Build a Primitive Guitar!

Making the most simple guitar -ever- only takes a few tools, thought and perhaps I can offer a recipe with a little how-to that gives lockdown more freedom, melody, song and joy. Here goes 🙂

Canjo made in the woods
A quick, simple “nut” at top of neck
Using hard cardboard shoebox, stiff thicker dowel for neck


When you think about it a diddley bow (1 string slide guitar) is comprised of very, very few parts: body, neck, string/s, some sort of string-holder/stopper toward both body-end and toward the neck end, and a bridge (where the string is lifted up from the body end) and nut (where said string/s get lifted up just prior to the top of neck end/stopper/tuner/s). Bailing or other smooth wire or cat-gut, intestines, maybe even horse-hair, or nylon later on (even fishing line) served for strings.

If you’re counting, total parts may be as few as 4 (side of a house or wooden door, 2 nails, wire) or perhaps a total of 6 including a bridge and a nut, standard guitar parts where the string lifts up at the bottom and top. Add a slide of some sort (more on that further down) and you’re nearly there for an ACOUSTIC diddley bow or canjo.

Played by running a “slide” (I love hot sauce bottles) to change the pitch as you move the slide up and down on the string, then plucking the string with fingers, a pick or beating the string with a stick makes music IF you practice and find out where the notes are!

A super-simple primitive “slide” guitar can be made from ONE guitar string of your choice, thick enough wire (or a guitar string), 2 nails (or screws) a “bridge” and a “nut” and two-by-four piece of wood or some such thick enough wood -a minimum of say, 20 inches long, 1 inch wide, 2 inches thick. Wood with those measurements needs to be hard and stiff enough to not bend when a string and the bridge and nut material are added. The bridge and nut could be any number of things, pieces of wood, tough plastic pvc, metal conduit, even an old battery, a pencil or small bottle. The bridge is at the bottom and the nut is at the top, both where the string comes through the neck and these elements lift the string up off of the body and neck. For slide playing 1/2 to 1 inch clearance works, you just need the string to not touch the body or neck when laying whatever slide you use on the string, otherwise the string will not sound out.

“Diddley Bow” refers to the early broom or other wire wrapped around both ends of a stiff stick, hickory branch or whatever was available, and then a little “bowing” of the wood so the string could vibrate when being plucked.

A “slide” can be anything rubbed just hard enough up and down the string that makes your melody. I’ve used everything from old 9 volt batteries (hard to hold but they can work, especially when the paint wears off on the side you lay on the string) to the handle of a butter knife, back of a jack knife. Picks can be made of old plastic gas or credit cards or you can use a pencil, sharpie or stick to beat on the string. Now note, how to hold a simple stick (from a tree) and both pluck as well as slide is a problem. Not a problem with a 1×2 piece of solid wood for a neck.

How basic can this get? See these two I made and have used in live shows:

BackScratcher And Towel Rack Diddley Bows

The back-scratcher has an eyebolt with a wingnut used as a crude tuner. If you look close you’ll see tape on it where I attached a portable piezo pickup, plug into an amp and mic the amp into the p.a. for live shows. Same for the towel rack diddley but on that I used a small turnbuckle for a tuner. Both each sport a guitar string.

If one would add a “body” as a “resonator” the volume increases, the tone improves and it’s easier to hear for yourself and anyone listening. There are so many such bodies (cigar boxes, cookie tins, upside-down pie tin, build your own little box w. at least four sides (or 3 if you like a triangle shape) and at very least a top (plywood, whatever… thinner top from which the string can resonate off of) or adding a bottom piece as well, and you have a body for the neck.

At that point you have to think about how to either insert the neck or simply screw or glue it -tightly- for the sake of vibration/resonating, on the top.

If we use a tin can as a resonator the little git would be called a “canjo” or “canjoe”. If some other body is used it’s usually referred to as a “diddley bow”.

Among poor folks using what they had, they’d “diddle around” and if stick bowing as in an archery bow, and there you have the diddley bow moniker.

There’s TON more history if you web-search, go to YouTube and especially -more than you’ll likely ever know, but useful info., video clips and endless how-to’s via these three.

So here’s a link to my GK Solo Facebook page w. a 25 minute video clip, more info. and a see-hear for you re. this “Postal” Diddley Bow (pic below). You can make one if you try!

Simple 1 string slide diddley… easy to add a stick-on piezo pickup which can rock via an amp, even add stomp box guitar pedals

Have fun learning to build and make music on the most simple guitar I know of 🙂 Now if you at all relate to the blues…. ohhhhh yeah baby…

As always, thanks for stopping by! -Glenn

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