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Acoustic, fretted, steel-string upright bass guitar?

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Bruce (the K), Sep 14, 2007.

  1. Bruce (the K)

    Bruce (the K)

    Sep 14, 2007
    Please note: I've posted this to the bass guitar section of this site but I've posted it here as well in the hope of getting some feedback from those who work mainly with traditional upright basses. My apologies if this is inappropriate and I understand if the site moderator has to take this post down.

    Hello bassists.

    What are the challenges with having a steel-stringed, acoustic, fretted bass guitar built that has an extra large body and is designed to be played as a stand up bass? It would not be bowed, would not be used for jazz or sophisticated stuff, just for 3 and 4 chord folk rock and simple pop tunes. It also would have to be loud enough (unamplified) to hold its own with two steel-stringed acoustic guitars and a small, cocktail drum set being played with Cool Rods (bundled dowels that provide a volume between brushes and solid drum sticks).

    My four-piece band is heavy on vocals (lots of 2 and 3 part harmonies). We play electric with a p.a. system but we also really like playing unplugged, acoustic gigs where we just sing over our acoustic instruments. The guitars work great with the cocktail drum, played softly using the Cool Rods, but the acoustic bass guitar is pretty much inaudible. I think part of it is the instrument (an old Ovation Applause AE-140), which is not very loud, but I wonder if any acoustic-electric bass guitar would do the job unamplified. It just makes sense to me that providing a bigger body (for more volume) that is too big to be played guitar-style means standing it up and playing it upright. My thinking has also been influenced by the mariachi-style guitarrón. It just seems that those are getting big enough that it would be easier for a smaller player to turn it upright and stand next to it (with the appropriate end pin to hold it up). Our bass player is about 5’7” tall.

    I think it’s more realistic to create what we’re jokingly referring to as the Frankenbass than to ask our bass player to learn to play a traditional fretless acoustic upright bass. Plus, it seems to me that this instrument could be a bit smaller (and a lot cheaper to build) than a traditional upright bass, given that it could have a guitar-style braced body with flat front and back. I don’t know if the steel strings used by acoustic bass guitars are any louder than the strings used by traditional upright bass players so please comment on that as well.

    Any thoughts you all have on this idea would be appreciated.

    Bruce (the K)
  2. RCWilliams

    RCWilliams Supporting Member Commercial User

    Apr 23, 2007
    Merriam Kansas (Kansas City)
    owner RC Williams Co. LLC
    if you have a double bass to expiroment with try the old old way use a heavy nylon line (weed whacker?) and make baroque frets then you can play with the notion with very little cost
  3. Perhaps you can use one of these?

    Or maybe this one?


    It's true -- to switch to upright bass is a major commitment in terms of time and money, so I wouldn't recommend that unless it's something he really wants to do. But, you brought up the guitarron -- I think that's a viable option. I've heard a few of those that have a really booming sound. I have no idea how the transition would be from bass guitar to guitarron (they have six strings don't they?) but I'd look into it.
  4. Perhaps you should check around and see if there is a traditional Croatian (Tamburitza) Orchestra or band in your area. The original Berda bass instrument was based on the Guitar and played upright with frets and steel strings. Today, many if not most of these orchestras use Berda basses that are similar to a doublebass but with frets and a bridge only about 1" high or have done away with the frets altogether and use a conventional double bass instead.
  5. clothsnake


    Apr 3, 2004
    they are hideous..!! :scowl:
  6. Oh, I dont know, I like the one with the scrolls.
  7. clothsnake


    Apr 3, 2004
    really..? :eyebrow:
    maybe if it was the size of a mandolin again.. ha ha :D
    each to their own though... i wonder what they sound like..?
  8. bearfoot


    Jan 27, 2005
    schenectady, ny
    Well, what you're looking for is probably way more expensive than a Chinese upright. Those mandobasses are practically museum peices.
    I did get to audition one of the Lucida guitarrons. It had good fundamentals only to a low D. You would likely need a good, solid top guitarron to project down to the A or lower. I have seen some guitarron conversions on the net where they are strung with 4 strings like a regular bass.
    If you search on "Nibori Orchestra" you will find that a Japanese fellow had the same idea you had, that is putting a peg on a guitarron and playing it upright. They also use a "contrabass" classical guitar tuned like an ABG, but I doubt those are much louder.
    The most effective and economical solution is just to use a small amp with the Applause, there is really no shame in it as ABG's are really meant to be amp'd anyway.
    The Thunderchief ABG's are slightly louder but very few claim they can be heard with two guitars unplugged.
    Good luck, there's really no cheap or easy solution to this problem. If you want bass, you pretty much need the doghouse, or a good guitarron.
    Unless you don't mind going hillbilly you can find plans for a washtub bass which by all accounts are plenty loud.
    Rock Salad likes this.
  9. el_mariachi


    Mar 4, 2005
    Denver, CO
    I run sound for a mexican folk group here in chicago (www.sonesdemexico.com)
    and the bassist switches between an electric upright and a guitarron. He used to play only guitarron. Its a very cool instrument, but very different to a normal acoustic bass or double bass. yes it is a 6 string but is tuned A D G C E A, low to high. it is plucked in octaves. When played properly it can achieve a very good projection. Just watch a good mariachi group perform. The guitarron is competing with (usually) 1 or 2 guitars, 2-3 trumpets, 2-3 violins, and at least one vihuela (the smaller guitar-like instrument tuned ADGBE, low to high). *Usually* the guitarron can hold its own, but just like other acoustic instruments, the finer (and pricier) ones sound much better than the cheap ones. If you want to hear some good sound clips of the bassist playing his guitarron, go to http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/sonesdemexico3
    pretty much every track except four sticks and Los panaderos have the guitarron in it. These songs are very good examples of what the guitarron sounds like outside of a mariachi context.
  10. DocBop


    Feb 22, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    I played one a little this weekend at of all places Guitar Center. Their acoustic room has a little area with EUB's and acoustic amps in the corner behind the EUB's was an OLD Gibson mandobass. I was blown away the lowend the thing had plucking the low string it was rattling the windows in that area of the store. I guess they didn't have a space for it in thier vintage room so just leave it in the corner figure most won't know what it is.
  11. Steve Boisen

    Steve Boisen Your first second choice™ Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
  12. Bruce (the K)

    Bruce (the K)

    Sep 14, 2007
    I'm curious to get your reactions to this instrument.

    More info at: http://www.liutaiomottola.com/instruments/canotto.htm

    It has a 34 inch scale like a bass guitar and a fretboard set up for plucking rather than for bowing. If it had frets installed, it seems like it would be a very easy transition for my bass player.

    Anybody have any thoughts on it?

    Attached Files:

  13. Building something custom is bound to be expensive and a hassle. A Russian contrabass balalaika might be something to consider. These use an endpin like a double bass on one corner of a triangular body that is quite large and resonant and is still mostly horizontal (angled) in playing position. This one has only three strings, which seems to be standard. The design could be adapted to four pretty easily, but one could do a lot with three. These are not as expensive as medium priced double basses and come with frets already on them and have a scale somewhere between a bass guitar and double bass. I've considered getting one of these just to have something different that is still a bass register stringed instrument. I have to admit that I have never seen one in person and really don't know much about them, but it looks really cool!
  14. French double bass luthier, Antoine Leducq (allbasse.com) makes a similar looking DB with normal DB string length. It is a Savart influenced shape that apparently works. I would think the shorter strings would present some limitations in the strength of the sound. And then you still have to get some frets onto it.
  15. theshadow2001


    Jun 17, 2004
    :eyebrow: Who was the genius who came up with this instrument? And I thought the double bass was awkward

  16. CamMcIntyre


    Jun 6, 2000
    I think i saw your group pretty recently. Were they part of the ensembles that played at Orchestra Hall maybe a week or two ago? If so, i work in the store.
  17. D McCartney

    D McCartney crosswind downwind bass

    Aug 1, 2005
    Tacoma WA
    Looks like it should be a bass dulcimer.
  18. Bruce (the K)

    Bruce (the K)

    Sep 14, 2007

    Attached Files:

    Rock Salad likes this.
  19. Bruce (the K)

    Bruce (the K)

    Sep 14, 2007

    Thanks for directing me to this. It really seems to be along the lines I'm talking about. It has the fretted neck and the neck is clear of the body so you have easy access to the upper frets.

    Bruce (the K)

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