Washboard 101 with Geoff Muldaur

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 6.06.56 PMWhile fact-checking our Spring 2009 issue, Michael John Simmons emailed Geoff Muldaur to ask a few questions. One question Michael asked was if the washboard he plays today is the same one he used with Kweskin Jug Band in the 1960s. Here’s his reply:

Yes, that’s the one I played with the Kweskin Jug Band from late 1965 on… and to the present.  Its name is “Reggie”.  It was designed by myself and Fritz Richmond (mostly by Fritz) and constructed by Fritz in December of 1965.  There were two or three earlier washboards, the most successful of which was named “George’s Other Brother, Marge”.  George was a WWII bombsight that Fritz owned.  Anyway, “Reggie” worked out so well, we never made another one.  In time we would have had to replace one or both metal ‘boards’ because they wear out…. not as quickly as the thimbles I used on my fingers… but they do wear out.

“Reggie” is made from various parts. Its main component is a Soap Saver Washboard (#167).  The scrapers (‘boards’) are metal. The front one is blue and the back one is natural color and is galvanized. There is a dishcloth stuffed in between them to slightly deaden their sound.  The Soap Saver had an indented area at the bottom for holding soap etc.  As you can see in the picture you sent me, the indented area is covered by rosewood plywood as a soundboard (and a sound hole) creating an enclosed, covered space.  It made a nice thunk when I hit the rosewood with my thimbles.

The border wood of the original Soap Saver Washboard was replaced with birch which we found on the South Beach of Martha’s Vineyard. We often collected wood there and brought it up to Newton where Fritz’s father had a woodworking shop.  The birch was cut, beveled and routed for the frame.  There is a copper tube running parallel to the top birch strut.  It encases a long bolt, which can be tightened when the washboard ‘loosens up’.  The brass piece sticking up from the far vertical strut is an anti-tank shell from WWII (I don’t know the caliber).  The hubcap is a Ford Deluxe (year unknown) and is held on with a wingnut.  Attached to the near side vertical strut is a strong piece of bent tempered steel which I put inside my belt when I played. There is a strip of rubber inner tube attached at the lower far side.  I would pull that around my waist, or my butt, and reattach it.  There is also a loop of rope attached to the upper near strut (hard to see in your picture) which I placed over my head and around my neck.

So, there you go.