Build a Yates Style Washtub Bass


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Seeing is believing.  Click Here to see and hear it.

A bass is generally played by alternating two notes.  As you stretch your string and sink in into the grove at the top of the neck, try to tune it in a relaxed position to the lower of the two notes.  This way the high note can be fretted on the fingerboard.   Some bending is necessary to keep it in tune but try to keep it to a minimum with the way your string is set.  As you find your high note and a comfortable hand position, just bend the neck a little until you are in tune.  Keeping the same hand position, bend the neck back and you will be in the next chord.  Go back to your original position and move your little finger down about a hand width and you are in your third chord.  

From here you can understand how to get about anything that you want out of it.  The hardest thing is to get used to standing on one foot while holding the tub down with the other.  I have found that tubs sound wonderful on hard floors but are not so good on thick carpet.   

 Thin carpeting is good, but thick carpet does weird things to the sound of a bass tub.  I keep mine in the garage and play it when the bluegrass show comes on once a week.  It is a lot of fun to build with the kids too.  With a little practice bass tubs can give a bass fiddle a run for its money.   I am sure everyone would like to have a new bass fiddle but they start out around $1,000 and go up from there.  A seventeen gallon washtub starts out around $14.95.  It is not exactly the picture of smoke, colored lights, and exploding amplifiers but it does bluegrass justice.  It is much like the bass fiddle with its soft, breathy punch and short-lived notes.  They can even be slapped.  Build your bass tub, find some bluegrass on the radio, jump in and hang on. Whatever you do with yours, just have fun.  You can design your own or you can buy my plans for $14.95 and they can be ordered at the bottom of the page. 

Have you ever thought about taking music lessons?  For a high price you can, and you might forget most of what you were taught.  What if you could take lessons from your idol?  That  would be perfect.  I had the opportunity to sit down at the piano for about 15 minutes with my idol.  I had heard everything that he ever did about a thousand times, so I knew what to ask and I understood what he was showing me.  I think that I remember everything that he showed me.  My idol was Anthony Burger, about the biggest name in gospel music.  I met with some other well known people as well, but I don't remember everything they showed me.  I had a trick to meet and spend time with them.  Most of the time it worked and I knew from their schedule that I would find in gospel music magazines where they would be.  When they were in driving distance I would get to the location they were going to be about two hours early and help them unload their equipment.  The heavier the equipment, the more they let me help.  I worked hard and they got set up fast.  When they got ready to check out their instrument(s), I was standing there and they had time to show me what I wanted.  Most of the time they were very nice and this was easy to do, especially with smaller lesser known groups.  The more famous people I watched on video tapes.  You don't forget what they show you because it is on tape and you can watch it again.  


Tubs are hard to find so here is some information that will help to find them.  One company that makes them is Dover Parkersburg, 1-304-485-4573.  Ace Hardware sells some of them.  If they do not have them, you can get them to add one to their order and you will not have to pay shipping.  The trick to making them all sound good is not using a lawn mower rope, but 1/8" braded nylon.  It is softer and has a much better sound.  It is made by The Lehigh Group #SNR46.  I found it at Home Depot.  #292311


How to Play the Instrument in Detail

The principle of playing this instrument is easy but not obvious. I have shown this instrument to many bluegrass musicians and none of them were able to understand it on their own. After showing how it worked they all were able to play it a little. They all have stories about tubs where the players had bending mechanism and all sorts of strange contraptions and they all agree that they have never seen one like mine. If every other string instrument has a fret board then it makes since that this one should as well. Maybe I will be remembered somewhere, sometime for it.

When a bass is played, two notes are alternated, a low note and a high note. Example: Say your friends are playing in the key of “G”. pull the neck back until the string is in tune with the low note. Now you can fret the high note. By fretting and playing the string open, you have your two bass notes. By bending the neck to hold the tune, your hand will stay in the same place every time that you play those two notes. Use the pointer finger about 12-˝” down from where the string first hit’s the finger board.

Now try it! Start alternating with the first note being the fretted note then the open note. Hold the note in tune by wrapping your thumb around the back side of the neck. Say you are really playing a “G” and you want to go to a “D” and start alternating it. Leave your pointer finger in the same place and add the pinky finger about 4” lower and start alternating backwards meaning low note first this time. Now to hit a “C” keep doing the same thing as with the “D” but bend the neck forward to lower the notes and it will not be far away. After you learn that, everything else will be near by.

Walking the bass

If you can hold the neck in place easily, it is not hard to walk from one chord to another. You can slap the string as well. One reason for the wooden finger board is to add that wood sound when the string is slapped.

I play many musical instruments.  Keep checking back and I will touch base on all of them.  My musical background is Bluegrass and Southern Gospel.  My favorite instruments are the ones that have strings and no electrical power cords.  I have never learned to read music and have no interest in it.  As a child, my Dad had a banjo and I heard him play everyday.  He enjoyed it, but he could only play a part of one or two songs.  It was pretty bad and we had to hear it every day...  He would ease his mind through his banjo after a hard day at work.  It is a wonderful escape for a while. If you play you understand what I mean.  I wanted him to teach me so bad because I had music in my head and I wanted a chance to try it.  He didn't know how to teach me, but he made sure that the banjo was around in case I wanted to learn.  One day I got upset that he wouldn't try to show me, so I sat down and learned it myself.  I had heard him play so much that I had it in about an hour.  Now, I was as bad as he was, but I loved it.  I surprised him with what I was able to learn and so fast.  I continued to learn and he stopped.  I think that he was embarrassed over what I had done compared to him.  I hope that was not the case.  He never encouraged me after that and it seemed to bother him that I might be getting into something that would get me in trouble.  I never played music in places where he would have disapproved.  He is not alive now and hasn't been for a long time, but I am sure that he was proud of me somewhere inside.  I will never use my music for anything other than to promote good, wholesome enjoyment, at least to the best of my knowledge.  I feel that God gave me this gift for a reason and if I see that something bad might come from it I will stop.                    

One of my experiences

A while back a friend of mine asked me to bring my instruments to a cub scout meeting to expose the boys to music. He felt that it might inspire them to become musicians and learn a hobby that would be a great experience for them. I did just that. I took my banjo, guitar, my tape player and last but not least, my trusty wash tub bass “thing“. My friend was a musician as well so we were going to have some fun whether the kids liked it or not. I was introduced to the young boys as the “special guest” and then I took the floor. I looked out at the anxious little faces and said, “How many of you have ever heard of the Back Street Boys?” The crowd raged with excitement! Then I said, “How many of you have ever heard of Brittney Spears?” The crowd was ecstatic. Then said, “well, we don’t play anything like that. We play music like Grandma listens to. Then I went YEAH!!! The crowd looked at me like I was a nut. After my friend and I stopped laughing, we put on a good demonstration. I had some bluegrass music on a tape and was able to let each boy play my bass tub. I held it in tune and did the fretting but they played the string. They had a ball after all. Though this is just a tub it can also be a tool that can bring a lot of joy to a lot of people. I hope you enjoy yours as much as I have enjoyed mine.

Warren Yates                                                                         Washtub bass plans

Washtub Bass.  Maybe you have seen or heard of bass tubs in bluegrass music used in place of a bass guitar or bass fiddle. They are played by bending the neck to create the change in pitch.  My design gives a new dimension to the instrument. I have added a fingerboard so that the string can be fretted as well.  Now you have access to a wider array of notes and the instrument becomes more than a hillbilly icon.  With a  little practice, you can give a real bass a run for it's money.  If it's Saturday night and the bluegrass show is playing on the radio, you can just about bet that I am standing in my garage, with one foot propped up on my tub, wearing it out.  This project requires access to some metal working equipment.  


Seeing is believing.  Click Here to see and hear it.

To place an order with a check or money order (US dollars) send to: 

Leisure Unlimited Inc.

5206 Bethel Church Rd

Hickory, NC 28602




Now available for by e-mail by request.  All other orders will be sent through the mail.

For questions or comments Email me, Warren Yates

To order by credit card, use the PayPal link below.            



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The picture to the left is a tub built from my plans in the hands of a good builder.  The picture to the right is fun in process!


Pictures supplied by 

Gary Sloman


The tub in the picture to the left was built by Tim Clark and David Seltzer also was the tub in the picture at the top of the page.  Great job guys!

The Warren Yates Method of Playing Bluegrass Banjo for Beginners



Other pages of mine that you might find helpful.

Finger picking the guitar

Learn to play the banjo

Play Bluegrass guitar

Learn to play Bluegrass fiddle

Learn to play Bluegrass Mandolin

Play bass fiddle


How to play "Man of Constant Sorrow" on the guitar,

from the movie "O Brother Where Art Thou".

Music Tools

Chord note pads.

Use these prints to make notes on your music.

Full Guitar Neck

Guitar Neck Ends

Piano 88 Keys

Piano Large Keys

Banjo Neck

Fiddle Neck

Mandolin Neck

Bass Guitar / Bass Fiddle

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