Fig. A: The traditional diddley bow string is broom wire.
Fig. B: Drive a 6-penny finishing nail into the wood
beside the 16-penny nail, and then hammer it down over
the wire. Fig. C: Push the jar as close as you can to the
At this point, the wire should sound “bright” when
struck with a stick. If it still gives a dull thump, the
wire needs to be tighter. Use a tack hammer (or
a regular hammer with a dowel) to whack the nut
(not the jar!) toward the nail (Figure F).
CAUTION: If you’re using a glass jar for a
bridge, wrap the whole bridge end of the diddley
bow in a towel when tensioning up the wire, in
case the jar shatters.
If the string is as tight as it will go with the current block of wood and still sounds dull, try a larger
(taller) block of wood to increase string tension.
If this doesn’t help, use a larger-diameter jar, or
restring, getting the wire a little tighter to start with.
Photography by David Williams
4. Make the position marks.
This diddley bow is played slide-style, resting across
the knees. The pitch is changed by pressing a glass or
metal slide against the string. When playing slide on a
new instrument, I rely on visual cues (position marks)
to get close to a pitch, and then on my ear to get it
exactly. Position marks are similar to fret markers on
a guitar. Not every fret has them — they’re there to
help you know where you are along the string.
nail, and mark where it rests on the board. Fig. D: Rasp
out a groove for the jar to fit into. Fig. E: Slip the jar
back so it snaps into the groove. Fig. F: Use a hammer
with a dowel to whack the wooden nut into place.
You could use an online fret calculator (see
makezine.com/21/cbg), set for 24 frets, to mark
the string at fret positions 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 17, 19,
22, and 24. But here’s the easy, traditional, low-tech method for laying out the position marks and
double-checking them by ear:
Start by measuring the open string length, from
the far edge of the wooden nut (the edge closest to
the nail) to the top of the bridge (Figure G, following
page). From the far edge of the nut measure ¼, 1/3, ½,
3, 2/3, and ¾ of this length along the string, and mark
the string at these points with permanent marker.
Now check your marks. Hit the string with a stick,
and very lightly and briefly touch the string (damp it)
with your fingertip at exactly the ½ mark while the
string is vibrating. You should hear a chiming sound,
which is a higher harmonic of the string. If you lightly
damp the string a small distance away from this
point, the chiming sound won’t occur — you’ll simply
stop the vibration of the whole string.
If the harmonic is more pronounced when you
damp the string at a slightly different location from
your mark, this means the original mark is in the
wrong location; change the mark so it’s at the point
where the chiming sound is loudest when you touch
the string. Mark the board directly below this point.