Aluminum Bass

Discussion in 'News & PR' started by TalkBass, Jan 24, 2005.

  1. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <p><img src="" width="155" height="243" align="left">An aluminum bass? That's right—aluminum. </p> <p>The first reported appearance of an aluminum instrument dates back to 1891, when Alfred Springer of Cincinnati , Ohio , was awarded a patent for an aluminum violin. Three years later, in 1894, the Aluminum Musical Instrument Company of Ann Arbor , Michigan , was formed under the guidance of Neil Merrill. The Aluminum Musical Instrument Company offered everything from violins and cellos to banjos and zithers. By 1898, the company had gone broke and subsequently disappeared from sight. </p> <p>During the mid 1930's American Aluminum Company ( Buffalo , NY ) produced aluminum upright basses. The entire body, neck and scroll were made out of seamlessly welded aluminum and often covered with a faux woodgrain finish. In a reprint from The Etude Music Magazine, May 1932 an article mentions that the United States was first to create an all-metal double bass. </p>
  2. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <p>There are a couple of stories about why these basses were made. Some thought that Joseph Maddy of the National High School Orchestra suggested aluminum basses be made for schools and orchestral camps to stand the test of time as opposed to their older brother the wooden bass that would often end up unplayable due to cracks. The same article states “t he aluminum bass has many advantages over the wood bass, in that it cannot crack, split or warp, and is made to last forever.&nbsp; It is as light in weight as a wooden bass, and has a tone that is deep, resonant and of cello-like purity.&nbsp; It is made in silver or gold aluminum finish, or natural wood finish, patterned after a fine old bass made by Stradivarius.” </p> <p>The other belief is that Ford Motor Company produced a limited number of aluminum basses for the Navy as a wooden bass could not survive extended travels on the ships as they are resistant to humidity and moisture. </p> <p align="center"><img src="" width="155" height="243">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<img src="" width="116" height="242">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<img src="" width="183" height="243"></p><center>[Mike Graham (Playing Bass), and Peter Cohen]</center><br><br> <p>This leads us to the only aluminum bass I have seen, for that matter knowingly heard on a CD or live. The one played by Mike Graham of Hudson and the Hoo Doo Cats. I spoke to Mike and Hudson Harkins about the prized bass. Both fellows were happy with the low-end response and agreed that the aluminum bass had more sustain and punch than the wooden counterpart they started with. Mike purchased this bass in 2001, he said “it was tarnished, corroded and looked like a bucket.” The bass was originally set-up for blue grass and had remnants of the faux wood. Graham and Hudson believe its origin to be a late 30's or early 40's Ford. </p> <p>Mike has been keeping a list of things asked or comments heard at every show, the list is (in no specific order): </p> <p>•&nbsp; What is that?<br> •&nbsp; Is that a cello?<br> •&nbsp; Why did you paint your bass?<br> •&nbsp; Did you make that?<br> •&nbsp; Is that metallic?<br> •&nbsp; How did you get that metal over the wood?<br> •&nbsp; Is it heavy?<br> •&nbsp; How does the metal affect the sound?<br> •&nbsp; The top question the drummer gets – What's that sound?&nbsp; </p> <p>For all you in St. Louis I suggest you check out a live show and hear this bass for yourself, for everyone else, buy the CD's. </p> <p>Cornbread </p> <p>&copy; 2005, Peter ‘Cornbread' Cohen &amp; Reprinted with permission </p>
    View Peter Cohen's reviews for at
  3. paul

    paul Staff Member Founder Administrator

    Jul 20, 2000
    I just wanted to add that I had the pleasure of playing one of these babies at the Interlochen Arts Camp (formerly Maddy's National Music Camp) in Michigan back in 1995. There's a lake a few steps from the bass hut... rumor had it that one of these basses had been out on the lake in years past, with bow cases used as oars...

  4. jamesonellis


    Nov 12, 2004
    a friend of mine told me recently that he borrowed an old upright from the high school he had gone to on long island to use in a photo shoot,the instrument,he said was metal,and filthy.the high school people told him he could just keep it.he had it in brooklyn(he doesn't play)and a visiting friend(who plays) saw it in the corner and asked about friend gave it to him and he plays around new york with it.someone offered him $5000 for it at a gig.(he didn't sell)so get out to your high schools!
  5. Violen

    Violen Instructor in the Vance/Rabbath Method Banned Supporting Member

    Apr 19, 2004
    Kansas City Metro Area
    Endorsing Artist: Conklin Guitars (Basses)
    man i want one!!!!

    Ive always been wierd like that tho.
  6. bwbass


    May 6, 2002
    I'm pretty sure I saw one being played by the club band in the recent film The Aviator. I also remember reading somewhere that the Reynolds Aluminum company produced aluminum basses, cellos, and perhaps other instruments at one time.
  7. 5intheface


    Dec 18, 2004
    Yeah, I really want to at least play one also....If it sounds like a stee; guitar, then it might kind of cool. I would love to see my orchestra's reaction to me carrying in that baby one week! Man, i bet they are a hell of a lot cheaper to make....I wonder why they aren't more popular?
  8. ironfist


    Feb 5, 2000
    I remember the city band of my hometown having an aluminum-bodied bass. It was painted brown so from a distance you couldn't tell that it wasn't made of wood.
  9. there is a band called 'trick pony' where the bassist has one with halogen headlights mounted in the body near the bridge.
  10. azflyman


    Apr 24, 2004
    Astoria, OR
    I have played one and it did not sound half bad. The one I played had a wood neck and was put together with rivest like an airplane. It was a bit beat but like I said, sounded pretty good, much better than I expected.

  11. Bard2dbone


    Aug 4, 2002
    Arlington TX
    I want an upright some time, but can't afford one. The main place I get to play for the last several years has been at an outdoor folk music festival in the Texas hill country. One of these would be great for there. I would have to worry about what temperature and humidity shifts were doing to the wood if there wasn't any wood.
  12. Joe Turski

    Joe Turski

    Jul 29, 2003
    I wonder how much one of those go for? Or how many there are still around?

    I don't blame him, I wouldn't have sold it either.
  13. LoPhreaque


    Apr 21, 2004
    My county music system had one of these bad boys. It was at another highschool so I never got to play it.
    The thing was an eyesore in the orchestra everytime I saw it. Looked like the Tin Man should have been playing it.
  14. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    This thread is way cool! I'll have to hang out here more ofteh. :)
  15. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    I see 3-4 of these pass through my shop each year. I wrote the detailed article on them in the spring 2007 issue of American Lutherie magazine. There are also a couple posted on my website at

    There are basically two common models: the seamless all aluminum AlCoAs that are incredibly solid, and the screwed together Pfretschners with a wooden neck. They are more lightly built, but have a slightly warmer sound and none of the cold neck issues. The $5000 price mentioned is a bit high. They tend to go for a low end of about $2200 and top out just over $4000 in squeeky clean condition- similar to an old Kay.

    Feel free to call me at the shop and we can chat a bit about them. I know all about their history, designs and their peculiarities inside and out. I can usually locate you one within about six months. I've got a comission for a new one in the works, but nothing has started yet. I'd much rather be working in wood, but some days I get asked to do a project I'm not very interested in, so I throw out some crazy price, and damned if the fellow doesn't show up with a check in a few weeks.....

    If you are in Asheville mid January, stop by. I'll have a Pfretschner in for a bit of repairs. It has had the crap beat out of it, but can still hang just fine.

    My general experience is that folks either love them or hate 'em. They make me smile a bit every time I see one. As a player, I've never held on to one very long, but I know several people with polished ones that get a lot of gigs just because they look so cool on stage.

    I'm looking for a completely trashed one- that has been in a car wreck or such that I can chop, lower and generally hotrod like you've never seen. Once these get to certain level of damage, you need an auto body shop frame straightener to fix. I bought one from a guy in Florida several years ago that claimed he mounted a motor on it and took it out like a boat......

    james condino
  16. tg67gt


    Feb 6, 2008
    i own a alumunum bass,brought from a guy who got it from a local high school
    i never redid it, was wondering what it was worth if anything
  17. XgowiththeflowX


    Aug 24, 2008
    the first time i saw one was ... i think sometime last year? well somewhere around then

    ever since then i have wanted to play one.

    maybe own one...but i'd have to hear and play one first.
  18. scenic


    Oct 31, 2008
    so cool to own one.:bassist:
  19. DJAP101


    Jan 12, 2009
    pretty sick! i want one.
  20. anyone know of any plans for these floating around??? would love to try and make one???