Is a carved top bass necessary?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Sgroh87, Mar 25, 2014.


  1. Sgroh87

    Sgroh87

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    Dec 4, 2012
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    DFW, Texas
    I've been looking at getting into upright playing recently and thinking about getting a bass (though I'm going to try renting for a month or two first). I'm mostly interested in jazz and folk, although I want to get my feet wet in the classical world as well. That means that outside of practice, I plan to play pizz about 3/4 of the time, and arco the rest.

    I have got a great deal on some Eastman basses, where I can get the carved top ply sides and back for just $500 more than the fully laminate. That's a good deal, but I wonder if it's worth it. I like all the things I've heard about the durability of the ply top basses, and I'm not sure I'd like to be making regular trips to the luthier to be sealing up seams if I don't have to. I know that the carved top will provide a much better sound, but I'd rather save the $500 and put it towards lessons and a nicer bow/strings if I can.

    I've posted about these basses in a couple places and the general consensus seems to be that the ply bass would be a waste of money and that I needed to spend the extra money to get the hybrid. What do you guys think?
  2. drurb

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

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    First, if you haven't read this carefully, you'd be wise to do so.

    Now, to answer your question. Is a carved top bass necessary? "Necessary" is a rather high bar. For high-level orchestra work, a fully-carved instrument is necessary. Otherwise, it's not.

    I don't think that's very informative, though. What you're really after is the extent to which a carved top is beneficial and desirable. IMO, it almost always is except when there are substantial concerns about durability given how the bass will be treated and/or when the sound of a ply bass is actually preferred because of the specific genre for which it'll be used.

    I'll repeat what I've posted before:
    As I've posted before:

    Do not, however, be fooled. There are entry level carved basses that, from many standpoints, are far less desirable than a quality ply! Think of ply, hybrid, and carved as three overlapping distributions (bell-curves, if you will), with the mean value of "quality" being lowest for the plys, intermediate for the hybrids, and highest for the carved ones.

    Now, that being said, the tails of the ply distribution are finite. When you have a high-quality carved-bass and that's the sound you prefer, there is no ply bass that can touch it.


    It seems that you haven't played the ply and hybrid versions of the basses in which you're interested. If so, that's a mistake. I can't speak first hand to the differences between ply and hybrid for Eastman basses.

    With reasonable care, you likely won't be making frequent trips to the luthier simply because you have a carved top. These instruments are actually more durable than we sometimes make them out to be.

    Even if you did need a seam glued here and there, so what? For most players, if the sound of a carved top is preferred, then that's hardly an issue.

    It doesn't seem as if you've posted here about this issue other than in this thread. I'm wondering where you got the advice you mentioned. Based on that thread, the ply would cost $1000 (you reported the regular price as $1650) and the hybrid would be $1500. Seems to me that it would be well worth it assuming one has only that choice. Why are you limited to Eastman basses?

    Are you really considering buying a bass online or from a Music Arts store? I wouldn't recommend that as you're not likely to receive the bass with a good setup. You'd probably have to end up taking it to a real bass luthier to have it tweaked at additional expense. For that reason and a host of others, that's why the recommendation is to buy a bass from a real bass shop.
  3. Sgroh87

    Sgroh87

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    DFW, Texas
    Thanks for the response. I have read through that guide, several times. :) That's why I originally thought that the ply would be fine, but when I posted on the reddit doublebass forum, the top rated comment was:

    "Avoid the VB80 as it is of laminate construction. You want at least a hybrid bass like the VB90 that comes with a fully carved top. Yes its a bit more money but your getting an instrument instead of a cheap toy. I've had my hybrid Eastman bass for about 5 years now and I've been really happy with it. You'll need to set up your bass if its new though. The bridge and bow that came with my bass were sub-par. Now I'm at the point where I'm graduating from music school and I want to upgrade to a fully carved bass (back and sides). Those run like up to ~ $8,000 ouch. Once I started renting and playing others fully carved basses I could hear the differences in my hybrid instrument and its shortcomings. (direction and warmth of the sound is different). Anyways, Hybrid basses are where its at if your a student looking for a quality instrument and Eastman as been solid for me. good luck."

    I'm limiting it to Eastman because I have friends who work at that shop and they've done right by me in the past, and since they make commission and they've offered to make me a deal like this I want to support them if I can. The Eastmans are the only ones that they carry at that price point as far as I know. You're right, though, I've played the hybrid but not the ply.

    The thing is that with my financials the way they are right now, it would be at least another year before I could afford something nicer. I'm selling some non-bass gear that's just taking up space right now, which is why I could reasonably put $1000 into a bass, but any more would be really stretching things. I know a year isn't a long time in the grand scheme of things, but upright is a lot different from electric and I'd like to start learning as soon as possible to make the most of my time.
  4. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

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    Chicago
    This could be a super deal. It probably already has a good setup. One of the pics may be showing a back crack (deal killer). You would need to get it gone over by a bass luthier before buying.

    http://dallas.craigslist.org/dal/msg/4382580152.html

    If $1k is your limit, the Eastman ply is probably ok and you should be able to sell it later. A setup will cost extra. Hopefully it won't need a new bridge, but keep that in mind. If you can take it to a good luthier before buying, then you'll know whats up and how much. A good bow is the Finale at $349.00. Good Luck!
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  6. drurb

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

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    Well, I think you received questionable advice from someone not well-versed. Geez, and that was the top-rated comment?! :)

    I suggest that you play the hybrid and ply side by side. Now, if you prefer the hybrid, which you likely will, then the $500 would seem to be money well spent. On the other hand, if your budget really is only $1000 and maybe a little more, then, given the likelihood that you'd need further setup work and accessories, you'd be forced to get the ply.

    This really is a non-optimal approach to buying a bass but, hey, it's your money and your priorities. I hope this helps. :)
  7. Sgroh87

    Sgroh87

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    It does help, and I do appreciate your advice. So in your opinion, I would be better served waiting a year, year and a half for better finances to come through before looking again? I don't want to get something that ends up being a waste of time and money (trust me, I've made those mistakes before). Its just that there's a particular aural itch that the electric just can't scratch, and that makes me eager to try new things!
  8. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

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    I wouldn't wait. Get the decent quality bass you can afford and play it until you can afford a better bass. You will know a lot more about what you're looking for after some experience.
  9. KUNGfuSHERIFF

    KUNGfuSHERIFF

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2002
    That's an honorable sentiment but, IMO, a mistake. This will be your bass, that you're buying with your money, for you to play.

    Get out there and play as many basses as you can, at all price points, until you find the one that says "I'm yours." It's not a toaster.
  10. drurb

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

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    No, I wouldn't wait. I agree with Eric and Kungfu although your budget doesn't seem to allow you to choose among many basses that might say "I'm yours." I'd modify Kungfu's advice and say that you should play anything you can that falls within (or just outside) your budget and choose among those. I'd also play basses well outside your price range to get acquainted with what are the real differences. You wouldn't be choosing among those but it will inform your decision. So, all-in-all, Kungfu and I are very close on the specific advice.
  11. damonsmith

    damonsmith

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    My bass is in the shop (new neck) and I have a very well set up ply rental that has a perfectly serviceable sound. It is fine enough for practice but for concerts it is miserable to play. Not to say I can't get it to work but it is a huge effort that saps energy that could be put into better places in the performance.

    Part of the issue is the sound, but even more is the fact that they do not continue to resonate the way a carved bass does, you are constantly putting new energy into it rather than re-directing energy already there.

    My electric upright, an ergo, is a solid block of wood is a far superior instrument, I would recommend a quality EUB over ply bass.
    If have older posts saying this same thing I'd double it now, after this two-month long Pepsi challenge!
  12. Leo Smith

    Leo Smith Supporting Member

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    If you have the desire to play now, don't wait to pursue it. Establish a budget for an instrument you can afford now, then go out and try as many instruments as possible in that range. It might take a while to find something you like, so don't get discouraged.

    Renting for a while is a good idea for at least two reasons. First, you can learn how to play while searching for an instrument to buy. Second, you can decide if you REALLY want to continue learning the URB before making a major $$ investment.

    Read the article at the link that drurb posted. There's LOTS of good info there.

    What are the bass / string shops in the DFW area?
  13. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

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    I think this is what the OP is going for at this point.
  14. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

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    I agree with the comments about renting. In addition to what has been said, many shops allow you to apply the accumulated rental money you have paid (or at least a good percentage of it) toward the purchase of an instrument, and not necessarily only the purchase of the specific instrument you have been renting. So you might rent a ply or hybrid now, and in the meantime play as many basses as you can to get a feel for and an ear for what you want in a bass. Then in a year or two you will have greater purchasing power and more know-how for buying a bass that will last you a while.
  15. Sgroh87

    Sgroh87

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    I know of M&A, Mr. E's, Wayne Burak, and ABS. There may be others that I'm not aware of.
  16. damonsmith

    damonsmith

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    Most shops will give you credit for your rental if you spend it there. Then you aren't sinking money into a plywood bass.
  17. robobass

    robobass

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    Should I get the four cylinder turbo or a plain V-six? We can't tell you which is better. At a certain point, playing a ply top with a bow will limit your progress, but so will playing any Eastman bass, even the "Cremona Amati Super Deluxe Italian Blow-Job" model. My advice is as always: buy what you can afford right now, but play as many different basses as you can, and swap and upgrade as often as you can.
  18. drurb

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

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    Of course, you meant to say "Italian Bow-Job." :D
  19. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Supporting Member

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    These two nuggets are chock full of wisdom - you'd do well to listen to these guys.

    And yeah, a carved top is worth it! ;)
  20. Champagne

    Champagne

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    I don't have anything to add to what been already said except that I had a carved eastman bass for a few years. It was a 305. It was beautiful, well made, played great (after I had some things done to it), it was stable (not needing any work after the initial things I had done) and it sounded pretty good for the $$$. I liked it better under a bow because the pizz was a little too mellow for me, but when I cranked on it in pizzicato, it came to life. The new owner fell in love with it on first pizz!
  21. Dave Irwin

    Dave Irwin Supporting Member

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    It's not so much a matter of being necessary as much as what your ear wants to hear.
    That may very well evolve over time. If you are ever in a situation where a carved bass is expected, you will probably be wanting that sound anyway. That said, have a player demo the basses you are considering, pizz and bowed. A hybrid for a few hundred more sounds like it could be a good deal.

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