Advantages of three string bass?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by timshacklock, Oct 28, 2012.


  1. timshacklock

    timshacklock

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    Aug 27, 2012
    Hi everyone,

    I have no idea about the feasibility of acquiring a three stringed bass but I was just wondering about any advantages a three stringed bass might have over a 4, particularly if tuned in fifths (GDA) with an extension to a low Eb on the G.

    The main advantage I had in mind was that you could put more tension on the strings and/or have a lighter top (I understand this gives it a louder sound but I might be misinformed) while still maintaining acceptable range with the high A being a tone above the highest orchestral standard and still being able to get down to the low notes.

    I'd like to hear your guys thoughts about how practical this would be, especially about playing in the low register with the extension (I have no idea what playing on an extension feels like).

    I thought this might be a great way to get the advantages of fifths tuning without sacrificing tone on the low C (it being shorter for its pitch) or having to play a larger string length for the low C. Obviously one couldn't get down to the LOW low notes that extensions or extra string usually give. Just food for thought.

    Also I play a bit of jazz and it seems to me that this would be great for jazz. I rarely ever walk down in the lower part of the E string because I don't feel it cuts through very well. I play cello so 5ths wouldn't be foreign to me.

    Cheers guys :)
     
  2. MostroDB

    MostroDB Guest

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    Apr 18, 2012
    You have probably hit the nail on the head with the main advantage you mentioned. A 3-stringer may also be lighter, in total weight, and may provide more clearance for the bow (if you would need that).

    As for 5ths tuning: that will compensate for the reduced range you would normally have with a 3-stringer in 4ths, but you'll be moving position with your hand constantly. Consequently intonation becomes more difficult & suffers, at least for me (and I'm ex cello too). I gave it a try, and I have concluded it is not for me. But there are several better musicians than me, who achieve greatness with 5ths.

    No experience w/ extensions.

    3-stringers have gone out of fashion, say, 150 years ago, and probably for a reason. However, the new technology that has come since then, in the form of better strings (if you view spiro's that way) may warrant a new look.
     
  3. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC Supporting Member

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    Make sure you convert your home to dial phones as well and only travel on prop planes. :D Seriously, I can't see any practical advantages but I can see plenty of disadvantages in this (mostly) four-string double bass world.
     
  4. iiipopes

    iiipopes Supporting Member

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    May 4, 2009
    Lighter? Let's see: a few ounces for one less tuner, and a few tenths of an ounce for one less string.

    Advantages: none.
     
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  6. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

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    As I understand it (and I make no guarantees about this), mid 19th century, the Italians and French were playing three stringers tuned in 4ths and 5ths. It was the Germans and Austrians, responding to writing of Beethoven etc that went to the four string bass. The advantage being a wider range, but, according to some, a loss of tonal quality.

    Edicson Ruiz and others sometimes turn their basses into a three stringer for Bottessini.



    Louis
     
  7. MostroDB

    MostroDB Guest

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    iiipopes: Yeah well, I bothered to think about it & come up with any advantage I can possibly find... Shoot at it if it's the best you can. Main weight advantage would come from lighter construction & narrower fb, but admittedly it'll be a pound or so.

    Here"s another 'advantage': you'll be unique. Or at least special.
     
  8. Hector Wolff

    Hector Wolff

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    My understanding was that there were four stringers before the period of the three stringers, and that when the some disgruntled players removed their unsatisfactory E strings, they discovered that the basses tone became more open.

    The popularity of the three stringer was based on an improvement in tone quality and projection, probably due to the decreased pressure on the top.
     
  9. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

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    http://doublebassguide.com/?page_id=3


    On 3, 4 and 5 strings
    (from http://www.vsl.co.at/en/70/3189/3193/5653.vsl)

    In the mid 18th century most double-basses were made with three strings, a practice that continued until shortly before the end of the 19th century. The three-stringed double-bass had a more powerful sound, a clearer, harder and more assertive timbre; on the other hand its range in the lower register was smaller. Its tuning was A1, D2, G2 or G1, D2, A2. Composers from the period of Viennese Classicism all had three-stringed double-basses with which to perform their orchestral works.

    From the 1830s onward four-stringed double-basses were reintroduced; until the end of the century both types existed side by side, the four-stringed model eventually replacing the three-stringed as standard.

    The four-stringed bass had a more mellow, smoother and weaker sound than the three-stringed version, but its range in the lower register was larger (to E1). To compensate for its weaker sound the number of instruments in the orchestra was increased. In addition, new low-pitched wind instruments such as the bass clarinet and the contrabassoon began to support it.

    For the performance of 20th century works five-stringed double-basses have become necessary. The five-stringed instrument has the advantage of a range that goes down as far as B0, a note which has now become indispensable. The disadvantage: it is harder to play because of the wider fingerboard.

    Since the beginning of the 20th century the double-bass’s range of tasks and playing techniques has increased enormously, inspired by entirely new tonal concepts.
     
  10. timshacklock

    timshacklock

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    Aug 27, 2012
    Just clearing something up for those who have misinterpreted, when I said "lighter top" I didn't mean lighter for carrying it around, I meant it would have a lighter top (sound board) or at least a theoretical bass could have a lighter top and less tension on the board giving it comparatively less of that "closed in" and weak sound that other orchestral musicians associate with the double bass.

    To everyone else, thanks a lot! It's good to get opinions. I must say if I ever get my hands on a 3 stringer (.........perhaps.........) I'll definitely give 5ths a go.

    I don't use simandl strictly, lately I've been trying out pivoting and stretching much like cello technique and I really like it. Think this would make a marked difference to the shifting brought on by 5ths? I play 5ths tuning on my electric for jazz and I love it.
     
  11. Badener

    Badener

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    Sep 10, 2012
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    Hi!

    Just remove Your E-string, wait two or three days and listen if the sound improves.
    Until ca. 1800 the Violons were very common in orchestras and they were 5- or 6-stringers! The modern 5-String bass was "invented" by Mr. Otho in 1881. At the same time, Mr. Glaesel invented the C-extension.

    Thomas
     
  12. Jason Sypher

    Jason Sypher

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    I have heard that the bass sounds better with three strings. If you were attempting to play in a very particular style, say Hungarian folk music for instance, where the feel and sound really depended on using three strings in a certain set up I'd say go for it. But to do it just out of curiosity or bordom I would say don't bother. It's amazing how much time people can waste with all these little particulars which actually could be put towards becoming better players. Experimentation is good but distraction can take it's toll. It's interesting to consider other eras but we must always live in our own time in order to be truly relevant.
     
  13. MostroDB

    MostroDB Guest

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    Maybe it helps to share the way I understand this.

    Think of a double bass (lying on its back, if you like in the operating room) with the strings on, but without tension in the strings. Then you start to tension the strings gradually, and each time they get more tension, the bridge (and the blocks) loads the top a bit more. The top (and in fact, the entire construction including the back) responds to this increased load by deforming a little bit, until it has built up enough stress, so that its counter-force equals the load of the strings. At first, with low loads, the regions that deform most easily will do so, but soon those will reach the end of their travel and will become 'harder'. Consequently, the entire system will become 'harder', meaning less additional deformation (strain) resulting from a same additional difference in load (stress). It's a bit like in the attached graph, which is actually for a deformable medium. (edit/add: Note that this graph does not necessarily depict subsidence of the top under tensioning up; depending on the shape of the top, the bridge may actually move upwards due to increased stress on the neck/end blocks. Nevertheless, it remains an analogy for the overall system.)

    But once you have tuned the instrument up, and you play a string, you do actually the same thing. The vibrations in the string are variations in the load at a point somewhere up in the stress-strain curve. With a curve this shape, you can see that a variation in stress around a low stress point causes far more strain (movement in the construction) than the same variation higher-up in the curve. So at low stress, the system becomes far more responsive. Of course each instrument will have its own stress-strain curve, but I believe that the basic shape will be similar to the attached, particularly stiffening-up. A lighter built base will be less stiff, so will have more strain at a given stress - a softer spring, while stronger built bass will be stiffer.

    Now this is a view on the static situation, which may, at best, be extrapolated to low frequencies. In the higher frequency range (as determined by the wavelength and the size of the instrument, say above a couple of hundred Hz for a DB) this view does not apply at all. But it matches what I've seen when loading lightly built basses.

    Jason, that last line of yours has a high quotability and a lot of truth in it. And good music comes primarily from the player, not the equipment. But each must decide for himself where to focus.

    Thomas, excellent suggestion for a test. For a test the suboptimal location of the notches is less important, and can be done later if you like it. You can also experiment with lighter strings (and here I really mean weight, hence tension), but then the test is also influenced by the different character of the strings.

    Anyway, I think 3-stringers may be worth another look.
     

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  14. Badener

    Badener

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  15. iiipopes

    iiipopes Supporting Member

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    And the English, usually G-D-G.

     
  16. robobass

    robobass

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    Perhaps there's too much emphasis on playing as low as possible, and not enough concern given to the sacrifices made to do it. a quote from This article (paragraph 5) is from around 1920 and trashes the five string bass. I bet there were similar articles written fifty years earlier trashing four-stringers.

    I once broke my Eudoxa E just before a concert, and had to play only with A-D-G. I was amazed at how much more lively the bass was, and since it was a Haydn choral work, it turned out there were very few notes below A anyway. If I were a young aspiring soloist I would seriously consider losing the E.

    On the other hand, I love having the low notes, and think they really contribute to an ensemble's sound. When I play a fiver in orchestra I sometimes tune down to Bb or even A for certain works.
     
  17. robobass

    robobass

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    I partially agree, but I don't think that time spent experimenting with three strings is necessarily wasted. Discovering how changes in setup affect response help you to know the instrument better, and can be of benefit even when you go back to status quo. As a student I discovered that getting a chance to practice for a few hours on my teacher's Gagliano gave me something which I could bring back to my German shop bass. Playing for awhile with only three strings on you bass could do something similar. Also, the bass is an evolving instrument, and experimentation is not only good but absolutely necessary to keep it moving forward. I bet that Joel Quarrington was ridiculed when he first started messing around with fifths tuning:hyper:
     
  18. Jason Sypher

    Jason Sypher

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    I agree. Any experimentation can be useful, as long as you don't go down a rabbit hole where only you live.
     
  19. cnltb

    cnltb

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    May 28, 2005
    cheaper string sets may also be an advantage.:)
     
  20. robobass

    robobass

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    Ha! Not to mention saving 25% on your tuners:hyper:
     
  21. cnltb

    cnltb

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    May 28, 2005
    adding to that , one might mention the reduced amount of material required and work hours for cutting the nut!
    Smaller bridge too and less time needed for set up
    Less material= lighter bass, easier to carry = less fatiguing and ultimately leading to an increased life expectancy of the player.

    All that in mind I wonder why people are still using 4 strings at all! :D
     

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