Getting the right wire for the string
When looking for wire to use for the diddley bow string, remember that the main criterion of the wire string is that
it should not stretch much when put under tension. Galvanized fence wire from the
hardware store is a bad choice as it stretches as you play, which causes the pitch to drop, and eventually
the wire will break.
The traditional diddley
bow string is steel broom-wire (that is, the wire that holds the broom straws onto the handle of a discarded broom)).
First find an old-fashioned straw broom that you don't mind taking apart. Remove the nail that
holds one end of the wire down and the staple that holds the wraps of wire even. Then unwrap the wire from
the broom. The rust can be cleaned off the wire with NevR Dul polish. This yields about
7 feet of wire from the brooms I have disassembled.
To make it more
convenient for everyone to build a traditional diddley bow without searching for and disassembling a corn broom,
and then cleaning up the wire, I have obtained a
quantity of unused, standard tin-coated 18-1/2 gauge steel broom wire (tensile strength ~135,000 psi) and
am offering it to the diddley bow building public through my store on etsy.com. I have made up coils of 23-25 feet
of wire, enough to make approximately seven medium sized diddley bows. Click on this link to go to the store:
Music wire from an old-fashioned hobby shop
that sells model trains and planes (0.032," 0.039," 0.047," 0.055"or 0.056") is a good substitute,
and I use this wire for my diddley bow construction workshops. The hobby shop will carry 36" lengths
(good for about a 27-30" instrument), but for longer diddley bows, music wire can be ordered from www.smallparts.com (72" lengths). Shipping can be kind of expensive
Guitar strings, which come in a variety of gauges, are a reasonable alternative,
but are shorter than the music wire. I prefer phosphor-bronze guitar strings for my guitar-like diddley bows and for
"The Red Alligator" (made for me by WillardJ) because these strings have a very bright, ringing sound,
with great sustain.
Tire wire, salvaged from each bead of automobile
or bicycle tires also works well, and is the traditional berimbau string. Bicycle tires can be obtained
from the trash bin of a bicycle shop. Automobile or truck tires can be found by the side of the road. You
do not want a cast-off truck retread, as this has no bead. Since you will be spending a lot of time cutting
with a utility knife, I suggest wearing work gloves to protect your hands. I tended to break several blades
in this operation, so have plenty of fresh blades for your utility knife before you start.
Start by cutting along the edge of the bead to expose the wire coil. Once the
wire coil is exposed, cut along the inner and outer faces of the tire to take the rubber off the sides of the coil.
Then cut a groove between the coil and the main body of the tire, and finally cut completely
through the tire to separate the coil.
Trim rubber from the coil until you find one end of the coil.
Use the knife to carefully separate the wire from the rest of the coil, continuing around until
you get to the other end. You should have about 70 feet of approximately 0.050" wire, covered with
bits of rubber (shorter length and smaller diameter for a bicycle tire). Repeat the process for the other
bead, but unless you need 140 feet of wire immediately, leave the coil intact for storage. Discard the
tire carcass in an environmentally responsible way (I took mine to my local garage).
To get the rubber off the tire wire, work
with enough wire to make one diddley bow. The rubber should protect the unused wire from rusting further.
Cut off the big pieces of rubber with the knife, and pull the wire through extra-fine (220 grit) sand paper
to get the rest of the rubber off. You may find that you need to work over the wire with sand paper even
after it is mounted on the diddley bow.
Note that the larger diameters of wire
are difficult to bend and cut, but sound better.