King of the One-String

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King of the One-String

by Tom Rankin, FetzerMills Jr.
Southern Cultures, Vol. 5, No. 1: Spring 1999

"Author and photographer team up to show and tell just what a diddley-bow can do."

Many Mississippi blues musicians — among them, Elmore James, Eddie Cusic, Big Jack Johnson, Lonnie Pitchford, and Napoleon Strickland— began their musical careers by learning as children to play a one-stringed homemade instrument sometimes called a diddley-bow. A diddley-bow is usually made by nailing a wire to a wall or a board and using small bottles (often snuff bottles) as bridges at both ends of the wire. The instrument is ordinarily played with a slide of some sort, often a knife or a bottle. When built on a board, it is usually played on the lap, like a mountain dulcimer or lap steel guitar.