My double-handed DUBL HANDI is doubly handy.
When I started getting involved in the folk music scene, I came equipped only with my voice. But, oh! I wanted more. So I built this baby. And oh how I love my DUBL HANDI.
Playing washboard is fun and easy (as far as instruments go); a real crowd pleaser. And if jamming is your scene, a roomful of strings always appreciates a little percussion.
Unlike most instruments, your washboard is your own creation. It doesn't come pre-assembled.
Antique washboards are a-plenty on Ebay; I bought mine for a measly $10. The smaller lingerie/travel size boards, like my DUBL HANDI, make for a more easily portable instrument and a daintier style, but the larger boards are ideal for someone who wants all the bells and whistles (literally).
I made a neck strap with just some cotton string and a couple screw eyes.
If you want a shorter strap, you may need to attach a clip on one end so you can get in and out of it. I've also seen outfits with two shoulder straps, especially on bigger, more extensive boards. In fact, some people don't use straps at all and play it across their lap or between their legs. There's no one right way; it's all about building an instrument that fits your own needs.
I use thimbles on my fingers for playing, some people use finger picks, ribs, brushes, you name it, someone's tried it! If you opt for thimbles, be sure they fit nice and snug on each finger. You don't want them flying off as you play! Bring a thimble with you when you're shopping for bells so that you can evaluate their timbre before purchasing. They don't even need to be actual bells; they can be anything you like the sound of: tin cans, metal cups, cymbals, pots and pans, etc. As for how to attach them, every item is different, and most need a little finagling. If your board is an antique, just be gentle, so as not to split the wood.
Now you play! Start out by simply finding the basic rhythm within a tune; don't try anything fancy until you feel confident with the basics. The washboard is quite loud and can be abrasive if played poorly. Especially if you're playing with a small group, keep it light. The best way to learn is by sitting in with a group and just playing. I've found practicing by myself or with recorded music to be relatively fruitless, but by all means, try it. If you're in Brooklyn, check out the jams at Sunny's in Red Hook, the Brooklyn Rod and Gun Club in Williamsburg, the Folk Society's events in various locations, or discover your own! If you're elsewhere, find your local folk society for ideas.
Now for some of my favorite washboard digs...