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Aluminum Upright Basses

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Rocky Landing, Jan 9, 2009.

  1. Rocky Landing

    Rocky Landing

    Jan 8, 2009
    I've owned an aluminum upright bass for about 25 years. My main bass has been a 60s Anton Schroeder but it's been slowly losing it's sound- too many cracks and repairs. I just recently refinished the aluminum bass which has a wonderful, if odd, bright sound. And loud! It's also a nice gig bass as it is practically indestructible. It had a faux wood finish which was an ugly mess. I stripped the old paint (which was so thick that I wondered if it didn't have an acoustic purpose) gave it a gunmetal patina and seven coats of satin shellac. I loved the results. After some research, I discovered that what I have is a G.A.Pfretzschner aluminum bass. (not to be confused with H.R. or E.R. Pfretzschner) The ONLY thing I have been able to find out about this person/company is that he/it, along with these strange aluminum instruments, specialized in Stradivarius copies. That's it. No dates, nothing. Does anybody have any information on G.A.Pfretzschner or aluminum upright basses?
  2. artdrtr


    Jan 24, 2008
    Redondo Beach, CA
    no pics, no bass.. :smug:
  3. JeffKissell

    JeffKissell Supporting Member

    Nov 21, 2004
    Soquel, CA
    You might try asking a moderator to move this to the bass forum.
    I seem to remember a few threads about aluminium basses there so I'm sure you'll find something.
    Good luck!!
  4. Rocky Landing

    Rocky Landing

    Jan 8, 2009
    Here's a pic. If anyone's ever seen something like this, I'd love to hear about it.

    Attached Files:

  5. That may be the coolest bass I've ever seen. Neato. Can you post sound clips?
  6. svenbass

    svenbass Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 2002
    Great looking bass!!

    The only knowledge I have of aluminum basses is that they were built for use by WWII era military bands in the tropics (South Pacific, etc..) because the climate and rough handling would destroy a regular bass.

    I heard this from an older cat - military veteran and professional bassist. I have no idea if this is accurate, but it makes sense to me.
  7. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Full disclosure, I'm a certified Fender technician working in a music store that carries Fender, Yamaha, and Ibanez products among others.
    My old bass teacher has one, he chopped a plastic lawn flamingo in half, and mounted the head on the scroll, and has a holder for the rest of the body in back.

    The thing sounds ghastly, but he finds it perfect for the occasional one-off country or rockabilly gig. I'll see if I can get more information on its maker.
  8. Rocky Landing

    Rocky Landing

    Jan 8, 2009
    I read from what seemed like a reliable source (The Upton String Instrument Co.) that the WWII story is a that the Ford Motor Co. made some aluminum basses for the Navy. It's generally considered a myth as there are no records from Ford that they ever made such a thing. ALCOA made about 500 entirely aluminum basses with welded seams that apparently sounded terrible and they are extremely rare. The Pfretzschner I have has a wood neck and some wood internal parts (bass bar, sound post, structural blocks, etc. It's also built with bronze screws. It bows very nicely and was, in fact, used for many years in a high school orchestra before I got it. Here's another pic that shows the construction a little better.

    Attached Files:

  9. pianodan

    pianodan Commercial User

    Dec 18, 2008
    Pine River, MN
    Armstrong Piano Tuning & Repair, owner
    About 12 years ago, a guy offered to sell me his Kay aluminum bass for $400.00 and foolishly passed up the offer. There have been many times when I've hauled mine around in sub-zero temps that wished I had taken him up on the offer....
  10. Tumbao


    Nov 10, 2001
    :eek: (not mine...)
  11. Rocky Landing

    Rocky Landing

    Jan 8, 2009
    Wow, Tumbao. That's an ALCOA I assume? It's incredible. How's it sound?

    An update on my own beast. I emailed my brother a pic. He had more or less stolen the bass from me for about twelve years and I finally got it back from him last year. He emailed back and told me that the original label had fallen out about a decade ago and he saved it in a book. He sent me this pic and is mailing it to me. There's no date, unfortunately, but maybe somebody, somewhere will be able to make an estimate based on the design.

    Attached Files:

  12. Low Main

    Low Main Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2004
  13. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    For the most detailed description and history of both the AlCoA and Pfretschner aluminum basses I can offer, take a look at the Guild of American Luthier's quarterly journal, American Lutherie, #89, spring of 2007. There is a detailed article that I wrote in conjunction with the help of the Smithsonian and several other well respected sources on these historic aluminum basses.

    You can see a few more images of both on my website. Since the publishing of the article, I see about 3-4 of them a year pass through the shop. Not my first choice; not even my second choice; but after two, they make a very tonally and visually interesting addition to your quiver of basses. The AlcoA's are about as tough an instrument as you'll find anywhere- they will probably last 1000 years. The Pfretschner's are a bit lighter in construction, but I like the feel of the wooden neck a whole lot more that the cold aluminum AlCoA neck on a winter's day.

    Tumbao- Did you get that image from one of my earlier posts? I know that instrument and the source of the photo.

    I have no financial interest in the deal, but earlier this week a local retired gentleman contacted me and has one for a private sale for a reasonable price- similar to what you'd pay for an old Kay. Feel free to PM me or email via the website and we can chat over the details a bit. (I tried to get him to post it here in the classifieds, but he's a bit old school and leary of the web...)

    As always, my apologies if I somehow just broke one of the forbidden taboos of this site or bad protocol. Not trying to cause a ruckus; rather, I'm very interested in clearing up a lot of the misinformation about these instruments and their historically inaccurate, but commonly told of Ford Motor Co. and US Navy connections.

  14. bejoyous


    Oct 23, 2005
    London, Ontario
    Speaking of WWII; are those bullet holes on the front of your aluminum bass? Maybe you should add those bullet hole decals you sometimes see on cars!
  15. I've been working on my Pfretz alumi for a few months now, mine looks Identical to yours. Is your's flat back?

    I'm pretty much finished with the body, sanded to 1200 grit and lightly clear lacquered.

    I still need to finish polishing the metal bridge and metal tailpiece.

  16. Mr Condino, how was that bass polished? I tried sanding mine to 12,000 grit (yes 12,000 grit micromesh paper), and I tried polishing w/ compounds and buffers,

    I finally settled on the 1,200 grit and lacquer topcoat, but it's nowhere as shiney chrome looking as those pix of yours.
  17. those are all soo cool!! are they worth whatever they cost? (and how much do they cost?)
  18. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
    I sincerely hope that all of those well-respected sources were given proper attribution in your article. Can you provide a link to the article?
  19. MollyKay


    Sep 10, 2006
    Southern PA
    Bass Hobby'ist
    James is the “aluminum bass dork” (self given name). If you want to know about aluminum basses he is the man.

    He knows more about aluminum basses then anyone I have run into. :):cool:
  20. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
    Interesting. Some folks/sources who prefer not to toot their own horns provided him a wealth of information. I was just hoping that he acknowledged them. Don't get me wrong-- there's nothing wrong with doing your research, consulting other experts, and making your expertise obvious. It's just important to cite the sources.