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Builder Bill Lester
with Tub-O-Tone #J-156

As you can see from the pictures, the Tub-O-Tone is a descendant of the washtub bass family of instruments. Its sound chamber is the old familiar galvanized tub, that workhorse of traditional American life, good for washing your sox and longjohns, hauling sand, collecting walnuts, or catching guts from a slaughtered hog. For a century or more, the washtub has also been the key component of the "gutbucket bass", providing the funky bottom line for many a downhome band. But there are big differences between a Tub-O-Tone and the classic washtub bass...
  • ♦ The neck of the Tub-O-Tone stands vertically on the head (formerly the bottom) of the tub, toward the center and roughly parallel with the string. Contrary to what both conventional WTB wisdom and intuition may tell you, this arrangement does not reduce the volume of the sound, and it produces a better tone as well.

  • ♦ Rather than angling off toward the edge of the tub, the string pulls straight up on the head, which yields a better tone by making all areas of the head surface vibrate as a unit.

  • ♦ Vibrations in the wooden neck (i.e., what was a mop handle, in a previous existence) are transferred to the head, rather than to the acoustically dead flange of the tub. This adds both richness and sustain to the notes.

  • ♦ Since the neck runs parallel to the string, the Tub-O-Tone player can change notes by fingering (i.e., pressing the string against the neck) rather than by rocking the neck to change the string tension. This has several advantages, beginning with the fact that you don't need to put your foot on top of the tub to stabilize it.

  • ♦ You're also doing more with your quick, low-inertia fingers and less with your slow, high-inertia arm. Combined with the more comfortable playing position this means that if on an ordinary washtub bass you could jam 'til the cows came home, you can now jam 'til they've been milked and fed and put in the barn.

  • ♦ Moving your fingers up and down the neck is a quicker way to change notes than is moving the entire stick (not to mention the greater accuracy that the fixed position of the neck provides.) A recognizable rendition of Arkansas Traveler is possible on the Tub-O-Tone, which can produce as many as 200 distinct notes per minute.

  • ♦ The closed back of the Tub-O-Tone controls the volume of air behind the head and permits optimal design of sound holes analogous to those in a guitar or other acoustic instrument. This allows the enclosed air to buffer the vibrations of the head, further contributing to the quality of the tone (i.e. more plunk, less whank.)

  • ♦ The Tub-O-Tone's back panel functions as a diaphragm, which radiates the vibrations of the sound chamber (tub) down to the floor/ground beneath the instrument.

  • ♦ As a string the Tub-O-Tone uses 1/16" aircraft cable, which may sound scary, but because of the high efficiency of T-O-T sound production, the tension can be very low (11 lb.-- i.e. borderline flaccid.) For your hands, this means no gloves and no blisters. (Heck, I don't even have calluses.) Maybe it won't sound as good as a $15 D-string from an acoustic bass but, at 25 cents a foot, the quality per dollar is phenomenal! (I say "maybe", but the truth is, all the old-timers around here say they've never heard a better-sounding washtub bass.)

  • ♦ One last special feature of the Tub-O-Tone is that it is tunable. OK, so it only has one string, and no frets. But you can set that bottom note (to a very basic E in the third octave below Middle C, if you so desire) and then you know there at least one note that's in tune.

Tub-O-Tone #J-061
with Builder Paul Bourgeois

Build your own Tub-O-Tone Model J from the free plans and instructions available via the Download Page. Click the links to download the files.

Delta Mtn Boys
Tub-O-Tone #J-112
and Builder Shawn Clark

Building the Tub-O-Tone requires no great shop skills-- mainly just the ability to read and follow the instructions, which are spelled out in great detail. Shade-tree techniques are explained to give an alternative to using expensive or complicated tools.

A sabre saw is the most sophisticated tool required. But the cuts are not complicated, and the playability of the instrument does not depend on your woodcraft skills.

Aside from the tub, the back panel and the hoe handle, no single component of the Tub-O-Tone costs more than $1.75, so there's lots of forgiveness in the project. And since the instrument is held together entirely with screws, any part of it can easily be replaced in upgrades of design, materials, or workmanship.

For detailed information concerning the necessary tools, and the materials and hardware for the project, check out the Construction Pictures.

Dan Pfeifer Drilling Neck
for Tub-O-Tone #J-006

Model L Peghead
Optional Scroll Peghead
for the Tub-O-Tone Model L

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