First is a Columbus stainless steel washboard with bells, horns and a woodblock. It has a traditional spiral crimp profile which means that the metal is shaped with a series of horizontal round ribs going across it and each rib as a spiral like pattern on it. I like this board and its profile which has a smooth feeling that is accentuated by the stainless steel. It is very loud and has a plexiglas “woodblock” that I made and stuck on it with magnets.
Next is a similar Columbus washboard but made with zinc, a none rusting metal, and possibly the most tradition metal used for making washboards. I didn’t like the sound of this board at first but recent playing made me realize that it was more my technique and also probably getting used to the resonance that this metal has. I think it’s even louder than the stainless steel, but with a delicate touch, that I am only beginning to master after 5 years of playing, these soapboards sound terrific!
This one is actually Dave’s and came from England, I stole it from him the other day to check it out since I don’t have a large size board with a regular "zig-zag" profile (if you see what I mean). Its ribs are slightly uneven, the top surface is shorter than the bottom so the down stroke is a tad more aggressive than the up stroke, which is nice.
I’m not into antiques and am not much of a collector and I hesitated in buying this old Columbus brass Maid Rite washboard because it seemed in too good a shape to be played on, which it is. It is cool actually and I do pick it up and occasionally play with brushes on it since it hangs out in my living room, but I’m not about to drill holes in it….
My son gave me this next one for my birthday, it’s a Swiss made washboard and has the Swiss made crossbow icon stamped into the metal on each side of the center decoration of two hands washing something. There are four stars too.
I covered the soap shelf with a piece of wood in an attempt to get a better thunk from it which perhaps is the case. A different sound it makes but I’m not sure about better, very heavy duty. Most of the Swiss, and Austrian washboards I’ve seen are made from beech, I am not totally thrilled with their special profile but they are perfectly playable.
One of my two National Zinc King 703’s, I use this one pretty much every day for practice. The zinc rubbed through pretty quickly when I first started using it, all the “up” rib edges became open cracks, so I took it apart, covered the “front” of it with the Grey epoxy glue for metal and mounted it “backwards”. So far this has kept it in perfect working condition and whats more gave it a thunkier sound which I like a lot.
This is a National Brass Washboard 801 on which I stuck a few thing. I have it so that my small 8 inch cymbal and my bells, woodblocks, horns, etc… can be moved with more or less ease from one board to another so the ones I use have holes for that. Its one of the two washboards I use on stage and it sounds really good when played with nylon brushes. I have it so my second National Zinc King 703 snaps on to it with a magnet. This way I have two very different sounds to use. The Zinc King is a small “lingerie” sized board and has a much tighter profile that isn’t as “rough” as the bigger washboards which I love! It’s not a loud either which is nice for smaller rooms. It has a desk bell which looks cool but is easy to hit when I get sloppy.
Here they are assemble together. You can see that I have just enough room to hit and rub the brass board with my right hand, it has a much thicker deeper sound that is useful for emphasis among other things.
Feb. 2010: Last fall I played in concert a few times with just the Columbus zinc washboard pictured above and nylon brushes, holding it right side up while sitting down. I couldn’t help but notice how nice it was to have the board’s metal surface 5 inches lower for the “brush work” so I decided to reassemble my two main boards in that way. It took some time to figure out how to position everything since I took advantage of the circumstances to test various possibilities. But habits are hard to break and in the long run most of my bells & whistles ended up as close to where they had been than possible.
At the moment this “double” board has a bell made from a bathtub drain plate described on my Jazz up your Washboard page, as well as a couple of horns that I don’t honk very often but like to hit on, a cheap drum cowbell that I sawed in half but still sounds so-so, a cymbal and a desk bell.
Not a washboard but part of my setup down is (updated Mar. ’12) my drumset. A 18” New Sound bass drum, 12” DrumCraft series 6 snare, 13” Paiste PST 5 hi-hat and a mixture of cymbals: a Sabian Memphis AAX 21” (which I really like), a Sabian AAX 17” Stage Crash (which some days I like and others I’m not too sure), an old 16” UFIP crash (now cut down to around 13” due to immense stupidity on my part but which I still like), a small 8” Meinl Classics splash (OK) and a completely bashed up with many holes drilled through it and rivets added entry level Alchemy 17” crash (it makes a great striking noise which I love!). I’ve also added two buckets as Tom and Floor Tom and a bell. I either play with my hands or with a variety of brushes from the thin metal jazz (watch out, these can easily get bent up if you don’t treat them right on the washboard) and nylon sort, to heavy duty one like Blasticks and Tipstix; I prefer thinner brushes but the Blasticks are useful when electrified band members or jam participants crank up the volume (never be without some sort of earplugs to protect yourself from the old rocker mentality, I use Alpine MusicSafe).
With the band I now often use a drumstick in one hand and thimble gloves on both hands, easier to hit the cymbals with (+ less hurtful on the fingers), a better whack on the snare and I can use the grip side of the stick to hit and rub the washboard; with practice you can still hit and rub the washboard with the hand holding the drumstick. I’m still working on getting this all together…
March 2011: I now have a National Midget that I bought along with a third Zinc King since the first two have been rubbed through. I’ve explained elsewhere how I repaired them so they are both still in use, but I was curious as to the sound of the midget. Its tone is a lot darker than the Zinc King, the rubbing surface has some sort of coating that seems slightly abrasive but since mine is rusty that may be due to the rust. In any case I like it a lot and can imagine that in a bright room the darker sound could be quite useful.
I’ve also cut off (oh the shame of it) the legs of the two washboard I use the most, leaving a small stump, so that I can move more freely while at the drum set. Updated to add: That one has been stuck into a new frame and amplified.
If you add to that a choice of shakers, home made and bought, a tambourine or two and now rhythm bones, that pretty much covers what I have around to make noise with and I can’t begin to say how great an activity percussion playing is…