diddly bo

I thought I might get back to basics with my guitar playing, and master at least one string. After listening to seasick steve, and seeing him get an awesome sound out of a single string lap guitar (diddly bo), I thought I’d give it a go.

Wish list:

  • piece of wood
  • low e-string
  • couple of nails
  • some pieces of pipe

And to electrify it:

  • altoids tin
  • some polycarbonate rod
  • copper wire
  • a few rare earth magnets
  • a piezoelectric transducer
  • some electrical wire
  • solder gear
  • a chunky rocker switch
  • a ¼ inch jack input

Right, first things first – this is a very simple project. It’s essentially just stretching some wire along a piece of wood and hitting it to make a noise. the problem comes with amplifying that noise. I chose the electrical route to amplify it, mainly because it was more interesting. For this one I made two different pickups to experiment with different sounds.

The first pickup is a simple piezoelectric transducer stuck to the inside of the altiods lid and then wired into one side of the switch.

The second pickup is a magnetic pickup, like you get on most electric guitars. I hollowed out a small piece of plastic (polycarbonate in this case) to the right size for a couple of small rare earth magnets, and then turned it down into a bobbin for the copper wire. Wrapping the copper wire on the bobbin is a right pain, especially when it breaks after you’ve been doing it for 20 minutes, but I found winding using a pencil to be the easiest method (using a drill was far too fast). Then it’s a case of wiring in the pickup to the switch and putting it in the altoids tin.

Picture time.

the bobbin with magnets and copper wire.


the guts inside the altoids tin.


the finished diddly bo all hooked up. check out the wonkiness of that piece of wood.



and the (theoretical) harmonic locations for a 75 cm long string.


And how about a little bit of sound from it? excuse the awful phone recordings…

Magnetic pickup with a clean(ish) sound: diddly bo 1 – clean

Magnetic pickup with distortion: diddly bo 2 – distorted