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Bass repair book?

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by mje, Aug 30, 2002.

  1. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Some years ago my lutheir sold me, very cheaply, an old school plywood bass that had been dragged across so many floors that the top and back were smaller than the ribs. Over a winter I built up the edges with maple veneer and a sort of wood-fiber bondo, and eventually made a working instrument.

    Well, about eight years and many basses later, he's made me another offer- a nice old carved bass that someone rented and (accidentally, we assume) rode down a flight of stairs. He doesn't have time to piece it together and thought I might be interested. I am.

    I know a bit about repair, and I've hung around his shop enough to see how he does a lot of repairs- how how to remove a top, making cleats, etc., but obviously there's a lot I don't know.

    Now I could spend a lot of weekends in my lutheir's shop bugging him about repair technique- and believe me, I will- but is there a good text I could read up on to learn the basics of repair techniques?
  2. At the present time, about the only bass repairing books are a few chapters in the 1960's books by Raymond Elgar "Introduction to the Double Bass" and "More about the double bass". While it is far from all inclusive, it is a good place to get some basic information on the subject. These book have been reprinted and are currently available.

    It wouldn't hurt to look at some of the books on violin repairing. Most repair on bass are scaled up versions of repairs for violin and cello. There are quite a few of these and most large public libraries will have a copy of one or more.

    There is reported to be a new book on bass repairing coming out by former (retired) New York bass repair guru Charles Traeger. I have corresponded with Mr. Traeger and he told me that the book is in the final revisions stage and he hopes to have it published sometime next year. I have been told (by others) that it is very extensive and will probably be very pricey.
  3. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    Hans Weishaars book is my bible. It is the only credible, comprehensive book available on violin family repair. It is costly and it does not target the bass at all-but if you have talent and drive you will be able to get there from here.


  4. I agree with what Jeff says about the Weishaar book, but at $300.00+, it is not within everyone's budget. IMO, the Weisharr book assumes that you have a basic knowledge of violin making and above average woodworking skills. I don't look at this book as a book for beginners, but rather a book that every experienced violin family maker/repairer should have in their reference library. The Elgar books, while not in the Weishaar class, are only about $35.00 each and are aimed at the amateur.
  5. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Much thanks to Jeff and Bob. Given what my initial investment in the bass will be (around $300 or so) the Elgar sounds like a good place to start. Between that and bugging the heck out of my luthier I should be able to make slow progress. The plywood bass I did took me about 3 months, and I expect this one to occupy me all winter... at a minimum.

    BTW, I just found a cheap copy of Violin and Cello Building and Repairing by Robert Alton. Is this a good reference?
  6. If you can get it cheap, get it. I've had a copy of this book in my personal library for 30 years, but I don't think I've looked at it since I first read it. The Alton book was first published in 1946, so it is a bit dated. Most of the book pertains to violin and cello making, with only a chapter or two devoted to repairing. If you do get the book, take the time to read about violin and cello making. You really need to know how one is made before you attempt to make repairs to one.

    Another great place to get information is to join one or more of the violin makers associations such as the Southern California Association of Violin Makers, The Michigan Violin makers Association, The Violin Makers Association of Arizona, The Violin Society of America, The Catgut Acoustical Society, and possibly the Guild of American Luthiers (mainly guitars, but some violin). Some of these have web pages that answer the basic questions about what they are about. Even if you don't live in the area where these associations are located you still can benefit from their journals and news letters.
  7. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    I'm casting a vote for the Weisshaar book. Yeah, it's pricey. But, "the poor man pays twice". You WILL get your money's worth on this book. The Elgar book is more anecdotal and rhetorical than useful. If you want to do this right, and learn something, get with Hans. Sorry, Bob :D Have you ever seen some of the violin/bow books? Over $1000. And it's pictures w/measurements: that's all. If the Traeger book is useful, then spending a couple hundred bucks will go a long way.
    Guilds are great, too! Well, some of them... If you have a local luthier that is willing to spend a *little* time with you, go for it. Don't settle for the easy way out; you will be cheating yourself in the end.
  8. Sorry Nick, but I have to disagree with you on this. I started learning the insides of bass repairing back about 1960. At that time there was no Weisshaar book. There was no Sacconi book. There was no Rosengard book. There was nothing on basses except what was in the books by Elgar. Those were the books where (along with a friendly violin maker) I learned the basics. Over the years I've accumlated close to one hundred books on various phases of violin family making and repairs, but Elgar was the one that got me started. To this day, I have yet to see any book that gives as good a description of how to properly prepare a canvas patch. No - it is not in the class with Weisshaar or the other classic violin luthier "bibles", but I certainly can not accept the terms anecdotal and rhetorical to describe Elgars books. If mje has the desire to become a luthier, then by all means, he should get the Weisshaar book. Otherwise ...
  9. The fact of the matter is there are no good bass books on set-up and repairs. Period. Elgar books are step one I guess but the real info is right here on talkbass and the 2x list. What I've done is every submission that looks interesting on repair and set-up, I'll print out, three hole punch it and put it in a 3 inch binder filled with opinions from across the known world. After a few opinions on the same subject a clear picture emerges on how to proceed.
    Maybe I could sell my 3 inch binder for 300 bucks?
  10. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    I subscribe to the magazine Fine Woodworking. They've just released a CD-ROM with every article of a technical nature published since the magazine's inception. I think it's $150. A relative newcomer needs to learn lots of woodworking skills; how to plane, join, dimension, scrape, sand, finish, etc. It's all there. For violin family-specific info, I vote with Jeff and Nick for Weisshar(sp?).
  11. Hey Guys (Jeff, Nick & Arnold),
    I think you are all missing the point. Here we have a guy with old junker that he wants to fix up. I re-read the posts, and nothing he said gives me the idea that he wants to become a luthier - just how to fix the $300.00 junker (mje - correct me if I'm wrong). I agree with all of you that VIOLIN RESTORATION A Manual for Violin Makers by Hans Weisshaar is the best book out there on the subject of violin repairing. I just can't see that it is the only book he should consider. I would be willing to wager that the Weisshaar book was not the first book that any of you had when you started down the road to luthiery. I've got book shelves of violin books. I venture to say that I've learned something from every single one of them (yes, even Ed.Heron-Allen). Do any of you consider the Harry Wake or Henry Strobel books (about $25.00 each) wasted money? Of course not. I think that if I were 40 years younger and wanted to become a luthier, I would save that $300 for Weisshaar and put it toward tuition to the Peter Paul Prier school of violin making in Salt Lake City. Then again, I might just go to the public library and check out every book I could get my hands on about violin making.

    Jeff - this might have been a good one for TOBI-L!
  12. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    As having been a recent student of Peter Prier's School, I will say this-
    The Weishaar book has more information in it than 3 years of Peter's babbling and racist comments. He once told students they should tune thier bass bar BEFORE FITTING IT. He's not interested in teaching you; he interested in having people pay money to make instruments, which HE then sells. Most graduates are still green when they leave- getting a job in a shop requires different skills than just being a maker. If anyone wants to pay money for school, the Red Wing School in Minnesota has a far better program.

    (Thank you, TBer's, for listening to the previous rant. Back to our regurlarly scheduled forum...)

    There are many ways to skin this cat, mje. If your luthier will give you pointers, take them. There is no One Great Book. If you have specific questions about repair/restoration, ask the TB!
  13. Sorry to hear that you had a bad experience in Salt Lake City. I can't speak from personal experience, but I have several good friends who graduated from the Prier school that speak quite highly of it.
  14. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Yes, Bob Branstetter has it right; I'm not looking to become a luthier, I just want to take on this project. I was in my luthier's shop when he said "Say.... I've got just the project for you..." and led me downstairs to a large bag filled with what was once a bass!

    I've done the one plywood bass, and I have some modest woodworking skills. I also have all the tools I need, including a set of spool clamps I made to do the plywood bass.

    This project will require much more in the way of skills, as every part save the neck has been broken. My main concern at this point is leaning the proper way to to cleats and other techniques for restoring large surfaces that have been split jike a jigsaw puzzle ;-) Incidentally, I bought the Robert Alton book I mentioned for $27.
  15. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Moved to Setup & Repair.

    R2 - Welcome back! Long time no see....
  16. I have a copy of this book. It appears to be a fairly complete book on double bass construction. Like all book of this type, written for the amatuer, IMO it does not give enough details on some phases. The author is not a violin maker by training, so he has come up with some methods that seem a bit off the wall, but they appear to work for him.

    I have two other books in my personal library on double bass construction also written for the first time maker. The oldest one, To Make A Double Bass, was written by the late Harry Wake. Mr. Wake, founder of the Southern California Violin Makers Association, wrote a whole series of books for violin makers and this one appears to be a book made mostly by cut and paste from his violin, viola, and cello making books. I'm not sure if you could really build a bass from this book without some outside help.

    My favorite amatuer bass making book is Double Bass Making by Bob Hitchings. Mr. Hitchings is a British bassist who documented his book with hundreds of good pictures, diagrams and full scale plans. I think it is the most complete book available at the present time for the amatuer maker.


    There is one more book that I know of about bass making. Making a Bass Viol The making of an acoustical bass viol was written by Dr. George A. Borun, a California maker who specializes in making symphony quality full (4/4) size basses. Mr. Borun assumes that the reader is already a violin maker, so it is not for the beginner. If anyone is interested in this one, email me and I will send you his address.
  17. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    Well, I want to keep this one goin'-it's been a while since I've been able to open my big mouth in a juicy thread.
    Well, Mje, you say you don't want to become a luthier but you are taking on a luthier's task. A bass-in-a-bag is not a job for an amatuer. You're gonna have to step up to the plate and get some big league skills or the result will be a bass-shaped object that's A.F.U. Unfortunately, due to the paucity of what's available, even if you had every one of the publications mentioned, the majority of your questions would probably go unanswered.

    Now Bob, I consider you a good friend and good friends can disagree right? First of all-re Elgar. I have heard from more than one unimpeachable source that Elgar was NO authority. That's putting it diplomatically. I just skimmed through them again and I saw virtually no useful information on the realities of putting a broken bass back together. Fitting a bassbar, doing a sound post patch, re-edging-hell, putting a neck in straight, these are probably just a few tasks that Mje will likely have to face. If someone were to give Mje those books for free I would say read them, they are a curious read. That's all. I still maintain that the Weisshaar book is the only one to my knowledge that gives a step-by-step how-to regarding the majority of repairs a restoration may entail. Mje will have to face those repairs why not have a book that actually tells you how to perform them step by step?
  18. You bet - a good heated discussion is good for the soul.

    Since you took the time to go back over the Elgar books, I decided I would do the same to the Weisshaar book. You are right (as usual), that Weisshaar covers everything you mention. However, you will have to admit that a lot of the repairs he shows on a violin will not always work exactly same way when scaled up to a bass. He does sometimes show examples on cellos, but even that is not the same as a bass. That's not a problem for those of us who have been in the business for a while, but I have to question if a newcomer will be able to recognize that. AND Weisshaar is so complete that not even every luthier would want to tackle some of the very advanced repairs he discusses. I still maintain that it is a book for luthiers not for beginners. I've never claimed that Elgar was an all inclusive repair manual. But, there is a lot of very useful information in there for the beginner. Useful, for Jeff, Nick or Arnold? NO. For the novice - yes I still think so.

    I guess I'm just stubborn, but I can remember doing doing exactly what mje proposes to a bass in a bag when I was totally inexperienced in the ways of proper bass repair and I didn't have the kind of cash it takes to buy Weisshaar. As long as you follow the rule of don't do anything that can't be undone later (i.e. use hide glue) and have a friendly luthier to check your work after it's done, you can't go too wrong. mje has the ear of a luthier that he trusts. Perhaps his luthier will let him look through his library if there are questions he can't answer. I have also suggested that he join the Michigan Violin Maker Assn. since there is a lot of expertise available at a cost of $16.00 a year. I imagine several of the members have the Weisshaar book and will share their knowledge if it is needed.
  19. Martin Sheridan

    Martin Sheridan

    Jan 4, 2001
    Fort Madison, Iowa
    Bass Maker
    One of these days I'm going to write a book on basses. Maybe I'll edit one with articles by the guys who work on basses every day, some of whom post to this forum. Most violin guys don't know jack about basses.

    Here's what I say: you can't hurt this bass.
    Just use good hide glue; not the kind in a bottle but the kind you mix two to one with water.
    You'll need some good crack clamps that go across the width of the bass, and a lot of patience. Make sure you align the the cracks evenly.
    Here's a hint: the inside of the bass is curved. Mark the crack after it is glued with a pencil where you want the cleats to go. Number the cleats on the top with a pencil: 1, 2 3 etc. Place some medium grade sandpaper over the place where the cleat is going to go and rub the cleat vertically back and forth about an 1/8 of an inch over the sandpaper. This will put a curve in the cleat that will match the curve of the top, glue it and clamp it and leave the clamp on overnight. Eventually all of these cracks will be snug and well cleated.

    If there is a crack exactly or very near where the sound post is going to go, you're going to have to inlay a soundpost patch. Send me a note, and I'll try my best to tell you how to do it. Cracks along both sides of the bass bar? That's a big problem too. You'll probably have to plane out the bass
    bar, glue the cracks, inlay some cleats and make a new bar. This is starting to sound like work. Maybe I'd better write the book and get back to you.
    All the best,
    Martin Sheridan

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