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.

World War I Trench Cello Played for the First Time

Trench Art Cello
World War I Trench Art Cello recently strung and played for the first time. Photo courtesy of the BBC (www.bbc.com).

During the dark days in the trenches of World War I, soldiers created all sorts of amazing pieces of “trench art” to help pass the time. Shell casings, empty cartridges, gas cans and all other sorts of military garbage were crafted into sometimes amazing works of art, from ash trays to lamp stands, drinking glasses, vases and more. Some photo evidence suggests that the humble cigar box guitar also made appearances in the trenches of Europe. (For more info on the subject of trench art in general, check out the Wikipedia page here).

This story recently appeared on the BBC web page about one particular piece of trench art, a cello crafted from a metal gas can. As the story goes, it was built by a British soldier during World War I and was never played… until now. Check out the full article (click this link or the photo to the left) for more of this great homemade/handmade musical instrument’s story.