Canadian Bass shops
Where are the Canadian bass shops? Am I just completely in the dark?
We don't have a city as big as New York that can support several shops like Kolstein and David Gage and the like. But even in Toronto "the cultural capital of Canada" there are only two "big" violin family shops. One maxes out at half a dozen basses spanning from ply to mid range, and the other might have 10 on a good day spanning from ply to Poellmann. Otherwise, you hunt "through the grapevine" for individual bassists that are looking to sell.
It is generally accepted that if you want to upgrade, you either commission a modern instrument, (we do have a few great bass makers in Canada) make a "pilgrimage" south of the border to a big American shop or plan well in advance and attend the ISB Convention. I really would like to get down to the ISB Convention in 2015 but paying for travel, the convention itself and accommodations with the looming costs of crossing the border, it is unlikely I will be making any big purchases.
While a lot of bassists do find themselves in this situation, it makes for some interesting and/or expensive border crossing. I have heard more than one story of a bass owner/shop driving a bass over the border, stopping at a Tim Horton's and making a cash sale in the parking lot. Do we really have to engage in illegal bass smuggling, or pay insane amounts of duty because we have no other options?
Bows are equally hard to come by, but at least bow makers will generally ship bows to you. If you plan everything well and coordinate a slightly extended trial period from a few, you could find yourself with a side by side comparison of several bow makers. You also have to send everything you didn't buy back. If you insure the package and send it overnight/express (most makers request or demand you do) returning what you didn't buy can significantly eat into your budget.
Surely southern Ontario, should be able to support at least one shop? With over a third of the country's population and all of the orchestras, universities and colleges, live music venues and bassists here? Has someone tried in the past and failed? What's the deal?
Please, someone enlighten me.
First, I'll agree absolutely that we don't have enough string instrument retailers in Toronto.
You left out Long and McQuade, which is really a general instrument supply store. Their downtown Toronto location, however, usually has a few better quality basses (priced accordingly, ie. inexpensively).
Another two retailers in southern Ontario are Riedstra Violins (in Kitchener) and Lemuel Violins (north of London, Ontario). I haven't visited either shop, and don't know their reputations, but their web pages suggest they have some stock.
You cited having to pay large amounts of duty when bringing instruments into Canada. You'll find other posts on this subject: for whatever reasons "instruments played with a bow" are * not subject to any duty * when being brought into Canada. You can find the document that says so by searching the Canada Revenue website.
What we do get charged is sales tax. Wait for it - 13% in Ontario! So a $2,000 bass becomes a $$2260 bass once you cross the border. This might be the reason people meet in parking lots. Here's the scenario:
1) A potential seller brings a bass over the border and tells the customs people "I * might * be selling this bass".
2) The transaction takes place (minus the sales tax).
3) The seller goes home, pockets bulging, and tells the customs agent "I didn't buy anything".
Having described this scenario, I'm not sure I'd want to buy a bass in a parking lot. Unless it was an absolutely amazing deal.
I'm thinking a little more broad spectrum.
I don't know much about borders. Say you were buying an instrument in the range of $30 000, (hardly considered "the best" for professional symphony players, graduate students, or people with cash to burn) as there are significantly more expensive/sought after instruments out there. That instrument now costs 13% ($3 900) more in tax because you're bringing it into Canada? You could have purchased a pretty great bow to go with your bass for that much!
The parking lot sale becomes far more attractive in that price range. Bassists do go down with their current bass, trade it as part of the sale and return with the new bass. They also find a bass in a shop, and the shop owner and buyer head to the nearest border crossing in separate vehicles for a "coffee". You are definitely taking your chances though, as either situation can't be legally described as anything other than smuggling.
I left out Long and McQuade, although I made reference to it in another post recently. I bought the best "student" French bow I've ever played there, and almost bought a bass from them too. I was in high school and took a week to think about it. They sold the bass half an hour after I left the shop. I also haven't been in to Riedstra Violins or Lemuel Violins. Reidstra's does look like it has a variety of instruments from different sources, while Lemuel seem to deal exclusively in Eastman Strings and Christopher basses which I have no experience with.
What seems to be missing are the "big ticket" basses and bows. Again, some shops don't list these on their websites for security reasons etc. but anything north of $10 000 in a bass and handmade (not big shop made like Knoll, Dorfler etc.) in a bow seems to be under represented/just not here. For someone looking to buy an instrument in the ply to $10 000 carved bass market or a bow in the brazilwood - high end factory market, there are a couple of options. Anything beyond that though, and you're out of luck.
I'm wondering why bass specific shops like Upton and Lemur can carry anything from ply-$50 000+ instruments, and David Gage and Kolstein reach the upper stratosphere of the bass market while we can't. Surely these "big ticket" instruments don't fly out the door on a regular basis, but they don't even appear to be in Canadian shops at all.
It would take a significant amount of investment in inventory, recruiting some top notch bass and bow makers, and a repair and sales team that really is worth their salt to get it off the ground. I know that's a high order, but it definitely could and has been done south of the border. Am I wrong to assume that if we had a shop that went from ply-Prescott, that Canadian bassists would give it a chance before heading south?
Ah, what you're describing is many rungs up the ladder in terms of cost. I've mostly bought fixer-uppers, so am looking at a different price point.
In the 30k range, if you're buying in the U.S. from a shop and bringing your purchase north, you'll definitely notice the sales tax!
The Sound Post recently had a Jaeger bass on consignment. You might have seen it. It was nice enough, but probably not in the league you're aiming for.
I'll shoot you a pm momentarily...
What I'm suggesting is a couple rungs up the ladder from where I currently am too. I would love to have a down payment for a house to spend on a bass, but I would also like to own a house at some point. I'm more hypothetically wondering why there aren't any options in Canada.
Every once in a while, a good (read pricey) bass does come up in Toronto. Heinl's had an instrument during my undergrad that Ed Tait suggested I buy. My current instrument isn't the easiest to get to the end of the fingerboard on, (and my arms are a lot shorter than Ed's) but they were asking $60 000 for it. I definitely couldn't afford a bass like that and an education at the same time.
I'm curious why this is the exception to the rule though? There aren't shops that readily have instruments like that available, let alone anything north of $7 000 - 10 000. The last time I casually put some feelers out, the general response was "There are a couple of guy's getting up there... wait a couple of years and there might be some basses on the market" or "go to New York."
Is there just no demand for a bass shop? Are players used to "cross border shopping" or hoping something comes up through the grapevine? I'm not volunteering to open one, just mystified by their complete absence.
On the subject of taxes, private sales don't involve GST+PST. Only businesses can be set up to collect GST/PST for the governments.
There are no duties applied to 'instruments played with a bow' or IIRC on anything made in the USA , made in Canada or made in Mexico.
Stores in the USA charge sales taxes too, just lower percentages. If you buy something as a 'walk-in' in a USA located store, you'll still pay the US sales taxes like every one else down there.
For bass instruments in that price range, networking, private sales, and unadvertised instruments do make a big chunk of the options.
(I also recall that Peter Dawson Violins closed down just this year, in the Ottawa region)
When you think about it... there is some sense... the market for old instruments in that price range is very small. And these old instruments, well they are already owned by someone. So the sales end up being private, or 'on consignment' , but rarely as 'store stock'. Why would a seller sell it to a store at lower than market value to be re-sold at market value? Just sell it directly to the next buyer and pocket the money. It may take a few years to do... but it may be worth the wait. (Though, some sellers may not want to wait or work it for the sell.) Luthiers can purchase beaten up quality old basses at a discount, and then fix them up to resell at a normal price, but how many of these instruments are out there?
Again, I don't really know how taxes work. I understand if you were to walk into an American shop, you would be paying sales tax (although typically lower than the 13% in Ontario) but if you bring that instrument back to Canada, you have to pay the taxes AGAIN here as well? That just sounds rotten.
I guess I'm talking about two slightly different things here as well:
1. There isn't a "bass only" or "very bass friendly" shop in Canada. some of the violin family shops do stock basses up to approximately $10 000. However, there tends to be very little selection in "your price range" depending on what that happens to be. Looking for a ply? "We've got one that just came back from a rental." A hybrid? "We can order you one if you pay a deposit on it." Real wood in the $4 000 - 6 000 range? "We just sold that one" $6 000 - 10 000? "There's this fixer-upper in the back that needs some cracks glued." Anything north of $10 000? "Nope." I am slightly exaggerating.
Bows are much the same. A couple of shops have a selection of beginner/lower end stuff. Other than that, usually there are 1-2 options in whatever your price range is for factory made stuff, up to $1 500 IF you're a French player. German? Don't even bother trying. Handmade? I was in a shop that spent half an hour trying to find the Reid Hudson the computer said they had. It was in the basement, and hadn't seen new hair in 5 years.
These same shops have so much selection for violins and cellos that it's daunting. I purchased a violin from one in high school, and they had 6 instruments in my price range, 10 slightly below what I was looking to spend, and 4 "If you have an extra thousand or two..." I've helped violinists shop for bows and they've been overwhelmed with the amount of choice they have had.
2. Even the "bass friendly" string shops don't have high end basses and bows. I completely understand that sometimes private sales are more beneficial for both the buyer and the seller, but selection is non-existent at that point. If I was going to buy a bass that was a significant step up from what I have now, I would much rather play several instruments (for the sake of argument in the $30 000 range) than the one instrument that might be available for private sale this year. I would want to make an informed decision based on at least a few options, instead of "I've tried 3 basses in the last 3 years, and this one feels better than that one back in 2010." Yes, some of these instruments are consignment instruments, but a lot of them were "projects" that the shops take in in pieces and restore, or buy from auctions and their significantly larger pool of resources than the average buyer. Likewise, you have to go out of your way to find bow makers or private sellers that have a bow in your price range, and often pay to have it/them shipped in one or both directions which can add up fast.
I'm thinking of the bass shops I have heard legends about, but haven't had the pleasure of visiting. Where you can go in and they have a room or two or three of basses. If you're looking for something in _____ price range from ply - Prescott, they have a selection. If you're bow shopping, you have options. If you want to ask questions about different strings or rosins, they actually have answers for you.
Are people just exaggerating how great Upton, Gage, Kolstein, Lemur, et al. are? If not, I'm still wondering: where is ours?
Please tell me you're not trying to sell Ottawa...
The population stats are indisputable. Southern Ontario does have over a third of the nations population, and 8 of the 20 largest cities in the country within relatively close proximity to each other. Sure Calgary has over a million people in it, but the rest of the province is crops and oil.
I agree that Montreal and Vancouver likely put up a good fight for "cultural capital" but I think from a geography point of view, it would make sense for Canada's "Bass Mecca" to be in southern Ontario somewhere. Even if it isn't in Toronto, it would still be able to draw from the surrounding area including Montreal/Quebec. Put it in Edmonton? Not so much.
I love Montreal, and have considered moving there. I know that it is rather diverse and hope it will continue to be, Charter of Quebec Values aside. I guess my Ontario bias is showing, but there's something like 12 million people in all of southern Ontario, and 8 million in New York City. If a shop of the same scale was to exist, it would need to draw from as concentrated of an area as possible, and there isn't anywhere else in the country that has the number of orchestras, universities, colleges, live music venues and "bass opportunities" that southern Ontario does.
Mike, have you thought of getting an instrument commissioned from Troy or Steve at Heinl? They are both fabulous makers. I have played on 6-7 basses that either one of them has made and they are fantastic instruments. I have a few uptons at my place right now if you want to check them out for feel because one is a hybrid brescian. If you enjoy the feel get a bass commissioned by upton. Pm me, I'm located in Pickering about a 15 minute drive from Ed Taits place.
Also with Heinl are you going upstairs to check out the instruments? I've been going there for years and there are usually at least 25-30 basses in stock from $5000 factory basses to $25000 and up claudots, hawkes etc? You need to remember that this is Canada and there is not as big a market as the states who have 10x our population.
Thanks Neil. Like I said, I'm not in the market right now. I really wish I was. I've helped a couple of colleagues find their instruments; it helps scratch the itch.
My bass always goes to Heinl's for work. Thankfully I haven't needed a lot of it, but the guys there have been great. They have always done fantastic work and been great to deal with. I completely forgot about that wonderful room they have upstairs in the back. I have only been in it briefly, as I haven't been able to go in with the intention of a big purchase.
I have played two of Troy's basses, but none of Steve's. If I remember correctly, they were Troy's second and third basses. I had one on loan when my bass was in the shop and it was quite heavy, but they both sounded great and were good representations of Troy's work.
I would love my next bass to be a modern instrument, I am just skeptical of commissioning one. My current instrument was purchased 10 years ago when I was a pretty raw high school student. Although I knew what I was looking for, I KNEW I had found it with this instrument. 10 years later my playing and preferences have changed considerably, and I would make some different decisions.
I am worried about commissioning a bass that might meet every one of my requested specifications and just might not be "the one". I know there's a chance it could be all I ever hoped and dreamed for and then some, but there's a chance that it could not be. When waiting sometimes several years for a handmade bass and spending a considerable amount of money, I'm skeptical about taking an educated and informed risk instead of purchasing a sure thing. Am I just overly paranoid? Considering my next bass will likely be one of the biggest purchases I make short of a house, sight unseen scares me.
That's not where David Grossman bought his Vincenzo Panormo, but you can drop a serious of chunk of change on a bass there.
You have to be realistic about population size and density. Depending on how you're measuring the population of the Toronto area (census metropolitan area or GTA) you're talking 6 million people, max. Well, that's about the size of the Houston metropolitan area. NYC is 19 million. LA is 13 million. Chicago is almost 10 million. America has 5 metro statistical areas that are about the size of The Little Smoke. If Toronto had 19 million people, it would probably have a pretty nice Gage-equivalent too...
The existing stores could also do better jobs of growing their online presence. A place in a small population area can find customers who never walk in the front door, if they have an effective online store. These companies have to excel at buying the right things from wholesalers at low prices, building/fixing instruments+accessories to excellent standards, promoting this all with an effective website, having a way to close the deals with remote customers, and then having excelling shipping deals to deliver the products.
Re your comment about "paying insane amounts of duty" to bring a bass into Canada.
Not true...as others have pointed out. I imported my German Eberle from New York City.
Double basses are instruments that are bowed so you can bring them across the border duty free. You will likely have to pay some provincial or Federal tax though...same as if you bought it in Canada from a retail store.
I had the exporter tape a copy of the regulation to the outside of the box so customs would see it. No problems when I picked it up in Mississauga.
Why not visit Upton, Kolsteins or David Gage.....it's an easy drive.
I think the lack of bass shops like David Gage's means that you will need to allow yourself lots of time to check out everything in the GTA or southern/Eastern Ontario. There always seem to be something if you do a lot of homework and let the music shops know you are looking.
I agree that population is an issue. I know that we aren't New York City, where Gage, Kolstein, and presumably a couple of other shops on a closer scale to what we are familiar with here operate within the same city limits. I'm wondering why we don't have one in a central location. It might not be ideal if you want to go get some rosin, but London, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Mississauga, Barrie, Hamilton, etc. are all within a 2 hour drive of Toronto, and significantly bumps up that number. New York State has a population of approximately 19 million, but the city itself is far less than half of that.
I also think that web presence is a big issue in this business. Their "Online store" on their website definitely offers no indication that they have anything beyond a $3 800 Czech instrument. If you are new to Ontario or don't have a lot of contact with other bassists, you might never find out about them. They also keep a pretty low profile store front as well, (they aren't in the absolute best part of Toronto) but compare that to the Upton site as an example? Again, there are FAR worse websites from other shops and from makers. Some haven't been updated in years etc. but I'm assuming that most of those shops/makers are doing just fine if they don't feel the need to change it.
I am aware that my fear of duty was unfounded. Sales tax still can really get you on instruments with bigger price tags, but that's one way we as bassists get caught in the middle of international trade decisions.
When I start looking, I will definitely be shouting from the roof tops that I am in the market. I am fortunate enough to know some prominent Canadian bassists quite well, and several more in passing that I have a pretty big "grape vine" to draw from. I guess I'm just jealous that they have something south of the border bigger and better than we do up here.
Mike also tell Andreas to keep an eye out for you in a price range and style. I have found three basses that way. A lot of people that go into Heinl talk about the possibility of parting with an instrument and Heinl is always looking for a way to mediate a deal.
Not to mention all the other MSAs that are in near proximity to NYC.
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