Havlena)

  • ... either .090 or .105 weed wacker line, depending on the volume I need to produce. The center hole is bushed with a nylon T bushing to keep from cutting the line and I have a couple of fender washers glued on the bottom of the tub with gutter seal I thread it all through to hold them in. (Mark Shroer)

  • ... nylon-wound silk cords made in Mexico for bass fiddles. Last trip I made to Mexico I brought back a bunch of these. If anyone would like to try these cords, they should e-mail me. (Keith Ramsay)

  • ...a Celtic harp bass-string. The thickness of it is a little more than an eight of an inch. It is truly a marvelous string--very strong, durable and able to produce the same sweet tone even after 4 years of hard playing--and it's very easy on the plucking fingers. (Den Poitras)

  • ...cotton curtain cord that you can find at most hardware stores. Its very low-stretch and lasts forever. I will have to try the weed wacker line though. I have also used a hose clamp as a capo, but make sure that you pad it as it will cut into the string in short order if not. (Gooberfish)

  • ...1/4" lawnmower starter cord-- slightly impregnated surface is easy on the fingers, resists fraying, very low stretch. [On a fixed-neck design, you can set the] tension using an electric fence tensioner - $3 US at your local farm equipment store, plus $1.50 for the "wrench". (John-in-Kansas)

  • ...1/4" braided nylon. Once I've stretched the cord, compressing all of the fibers, it seems to reduce to about 3/16", which ups the resonant properties of my bass (Dover #3 tub) . I've tried standard cello bows with horsehair and a special bow which is made of rock maple and is strung with nylon monofilament line. I have tried both bows on my bass, with little success. I'll bet that the nylon is too smooth to grab the bow as it sweeps across. (Uncle Bee)

  • I was using a braided cotton rope that I beeswaxed but have used up the last of it. I cannot find any more so I switched to 5/16" nylon which I also wax. (Dale "Sourdough" Myres)

  • ...an old D string from a standup bass, if you can get one. (Jim Bunch)

  • ...a clutch cable from a Porsche 914. (Washtub Jerry)

  • I've heard that vinyl coated steel cable is a good way to go for the string. Not available from Thomastik yet. (Toby Gray)

  • ...a sturdy clothesline (Steve Pinkston)

  • ...a bass string from a classical harp which has nylon in its core and is also wrapped or wound in some kind of plastic/nylon. (Den Poitras)

  • ...an old piano bass string works well (Kip Dale)

  • ...the LaBella Supernil G. You can get one for $11.40, via the web, from Quinn Violins (Olivier LaVergne)

  • ...the stuff [aircraft cable] that airplanes use for control cable (Cindy Harris)

  • ... nylon packing twine. I found steel rope to be too stiff and cotton laundry line too dull. The nylon twine gets me an octave and a half (sort of.) [It's] the cheapest string you'll ever have to replace. (Paul Mitchell)

  • My husband has always used a cotton type clothesline for a string. Nothing else seemed to work for him. Unfortunately the quality seems to have deteriorated recently and the strings were fraying after 20 minutes of use. In desperation I decided to melt candles and soak the string in the wax and then let dry. Last night was the trial night of the string. Hallelujah! it is still going strong after five hours of playing! I expected it to have a bit of a waxy smell but we never detected anything. (Anita May Richardson)

  • ...one of the braided fishing lines like "Spiderwire" or "Iron Line". These are phenomenally strong. I take three lengths of 40 pound test "Spiderwire" and plait it (like a girl's hair braid). It produces a better sound, is softer on the fingers (only a bit) and takes much more abuse than 1/16" aircraft cable. (Bruce Frank)

  • ...105 weed eater cord. (Dave Lerner)

  • ...rope is better than twine because it is easier on the hand. (Xopher Thurston)

  • ...thin brass wire on a core of weedwhacker line. I attached one end of the line to the shaft of an old fan (I was just after the fan's nice rotating bearing) while the other end was clamped into the chuck of an electric drill that was in turn clamped carefully into a vise. The line was kept tightly stretched.

    By keeping the "almost wound" wire positioned just less than 90 degrees (in the direction of the drill) to the line, the wire just seemed to "wind itself" on! Only had a few goof ups that necessitated "backtracking" & unwinding a bit. Biggest problem was near the end of the process where the monofilament would twist enough so that when you stopped the drill, the far end of the line would keep rotating for a second or two! This created a few #%$@ wire "pileups" til I got the hang of it. (Dennis Havlena)

Square Tub
Pump 'n Thump Square WTB
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  • One approach to playing is to sing the tune you want in your head, then learn to match the real-life sound ... to the note in your head. An approach that probably won't work is learning the angle of the staff that results in a "D", then how much to change the angle to get an "F#", etc. Loosening up, having fun, jamming to other musicians or the radio, and using your ears is the way to go.

  • If [all your equipment] is in order and you have practiced, then relax. You don't have to be perfect - you have the element of surprise on your side. Have some fun! Smile, let your body move - look like you are having fun and the audience will be totally on your side by the third note.

  • Practice playing along to the radio or TV - whatever is playing (your favorite video, or better yet, something you don't normally listen to), try to add something that makes it sound better - or else just listen carefully for a while. Other musicians will want to play with you if you can improvise to their material and make them sound better.

  • The first, best and technically easiest trick is to learn when to not play anything. If you aren't sure of a note, or if you are tired or lost, shut up and listen to the rest of the band for awhile. When your bass comes booming back in, the effect will be dramatic and exciting.

  • 'Vibrato' is a good trick. Rather than hitting and holding a perfect pitch, alternate quickly between being a little bit sharp and a little bit flat. As long as the correct pitch is somewhere in the middle, the ear will hear the correct pitch.

  • The ear hears and judges the note you reach, but is not as concerned with how you got there, as long as you do get there. If you are aiming for a high note, overshoot the mark and fall back. If aiming for a low note, start a bit too low and come back up. It is as if you have first proven that the note is within your range, which earns you an extra moment to slide into a final adjustment. However, trying to work up to a high note without quite reaching it sounds bad - as if you are straining hard but will never get to where the audience wants you to be.

  • The longer you hold a note the more the ear wants it to be in tune. Short, crisp notes can be out without anyone having time to judge them.

  • If you do need [help with your playing], since the bass line is so important to the other musicians, you may make more friends at a jam session by sitting out until you are ready. (Don't be shy, but there is no need to be pushy either, because it will be the best musicians who first invite you to join in.)

    [The above eight bits of advice were salvaged from Dave Walley's now defunct Electric Inbindi (tubless wtb) site. ]

  • If you want to hear yourself above the rest of the instruments, just place the thumb of your "stick" hand into your ear, much like one would do when singing, to check to see if the pitch is correct. The vibrations are carried up the stick and through the hand. You don't actually shove your thumb in your ear, but you hold that (for want of a more accurate anatomical term) "flap" down, sealing the ear opening. Use light pressure, and I think that you will be pleased with the results. (Uncle Bee)

  • A bass instrument can often be heard better from 20 feet away than from right on top of the thing, as I learned through embarrassing experience. And discerning bass pitches in the midst of general musical uproar can be extremely difficult to do with accuracy, especially among guitars, whose low notes may overlap into bass range and with superior audibility. (LFMiller)

  • [I asked Washtub Jerry how he was able to play the WTB and the ukelele at the same time. Here is his entertaining reply. --- lfm] I use a simple strap (leather) around my arm and the washtub bass pole. This strap allows me to keep the pole against my shoulder as my shoulder establishes the correct pressure against the pole to produce the correct pitch. This way my left hand is free to fret--the ukulele (a Martin tenor uke, 1963.) So, the songs were recorded as we perform them; me playing the uke and tub simultaneously-- I can't play the parts separately.

    But why!? Some one challenged me to play the uke and tub at the same time. So I did. The uke was my first adult instrument. I switched from uke to tub not knowing that it would take a dozen years before humans would let me play with them. [Meanwhile] I played with the radio.

  • It may depend on the particular culture and personalities involved, but at least in the US it's an unspoken but generally understood rule that there's no more than one bass player per group. This makes some sense, especially for jam sessions, since given the simple line basses usually play in this context, a second bass is at best redundant, and at worst will muddle the chord-change and rhythm functions expected of the bass. So if a group already has a bass, you should be cautious about joining in, even if it's agreeable to the original bass player (and don't be surprized to find that it's not.)

  • [Here's a] method of gutbukit'n that I've never heard anyone else suggest before (at least online). The trick is to use a glass jar (beer bottle?) as a slide. This makes for very accurate and fast tone control. It's much easier than pulling back on the handle and gives you a lot more range, too. You have to tie the loose end of the string around your leg or body or jug player to keep the handle stable. With this method, you can play above or below the slide to get two different notes (complement to each other.) Good luck! (Josh Seitz and Tyson)

  • To get better control over your notes, the secret is to make the neck (stick) long enough so you can rest your head against it. One, this lets you hear what you are playing much more directly, and two, this gives you much more precise control over the tension on the cord. (Keith Ramsay). [Click for pic.]

  • I play with a plastic box cutter, which acts to pluck, strike, or bow the string in a variety of ways, running my box cutter's handle across the string like a very short bow. It's a plastic grip styled after a serrated edge, so it grips and releases about 30 times per bowing action. A poor-man's bow, which increases the pitch and attack of the string drastically, making the sound gritty-- some might say a little painful! There's still not a lot of sustain, but it gets some of the feel of a quickly bowed passage. Usable, in its place, and good for my ritual-industrial style of music. (Benjamin Hockenberry)

That 1 Guy
"That 1 Guy" Mike Silverman
Photo by Cheryl Senter, NHPR

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... Just throw about any mic underneath the tub and you've got good thump.
If you have a better idea, don't hide it under a bushel!
  • [I use a] Fishman piezo piano/harp pickup (150 K ohm impedance) mounted to a flat spot carved into the staff just below the string entry. (Jim Felton) Click here to see the full details on Jim's amplification system.

  • I use a piezo pick-up embedded inside a lump of putty taped and clamped in place about 6 inches from the top of the stick, and a cheap microphone placed inside the box [of my tea-chest bass.] Amplifying the stick has made a huge difference to my sound and gives a much clearer note than merely amping the box. (Paul Eggsley)

  • The way I amplify my bass is to make a small hole in the side of the tub near the outer lip, lay the tub on a piece of carpet, lay a Shure SM-57 or 58 inside it, then either use monitors to hear it or run your mic into your amp. Don't worry, it won't feedback unless you lift up on the tub and expose the mic. You'll have to roll a lot of bass response off your mic, otherwise you don't get any note definition. This is not the only way to do it, but it's the easiest and most trouble-free way that I've found. (Jimmy Miller)

  • I use a McIntyre Acoustical Bass pick-up installed on the stick at a mid point between the tub notch and the string attachment. It is so live that I barely have to touch the string to get a killer tone, but it sounds best when miced also (just point a kick mic at it) and mix for best sound. (Mark Shroer)

  • I got a K&K Big Twin pickup (the Big Shot pickup would probably have worked just as well), attached one of the leads to the base of my stick, the other to a point about halfway up the stick. Then I ran it through a preamp (I used a phono preamp) to a Yamaha sub woofer. Sounds just like my tub acoustic, but with adjustable volume and with a lot more sustain. (Keith Ramsay)

  • At an open-mike performance, I made the mistake of not telling the sound guy that he needed to down the treble and mid-range before he turned my pickup's line on . Needless to say, there was a massive barrage of feedback (and I was playing without my pedals, just to clarify.) Oops! So a warning to WTB players who aren't setting up their own equipment: make sure the sound guy knows the particulars of your instrument, since my tub turned into a massive omnidirectional mic when plugged in! Oops. (Benjamin Hockenberry)

  • I amplify [my plastic tub] with a boundary mic under the tub. Been experimenting with effects. Had most success with DigiTech B50. (Richard Curry)

  • You will need the following: A Radio Shack piezo buzzer transducer (part number 273-073 or 273-073a) and a .25" output jack. Simply glue the buzzer to the inside of the washtub bass [head] and drill out a hole for the jack to mount to. The transducer has a somewhat bass bias, in that sounds come out somewhat deep sounding. Turning the bass down on my amp or running it through various pedals nullifies the problem. (Stacy Puckett)

  • The sound that works best for pickup amplification is the tone of the string, not the thump of the tub. Rather than dampen the tub, I don't attach one in the first place. The quality of the sound I get from my electric washtub bass-- essentially a string, a stick, and a Radio Shack piezo buzzer pickup, is much better than some $300 [electric basses] I have heard. The sound is not the same, though - the sliding notes and twanginess are all washtub. The lowest notes go below what most humans can hear, but you can definitely feel it. (Dave Walley)

  • ... For the really big gigs, I use a RadioShack transformer superglued tothe resonate face of the washtub and run into a Gorilla practice amp with a 10 inch speaker that the jug puffer got from the pawn shop for $10.

  • A microphone placed inside the tub tends to boom and feed back. I used to mount a "Woodpicker" piezo pickup to a flat spot I cut into the top of my staff. When I hold the staff, it's squeezed under my palm, giving it really good contact. It's really good about feedback, but tends to sound more like an electric bass, something I don't find good. I tried sticking the transducer to the side of the tub, and it picked up every little knock and squeak from my foot or the staff.

    Now I've found that an Audio-Technica ATM25 kick drum microphone, placed on a desk-stand about 2 inches off the floor and 1-2 inches back from the mouth of the tub, works best to accurately reproduce the sound of the WTB, with good gain-before-feedback. (Larry Collins)

  • For stage, I use three mikes. One in the tub, one near my fingers and there's a piezo mike firmly glued on the upper surface of the tub, very near to the hole where the string comes up. I recommend an AKG 112 in the tub for bass frequences, and a regular Shure SM 57 or 58 works well near the headstock. (Sarp Keskiner)

  • ... you might try a trick a friend of mine does for his. He uses a PZM mic under the tub, right now he uses a Radio Shack PZM that I modified for him with a new transformer and 9-volt battery. You might also try a variety of "regular mics laying on some foam on the floor under the tub. I would try an omni (EV 635?) first. (anon)

  • I tried the PZM mic underneath (thanks to the studio guy) and it was by far the best (the full frequency is hard to reproduce-- I believe much of the range is below 20hz) . Bass drum mics work well live, but I have never played in a live/electric situation where feedback wasn't a problem. (John Stansell)

  • I bought a Dean Markley acoustical transducer pickup, quick-mount, artist model. It's basically a half dollar sized pickup thats mounted with gum to the side top of my stick. I also tape it to keep it in place. I have tried several different locations and found I get the clearest sound when its mounted there. I took high density foam and lined the whole inside of the bucket with it. This takes away any tinny sounds that you would normally get. I plug into a 60 watt Fender bass amp. (Dave Lerner)

Trash Can Frame
Trash Can Frame Bass
by Sam

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