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Double Bass question

Discussion in 'off topic' started by cutting42, Jun 10, 2019.

  1. cutting42

    cutting42 Heading to Fish Hacker Erg \o/

    Are there any Double Bass players on here. My son is playing in an orchestra that has its own DB but when he moves to Uni he wants to play there but does not have his own currently. I kind of want an electric DB for my own interests and playing but he needs something more suited to practice for real playing. Any recommendations on semi acoustic DB or something a little smaller than the full size monsters.
  2. Arkless Electronics

    Arkless Electronics Trade: Amp design and repairs.

  3. George J

    George J Herefordshire member

    Just seen this.

    In have been away and must go out now for a while, but I'll post some advice that may help later on. I bought my first double bass - a student model - way back in 1986 for the amazing sum of £675, and sorry to say that there has been quite a lot of inflation since.

    Best wishes from George

    PS: It would help if I knew how long your son has been playing [how good he is], how tall he is, and a rough budget. Has he got a decent bow? How serious is he [aiming for pro work or to remain amateur and playing for the pure fun of it]? A few things like that would make for more focussed advice on what to get and how much to pay.
  4. cutting42

    cutting42 Heading to Fish Hacker Erg \o/

    Thanks in advance for the assistance.

    He has not been playing DB that long but has been a formally trained on piano and classical guitar since age of 6 (now just under 18) up to grades 7 and 6. He plays in an orchestra with an entry level of grade 7 and above and has been with them around a year. He will be a purely amateur player and mix his DB playing with electric bass as well. He is 5' 10" ish and he has a reasonable (German) bow, nothing special was around £100, we have Thwaites very close to use and they recommended it.
  5. George J

    George J Herefordshire member


    At five-ten the boy will easily cope with a full sized [4/4 as it often called] bass. I am only five-six, and people doubted I'd cope with a 4/4 at the start, so I bought a 3/4 [three quarter sized] first bass, but soon graduated to my teachers 5/4 [over-sized] pair of baroque English basses.

    If your son does not aim for pro playing that simplifies the issue. No reason to spend the necessary £ten K in time. So a student bass will suffice, but it must be made of tone-wood not plywood [which is called laminated to make it sound less naff]. Also it must be adequately set-up for bridge height [so distance of the strings from the finger-board] so that it is playable and a pleasure to play. As made, most factory basses are in fact horrible to play for not being set-up [the top cut off the bridge to get the correct height of strings, and the top nut profiled for ease at the bass end of the strings].

    That is why - if buying a new instrument - be it a student bass or a professional grade instrument, you need it set up by a professional Luther. I have set my own up under guidance, but it not for the faint hearted.

    I am not going to try and recommend individual second hand instruments, but if you find one, I would be happy to look it over for you.

    I assume that your German style bow is acceptably good. Pernambuco wood for the stick is more or less essential for a decent bow. Other woods do not have the resilience and relative lightness needed for a good tone to be transmitted from the bowing arm to the strings, and get a good attack, AND sustain.

    If you know Thwaites, then do not hesitate to take their advice. They may source you a nice second-hand instrument for a good price. Also consider Turners of Nottingham, but that probably is not a way of buying economically.

    I'll post a link to something I would recommend. Tone-wood, and would become a nice instrument after a year or two of playing in.


    No doubt that you could buy without the bow that comes with it for a better price. Please don't buy a plywood bass. They never run-in, and almost never have any guts or projection. I used to know Hamilton Caswell, and he sold me a very nice French style bow, which I only sold in the last twelve months. Of course he has now retired, but no doubt their comment about fitting out and set-up will allow any instrument bought from them to be a pleasure to use and play rather than a struggle and bugbear with a randomly set-up instrument bought off the internet.

    May I offer one additional piece of advice. Clearly your son has the music taped with his previous experience, which is a huge advantage, but please [and I mean please] do get him a few lessons on bow grip, left hand technique and posture, or else he will do what comes easily [naturally you might say] and thus will have real problems with injuries from poor posture and collapsed left hand. This is utterly crucial, if he intends to play in the longer term. Once the correct posture and left hand technique is grasped, no doubt he will over-come the technical issues he needs to to play well if he has a good ear for pitch and is prepared to practice bowing and left hand technique.

    If you have any further questions, please post them here, or send me a PM.

    Best wishes from George
    narabdela likes this.
  6. cutting42

    cutting42 Heading to Fish Hacker Erg \o/

    Thank you so much for the detailed post which I will digest at leisure. I forgot to say he is getting formal DB lessons as well from a lovely guy at the Watford school of music with posture and grip being a big part of the early lessons!
  7. George J

    George J Herefordshire member

    Lesson sorted then. All will be good. You would be well picking the brains of yous son's teacher about buying an instrument.

    I was so lucky with three teachers. Never stopped taking lessons even till the day my left hand gave way.

    The last lesson I had was a fortnight before my vast concert.

    As we are now passed worry about technicality, I say my three basses - being a 1986 Meinel [East German tone-wood 3/4], followed by a circa 1770-80 London Bass [5/4]. This had an interesting provenance. It was bought by Gustav Holst as a teaching aid at Saint Pauls, and when Holst returned [near the end of his life in 1934] to Cheltenham he brought the bass with him, where he taught music at Pates Grammar School. When he died the bass remained in the Pates music department, and was sold to my second teacher in 1992, and then sold to me on condition that I had it [derelict and ruined as it were] properly rebuilt by a great Luthier. The parting with that instrument still pains me today, but it left me enough to the start the commission of a new instrument that was in every respect as fine, and in one respect even finer. It was a five stringer. Strung with gut by design!!!!

    That new instrument was made in 1995/6, and I played it for another six years before carpel tunnel set in on my left hand [even with good technique].

    One day I'll post pictures off the new bass [designed from a 1666 Maggini original] and the Holst bass.

    Without the Holst bass, I would never have discovered I could play professionally and be asked back!

    Good bass days and best wishes to you and your son! George
    twotone, lordsummit and cutting42 like this.
  8. Tim Jones

    Tim Jones pfm Member

    The problem with uprights, IME, is (1) the way that the viciously high action will make anyone's fingers bleed and (2)...just don't leave it next to a radiator overnight in a damp student room.

    There are lots of electric "upright" variants that are a much better bet. Or you could just buy a half-decent fretless electric.
  9. George J

    George J Herefordshire member

    BUT that does not work in an orchestra of real acoustic [un-amplified] instruments.

    A real acoustic classical bass will project through any amount of electronic instruments. With one normal bass I was projecting better than than an electric bass with four twelve inch drivers. It is less about volume than focus on the pitch and timbre.

    ATB from George
    MikeMA and narabdela like this.
  10. Tim Jones

    Tim Jones pfm Member

    Sorry, but that's utter nonsense. I don't really want to suggest a practical demonstration, but... As an instrument, it was doomed the moment Leo created the Precision.

    It's main value now is (understandably) the timbre, but as a practical proposition for reproducing low frequencies, it's doomed.
  11. martin clark

    martin clark pinko bodger

    I can't agree with that at all Tim - the Double bass is a tool in the toolbox of expression, and a very lovely thing for very many purposes yet.

    I've had bass guitars and, yeah, so you an go ~thonk~ an a low-B out of a backpack: but they can be curiously-leaden things to play.
  12. Tim Jones

    Tim Jones pfm Member

    I take your point. But the idea that an upright will, somehow, mythically, out-project an amplified electric (especially a five-string) through a 4x12 with 500w behind it on stage is ridiculous. Anyone who disagrees is welcome to pop round to mine with their £10k instrument and put it up against my battered TRB5 or my less battered ACG fretless.
  13. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    I love the idea of a double bass. I very briefly snuck a go on one back in the ‘80s and could barely get a tune out of it as it felt so ‘odd’, but they are beautiful instruments and an entirely different thing to an electric bass. The electric stand-up stuff just doesn’t sound right to my ears, neither one thing nor the other. If you want to sound like Mingus or any great jazz bassist you need a full sized double bass, there is simply no alternative. Obviously classical music demands the instrument along with amazing skill and knowledge. I’ve found George’s posts fascinating and I’d love to see pictures of the wonderful basses he has owned. I have to admit I had no idea five strings was even a thing in classical double basses!
    narabdela likes this.
  14. martin clark

    martin clark pinko bodger

    @George J -This!
  15. DGP

    DGP pfm Member

    I wish you had attended the François Rabbath concert at the Wigmore Hall where I learned how powerful an acoustic bass can be. Rabbath was applauded as he entered and introduced himself and his instrument and asked the audience to indulge him and he would demonstrate the power of his bass. He clearly had tried this in the Wigmore acoustic but he had managed to find a node of the hall's standing wave and bowed a single note that excited this eigentone. Without much effort he fed this standing wave until the room and audience were shaken (in more ways than one). A neat trick but a spectacular demonstration.
    narabdela likes this.
  16. Tim Jones

    Tim Jones pfm Member

    None of this sentimentalism makes a blind bit of difference to my point that an upright is no match for an amplified electric bass, whatever the standing wave of the room might be.

    If you don't understand that I'm afraid you don't understand how sound works.
  17. lordsummit

    lordsummit Moderator

    And if you don’t understand why an electric bass isn’t suitable for an orchestral musician, then you don’t understand how music works.
    MikeMA likes this.
  18. lordsummit

    lordsummit Moderator

    And thanks to George, he’s given excellent advice. My big frustration as a violin teacher is when kids turn up with inappropriate instruments bough as presents. I hope you find what you need Gareth.
  19. MikeMA

    MikeMA pfm Member

    Understanding how sound works has nothing to do with it. The electric bass (in its many forms) and traditional double bass are two quite different things. Ok, in some musical genres they can be, and sometimes are, swapped about, but they sound quite different. They are as different as a pipe organ and an electric organ. An electric bass would look and sound daft in a classical orchestral line up.
  20. cutting42

    cutting42 Heading to Fish Hacker Erg \o/

    I was a violinist many years ago. Long since moved to the electric bass but still love the old fiddle.

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