Picture of Superterrific Tub Bass
In this instructable we'll build a terrific sounding tub bass that is highly suitable for studio recording and/or live performance. Build time is less than one hour using very simple tools and around $30 in materials. An optional contact microphone can be added to amplify the instrument.

On this step I've included some samples of the instrument in use. All three mp3s are the same snippet, recorded three different ways:

"tub_bass_mic" is an acoustic recording using a regular old microphone, as evidenced by the background noise and sounds of people walking around in my studio

"tub_bass_contact_mic" uses the contact microphone - squeaky clean and provides very different tone than a normal acoustic microphone

"tub_bass_mix_with_eq_and_reverb" - a mix of both mics with some EQ and reverb, this is probably how I would use it on a record

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Step 1: Overview

Picture of Overview
The tub bass is a simple and venerable folk instrument that can be used to fill out the low end of many styles of music. There are two principle areas of basic tub bass design wherein one may encounter differences of opinion: the string material and the neck construction.

Our bass makes use of plastic-coated galvanized steel cable (a.k.a. plastic-coated aircraft cable) for the string - this will be nearly impossible to break and provides far superior tone and playability to parachute/nylon cable. The plastic coating allows you to play the string with bare hands.

Our neck is unattached and pivots on the rim of the tub. Notes are thus created by flexing the neck to change the amount of tension on the string. This makes for a more intuitive playing style than an instrument with a fixed neck and fret board, but it will take some practice for your muscles to learn how to hit and hold specific notes. A used-up wire spool acts as a slide-able capo, allowing us to play in different pitch ranges/keys.

Our instrument also adds an optional pickup for amplification in the form of a contact microphone. I made mine from scratch using the recipe from Nicolas Collins' excellent Handmade Electronic Music (essential reading for instrument makers/hackers), but readymade contact mics are also available on the cheap.

This is the same tub bass that is used by The Asker Brothers to achieve their signature thwonk-a-donk sound. Let's begin!

Anyone know if using 3/16" cable would make too much of a difference?

nworbekim5 years ago
nice job on this one. i like your ideas on it, i'll toss in a couple of ideas from my gutbucket projects... if you'll place something a couple of inches thick under the edge of the tub facing the audience, it will project the sound better. i use a piece of 2X4 long enough to reach from one edge to the other so the tub doesn't wobble. i covered it with a piece of really thick floor mat. i have also used really thick linetrimmer cord, like you'd buy for the trimmers that are mounted on frames like push lawn mowers. until people hear these, they can't imagine how great they sound!
yeah, I was about the say the same thing about propping the tub up a bit... I used the rubber part of an old plunger and cut groove into the threaded part so it would grip onto the edge of the tub... I didn't have problems with it wobbling, but maybe I wasn't rockin' out enough. whatever you try, it'll be so much more amazing when you prop it up.
esme1 Joe Stone4 years ago
I made a tripod for mine with a couple sound holes cut into the wood underneath. I also insulate the inside for a richer sound. But this one sounds great. Thanks so much for posting the instuctable. Ive been having problems finding the right string ever since i broke the first rope on mine.
jts3k (author)  nworbekim5 years ago
excellent advice nworbekim, thanks!
bassplry5 years ago
 where can you get a tub for the bass?

jts3k (author)  bassplry5 years ago
 hi bassplry

i was able to find a good washtub at my local hardware store, it looks kind of like this.

good luck!

jinger5 years ago
WOW!!! I've never seen this before, it's awesome!!!! you guys did a great job!! and I want to listen the real sound so how can I get it 'coz i can't get it >_<
Sweet. Totally want to try to make one! Nice use of Emmit Otter's Jug Band, too!!
I agree! Emmit Otter's Jug Band Christmas is one of my favorite Christmas movies!
skunkbait5 years ago
Nice work. I was talking to my kids about building one of these the other day (while I was playing a longbow). We are working on our "punkabilly" sound.
gtrboy775 years ago
Terrific idea., but the but i can't hardly hear anything in the mp3 samples. I don't know if it was because it was a poor mic, but i'm willing to bet if you can get your hands on a condenser mic, that would probably pick up some of the nuances that these samples are missing. Not dissing you, but I (and I'm sure others) really want to hear how this thing sounds up close! Anyway, food for thought. Keep up the great work and I hope to hear a response from you, if possible. Take care.
I think the problem is your audio system. The basses they are pure basses, if you have not a good subwoofer, you can't hear them.
D10D35 years ago
Nice work! I used to know a professional washtub bass player who went by the name Studio Stu. He used weedwacker cord for his string, swore by it.
That's cool! I would suggest, however, that you upload the audio clips to a service like youtube (just make the video black with the audio playing) so that you can embed it in here, instead of everybody downloading it.
You don't have to download it, your internet browser should play it with Quicktime(if you have it installed)
Ah, you're right. Sorry about that.
slimguy3795 years ago
dremmel tools, have the same pair, best purchase ever
0livia5 years ago
Yeah! Me too! This is awesome!
harley_rly5 years ago
man, i gotta make me one of these!