The risk of buying a cracked bass
I've recently moved from southern Ontario to Victoria, BC, and am looking to buy a new instrument. I found a used one that I enjoy playing, sounds the nicest of the instruments I've been able to try (admittedly mostly plywood Shens and only one other hardwood German bass), and has a C extension, which is a bonus and a new thing to learn.
The bass is an older (ca. 1900) German hardwood bass. It lived in the prairies and was played regularly for some orchestras before moving to Victoria, where it went out of use for some time (about five years). The top, however, is pretty riddled with cracks. A quick review of the classifieds posting images shows some 4 six-inch cracks on the front and more and longer cracks on the back. The owner says they've been repaired well though, and I'm inclined to trust her.
My worry is less that the repairs won't hold and more that, if I decide to move another dramatic distance in a few years (after my grad program is finished), I won't be able to get nearly as much for the bass as I paid for it, or worse, that I won't be able to sell it at all. Shipping my Ontario bass out was not worth it, and I imagine the same will apply in a few years.
Would I be taking a huge risk in buying such an instrument? Are other buyers as reluctant as I am in considering instruments with such substantial repairs? Is it likely to be a dead end/money pit?
Almost all basses fall into two categories:
1) basses that have cacks
2) basses that are going to have cracks.
If you like the bass and the price is reasonable, don't let it scare you away. There are a LOT of nice old basses for sale these days, so test drive a lot of them and you'll eventually find the right one for you; patience always wins.
Yuppers. Carved basses crack, that's what they do. Quoth David Byrne, "Things fall apart, it's scientific."
Cracks adjacent to the bass bar or over the soundpost can be problematic if not properly repaired. Is the bass a flatback? Those always have structural problems. Living in a temperate area should help, but be careful, insure and be prepared for the inevitable.
I own three German carved basses of similar age. All three have cracked and one came to me with the top in three pieces and the ribs imploded down by the bottom block. I repaired it and it's a great bass I doubt I'd trade for anything. The others are also nice functional basses.
TB member Jake DeVilliers is a fine luthier, a great guy and not too far away in Vancouver. I'd suggest you bring the bass to him for an assessment before finalizing the sale should you choose to pursue the bass. How much is the owner asking? Is there a label?
You need to get the instrument thoroughly checked out by a bass luthier to find out it's present condition, the quality of past repairs, and what it needs to bring it up to current standards. It could be a money pit, or might be a great buy even if it needs some work.
Basses for sale in the Victoria area
You have a PM
Thanks for the responses, everyone!
The owner doesn't remember/know the name of the luthier, and I (foolishly) forgot to check for a label. She's asking $6500 and including a Moordian gig bag. Unfortunately this is near the upper end of my price bracket, being a student and all.
Funny you should mention Jake de Villiers, I've been emailing him a little for advice on buying an instrument.
Now that you mention getting it evaluated, the owner gave me the contact of the luthier who's worked on the bass (if I remember correctly), one James Ham. I'll call him up tomorrow and see what his opinion is of the instrument. (Obviously I can't expect him to say his own work is shoddy, but I can hopefully get some more information about the instrument.)
James Ham is Gary Karr's luthier. Shoddy work shouldn't be a concern. Please tell us what he says.
Well, I called up James Ham and he wasn't the one to have done the work on the bass. I'm going to set up that meeting with him and the instrument.
I managed to try the instrument again today. Turns out it is a flat back, there are no cracks under the sound post (just everywhere else), and no label inside the instrument.
I'll report back after the meeting.
No cracks under the soundpost isn't the question. The bottom of the soundpost sits on a brace, which if it's intact should provide more more than sufficient reinforcement. The question is, has the top cracked near the top of the soundpost.
Did you snap any pictures during either visit to the bass? I would have, just to stare at and see what I was buying. Sharing photos on the forum can only help.
No label isn't necessarily a problem. Tons of factory basses were made in Germany and imported to North America during that time. Some of them, including one of mine, were well made out of nice expensive wood. The quality of the build and the quality of maintenance are what you are paying a professional to assess.
Mr. Ham has some really cool ideas about bass repair. Somebody on this forum called him for advice on what to do with a flatback bass whose back had warped horribly. The suggestion was to remove the back, shave out the braces, and lay the back face-down on the grass during a sunny day and let the heat of the sun and the moisture of the dew handle the problem. It worked. Very intelligent and insightful solution. You're in good hands.
I guess I meant to say that there were no cracks on either the top or the bottom near the sound post. I didn't inspect the soundpost's brace, but I didn't notice anything extremely wrong with it when I was looking inside for the label.
there are some pictures with the original classified at http://www.usedvictoria.com/classifi...-bass_19064168 though much of the cracks aren't visible from those images. the dark line on the top under the quiver in the second-last image is a slight depression.
what an interesting solution! Ham sounds like a genius at his craft, I'm excited to meet him.
Hey Dave, Jim's a very cool cat and good with basses.
That's a very experienced looking bass. If it sounds as good as it looks, its a pretty good deal.
Very cool looking bass Dave! Good luck!
Wow. Her photos show almost nothing of what I'd want to see, so please take this with a grain of salt.
The first photo looks like the bass is a "blockless wonder" which would be an expensive can of worms in and of itself, unless someone has already added a block. It's hard to tell either way, because the photo is so distorted and dark, and none of the other photos show the neck heel/button area with any clarity.
That extension looks homemade, and the screw through the fingerboard into the scroll as shown in the sixth photo looks pretty brutal.
The bridge is jacked up about as high as it can go, and the strings look like they're almost laying on the board. Was the top sinking, or do you think that somebody just made a mess of the bridge at some point?
But the really scary thing is that monster patch in the top down by the bottom block, with cracks on both sides of the bass bar directly above it. That's a high stress area if the top is intact...having it cut and patched and major cracks repaired that crudely...oh boy. And if I do see nails in the back along the lower bout, and the same person that did that was the person who cut the top, that's not good.
Having an experienced bass, as Jake so diplomatically put it, is not necessarily a bad thing. What you want is a bass that somebody loved enough to have spent money on being sure it was repaired well, not slapped back together by Bubba while he polished off his third breakfast beer.
It also appears to have been refinished. See how the varnish on the scroll doesn't match the varnish on the corpus?
I am not a luthier, but I've been inside of and saved a few basses, including the old guy I mentioned above which was in arguably worse shape than the one you found. Just trying to give you some points to raise with the esteemed Mr. Ham.
Hey folks, I forgot to say thanks for the advice. So: thanks for all the advice!
Mr. Ham was not super impressed with the bass. He pointed out a number of things wrong with it, and suggested that if any one of them needed repair, the whole job would be about the same as what I'd have paid for the instrument in the first place. Apparently some of the existing repairs are less than great and the curve in the bass bar was greater than that of the top so it was pulling the instrument apart.
Anyway. Looks like I'm resigned to renting until I can find an instrument I like that's also in my price bracket. Again, thanks for the help!
Keep an eye on the TB classifieds too.
Dave, check in with Gerard in Vancouver too
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