an apron experimenting with my grandmother’s old recipes. I also love bluegrass music.
For months now the girls of Rusholme Road have been talking about forming a house bluegrass band and hosting Sunday morning bluegrass-brunch sing-a-longs. What better way to bring in a new week than with sharing food, celebrating community, and singing some ol’ folk tunes and spirituals?
Much thought and prep has gone into this idea. We prepared song books, tuned up the house autoharp, and practiced a pretty mean rendition of Jolene. But, there was something missing. Finally, we figured it out – we needed a bass player!
Enter this week’s activity – making a washtub bass, in prep for last Sunday’s extremely successful inaugural bluegrass brunch.
Before we get into the details, let me first share a quick story about finding my washtub. Apparently, they’re not so easy to come by in Toronto. I started by calling all the Canadian Tires and Home Depots within a day’s bike ride. “A wash what?” they would reply. “We’ve got lots of plastic, but metal? Nope. Sorry!”
Finally, I put the word out around my office. I’ve been on staff for a total of 7 weeks now, so I felt a little sheepish asking all my new colleagues if they knew where I could get a metal washtub to make a bass with (hello, weird?), but they responded in the masses! The suggestions came flying, and a few hours later, a man appeared at my office door, a beautiful washtub in his hands, saying “Um, are you the girl who was looking for this?” It was a pretty incredible moment (extra thanks to Scott and Alisha for the help with this!).
In any case, with a washtub found, the rest was actually quite simple. Here it goes…
How To Make A Washtub Bass!
- 1 metal washtub. I’ve heard many different explanations about what kind of washtub to get. My suggestion is just to make do with whatever you can get your hands on, but in the event that you have a choice, my research tells me that a #3 Washtub is best, that 24 inches in diameter is the best size, and that while galvinized tubs are ok, “hot dipped” ones are best. You’ll also want one with a small lip around the edge.
- Something to use as the string. Everyone has their own opinion of what works best (from parachute cord to rope). I used cotton clothesline rope and was pretty happy with the effect.
- One 4 ft tall wooden post. This could be a hockey stick, the end of a broom, or something else entirely. Hard wood (with a grain) is best.
- A small saw.
- An electric drill (although as you will find out soon, you can do without).
- An eye bolt (about 3/8” in size) with a couple washers and nuts.
- Turn your washtub upside down, and drill a hole in the very centre. If you don’t have a drill (which I didn’t) you can use a hammer and nail tobreak the surface, and then carefully enlarge the hole by moving the nail around and screwing in larger screws until you have the right size for your eyebolt.
- Screw the eye bolt into the washtub, with a washer on each side of the tub. The “eye” of the eyebolt should be facing towards you.
- Take your pole and drill a hole about 4 feet up. If you’re lucky like me, the hardware store will have a pole, sans broom, with a hole already drilled in it! Talk about perfect, given my lack of a drill.
- Thread your rope through the hole, and tie a knot.
- Using your saw, you want to create a groove in the opposite end of your stick, so that it will rest comfortably on the lip of your washtub. I tried a few methods, and then ended up with this effect (see photo) which works pretty well.
- Thread the string through the eyebolt. You can fasten the string off, but I kept it loose so that I can hold the end tightly in one hand, and change the tension of the string manually, to get other pitches.
And that’s it! Pretty simple, right? The hard part comes when you try to play it. I was sure this project had been an epic fail on Saturday when I tried to serenade Ashleigh and wasn’t able to make a sound. Luckily, the bluegrass brunch bunch were more resourceful. Brook soon demonstrated that it’s all in getting the tension right, and pulling the handle back far enough to really allow the string to get taut. He then proceeded to play the washtub bass along with Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah…. It was amazing!
Huge props and thanks to my friends at The Stop for providing the washtub, and all the folks that came and made the first bluegrass brunch a success! And for those of you wondering what our sweet voices were singing on Sunday, here’s a playlist:
- Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash
- You and I – Ingrid Michaelson (a personal fav… thanks Olga!)
- Take Me Home Country Road – John Denver
- Jolene – Dolly Parton
- Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medecine Show
- Down to the River to Pray – Alison Krauss
- You Are My Sunshine*
Do you have a favourite sing-a-long song? We’re making a list… the first person to leave a suggestion in the comments section gets to choose next week’s project! Happy Singing!
* Have you ever listened to the lyrics to these songs? If not, go do it now and report back…. trust me on this.