Against my better judgment...

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by vanderbrook, Dec 6, 2021.

  1. vanderbrook

    vanderbrook Heretic Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2001
    Denver, CO, USA
    ...I'm going to post about my current double bass adventure/dilemma. (Why against my better judgment? Because I know that the opinions of other bassists will have varying degrees of relevance for me, and that I must make a decision that will please me, not you.) It is my hope that one of you will share an observation that I haven't thought of that will push me off the fence I'm straddling.

    While many of you are more experienced than I, I have been playing DB for nearly 40 years, and I've owned laminated (2), fully-carved (1) and hybrid (2) instruments. I've played a number of other basses while shopping.

    Back in August, following a hiatus of about five years, I purchased a Shen SB88 (laminated) and started playing again. Like the Engelhardt I started out on, the 88 is very resonant, and somewhat louder than both the carved and hybrid basses I've owned. I like the sound.

    Late last month, I decided that I should upgrade to a hybrid bass, so I traded the 88 in on a Shen SB150. I'd already owned one of these, briefly, and have played others. Some 150s sound better than others. This one is a fine-sounding specimen.

    Why the upgrade? A lot of reading here on TB convinced me that I needed a carved top if I was going to do any arco at all (and I've been taking some lessons with a symphony player to master the most fundamental of the fundamentals of arco-for-jazz -- occasional accompaniment, not soloing). I also made some inferences from posts here that anyone serious about playing jazz ought to be using a carved, or at least a hybrid bass. In some cases, no inference was needed; the poster as much as said so.

    After a week with the 150, I called up the shop and inquired about swapping back to the 88. To shorten the already too-long story: I now have both basses, and am trying to decide which one to keep.

    While the 88 and the 150 sound different, I like them both. When playing the 150, I miss the "punch" of the 88, and the amount of sound I get for the energy invested. When playing the 88, I must acknowledge that it doesn't have quite the "complexity" of tone that the 150 has.

    I've taken the bow to each, and found that while the two basses sound slightly different under the bow, the differences are not large and there's no clear "winner." I freely admit this may have more to do with my nascent arco skills than the basses themselves (which are both wearing Spiro mittels).

    I can keep the 88, and know that some of my peers (perhaps "colleagues" would be a better word) will look down on my laminated bass. I would enjoy it, though, and I don't think it would limit me, either technically, or in terms of getting gigs. And it would require less diligent care than a hybrid.

    Or I can keep the 150, and miss the 88's punchiness, and think about the things I could have done with the difference in price. (Let's call it $1,000 -- pocket change for some, but not for me.) I would enjoy it, though, and I would know that I would never outgrow it. (BTW: the chances of me playing, or wanting to play classical music: 0%.)

    If you have wisdom to share, I would love to read it. Except for this... IMO, there is, in some quarters, a certain amount of anti-laminate bias here on TB. Please save it for someone else. Like its hybrid cousin, the 88 is a great-sounding bass.

    Thanks in advance.
    bassically_eli likes this.
  2. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    Have you tried different strings and various setup changes on both instruments? Could there be something convincing done on either instrument to help you make up your mind?
  3. ArteK

    ArteK Supporting Member

    I'm sure you've read that most bluegrass purists insist on plywood, probably with the same fervent religiosity as the jazz folks do with carved top basses.

    I'd say to keep them both. It sounds like you have applications for them, so why not?
    roccobass and vanderbrook like this.
  4. vanderbrook

    vanderbrook Heretic Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2001
    Denver, CO, USA
    Except for a couple of minor setup tweaks the 150 could use, both basses are well set-up and I can't think of any changes I would make.

    Unfortunately, not an option.
  5. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

    Apr 2, 2013
    I assume that keeping both is not an option. I know what I'd do--I'd go for the 150. But you have to go with what you like better. If you're not a professional orchestral/solo bassist, you do not have to have a carved top.
    roccobass and vanderbrook like this.
  6. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Funnily enough, in my admittedly amateur experience playing jazz and bluegrass, not once has anyone asked me whether mine is plywood or carved except for other bass players simply satisfying their curiosity. I suspect that unless you are working at the very top echelons of either field, no one actually cares, as long as it sounds good. I know this doesn't help you make your decision.
    Winoman, marcox, notabene and 4 others like this.
  7. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    Depending on how long the shop will let you keep both basses (let's suppose a week), play one and only for (given our supposed week) for two or three days. Do everything you need to do on that bass. Then put it away and play the other bass. You should know in the first 10-15 minutes if the second bass makes you more or less satisfied/happy/etc. If the answer is yes go for it. If the answer is no, pack it up and don;t look back.
  8. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    Since your lucky enough to have both basses to compare, i'd simply go with the one that feels best to play pizz and arco. Part of this recommendation comes from the fact that you have a large amount of experience on the instrument and are not a beginner, hence your judgement is likely pretty sound.
  9. vanderbrook

    vanderbrook Heretic Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2001
    Denver, CO, USA
    I like this. Will give it a try. I've been swapping back and forth frequently; maybe not the best approach.
  10. LowG


    Dec 8, 2006
    Milwaukee, WI
    I can already tell from what you wrote you like the 88 better. Your language makes me believe that you’re trying to convince yourself that the 150 has something the 88 doesn’t, but it’s only described as “some complexity” while the 88 has multiple defined attributes you prefer (punch, volume, cost and durability).

    I suggest going with your instinct like Seanto said, since you’re already a seasoned player that understands what you like in a bass, unlike beginners who don’t know what they don’t know and perhaps may indeed decide down the line they want to play some classical.

    Nobody outside this forum will care if it’s solid wood or not :)
  11. vanderbrook

    vanderbrook Heretic Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2001
    Denver, CO, USA
    You wouldn't by any chance have a background in social work or psychotherapy, would you? (Just curious.)
    roccobass and bassically_eli like this.
  12. HateyMcAmp

    HateyMcAmp Supporting Member

    Apr 13, 2006
    Krivo Pickups
    I have found Shen’s can vary a lot, and that there are some KILLER SB88s out there. I recently owned one built in 2020 that I didn’t ever really bond with sound or feel-wise. It was well set up and everyone who played it seemed to like it well enough, but I felt like it really needed to beat on the bass to get a decent sound out of it, even after experimenting with strings. I recently replaced it with a 2012 SB150 that I love and seems superior to me in all measurable aspects no matter what strings I have on it. I was able to A-B the basses for a few days and feel pretty comfortable with my take on this.

    This being said my girlfriend has a 2018 SB88 that I’ve also been able to A-B with my new hybrid. Honestly her bass is just amazing. It plays great with a huge sound and a lot of punch. While I still think I like the carved top SB150 more (particularly for arco) I could see someone liking this particular plywood enough to want to over the hybrid. It has that “classic” plywood bass umphf that’s very Wilbur Ware-esque. It just works and feels good.

    I do think I can get as good of a sound with less effort on the carved top (particularly on the E string) and it has a more nuanced sound, but when we A-B’d the two basses we were both pleasantly surprised by how well the this humble SB88 held up. All three basses came out of Bob Ross’s shop in Denver, FYI. Very similar setups, all with Evah strings.
  13. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    If the 150 doesn't satisfy you, return it. The 150 does not necessarily represent a great carved bass - each bass needs to be evaluated on its own merits, not on whether it's laminated or carved.

    My teacher, in addition to his 7/8 orchestra bass, has a pretty inexpensive but nice-sounding plywood bass that I play during our lessons. Today, I told him: "I almost wish I had this bass, because it doesn't have the overtones of my carved basses and therefore doesn't make my inadequacies so obvious." I wouldn't use it in orchestra, but I would certainly have no problem using it in other situations.
  14. vanderbrook

    vanderbrook Heretic Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2001
    Denver, CO, USA
    If the 150 didn't satisfy me, I wouldn't have a problem. :) The problem is that I like them both, different though they are. And I can't afford -- and don't have room for -- both of them. Or the need for both of them.

    I am leaning toward keeping the ply, if for no other reason than it would put a grand back in my pocket. No one has yet articulated a compelling reason why I should keep the hybrid.
    jmattbassplaya and AGCurry like this.
  15. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    You really like the SB88 and aren't certain that the SB150 is worth the $1000 cost. Keep the 88. Life is long, God willing, and there's no law preventing you from getting another bass down the line that really turns your crank.
  16. Rama Temmink

    Rama Temmink

    Nov 30, 2015
    From my experience: it is the person who steers the double bass who dictates what sounds come out of the instrument.

    All the community orchestras I have been with were very welcoming towards me being a noob with a, in the words of a local conservatory, "cheap and ugly contrabass".

    Now I am content and happy for the fact that I am privileged to play a beautiful instrument such as the bass violin.

  17. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    And, 99% of your audiences won't be able to tell the difference by either looking or listening.

    Follow your heart...
  18. vanderbrook

    vanderbrook Heretic Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2001
    Denver, CO, USA
    There it is. Thanks, AG!

    Thanks, DH!
    jmattbassplaya and AGCurry like this.
  19. statsc

    statsc Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2010
    Burlington, VT
    In favor of the 88:
    • Punchier
    • More responsive (less energy required)
    • $1000 cheaper
    In favor of the 180:
    • A certain “complexity” of tone
    • Arco
    Seems pretty clear to me!
    vanderbrook likes this.
  20. You are just more used to the 88, you will get everything you need out of the hybrid once you put the time in. There are just certain sounds and resonances that are not in ply basses no matter how much people want them to be. Also, you have understand that you are not going to get the same sound playing the same way with a carved or hybrid. You have to put the time in learning to get the top to resonate get the sounds you want from the top continuing to vibrate rather than shutting down with each note.
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