The fotdella was an instrument invented and constructed by Jesse "The Lone Cat" Fuller, an American one-man band musician, who needed an accompaniment instrument beyond the usual high-hat (foot-operated cymbal) or bass drum favored by street musicians. Dreaming it up in the early 1950s, while lying in bed, he set about constructing a foot-operated bass instrument. It ended up as a large upright box with a rounded top, vaguely shaped like the top of a double bass, with a short neck on top. Six bass strings were attached to the neck and stretched over the body.
To play the instrument, there was a homemade set of foot pedals, each one bringing a padded hammer to strike a string when depressed, like the action of a piano. With these six bass notes, Fuller could accompany himself on the 12-string guitar in several keys.
The name "fotdella" was given to the instrument by Fuller's wife, who took to calling it a "foot-diller" (as in the then-current expression, "killer-diller", meaning exceedingly good); later, it became shortened to just fotdella.
Fotdella has become a general term for foot operated instrument playing systems, not always string basses. For example, the "Tuba Machine" used by the New Orleans band Frog & Henry is a kind of fotdella. It uses a pedal to operate the first valve of a tuba held in a complex of stands. The details are in a link below.
- Jesse Fuller playing 'San Francisco Bay Blues'
- Photo of Fuller playing his fotdella
- Video of a busker playing a fotdella on the streets of New Orleans
- Details of the "Tuba Machine" fotdella, and a video of it in operation.