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Bass identification and authentication

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Martin Sheridan, Jul 7, 2005.


  1. Martin Sheridan

    Martin Sheridan

    Jan 4, 2001
    Fort Madison, Iowa
    Bass Maker
    I wish we could get everyone in a room and discuss this and share information(I'm the one who didn't go to ISB!) But maybe our TalkBass people will be able to help everyone become better educated on this issue.

    Here's my general view on bass identification: most makers in the past either did not make basses or they made very few.
    I'm leaving out the factory stuff for now. I'm talking about the purported Rogeri's, Amati's, Guarneri's and other important makers. If any of these makers made say ten basses in their lifetimes, and these basses have scattered all over the world,and some of them have not survived, then the chance of any one of us seeing more than one of these is practically nil. This makes the identification and therefore the authentification of old basses, I should say old and exceeding valuable basses almost impossible.
    Here's an example. A player in the Minnesota Symphony owns a bass by J.B. Rogeri, bearing an original Rogeri label and
    ascribed to the year 1690, making it one of the first true double basses. I know another player who purchased a bass in New York
    attributed to Rogeri. These basses bear almost no resemblance except for one interesting detail. Each has a wavy piece of slab spruce in the same place in multiple piece tops. The first Rogeri by the way does not in anyway resemble several Rogeri violins I have seen, leading me to believe that it may have been made by an assistant? But in this case about the only way to compare the two basses would be to view them together(or have a photographic memory).

    I have on occassion visited symphony orchestras where the bass section has shown me their old basses which are usually said to be Italian. To me about half are usually very suspect as to their origin. This is an important issue to all
    of us, because the value of basses has been going through the roof the last ten years, and I don't think there is any end in sight. I am concerned about the supply/demand side of basses especially Italian, and the effect this has on the attribution of basses and their value.
    About ten years ago a symphony player showed me his
    Gasparo da Salo 4/4 bass and it's papers provided by a well
    know London dealer authenticating the bass as a da Salo from 1690. I thought the bass, though a very good one, was probably English and about one hundred years newer.
    Not long ago I had a phone call from the dealer about another matter. I mentioned the "da Salo" to him and that I had seen
    his papers on it. His reply was that "of course it wasn't a da Salo".
    Over the years I have taken a much more conservative approach to bass identification, probably a result of having reached a level where I realize just how small my knowledge bass really is,and how important it is to be sure to pass along meaningful evaluations, and not cloud the picture with an
    appraisal that might turn out to be wrong and therefore wrongly influence others judgment.
    Perhaps here we can share some of our observations and questions.
     
  2. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    I had a bass come through my shop last year...the owner was ready to sell it and retire on the profit. It had papers declaring it a "Gasparo DaSalo". Inside was a huge label reading "Gasparo DiSalo". Very strangely shaped, very heavy, bad condition. Best guess is it's an English "copy" from the 1800's. I wonder if it's the same one Martin referenced above...OK, how about this; I saw Dennis Trembly play on the Karr "Amati" at ISB. Looks like a German bass to me...Ken Smith, where are you?
     
  3. Martin Sheridan

    Martin Sheridan

    Jan 4, 2001
    Fort Madison, Iowa
    Bass Maker
    Here, I'll stick my neck out and say a few words about Italian basses from the so called classic period e.g. 1600-1750.

    First there are only a handful of true basses made before about 1690. This is a claim made by Duane Rosengaard whom I would trust more than anybody when it comes to Italian basses. Why,because he's really studied them and also because as far as I know he does not have a financial stake in them.

    Most Italian basses from this period are not particularly well crafted, yet they are wonderful basses because of their superior tonal qualities. The workmanship is usually pretty rough and the makers would get laughed out of a Violin Society of America convention in a hurry.

    They tend to be made from slab cut spruce for the top and often in a number of pieces. Backs and sides are plain maple,
    mohagany, or lombardy poplar.

    Italian makers tend to carve the scrools neatly but not perfectly. The area behind the "eyes" tends to be flat whereas German basses tend to be carved inward.
    The line on the back of the scroll will come down neatly to the curve at the bottom. If it has that little triangular bit at the bottom it's German.

    Sound holes can be placed anywhere and are often wildly carved. The Italians are artistic, but the early makers apparently didn't feel the compunction to do things perfectly.
    In fact most of the "rules" we see in Italian violin making are
    thrown out the window when it comes to basses.

    The J.B Rogeri of 1690 illustrated in Rosengaard's book on
    Cremonese double basses has a breathtaking varnish true to the period and the same as you would see on violins or cellos.
    Dispite the vissisitudes of time it is still in a remarkable state of preservation and is oil based. Many old basses tend to be almost black in appearance which I think is a result of their being left out of their cases just like we do today. They have a build up of several hundred years worth of dirt and carbon from the fires of lamps, candles, stoves and fireplaces. Plus bad touch up jobs, oxidation, and every concievable type substance put over them as a polish.

    Well that's a start. Agree, or disagree, but let's add to the knowledge base.
     
  4. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Sorry I'm late. I was tied up ALL day as I was in the process of buying ANOTHER Bass. It is either by Dodd or Betts. It looks to be a cross between a Fendt/Panormo/Dodd to me. Panormo sr. worked for Betts. Fendt sr. worked for both Dodd and Betts. It is a Freaking CANNON.. Deep Organ like Bass,... Bows like a Dream.. I need to maybe move the neck out a bit to get over the Shoulders.. Arnold, I will see you Tuesday... Clean Underwear.. You will need it!!

    I will post pics on my Site in as soon as I can.. B4 and after if I post it b4 the set-up and Neck move is done.

    This is a nice Bass to ID as there are more like this than pre- 1690 Italians..

    Martin.. d'Salo from 1690... Ofcourse it wasn't D'salo.. He died in 1609.. Do you mean 1590?.. That will wash better..

    As far as Tops go Slab or Quatered, I have seen only a few Basses claiming to be from b4 1700. No pattern of grain that I recall but multi piece is common with Italians. The New/Old English Bass I just got has a 3-piece top.
     
  5. http://www.cozio.com/Index.aspx

    This site is a registry of fine old instruments. I don't know how accurrate it is, but it is a good starting point at least for what is claimed to be extant from the early period of double basses. If you pay a years dues, you can access all of the photos. If the owner is willing, you can look them up. It might be indespensible if you are dealing in those instruments. Significant instruments that come up for sale are also listed.

    I also found an online version of one of what I hoped was a series of books by W. Henry Hill, Arthur F. Hill & Alfred E. Hill originally published 1902, which had a great deal of detail on what Stradivari and a few other makers (there is also a Guanari family book, but I can only so far find references to it) built. The perspective of an educated dealer from a hundred years ago is certainly interesting. Apparently the art of phony labels and fake instruments is as old as the violin family at least;- with makers even falsifying the labels in the earliest days. Apprentices used a shop master's labels after he was dead. Manufacture from anywhere was ascribed to Cremona because those instruments fetched the highest prices. The history is a history of scam claims. If I could find a hard copies of the other books, I think there is much more than just the information on Strardivari that is online. At the beginning the authors talk about the efforts to track down all authentic instruments that existed then. They did a remarkable job documenting the Strads and it is impressive that the real specialists are pretty hard to fool as to authenticity. Even though it is generally conceded that he made no double basses, it is a very interesting read. Here's a link to an investment quality copy: http://www.art-books.com/cgi-bin/artbooks/99-0134.html. Believe it or not, I narrowly missed a copy that someone sold for $7.50 (Ouch!!)

    So Ken, do you have any books by the Hill brothers?
     
  6. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Yes, I have the one on Strad....

    Also two of the Hills worked for Betts as well..
     
  7. AMJBASS

    AMJBASS Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2002
    Ontario, Canada
    A new bass Ken! Can't wait to see it. I love English basses. It is my aspiration to own one within the next 5-6 years. Lots of saving to do.....;) Speaking of English basses, how is your mystery bass coming along?

    I also agree that many basses have been renamed or are skillful forgeries. I sincerely doubt that there are as many 400+ year old basses around as people think.
     
  8. If basses or bass-type instruments were uses in the 1500 and 1600's, someone made them Ok. If they were used in the major violin making areas, makers in those areas made them unless they were all homebuilt by the players who needed them. The very best (or very lucky ones) survive to this day. I bet that the more well known makers did make some basses in the proportion of what was required compared with the quartet instruments. Since basses were workhorses, they would most likely have put there newbie apprentises to work on them and would not have labeled them less someone associate them with the instrument.

    D'Salo and Maggini apperently specialized in bass type instruments, so it makes since that there would be more of those out there. If a bass is made along correct Stradavarian or Guarnerian principals, it is probably french.

    Really old german basses were Staineresque with high arching and were built for more than three strings and have gamba corners.

    It is very likely based on common sense and viewing surviving smaller examples, that most of the basses from the 1500's and 1600's were originally Violones with more than four strings. Add bigger bass bar, replace neck and you have a great sounding bass.

    Dragonetti probably dealt with most of the great Italian basses, and many probably ended up in England. English basses pre-Dragonetti were primitive and viol-like and were made by viol-makers or the odd amateur violin maker until Panormo and Dragonnetti, when every one started making copies of Dragonetti basses.

    All of the old italian-attrib. master basses I've actually seen look alot more like english Dodds, Kennedys, Fendts, etc. I would guess that the enlish basses are on the whole better made (at least) instruments than any Italian basses.

    This is what I believe bases on all of my limited experience and research. And is worth not more than $.02. As I am in no way an "expert".

    Jon Neuman
     
  9. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Yes Adrian, I am working on another English Bass. At first it was Attributed to Betts but upon further consideration and investigation, it appears not to be a Betts as the Stamp in the back does not seem to be Betts. It is different from other Betts' stamps I have seen and is illegible as well. It could be by one if the dozen workers or so that worked for Betts or maybe from the Dodd workshop. It has the right Varnish from that period and a great Bass all around. Interesting Scroll work and 'C' Bouts. A 3-piece Top, most likely matched from the typical 12"x2" planks available then, nice ff Holes and a fantastic sound.

    The Shoulders were slightly cut around 20 years ago during a full restoration in London by Roger Dawson. The Back is in great condition and has one Lower Rib replaced. This is a first class London 7/8 Double Bass from circa 1800.

    I may know more after further examination inside but I promised Biase I would bring it to show him. I value his opinion. One London dealer told me 'Typical Dodd Bass' after looking at some pics I showed him.

    The 3 main shops at that time for Basses were Betts, Dodd and Forster. Some 20 makers, great in their own rite, worked in these shops from about 1780-1820.

    Mystery Bass (English) is coming along. The Back is near completed. Top in progress and ribs on the 'drawing board'. Maybe sometime in 2006 is realistic.
     
  10. anonymous8547j7d7b

    anonymous8547j7d7b Guest

    Jul 1, 2005
    The "daSalo" story put me in mind of something my old high school bass teacher told me. An orchestral colleague of his decided to spend a considerable inheritance on a fine English bass (can't recall the maker) & was advised to authenticate the instrument via the maker's brand - which she couldn't recall seeing. Lo & behold, when she returned to the dealer there was the branding in all its glory - most probably still warm! Incidentally, I am selling a bass @ the moment so if anyone would like to privately email me info on "colourful" dealers in the UK it would be gratefully appreciated.
     
  11. Yikes! What bass are you selling?
     
  12. I have the Hill Strad book, the colour plates are magnificent.
    Question regarding 3 piece tops/ backs: Where do the seams typically fall? Or, to put it another way, how wide is the centre piece usually?
     
  13. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    There is no standard. This English Bass is about 10" wide in the center. The Martini has a 3-piece back close to the same but I can't measure it. It is at Arnolds getting an Extension now so either he measures and posts or we wait till I get it back here.
     
  14. Martin Sheridan

    Martin Sheridan

    Jan 4, 2001
    Fort Madison, Iowa
    Bass Maker
    I hope we will hear more from luthiers and repair people who have had good basses come through their shops to add to our data.
    Pictures would be great.
     
  15. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
    Great thread -- thanks for all the insights.

    Here's a (probably) dumb question: How do English Hawkes basses compare in quality of sound to the great old English basses? I find them a little hard to play in the upper register, but I'm very impressed by their ability to produce a big sound.

    Barrie Kolstein currently has in his shop a 20th century English bass that is a real cannon:

    http://www.kolstein.com/instruments/bass/b2497/index.shtml

    I played it when I was up there to buy my 5-string from him a couple of months back. The bass seems to generate all the sound you'd get from a Hawkes, but to be better made.
     
  16. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    That Bass looks a bit rough to be compared to the fine older English Basses of the 19th century. Shape, corners, purfling all looks roughly made as compared to the 3 English Basses I have. Bryant, Martin, Dawson etc. all do much neater work than that. Come and play the 2 English Basses I have here and then tell me how it compares. Most of the Hawkes Basses were made in Germany from what I have learned.
     
  17. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I missed one... Arnold asked me about Karrs' "Amati".. Yes, Arnold.. All the people I know in the biz that have seen that Bass agree that it's a "nice" German/Czech Bass.. But not Italian and not even close to an Amati... 1611?.. Maybe that was the serial #..lol
     
  18. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
    Don't get me wrong, Ken -- I'm not saying it's in the class of a Fendt or one of the other top, older English basses. However, it sounds terrific, and at a price a lot lower than a Fendt, I'm sure someone is going to be very happy with the music it can make.
     
  19. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I am sure the sound was nice but you asked about the Hawkes as compared to a real hand made English 19th century Bass. Hawkes Basses are late 19th to first quarter of the 20th century. A Hawkes Bass usually has better construction than the English Bass you Posted from seeing the pics. Barrie has a Hawkes or had one or two recently. They Both looked German to me. The looked nice and I had played one or two many years ago. They sound like they look.. BIG..

    They do not sound like what they are trying to copy IMO. They sound more German than English to me.

    I would hope that Bass to be much less than Half the Price of a real Fendt Bass. Hawkes Basses have gone from 15-25K in good condition in the last few years with Panormo Models higher. A hand made 20th century English may go higher but I would guess in the 30s at most unless it's real special.
     
  20. Martin Sheridan

    Martin Sheridan

    Jan 4, 2001
    Fort Madison, Iowa
    Bass Maker
    Of the Hawkes basses I've seen the Hawkes-Panormo models are the best. About half of these were made in France and half in Germany. My guess would be that those with outside linings are German and the others French. Buster Williams has a Hawkes Panormo model that he brought to my shop once. When he took it out of the case, for an instant I thought that it was the real thing. Some of these basses have a H stamped on the button, and some don't. Rodney Whittaker has a different model Hawkes that he traded for one of my basses.
    There's a Hawkes in the Chicago Symphony and one in the
    North Carolina Symphony,both are Panormo models.

    Duane Rosengaard told me that he thought Gary Karr's "Amati" was an old French bass.

    The 19th century English basses I've seen have all been fabulous basses, easily mistaken for Italian except that they
    have better wood and workmanship!

    I'm rarely doing repair work these days, so I don't get to see as many good old basses.