Woman on an Israeli Kibbutz using a washboard to do laundry
A washboard is a tool designed for hand washing clothing. With mechanized cleaning of clothing becoming more common by the end of the 20th century, the washboard has become better known for its secondary use as a musical instrument.
The traditional washboard is usually constructed with a rectangular wooden frame in which are mounted a series of ridges or corrugations for the clothing to be rubbed upon. For 19th-century washboards, the ridges were often of wood; by the 20th century, ridges of metal were more common. A "fluted" metal washboard was patented in the United States by Stephen Rust in 1833. Zinc washboards were manufactured in the United States from the middle of the 19th century. In the late 20th century and early 21st century, ridges of galvanized steel are most common, but some modern boards are made of glass. Washboards with brass ridges are still made.
Many parts of the world still use washboards for washing clothes. Clothes are soaked in hot soapy water in a washtub or sink, then squeezed and rubbed against the ridged surface of the washboard to force the cleansing fluid through the cloth to carry away dirt. Washboards may also be used for washing in a river, with or without soap. Then the clothes are rinsed. The rubbing has a similar effect to beating the clothes and household linen on rocks, an ancient method, but is less abrasive. Military personnel often use washboards to do their laundry when no local laundry facilities exist.
Some experts emphasize that using a washboard is superior to using modern laundry machines because it saves water and electricity and is not so hard on the clothing.
The washboard and frottoir (from Cajun French "frotter", to rub) are used as apercussion instrument, employing the ribbed metal surface of the cleaning device as a rhythm instrument. As traditionally used in jazz, zydeco, skiffle, jug band, andold-time music, the washboard remained in its wooden frame and is played primarily by tapping, but also scraping the washboard with thimbles. Often the washboard has additional traps, such as a wood block, a cowbell, and even smallcymbals. Conversely, the frottoir (zydeco rubboard) dispenses with the frame and consists simply of the metal ribbing hung around the neck. It is played primarily with spoon handles or bottle openers in a combination of strumming, scratching, tapping and rolling. The frottoir or vest frottoir is played as a stroked percussion instrument, often in a band with a drummer, while the washboard generally is a replacement for drums. In Zydeco bands, the frottoir is usually played with bottle openers, to make a louder sound. It tends to play counter-rhythms to the drummer. In a jug band, the washboard can also be stroked with a single whisk broom and functions as the drums for the band, playing only on the back-beat for most songs, a substitute for a snare drum. In a four-beat measure, the washboard will stroke on the 2-beat and the 4-beat. Its best sound is achieved using a single steel-wire snare-brush or whisk broom. However, in a jazz setting, the washboard can also be played with thimbles on all fingers, tapping out much more complex rhythms, as in The Washboard Rhythm Kings, a full-sized band, and Newman Taylor Baker.
There are three general ways of deploying the washboard for use as an instrument. The first, mainly used by American players like Washboard Chaz of the Washboard Chaz Blues Trio and Ralf Reynolds of the Reynolds Brothers Rhythm Rascals, is to drape it vertically down the chest. The second, used by European players like David Langlois of the Blue Vipers of Brooklyn and Stephane Seva of Paris Washboard, is to hold it horizontally across the lap, or, for more complex setups, to mount it horizontally on a purpose-built stand. The third (and least common) method, used byWashboard Sam and Deryck Guyler, is to hold it in a perpendicular orientation between the legs while seated, so that both sides of the board might be played at the same time.
There is a Polish traditional jazz festival and music award named "Złota Tarka" (Golden Washboard). Washboards, called "zatulas", are also occasionally used in Ukrainian folk music.
The washboard as a percussion instrument ultimately derives from the practice of hamboning as practiced in West Africa and brought to the new world by African slaves. This led to the development ofJug bands which used jugs, spoons, and washboards to provide the rhythm. Jug bands became popular in the 1920