One of Paddock’s student workers, along with the Music Library Supervisor, recently made a trip across the hallway from Paddock to the Dartmouth Woodworking Shop to make diddley bows.
a home-made zither consisting of a single string tensioned between two nails on a board.
The inspiration for making these instruments came while curating our summer collections showcase, Blues: The DIY Spirit. We found that many of the most well-known blues guitarists from the Mississippi Delta didn’t begin their musical training on guitars, but on a DIY version of the instrument called the diddley bow.
The simplest version of a diddley bow consists of a single string of baling wire nailed to the outside wall of a wooden house. This string is tensioned by placing a glass bottle or tin can beneath the string at both ends. The bow sounds by plucking the string and moving a slide along its length.
Our versions were inspired by Super Chikan, a contemporary bluesman who was featured in the latest issue of Living Blues magazine. On the cover, Super Chikan is playing a most fantastical instrument, covered in sequins and glitter, the base of which looks to be… a ceiling fan motor?! Super Chikan is known for playing on his home-made guitars and banjos fashioned with found items from gas cans to shotgun barrels. Paddock’s staff made their diddley bows with donated cigar boxes, dowel rods purchased from the woodshop, and hose clamps.
The entire project took about two hours (as opposed to the twenty minutes advertised in this instructional video!) and each instrument costed under $5 to make. The bows will be on display in the Paddock serials reading room throughout the summer term. We encourage patrons to borrow them and take a study break in the hallway outside the library. Happy diddlin’!