Homemade Single-Stringed Instruments

by Frank Luger Google
Would-be tea-chest-bass makers fight about who owns the chest.

Would-be tea-chest-bass makers fight about who owns the chest.

Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

Probably the most famous homemade single-string instrument, at least in the Western world, owes its existence to a hot beverage that originated in the East. This is the tea-chest bass, made from a wooden packing crate used to transport tea. A tea-chest bass player typically plucks the single string with his -- sensibly gloved -- hand, on account of the fact that the string can be abrasive, but there are other ways of playing homemade single-string instruments.

Tea-Chest Bass

In America, the tea-chest bass was used in spasm bands or jug bands from about 1900, according to Teachestbass.com. It uses a similar principle to the double bass, whereby the sound of an agitated string is resonated acoustically by a large space. The hardest part of making one is finding an old tea chest, as they are quite rare now. However, you can use any similar sized, old, wooden box, crate or chest.

Making a Tea-Chest Bass

To make a tea-chest bass, you use a tea chest or other wooden box without a lid. Drill one hole in the center of the bottom of the tea chest or box and another near a corner. Thread a piece of string through the center hole and tie a big knot inside the chest to keep the string from slipping back through. Stand the chest with the bottom facing upward. Hammer a 2-inch nail in an end face of a broom handle, leaving 1 inch sticking out. This provides a spike you insert in the corner hole so the broom handle stands upright but can still pivot. Tie the string, rope or washing line to the free end of the broom shaft so the string is taut. Now it's ready to play. Pluck the string with one hand while pushing or pulling on the broom shaft with the other to vary the note.

Berimbau

According to Batucaxe.org, the berimbau is an Afro-Brazilian instrument that can produce a wide range of sounds. It looks a little like the kind of bow an archer uses. You play it by striking the single string with a stick, called a baqueta, while holding a rock to the string, to change the pitch. You can hold a small basket shaker, or caxixi -- a small enclosed basket, with metal objects inside, that rattles when shaken -- while playing the berimbau, to create a rattling sound to accompany the "wah-wah" sound of the notes.

Making a Berimbau

To make a similar instrument to a berimbau, first find a strong, slightly curved branch, about 4 to 5 feet long. This will be your verga. Fix a piece of wire or nylon thread between the ends to be the instrument's string. Tie a cleaned-out gourd, or similar open-ended vessel onto the verga, near one end of the verga, to act as a resonator, or cabasa. Find a thin, straight stick to act as your striker, or baqueta. Hit the string with this while using a stone to press against the string to change pitch. Don't forget to shake your caxixi or similar improvised shaker.

About the Author

Frank Luger had his first educational resources published in the early 1990s. He worked on a major reading system for Cambridge University Press, became an information-technology adviser and authored interactive whiteboard resources for "The Guardian." Luger studied English literature and holds a Bachelor of Education honors degree from Leeds University.

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