What Can a One-String Guitar Really Do? Just ask T. J. Wheeler.

A lot of folks out there seem to think that you need a conventional six-string guitar to make music. Veteran blues man T. J. Wheeler begs to differ. In this video recorded at C. B. Gitty headquarters a few years ago, T. J. blasts out the classic song “John Henry” on a one-string diddley bow using just a slide and a lifetime of blues mojo. It’s just a stick, a string and a box, but there’s a whole lot of music in there. C. B. Gitty has a diddley bow kit if you want to build your own.

Jimi Hendrix playing a homemade Diddley Bow?

Jimi Hendrix Diddley Bow

An auction description for this poster stated “The Experience messing around, and Jimi playing a broom.” Who wouldn’t love to hear what that simple diddley bow could do in the hands of a master like Hendrix?

Another site states that this was a part of a 20-photo shoot done at the Seven And A Half Club in London. The club was in the process of being renovated, and the musicians grabbed some of the tools for the photo (hence the saw and hammer).


A Real “Roots” Instrument: a Fifth-grader’s Tree Branch Diddley Bow

Nick Krissie is a teacher at the Sunset School in Coos Bay, Oregon. He recently started a series of handmade instrument building workshops with students in the school, focused on teaching them to both build and play instruments like cigar box guitars.

Recently Nick sent us some photographs of something special one of his fifth-graders had brought in. Entirely of his own volition, outside of school, this youngster build his very own diddley bow out of a tree branch, some screws and a length of wire.

“From what he told me he has a hand saw he used to cut the branch and I am not sure about a drill for the screws,” Krissie said. “The bridge is nailed in but it was loose so he lashed it with tape. He wanted to use a can for a resonator but he couldn’t get it to fit. I might help him make a pickup to put on it. The string is very tight and the stick is fairly short so it is high pitched. He was using a little plastic flashlight as a slide.”

For us, this strikes right to the core of what the handmade music movement is all about. A simple instrument like this, built by a creative and inquisitive child, takes the idea of musical instruments back to its most fundamental, personal roots, as far as you can get from the shiny, clear-coated, mass-produced Tele clones being cranked out of factories all over the world.

This is where it begins, and what it’s all about. We need more fifth graders making diddley bows in this world.