I was going through some of the posts over at cigarboxguitar.com looking at the historical articles and pictures and it seemed to me that most of the old instruments are either diddleys, or they're homebuilt versions of traditional instruments like ukes, banjos and violins.  Are there any period examples of 3 stringed guitars out there?

I know there are plenty of 3 string instruments from around the world, but as far as American roots instruments are concerned the only thing I could think that would compare is the Appalachian dulcimer with its 3 strings and 151 tuning.  Maybe they are cousins, but especially as it relates to the blues and how we generally approach these things today, I'm beginning to think 3 stringers might be a more modern idea than I thought.

Are there any historians out there that could shed some light?

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Thanks turtlehead for your research, I think you are fully right. Remains the question about the predominant GDg-type tuning. I tried to check the video about the tuning used on the two gas can guitars


but I'm not sure about it, I'll retry another time. Mac Arnold played on gas can guitars since his childhood: his musical journey began in the 1950s when he and his brother Leroy fashioned a guitar from a steel gas can, wood, nails, and screen wire.

You intend to locate the photos on termoking's site, but I don't know whether it makes sense or not, as most of them show anonymous groups of solders or prisoners of WWI.

To get comparative material, I'm still in contact with the Finnish Folk Music Institute about simple instruments played in lumberjack camps or in bomb shelters while Continuation War 1941-1945. For any type of instrument we find quite everywhere, we don't have to bother about african or other origins. Special features like the fifth string of the banjo seem another case. Till now I didn't find a photo, only a verbal description of a diddley bow built on a plank with a coffee tin as resonator, length 87cm, built by Paavo Pulkkinen from Sodankylä.

A more actual example of parallel development: instruments built from a shovel. At the end of the sixties, among the instruments played by a finnish folkloristic band there was a «half-acoustic snow shovel».

Just for joke: I expected to find instruments built on big lard tins, as lard - essential foodstuff in finnish lumberjack camps - was called in their slang «american lard» or «Wilson's skin», as lard [«Wilson's Pure Lard»] among other foodstuff was provided in big tins to Finland 1918-1920 and later as US food aid.

Some left-hander around who checks how Mac Arnold has his gas can guitar tuned? I get crazy watching and mirroring his finger work... hear and watch:

Blues in a Holler: Jam Session with Mac Arnold
from 1:20

Mac Arnold & Plate Full O'Blues: Cackalacky

Mac Arnold Live: Sweet Home, Chicago

Mac Arnold's musical journey began in the 1950s when he and his brother Leroy fashioned a guitar from a steel gas can, wood, nails, and screen wire.

Wow! Thanks for all that great information turtlehead. Thanks to Moritz as well for your informative comments. This is pretty interesting stuff to us CB instruments nerds and maybe to a few non nerds as well.

Maybe you've seen this Egyptian wall painting from 1420 BCE. I don't know what they called it but it will be hard to find an older example I think. And I am glad to hear Mac Arnold's name mentioned. He still tears up that 3 string 'gas can'. He is an amazing player (and lives about 90 miles from me).

Image result for earliest example of a guitar

It seems to me that a few people here are from the Dulci world so 3 and 4 strings nothing new. But the number of strings game is a endless search, I think some of you people get wrapped up in the 3 string thing because of the challenge . 1-5-1 you can play a simple rhythm fairly easy but some of you guy's take it to the next level and that's addictive. Everything I do on 3 string is innovative to me because I have no clue of what I'm doing. If it sounds good with 1 string it will probably sound better with 2

Maybe we have to ask another question: how a two- or three-string box was played? Early country bluesmen typically played the melody part on the high string and used the lower ones mostly as drone strings. An archaic example is Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Jack O' Diamonds", two takes from 1926, which could be played on a diddley bow with a drone string:


A drone is most often placed upon the tonic or dominant, or on both, so not only a box tuned Gg, but also tuned GDg, could be considered as a diddley bow with a drone string or drone strings: same tunings, but totally different instruments, depending from how the box is played...


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