Jug Tales

Whistle Pigs (aka Groundhogs)

The elusive whistle pig

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Making a Washtub Bass

A Washtub Bass

Josh made a washtub bass, using a stair handrail, that sounds incredible. We are using it for several of our songs now.

There are some great resources online for making washtub basses.

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The Suitcase Drum

A Suitcase Drum

We found that we could haul our miscellaneous equipment (washboard, jaw harp, song lists, cds, mics, etc.) around real well in old suitcases and we could find them real cheap at thrift stores.

Then we wrote the song Banjo Love and, in a fit of musical genius inspired by Weird Al's "Another One Rides the Bus," decided we had to have someone play suitcase on the song.

Suitcase Drum assembled Suitcase Drum in pieces

Brett had a kick pedal laying around from his rock and roll days so we built a frame to allow us to use the suitcase as a kick drum. We used scrap lumber for the frame and wedges; screws and wood glue to attach the wedges to the frame; pan head bolts, washers and wing nuts to hold the frame legs to the cross piece and an eye screw and S hook to attach the frame to the kick pedal.

It works beautifully. The frame breaks down in less than a minute into three pieces so that the pedal and the frame can be carried around in the suitcase with all of our other equipment.

We have since drilled a hole in the suitcase and added reinforcement to add a cymbal to the kit. You can be sure it is going to continue to evolve...

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Making a Cigar Box Tenor Guitar

A Cigar Box Guitar

Gayle just about has her cigar-box guitars done. The first is made from an old wine box, and the second is going to be a fretless cookie tin guitar. She is now finishing the nuts and bridges and stringing them up. Can't wait to hear how they sound. We'll keep you posted on the progress...

She found a great book called Handmade Music Factory that has fretboard and headstock templates for all sorts of instruments: guitars, tenor guitars, 3/4 basses, ukuleles, plectrum banjos, fender strats, and dobros (strangely, no mandolins?..). It also has plans for making washtub basses, slide guitars, and amplifying your instruments using old tape decks.

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Making a Yardstick Mouth Bow

The mouth bow is the oldest stringed instrument known and spontaneously appeared in cultures around the world with the advent of bow hunting. It was used in Appalachian music here in the states, and Buffy Sainte-Marie introduced it to a wider audience in the 60s and 70s.

You can find various plans on the Internet for making them. Jeff adapted a couple to make this yardstick mouth bow.

Yardstick Mouth Bow Yardstick Mouth Bow

To make this mouth bow:
  1. Drill a roughly 3/8" hole near the bottom of a yard stick--large enough for a violin tuning peg to fit through
  2. Drill an 1/8" hole near the top of the yardstick
  3. Put a small wood screw in the loop of a loop-end guitar string--you could use a small dowel or nail or anything that will fit through the loop and not easily break
  4. Thread the guitar string through the 1/8" hole and pull it tight against the yardstick (the screw in the loop end will hold it fast
  5. Put a violin tuning peg through the 3/8" hole and thread the guitar string through the hole in the tuning peg. Leave a little slack in the string so you can turn the tuning peg and get the string wrapped around the peg a couple of times.
  6. Bend the mouth bow and tighten the tuning peg. The bow should hold a slight arc shape and you can pluck or bow the string for sound

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Making an Antique Popcorn Popper Fiddle

While browsing an antique store, Gayle had the vision to see a fiddle in an antique popcorn popper. Using scrap wood from Gayle's cigar box guitars and experimentation, Jeff created this 3-string fiddle.

It is cross-tuned to ADA and we use it on a few songs including Cluck Old Hen, Angelina Baker, and Wild Bill Jones.

The Popcorn Popper Fiddle

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Researching Traditional Music

We've been doing some research to try to determine which songs we do are considered part of the public domain and which songs are protected under copyright. So far it has been a little bit of a tough row to hoe. Following is what we have been able to figure out so far (and some nice resources for research).

Any song in the public domain is not protected under copyright and may be used royalty-free.

Music and lyrics published in the United States earlier than January 1, 1923 are considered to be in the Public Domain.

US Copyright Office

You can do searches in the US Copyright Office catalogs to find music and recordings under copyright protection. I've found some of this information confusing--you can find recordings listed under copyright protection even though the song itself is in the public domain.

NOTE: Both Music (the written lyrics) and Recordings (somebody playing and singing the song) can be copyrighted; so The Jug Huffers can copyright a musical performance (i.e. Recording) of a song that is listed under the Public Domain. In this case, you and your band can still musically perform the song itself royalty-free, but you would have to pay royalties to The Jug Huffers (or buy our CD) if you wanted to play the Jug Huffers' recording of the song on your stereo.

Public Domain Information Project

PD Info provides a partial listing of songs that are in the Public Domain. They will also provide (for a fee) sheet music proving that the song was published before 1923.

The Fresno State Traditional Music Ballad Index

The Traditional Ballad Index is a collaborative effort designed to help people find reference information on folk ballads. The database offers a variety of information about each song, including a brief description, a bibliography, and historical background. Alternate titles are given. Most songs also have a list of keywords to help you search.

The Roud Folk Song Index

The Roud Folk Song Index is a database of 143,000 references to songs that have been collected from oral tradition in the English language from all over the world.

The Bodleian Library Ballads Project

Broadside ballads were popular songs, sold for a penny or half-penny in the streets of towns and villages around Britain between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries. These songs were performed in taverns, homes, or fairs -- wherever a group of people gathered to discuss the day's events or to tell tales of heroes and villains.

The Bodleian Library holds over 30,000 ballads, contained in several collections. These have been gathered into a single catalogue which is now presented, along with a scanned image of each ballad sheet, in the Broadside Ballads Project.

The Traditional Tune Archive

The Traditional Tune Archive is a World Wide Web information storing and retrieval tool dedicated to instrumental music of the past 300 years traditionally used for dancing in Ireland, Great Britain, and North America.

Weenie Campbell

WeenieCampbell.com is a site dedicated to "Preserving Country Blues through Education, Performance and Technology." Listen to Country Blues radio and check out the forums for discussion about lyrics and song origins.


You can often look up individual songs on Wikipedia to find out more about their history.

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