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Advice needed on new German Bass

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Nov 5, 2000.


  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Hello again. I apologize in advance for saturating the forum with the continuing saga of "As the Bass Turns", but since my bass crashed last week and the jury is still out on whether it can be fixed, I've been doing some window shopping this weekend.....

    I played about 20 basses last Friday in Cincy, ranging in price from $1,600 to $20,000, and of that number, only two were speaking to me at all. Both were German carved basses; One was $11,000, and the other was $3,200. Interestingly enough, the one that was talking to me the most (even with thuddy orchestra strings) was the cheaper one. I liked it a lot, in fact. All I know about it is that it's a new German carved bass, imported this summer, with all ebony trim. It had a small crack in the rib, which had been repaired by the manufacturer and looked fine structurally. The shop said retail was $6,000, but they brought it down because of the repair and the fact that it had been there awhile.

    While that's more than I wanted to spend, I think I could borrow some bread without mortgaging the house, so I'm curious to try it - they'll let me take it on approval for 7 days, and I think I'll go for that. Is there any information I should try to find out about the bass, like the name of the maker, or factory, or whatever? (seems logical, but... :confused: ) I figured I'd show it to a few people, but besides a couple of orchestra guys I know, I'm not sure who to even show it to? Should I have it appraised? What should I check out about the thing to be safe once I have it in my hot little hands, so I can arm myself with some information before I fall in love with the d**** thing?

    Any advice you may have, no matter how trivial, would be greatly appreciated.

     
  2. Hi Again, Chris,
    Sounds like you may have gotten hold of a lower priced Wilfer or Roth Bass, Which is not a bad thing. I used to play one years ago, and it was a decent Jazz Bass,
    and with the right strings, not too bad for orchestral use. Some small things to look for- Check for a label, if you haven't already.It will either be on the side opposite the sound post or on the underside of the top, only visible with a mirror. I know you said it was a New Bass, But check the seams, anyway.Definitely take a close look at that crack on the ribs, but if it was repaired by the maker, it should be fine. And the saddle on the bottom, make sure there is at least 1/32 space for expansion, so you don't get a saddle crack, which are common.Have your Bass Playing friends play it while you are standing 10 to 15 feet away, to get an Idea of the sound. Don't worry too much about an appraisal right now, just whether you like the sound or not.
     
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    reedo,

    Sounds good. I looked for a label straight through the f-hole and couldn't see one. I'll look the other place, too. I'm not sure I understand about the 1/32 expansion part....could you elaborate a bit on that? Last week a buddy of mine (who's been playing for 20 years) went with me. He's not crazy about new basses (although he's not sure why), but he agreed it didn't seem bad. He thought it might be really bright with spirocores on it......I guess we'll see. The only problem with the standing 10-15 away part is that my buddy's pizz sound is way different from mine, even on my Standard.... but it's better than nothing, so that's advice I'll take, albeit with a grain of salt. The good news is, if I have it for a week, I can record with it & hear it pretty objectively that way. Thanks for the tips!
     
  4. Chris, Good Idea about the recording thing, I didn't think of that.Oh, and I forgot to mention to check the tuning pegs for turn ratio, ease of motion, and stability. no loose
    screws, right?
    It's hard to explain what I mean about the saddle,
    without actually showing you, but bassically, if it looks squeezed into the slot, with no room on either side, you might be in trouble when the weather changes and the wood expands,and the remedy is so simple it almost seems stupid to mention it. My teacher used to cut a slot on either side of the saddle, and never had a problem.
    About new Basses, the general predjudice is that a Bass doesn't start to develope its own sound for at least 5 years, but what I've heard from some of the up-and-coming luthiers like Jean Auray I would tend to disagree.
     
  5. There's a flip side to the age issue that no one ever mentions. Accept the argument that ultimate bass tone takes years to develop. Doesn't that also mean that if a young bass sounds good now, it will just get better and better with time? How bad is that? If you already dig the tone, you're way ahead. One more thing- whatever strings you ultimately intend to use, you should put them on the bass while you have it for trial.

    [Edited by Don Higdon on 11-05-2000 at 07:47 PM]
     
  6. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I've got the bass on 7 day approval, and it's kind of a love hate thing so far. Yesterday, when I picked it up, it sounded like a giant bass banjo, and I almost didn't want to take it home. Then it occurred to me that any new bass with a new set of spirocores was probably going to sound like a banjo at least until the strings were broken in....so I played it for about 4 hours last night, and it mellowed a bit. It needs a fingerboard dressing pretty badly, but the proprietor said he could take care of that plus shave down the neck a bit if I wanted (it's pretty thick).

    Good things about the bass: it's very live and projects like a cannon, which could be useful on a lot of gigs I play. It is a much better match with the Realist pickup, which never used to pick up much from the G string on my plywood, thereby rendering much of my solos unhearable to anyone but me. The attack is so strong and clear that if a drummer can't hear it and lock in, he's deaf. Even so, with this one, he'd feel it.

    Questionable things: there is no label anywhere on the bass; all I was told was that it was a new German bass that he got from an "importer" (he might have said "distributer"...I can't remember) This strikes me as odd, but might be more common than I know. The E string board needs dressing so badly that I almost can't play F,F#,orG without a lot of buzzy twang. My impulse is to make sure that it gets adjusted and get another trial period before I make any decisions. The fingerboard is getting a bit lighter where the G string lays, which makes me wonder what it's really made of - my plywood had a low-grade ebony fingerboard, and this could be the same stuff, but I don't know how to tell. The tuners seem slightly cheesy, but I could deal with that or replace them later. It is a low-end bass, after all...

    I'll know more after my gig tonight...what's the deal with that "no label" business? Should I be worried about that?
     
  7. Chris From your Descriptions I think I'm starting to narrow it down. You either have a Strunal, a Meisel, or a Musima.
    I am tempted to say Meisel because I remember one that I tried, and it had the same problems you described plus no Label and a very thick neck. If you do like the sound, I emphasize that that is the most important thing, but it is going to take some work to get the playability to where you want it. The fingerboard and the neck can be planed and sanded down and tuners can be replaced, but it is up to you if you want to put that much work and money into a brand new instrument.
     
  8. Did someone say "Kay S-1"?
     
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    In fact, someone DID say "Kay S-1";it was the little guy who sits on my shoulder and whispers contradictory messages into my ear whenever I have a decision to make... but, to be fair, he would have done that anyway unless the new bass was absolutely perfect. He's funny that way.

    The implied message I got from the shop owner where I got this bass was that if I was interested in the bass, he would set it up for me (included in the price). My friend who was with me got the same impression. But how am I supposed to know how interested I am if I have to avoid certain notes when I play? The other guys on the gig (drummerless trio) thought it sounded good (except for the buzzes), but not as good tonewise as my Standard. Some of that had to do with the fact that I haven't learned to EQ it yet, but part of it was just that that "roundness" isn't there yet, and may not be for some time. Oh, yeah, did I mention my left hand is killing me? That neck is THICK. Ouch.

    Meisel? If it were set up right, is that a good thing or a bad thing? I keep reminding myself that it's "only" $3200. I wish I could teleport myself to N.J. and take a look at Bob G's Bulgarian basses, since he swears by them and they are even less than this one (the 5-string is especially intriguing). But in the meantime, there are gigs to play...

    Don, you sound pretty happy with your S-1. You're right, that is thought provoking....
     
  10. Yes, I'm pleased with my S-1, but it can't compare to my carved basses. I'm only responding to your comments. So far, what I see is a choice between a carved bass, maker, age, and nationality unknown, with several problems that will require additional money to fix, and a good stable plywood that has a few open seams (easily fixable). I'm bothered when the dealer doesn't have sure knowledge about important details. I'm leery when a price comes down 50% right off the bat. If the guy is throwing in the repairs and still expects to make money on the sale price, what does that say about the real value of the bass compared to the original asking price? As for projection, whatever the difference is, how much does it matter if you're going through an amp anyway? If you get the Kay for $3,000, and that's high, you are not going to lose money on the deal if you sell it in a major marketplace. The next step is to "A and B" the 2 basses with musicians out front listening. Whatever you feel, you've cited more negatives about the German (?) bass than the Kay. Step back, sit down, and take a few deep breaths. Grab a pen and paper and write down the pluses and minuses about each bass, then write down your priorities in order of importance. Over to you, Chris.
     
  11. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Don,

    as with so many things I've read so far, you are right. When I sit down and write it all out, what I want most is a bass that will allow me to grow as a bassist and as a musician. A very strong part of me tells me that a carved bass is going to allow me to do this more than a plywood, which will not grow with me, but only stay the same. What the S-1 has going for it is that it is ready to play right now....but whichever one I choose is the bass I'll have to live with for the next 5 years or so. Why am I telling you this? You already know this story, or your advice wouldn't be so good.

    What sticks with me is two things: 1) despite all of its little problems, the carved one has a sustain and singing quality that the plywoods I know well do not. It's almost like the vibrations of the strings are stronger all over the entire body of the bass than on a plywood; when I play it, I feel the vibrations through my hands/body very strongly - the good, bad, and ugly ones - and this makes me feel more in tune with the instrument. I think that this aspect could make me a better player because I always try to play from the sound I'm getting and the way it reacts with other instruments. 2) While it's true that I do use an amp on all my gigs, I think that this bass (or another carved one) could more easily be played acoustically in a duo situation, and possibly even a trio setting in the right room; in addition, when I record, it's always the acoustic sound of the bass that I use (mic in front of the bridge). Bottom line is that the S-1 would be a better bass for the moment, but I feel that the carved one would be a better bass for the future. If I can get the guy to include a setup (dressing & neck shaving) in the price, especially if he'll go for what I'm after specifically, I'll be leaning toward the new one. If not, back to the drawing board.

    Thanks for the "Priority List" idea....and for all of the other good advice you guys have given me to think about. It helps. :cool:
     
  12. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Ed,

    Thanks for the info - it's not from Andy's shop. I found this one at the Bass Viol shop, and I only just met Dennis the one time when I picked it up. He seems like a decent guy, but people who are trying to sell things often do. By the way, I can't really hear the E string open either, because there's a strange rattle that comes from the open E when I play it; it stops only when I pull down on the E string from the tailpiece side of the bridge. I'm no rocket scientist, but I would imagine this could be nothing more than the way the notch of the bridge is cut. The Ab sounds okay, but I can't dig in with much flesh at this point or it goes BUZZZZZZZZZZZZ....

    BTW, when I mentioned the fact that I couldn't get the E string to sound without buzzing, Dennis suggested that the problem was with my technique; he said that if I would pull sideways instead of down, it wouldn't buzz, which is true. I also think that if Ray Brown would pull sideways instead of sideways/down on the E string, he wouldn't sound much like Ray Brown, either.

    I'll take it all into consideration!
    Thanks,
    Chris

    P.S. - I'd feel a little funny showing this bass to Andy since I tried his basses first & couldn't find anything I liked. My intuition tells me it would be in extremely bad form to take a competitor's bass to him for his appraisal. What does yours tell you?
     
  13. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Ed,

    about that last part, the "see, that doesn't happen when I play it" part, that really,...uh,...what's a PC way to put this? It really annoyed me (there, that's better). Especially since I learned that stroke from Rufus; I had a 2 1/2 hour lesson with him after the camps last summer, and we spent about half that time on tone production. I was already doing something like that stroke, but he was doing the same stroke on steroids, so we spent a lot of time on that, and on my bass anyway, it worked like a charm. It makes me wonder if I could trust this guy to do the kind of setup I want. About the Andy thing, I'm very tempted to ask Andy or Chris about the bass, esp about the setup thing...someone suggested that that GROWL sound might be more a function of a bevelled (sp?) fingerboard, which this bass doesn't have. I dunno.
    To make matters more complicated, the guy with the S-1 called to tell me he would match the price on the other bass if I was interested. Thanks for listening, gotta run!
     
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Ed,

    Sorry if that was confusing...of course I meant annoyed with Dennis, because it seemed like he just didn't want to deal with getting the bass right, he would rather say "well, maybe you're just not doing that right"...My buddy Rob (a jazzer for the last 20 years and a pretty good player) got exactly the same sound out of the string that I did. Dennis did in fact take the bass out of my hands and showed us that it didn't make that sound when he played it - it also didn't speak at all - it was that kind of non-sustaining "I'm playing a pizz on the low E string in a rehearsal of a pianissimo section of a Beethoven symphony while holding the bow and checking my watch to make sure that we're still on union time" kind of pizz, the kind that would not cut it on even the most laid back jazz gig I've ever been on. Basically a non-sounding pizz stroke with no meat to it, which I took to mean either, "I've never heard jazz in my life, and I honestly don't see the problem here", or, "If you d**** jazzers wouldn't treat beautiful instruments like barbarians, they wouldn't make barbaric sounds". It was not a situation which made me feel terribly confident that he was trying to work with me, but then again, I don't really know the guy.

    Sorry if my description was confusing. :oops: I didn't worry for a moment that you were trying to slam me; from reading a good deal of your posts, I would guess that if you wanted to nail somebody, you'd just come on out and do it - and I mean that in a good way.....that's an admirable trait to have when used judiciously, as you have always seemed to do in this forum. No offense intended toward your side, and none taken on mine.
     
  15. This is starting to sound like the old joke "it hurts when I do this...A:Well,Don't do that!" Actually it sounds like dennis really doesn't want to spend time on a Bass he considers not worth the Effort it will take to set it up correctly. This is all speculation, but I would have serious reservations about a Bass that had I had a problem with from the git-go. Yes, with a new nut and correctly planed fingerboard it might be fine, but what if you still don't like it? I know you have probably already considered that possibility, so I'll leave it at that.What about that guy with the S-1? Did you like that Bass better or worse than the German one? I realize that this is a large investment, and it would make anyone nervous plunking down a large sum of money for something they would be stuck with forever (or at least until something better comes along) . Sort of like buying an Engagement ring, but not quite. :)The thing is,Like Ed says, it is very difficult for any of us to say " Take this one/that one!" sight and sound Unseen,because ours is a very objective perspective- I can only "Hear" this instrument through your description, so like I said before, the final choice is yours, and from what you said before, you have to make a choice pretty soon, eh?
    BTW,Ed, does your Bass have a Crest on the button in Back?
    Dark Finish or Amber? From what you said, I'll bet it's either a Rubner or old man Wilfer Because they Both Had shops in Mittenwald in the 20's and made a lot of "Dance Hall" basses during this time.FWIW,anyway. The important thing is it sounds good, right?
     
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    To finally put this neverending thread to rest, I should mention that I finally decided to buy the German bass today. I drove to Cincy, Dennis worked on the setup for about 5 hours while I read a paperback, then I made it back to town just in time to go straight to a gig. The bass played beautifully, sounded great, and the two things combined put all my lingering doubts to rest - good thing, too, cause I also forked over the bread today.

    Thanks, everybody, for listening and helping. LIFE IS GOOD!
    :cool: