Diddley bow

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DiddleyBow

The diddley bow is a single-stringed American instrument which influenced the development of the Blues sound. It consists of a single string of bailing wire tensioned between two nails on a board over a glass bottle, which is used both as a bridge and as a means to magnify the instrument's sound.

It was traditionally considered a starter or children's instrument in the Deep South, especially in the African American community and is rarely heard outside the rural South, but it may have been influenced to some degree by West African instruments.[1] Other nicknames for this instrument include "jitterbug" or "one-string", while an ethnomusicologist would formally call it a "monochord zither".

Origins[edit]

The diddley bow derives from instruments used in West Africa. There, they were often played by children, one beating the string with sticks and the other changing the pitch by moving a slide up and down. The instrument was then developed as a children's toy by slaves in the United States. They were first documented in the rural South by researchers in the 1930s.[2][3]

Construction[edit]

The diddley bow is typically homemade, consisting usually of a wooden board and a single wire string stretched between two screws, and played by plucking while varying the pitch with a metal or glass slide held in the other hand. A glass bottle is usually used as the bridge, which helps magnify the sound. The diddley bow was traditionally considered an "entry-level" instrument, normally played by adolescent boys, who then graduate to a "normal" guitar if they show promise on the diddley bow. However currently, the diddley bow is also played by professional players as a solo as well as an accompaniment instrument.

The diddley bow is significant to blues music in that many blues guitarists got their start playing it as children, as well as the fact that, like the slide guitar, it is played with a slide. However, because it was considered a children's instrument, very few musicians continued to play the diddley bow once they reached adulthood. The diddley bow is therefore not well represented in recordings.

Notable users[edit]

One notable performer of the instrument was the Mississippi blues musician Lonnie Pitchford, who used to demonstrate the instrument by stretching a wire between two nails hammered into the wood of a vertical beam making up part of the front porch of his home. Pitchford's headstone, placed on his grave in 2000 by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, is actually designed with a playable diddley bow on the side as requested by Pitchford's family. Also some famous guitarists in the Motown band "The Funk Brothers" learned to play on the diddley bow and went on to play on some of Motown's greatest hits.

Other notable traditional players include Lewis Dotson, Glen Faulkner, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Compton Jones, Eddie "One String" Jones, Napoleon Strickland, Moses Williams, James "Super Chikan" Johnson and "One String Sam" Wilson. Willie Joe Duncan was also notable for his work with a very large electrified diddley bow he called a Unitar.

Recent performers who use similar instruments include New York City-based jazz pianist Cooper-Moore, American bluesman Seasick Steve, Samm Bennett, Danny Kroha, One String Willie, and blind musician Velcro Lewis. Jack White makes one at the beginning of the movie It Might Get Loud, then after playing it quips "Who says you need to buy a guitar?". Seasick Steve recorded a tribute song to his diddley bow on his song "Diddley Bo" from his 2009 album, Man From Another Time. [4]

Filmography[edit]

Discography[edit]

Similar instruments[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Chris Morris, I'm A Man: The Chess Masters, 1955–1958 liner notes, Geffen Records, February 2007
  2. ^ David Evans, Africa and the blues, p.65
  3. ^ Gerhard Kubik, Africa and the blues, p.16
  4. ^ Diddley Bo Songfacts