MATERIALS AND TOOLS
Wire for the string. Get a couple of pieces.
Choosing the Right Wire
The main criterion for the wire is that it shouldn’t
stretch much when put under tension. The
traditional diddley bow string is broom wire, the
wire that binds the straws of a broom (Figure A).
You can clean off the rust with Nevr-Dull polish.
Music wire (0.032", 0.039", 0.047", 0.055", or
0.056") from a hobby shop is a good substitute;
I used it to make the diddley bow for this article.
Hobby shops carry 36" lengths, good for about a
27"– 30" instrument; for longer diddley bows, you
can order 72" lengths from
that larger diameters are difficult to bend and cut
(try heavier pliers or a Dremel), but sound better.
Galvanized fence wire from the hardware store is
a poor substitute because it stretches as you play,
which causes the pitch to drop.
Build the Diddley Bow
1. String the wire on the board.
Cut a piece of 2× 4 or 2× 6 lumber to about 3' long
(or about 4" shorter than the length of your string
wire). Drive two 16-penny nails into the face of the
board about 1" in from each end, angling the nails
upward toward the ends of the board.
124 Make: Volume
SCALE DEGREE VS. POSITION MARK
POSITION MARK SCALE DEGREE
Open string Root note of scale
3 Flatted third of scale
5 Fourth of scale
7 Fifth of scale
10 Flatted seventh of scale
12 Root note one octave higher
15 Flatted third one octave higher
17 Fourth one octave higher
19 Fifth one octave higher
22 Flatted seventh one octave higher
24 Root note two octaves higher
Wrap one end of the wire around one of the nails
for a couple of turns and then around itself. Wrap
the other end of the wire around the other nail for
a couple of turns, keeping it fairly tight, and then
around itself. Now cut off the excess on both ends.
Keep the wire close to the board at both ends, and
try to get it as tight as you can.
To keep the wire from slipping up on the 16-penny
nail once the bridge goes underneath, drive a 6-penny
finishing nail into the wood beside the 16-penny nail,
and then hammer it down over the wire (Figure B).
2. Install the bridge.
For the bridge, I’ve used small jars or bottles made
of thick glass with cylindrical, not tapered sides,
such as jelly jars, instant yeast jars, or hot sauce
bottles. A large pipe coupling or an Altoids
tin also works well.
Slip the jar under the wire at the center of the
instrument, and slide it toward one of the nails,
pushing it as far as it will go. Push the jar as close
as you can to the nail, and then mark where the jar
rests on the board (Figure C).
Slip the jar away from the nail, past your mark,
and use a half-round wood rasp to rasp out a shallow
groove across the board for the bottle to fit into
(Figure D). Slip the jar back so it snaps into the
groove (Figure E).
3. Add the nut.
Once the jar is in place, it’s time to install the nut.
Slip a scrap of wood (about 1"× 2") under the string
and push it as far as you can toward the other nail.