Make It: Diddley Bow (the String Wonder)

The diddley bow is easy to make and fun to play!
By Christian Tsu-Raun
Nov 06, 2013



Nov 06, 2013

What Is It?

The diddley bow is a single-stringed instrument played in the rural South that has had a major influence on American blues and rock music. It consists of a single string of wire pulled tight between two nails mounted on a piece of wood. It was traditionally considered a starter or children's instrument in the South, 'd by plantation slaves from West Africa who made them out of whatever they could find.  The diddley bow is easy to make and fun to play! Have your child maker help you follow the directions below to make your own one-string wonder.




Wood board 

Nails or screws

One metal soup can

Length of steel wire longer than the wood. (Note: Piano wire or a real guitar string work best, but any steel wire will do. If a magnet will stick to it, it’ll work.) 



Hammer or screwdriver



Step 1:  Prepare the Board

Hammer the nails or screw the screws into each end of the wooden board, raised about 1 inch above the board.



Step 2:  Secure the Wire

Tie one end of your wire around one nail.

Tie the other end of the wire around the other nail.



Step 3:  Place the Can

Wedge your can under the string and on top of the board at any point.  

Pluck the string until it sounds the way you’d like it to sound. 



Step 4:  Secure the Can

Mark the board with a pencil where one side of the can rests.

On this mark, hammer a nail or screw a screw to stop the can from moving.

Return the can to this spot under the wire.



Step 5:  Test It Out!

One of the many successful ways to make music with a diddley bow is to play it using a slide -- something hard like the side of a nail or a piece of hardwood, as in the video below.




Use a glass bottle instead of a metal can to see how changing the resonator changes the sound of your diddley bow.

Electrify it!  There are many ways to electrify, and turn up the volume on, your diddley bow. 


Now that you and your child have your very own diddley bow, try these options. Note: Some of these projects involve soldering, which requires close adult supervision. 



Option 1

Tape a computer microphone or contact microphone onto the can, and plug the other end directly into an amplifier or recording device.  See how loud your diddley bow is now!


Option 2

Watch this video for another option. 



Check out these resources for learning more about electrifying your diddley bow.

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