Engelhardt basses and flat fingerboards
I'm a recent convert over to the dark side of double bass, but I've been loving every minute of it. I've barely touched my bass guitar in the time I've had my double bass, and I'm even trying to push my usual (electric) group to play an acoustic song or two so I can work the DB into our shows.
I recently found a great deal on a Christopher 7/8 plywood bass, which I've been having a blast with. But now that I'm getting more into it and am learning more about double basses, I'm wondering if it's the right bass for me. If nothing else, I'd love to be able to go down to a 3/4 scale (if, for nothing else, ease of transport).
I'm mainly into folk/bluegrass, so the first thing to come to mind is a Kay bass. Unfortunately, they seem a bit out of my price range (though potentially something I could save up for). The next place I started looking, however, was at Engelhardt basses (particularly the ES9 Swingmaster), and I'm wondering if that's what I'm looking for. I've heard somewhat mixed reviews on the Engelhardts (mainly that they need a decent amount of work/upgrades from the factory, and that you can get a better bass (Shen?) for what an Engelhardt will cost). That said, with the Kay history, and the fact that Engelhardts are made around the corner from where I grew up, part of me just wants to go down that path.
I do have two concerns specific to the construction of the Engelhardt ES9, though:
1) I've read a lot about how the Engelhardts have a very narrow neck. Not that this is a structural problem, but that they can be hard to play. I'm a big guy with big hands, and so I wonder if this might be a dealbreaker for me. I know I found a 5-string bass guitar easier to play (just seemed to fit my hand better) than a 4-string.
2) On my Christopher bass, the fingerboard beneath the E string does not follow the same curvature as the rest of the fingerboard, and is planed flat at a bit of an angle. I understand this is to allow for a bit more robust attack on the E-string, which, considering I'm mainly playing pizzicato for folk/bluegrass, is a somewhat nice feature. I read here that one of the changes Englehardt made on the Kay bass is that "because of customer demand the flat was removed from the fingerboard, giving the fingerboard a rounded appearance." Is this talking about the same thing I am above? If so, does the ES9 have the flat fingerboard under the E-string? The pictures I've seen make it look like the ES9 does have the flat, but the pictures aren't close-up enough to make a definitive statement.
Anyway, looking for some feedback on what might be the right bass for me. Maybe I should just save up for the Kay?
The Kay/Engelhardt neck isn't too narrow side to side, its too shallow front to back. This makes you use your finger muscles to stop the notes, instead of arm weight, which can lead to RSI problems.
The modern Engelhardt board doesn't have the Romberg bevel but the bevel shouldn't be a deal breaker for you. Rather, go and play some basses and buy the one that feels/sounds/plays best for you.
Thanks for the feedback, Jake. Also, good to know what that bevel is called.
My fingerboard has a "flat spot" under the E string. What gives? You may have seen some bass fingerboards with a sharp rise or beveled edge that runs the entire length of the board, between the A and E string on some basses. It is called the "Romberg Bevel." That shape is a throwback from when big fat E strings crawled the earth -- the bevel gives more clearance for that string to vibrate. With newer string technology, it's no longer a necessity and many luthiers and builders have phased it out. Some folks prefer it, some don't; it's probably just a matter of what you're used to, but no biggie IMHO.
Also, since it was the pictures on your site I was referring to, can you confirm that the Swingmaster doesn't have the bevel?
I currently have three American plywood basses in my possession (it's an addiction), a '34 (or '35) King Mortone, a '49 Kay M1 and an '07 Engelhardt EG9 (like the ES9, only with a gamba body). I just checked the thickness (front to back) of all of them and the Engelhardt has the thickest neck of the three.
Kay M1 1.34" (34mm)
King Mortone 1.37" (35mm)
Engelhardt EG9 1.45" (37mm)
I measured them all at the same place on the neck, just below where the neck flares back to meet the scroll. The two older basses still have their original fingerboards. The board on the King has been planed a few times in its lifetime and has very little material left. The board on the Kay is thicker overall so it probably hasn't been planed but once or twice. The ebony board on the Engelhardt is quite thick and hasn't been touched since it left the factory. The only one with a Romberg bevel is the Kay.
The Engelhardt neck IS the narrowest, side-to-side, of the three, with the Kay just slightly wider and the King noticeably wider.
If you find an older one with a bevel, it's probably had its fingerboard replaced somewhere along its lifetime.
For many (most, I think) players, the thin neck profile leads to left-hand fatigue. For those players, it's easier to maintain the left-hand claw on a thicker neck. It's also easier to maintain proper finger spacing. Try this. Fold your hand half-way down and stretch your fingers apart. Now, try to maintain that finger separation as you close your hand down further. Of course, it can't be done.
Many who play on thinner necks end up reverting to the "baseball-bat hold" where the left hand is collapsed around the neck.
The bottom line is that trying to maintain the necessary finger spacing in the lower positions on a skinny neck can be a killer.
If you are from the Chicago land area you can get an englehardt much cheaper if you go to the factory directly. Just picked one up last month.
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