My Washtub Bass site

a weblog about my instruments and experiments

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Kaufman Bros. Bass

Kaufman Bros upright 2-stringerThis all started when I was up at Kelly’s store one day and Joe came in and we started to talk… He asked me if I wanted to borrow the washtub bass he had built for his brother. So off we went to his parent’s place and he showed me the bass he had made it and given to his brother as a gift. He said he had seen a picture of a bas built like this one on the internet. Months later I stumbled on Kenton Owsley’s “Cabletub Bass” and I knew that it was the inspiration.
This article will attempt to document some of the things I’ve done and learned while playing and tinkering with the Kaufman Bros. bass. Please remember, that even though a washtub is a “normal” body for a home-made bass, the engineering concerns of the washtub manufacturer leaves a little to be desired as far as the ultimate bass tone…

My first washtub project was playing with the loaner bass, getting it to be more comfortable to play, and trying to get better sound out of it…

Some of the modifications I have done to the loaner Kaufman Bros washtub bass.

I have made a new bridge for the bass addressing two problems.

(a) it needed a lower bridge in order to lower the action, the bridge Joe had made was a very nice looking piece of walnut but the action was too high.

(b) the design has the bridge set in a small groove on the “body”, the mast is 1 1/2″ wide so it was easy to flip the bridge off of the mast if you “got into” the string too hard.

My first bridge was made was out of a scrap of 1/8″ luan plywood, I made the base of the bridge wrap around the body more than the original bridge. The base of the new bridge was a squared “U” shape so that the bridge could not be flipped off of the body (as easy). Unfortunately when transporting the bass, I broke the plywood bridge. As a quick fix I glued some wooden strips on to the wrap around arms to fix the break.

Another view of the Kaufman Bros bassThen I made a second bridge out of a piece of Eastern Red Cedar. A nice improvement over the plywood bridge as it had more volume and better tone. But it got broken as well, the long “arms” of the bridge that wrapped around the body were a weak point of the design. (I should have seen it coming.)

By this time I had also reshaped the back of the neck to make it less like the shape of a slightly rounded 2×2 and more like an upright bass neck, (it still needs more reshaping). Due to bad habits and the shape of the neck I have injured my left thumb playing this bass, not a good thing.

I have put some “Guitar Honey” on the wood since it was bare wood when I got it, not only did that made the walnut look much nicer it also made the neck feel better.

The next issue, the rim of the tub started to rattle from playing and transporting the bass, I noticed that it was getting worse and worse. When playing the bass the volume is much louder if the tub is lifted off of the floor, so I made a simple wooden tub-rim riser that raises the tub about 4 inches off of the floor. When I’m (really) playing it, the the tub gets a bit abused, the bass gets rocked and moved around when I’m getting into it so the rim has taken a beating. I got some urethane glue and filled the rim area with glue to solidify the rim to the rim ring. Now no more rattle and a much more durable rim.

The latest changes have been to install a small brass hinge to hold the bridge in place and to install some upright bass strings.

The bridge has suffered from two issues, since the washtub cannot withstand a lot of tension, the strings used are lighter than normal, an A-string is tuned to E, and a D-string is used for the A-string so there is less tension to hold the bridge in place than a “normal” bass. So a nonslip material was necessary to keep the bridge in proper horizontal plane (sounding length of the string) and the bridge had to have the “arms” (or wings) that wrapped around the 1 1/2″ body to hold the bridge in place when you “plucked” (pulled on) a string, even though the bridge still had a tendency to flip off of the body. With the hinge installed I don’t have to be so careful carrying the bass or playing it.

The upright bass strings sound better but also placed more tension on the tub than the bass guitar strings, when I first put the upright strings on the bass the sound was horrible. I put 2 pieces of wood under the eye bolt to spread out the tension of the strings, against the tub I put a 1/8″ piece of walnut about 10″ long by 4″ wide, to support that I used a 4″ circle of 1/4″ luan plywood. (see my pictures on flickr)

Now the sound is better than it was…

Kaufman Bass pic5B

Up next, more reshaping of the neck and a bit of flattening of the fingerboard, we’ll see … probably other things as well…

Dec. 27, 2007  Well, I never did get around to reshaping the neck or flattening the fingerboard, as I returned the bass to its owner today.  I’m kind of sad about that, you know how you get attached to things… So once the weather gets nice and I can get back to some woodworking (if that’s what you call it) I’m going to try my hand at a version of a masted washtub bass.  Many thanks to Kenton Owsley for his invention of the Cabletub Bass which inspired the Kaufman Bros. bass.

Thanks Joe and Steve for the loan…


4 Responses to “Kaufman Bros. Bass”

  1. LFMiller said

    Hey, R. Greetings from Tubotonia! Enjoyed prowling your site. I see you have the relentless experimental attitude of a natural WTB researcher! “The engineering concerns of the washtub manufacturer leaves a little to be desired as far as the ultimate bass tone” has got to be the understatement of the decade.

    Plunk in Peace,


  2. […] Kaufman Bros. Bass […]

  3. Joe Kaufman said

    Thanks so much for fixing it up into a much better instrument. We have been enjoying it since we got it back. I thought you might enjoy this link of us playing“dot”html

    Also, if you email me, I’ll send you a pic of the newest bass I built for myself down here in IF. Its a two stringer that plays like a fretless banjo. The resonator is a 13 quart feed pan with a 3/4 particle board back. the volume is a little low, but I think its louder than some acoustic bass guitars.

  4. carol Ann Nastos said

    We have a wonderful washtub bass that we would like to give to someone here in New Jersey. Do you have any recommendations. Please reply to we also have a wash board. Thank you.

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