I'm figuring this all out as I go, for I have never played a guitar or any other plucked string instrument.

1.Diddly Bow.

I mostly built this diddly bow over the weekend. I substituted an eye bolt tuner because I wanted to see how one worked. Otherwise all is the essentially the same.


I am using a string the local guitar shop sold me

D'Addario PL015 Plain Steel Ball End .015 in. (.38 mm) Single String

JJ makes it look very easy to press the string to the "fret board" ( I used a length of 7/8 inch /22 mm dowel rod, likely popular.)

I can coax out an open note easily, but pressing the string down takes a lot of effort, hurts my finger tips, and it only sounds okay when pressing down near the nut.

Is JJ using a more flexible string of some sort? 

Is that what I need, a different string of some sort? If so which type/ gauge/...

Or did I miss something in my assembly?

2. 3-String

With the diddly bow sort of done I want to go after a three string next

For this the guitar shop sold me http://daddario.com/DADProductDetail.Page?ActiveID=3769&ProductId=73&productname=EJ26_Phosphor_Bronze__Custom_Light__11_52

With no experience I am confused which, if any, of these strings will get me to GBG or any other tuning. I understand that GBG the most common tuning so that's where I want to start. Please correct me if this is not square one.

One article here http://www.cigarboxnation.com/group/class101/forum/topics/confused-...

mentions a preference for the 3, 4, and 5 strings. I have not yet opened the package but I figure they will be marked as to which is which so I should be able to figure out the string names and in turn the sizes

But I am confused as to the top to bottom placements and how I can get a low and high G out of standard set of strings.

The above page gets me the general idea,but I do not how to tune up or down either.

Thanks for any suggestions.

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Hi Mike,

I was in the same boat as yourself. Never touched an instrument of any kind.

I built my first diddley bow Nov 2015. I am now hooked with a dozen builds done.

As for your question on strings. I have taken 2 guitar lessons which helped. Also my daughter learnt guitar.

A standard guitar is strung E A D G B E. Low string is actually the top one. Pitch related. Thick string.

String 1 is the thinnest and 6 is the thickest. However we remember them back to front from 6 through 1.

ANYWAY strings 3, 4, and 5 you have are G D and A strings. G is the thin one then D then A.

By down tunning the a it becomes a low pitch G an octave apart from the thin one.

Hope this helps. It is still new to me.

Please anyone else correct me if I have given any wrong info

The .015 string is probably a B string, the number 2 string in standard guitar tuning below:

E = thickest, "low E," wound with bronze or steel (usually .050- .058) = string # 6
A = next thickest, wound with bronze or steel (usually .040 - .048) = string # 5
D = wound with bronze or steel (usually .032 - .038) = string # 4
G = wound with bronze or steel, sometimes unwound (usually .023 - .028) = string # 3
B = unwound, nickel-steel, next thinnest (usually .013 - .018) = string # 2
E = unwound, nickel-steel, "high E," thinnest (usually .007 -.013) = string # 1

You don't mention how long your diddly bow is from bridge to nut. This distance is normally called the scale length. It is somewhat less important on a DB than on other instruments. The reason you may be having trouble pressing down and getting a note as you go higher up the neck toward the bridge is that your bridge may be too high. You may also have tuned the string too tightly. Get a cheap clip-on digital tuner, around $15, and see what not you have tuned to. Anything higher than a D above B ( in a musical scale that starts at C, it would be C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C, with the first C in the sequence being a lower pitch, and the last C being the same note but a higher pitch. The sequence would keep repeating in both directions above and below those notes.). Nor,ally, you can tune two whole notes up or down on a given string, before they break, or get too floppy.

Yes, you ARE missing something!!!  If the action is high, just play it with a slide and don't attempt to wrestle  the string down to the fingerboard.

Justin Johnson was NOT pressing it to the fret board, the red thing on Justin's finger and the purple thing on blind Kiwi's finger was a slide.

With a slide you just LIGHTLY touch/press the string with the slide and you get the same effect as fretting a note at that spot.

you don't have to go buy a fancy commercial one, lots of other things can work, a 3/4x1.5 spacer from the hardware->washers drawer at home depot or lowes, an empty medicine bottle, a chunk of 3/4" pvc pipe, Shane's favorite is a socket from his socket wrench kit. 

Thanks to all for the comments.


Yes the action is high on the db. I'll try the slide soon. Makes sense. Yes I do have the string  pulled tight. The scale length can be set up to around 34 inches.

One reason I selected the JJ build was the idea that I could change the scale length easily. I decided to put in a strip of 1x2 popular on top of the dowel with a couple of more hose clamps. That will bring it in line with the top of the box. That should allow for pressing down on the board like on a  guitar.

The plan is to drop to a 9ish inch scale (piccolo mandolin level) and to the max on the stick My goal. I want to build a feel for the ratios and fret settings. Also I think it could make a nice demo of wave properties. Comments? FYI: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5wXqypfXhc

Nice thoughts on the slides. I will try them all. I mustered what I need for cutting off a bottle neck but not tried it yet.

Three String.

The table with the diameters is especially helpful. I read somewhere that the guitar is tuned in fourths. It finally dawned on my that D-G is four scale steps and D to the next highest G is four more. Guess it's the same with other 3-string tunings? Comments?

So how do I tune the A to low G? Tighter? Looser?

BTW. I have a Snark tuner.

Thanks again to all.


Looser = tune down in pitch. G is below A in this case. Use yer Snark; it will show you when you reach the G pitch tuning down from A.
Most instruments that press down to the finger board are fretted. Pressing a thin string down with no frets won't sound right, as your finger is deadening the string. Slide is the way to go
Except...I have a Shane Speal 100-year-old cedar box 3-string slider that can actually fret notes quite well, just by pressing down the strings to the fretboard. You can actually play it microtonally, like an oud.

Valid point, much like a fretless bass... still..  hmm... ok, I got nothin. 

This may be a stupid observation, but wouldn't it be more accurate to specify tuned notes by frequency, accurate to 1% or so? 

Many of my friends play Medieval music, and in that world, A=390-420 or so, and their stuff sounds out of tune to other musicians. Getting into Central Asian or African music, the Western scale system doesn't fit. Since the Diddley Bow and many of its relatives don't come from a modern Orchestral tuning system, wouldn't it make sense to take some of the older field recordings, run them through any of the free, downloadable software FFT frequency analyzers and then work out the scale actually in use? 

Just wondering. 

Gordon Cooper

Bremerton WA



We are on the same page.

I finished the 3 string build before catching up here.

A nice fellow strung if for me to open G as I requested. But when I got home I could not get a D. I ended up breaking that string trying.

I spent a lot of time trying to sort out which pitch went with which string x fret board position. These two links anchor them better than anything else I have found.

"guitar fret board piano pitch designation" >



That "should" allow easily connecting to this array?


The only remaining question at the moment is the guitar octave transposition up to treble clef.

I should be able to readily work that out in MuseScore.




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