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Bass Technology questions

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by bassbaterie, Jan 20, 2004.

  1. bassbaterie


    Dec 14, 2003
    Houston Texas
    Director, Quantum Bass Center
    Luthiers, help me out here!

    I practice and listen to recordings of other bassists, and like everybody keep trying to get better. Then just listen to even a high-school-age violinist or cellist - they can do so many things on their instruments that we can't!

    After however-many-hundred years of wrestling with a fretless instrument with a 40-plus inch string length, why are basses still constructed like big violins?

    Compare a bass to a Model T Ford, when the technology exists to build a Formula 1 race car. Why do we keep sawing away year after year and suffering with carpal tunnel and the like? Is there any real reason not to change the instrument to suit our physiology? Like, brass and woodwind instruments have been adapted as technology improves. We no longer put calfskin heads on tympani.

    So my question is: have you ever heard of, or participated in, any testing of high-tech improvements to basses? For example, has anyone tested using composite materials for bridges, sound posts, fingerboards etc.? Has anyone tried moving or re-shaping F holes for more low bass sound? How about "tuning" the cavity of the instrument with patches of dense material the way dampening is done to a bass drum (I'm sure that's done with wood patches, but is it routinely done to new basses?

    What about quicker response? I know strings are evolving, but what else? If higher tension produces a quicker response but kills sound, can a bridge be designed that increases playing tension but regulates tension on the table of the bass? Why, exactly, are the feet and lower arch of the bridge designed that way?

    Just wondering if any of you can point me to existing info on this.

    Or is EUB the answer? Are DB luthiers making any changes based on EUB technology? Thinking of the speed and ease of playing that electric guitars made possible for guitarists.
  2. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    I for one am seriously involved in making ergonomic changes to the double bass. Nearly every suggestion you mentioned has been tried, as have countless others through the centuries. For the most part, use of composites and developing a short string length result in a baritone sound. Keep in mind that the bass is already too small for its pitch. I personally use a composite rod in the neck of my handmade basses to stiffen and increase the quickness of response. It also helps make the neck less fragile, and allows the maker to carve the neck smaller, if the player so desires. But this is nothing new--luthiers have stiffened necks for decades in one way or another. As for bridge design, there are many reasons the bridge has evolved into its current shape, which is very efficient at amplifying small string vibrations. Your post seems to highlight a level of frustration with the bass...I wonder if you are playing on a poorly-made or poorly set up instrument!? Just look at what some players can do with this "archaic" piece of design...Edgar Meyer and John Patitucci and Daxun Zhang come to mind!
  3. This alone would be an arguement for leaving the bass exactly the way it is. ;)

    Eeww, I used a smiley
  5. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I personally think most of your concerns about playability are a lot of what gives the bass its charm.

    But I do understand that there are people out there who want to play bass, but are accustomed to an instrument that is easier to play and allows for more articulate fast passages.

    Although, I think Uncle Leo addressed most of these concerns. He called it the Precision.
  6. Chris Minh Doky, NHOP, Lynn Seaton,- how much faster do ya need to get around?!?

    Personally, I love the sense of history about old basses. The shapes, the workmanship, the smells, the battle scars, the evidence of many, many repairs over the years. Who owned this instrument? Where has it been? What kind of music has it played?

    No amount of technology/ composite/ carbon fibre/ unobtainium material can replace the "if only this thing could talk" factor...
  7. Now, I have no problem with the playability, kind of enjoy it actually...but

    A couple of weeks ago, I was at a bluegrass jam, and was trying out a friend's late 40's Kay (S9 I think) when a jug band player came up with a round metal wash tub, hockey stick handle, and a length of clothesline.

    Well, his intonation wasn't perfect, but even with the washtub upside down on a carpet, and with his left foot resting on the inverted bottom, it was at least three times as loud as the Kay. You couldn't tell I was playing, so I went and sat down.

    It does seem illogical that $20 worth of hardware can be louder than a $3000 instrument.
  8. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    It does seem illogical that $20 worth of hardware can be louder than a $3000 instrument.

    Obviously a man who's never worked in pyrotechnics ;-)

    Still, this thread has got me to wondering. In recent years I've seen resonator style basses, banjo basses, and various styles of EUBs, but nothing has the *complexity* of sound you get from a good traditional bass. But then, even the earliest basses we think of as traditional double basses were the product of many centuries of evolution.
  9. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    As far as the washtub vs the Kay:

    There's this thing called "tone" you see. To me, playing the double bass is 100% all about the sound. I love "that" sound and I'll go through hell to get it. If what I get from the instrument amplified or not sounds like an electric bass then I might as well give up and play that instrument.

    Volume is important especially since the bass usually sounds best without amplification so we try to play as loud as we can acoustically. However if I could get three times the volume but my tone sounded like a washtub bass, I think I'll stick with what I'm getting now.
  10. Adrian, please don't get me wrong....

    It was just a comment, I love THAT sound as much as anyone....

    (Though come to think about it, the washtub did have better tone than a couple of BSO's I've heard)

    And I will continue my search through a combination of acoustic AND electronic resources, as 90% of my playing is large or outdoor venues.
  11. Hey mje....

    I was really hoping pyrotechnics would stay out of bluegrass...(I've suffered enough hearing loss already from my antics - also that Traynor Custom Spl I owned in the 60's)
  12. bassbaterie


    Dec 14, 2003
    Houston Texas
    Director, Quantum Bass Center
    Nope, I don't have a problem with the bass as it has 'naturally' evolved. I do love it as we all do, that's why we're all playing, right? It resonates with our personalities. As Gary Karr says, "Bass players all love chocolate."

    But there are limits to what we can do, and considering that the ability to navigate - with precise intonation - on violin or cello, or BG, is functionally limitless, I just want more!

    I like the idea of the composite rod in the neck.

    Next question, about the acoustics of the bass body:

    Consider a bass drum. A smaller diameter drum is often capable of lower pitches than a larger one (fact!). The smaller drum can resonate efficiently with lower head tension, which equals lower pitch (at a given volume).

    The VOLUME of the chamber is not the determining factor. Similar advances in speaker cabinets in the last 20 years show the same. There's a little more to that story as there are advances in drivers (speakers) as well that contribute to vastly increased performance within a smaller enclosure. In our case, the driver would be represented by the strings, bridge, fingerboard, nut etc. - everything external to the sound cavity.

    What do you know about the physics of the bass body and production of pitch? I realize that's way too broad a question, but throw something at me! I'm not trying to re-invent the wheel here, I just want to know more about it.

    Has anyone ever tried a passive resonator in the bass body? Anyone know?
  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Interesting debate - of course EUBs have developed a lot recently and there have been big developments in pickups, microphones and amplification for Double Bass.

    So - I saw John Patitucci with Wayne Shorter at a pretty large venue locally and the amplified sound was fantastic - for pizz and arco - his acoustic tone was really conveyed authentically throughout the venue.

    Also - there has been a lot of development in string technology and we have more varieties of strings than ever before.

    But it depends what you are trying to do - so, if you take an international soloist like Maxim Vengerov - he's basically using a violin that hasn't changed since the 19th century or earlier, if you discount ths strings.

    And - you can't get any faster or more dextrous - it's just impossible!! ;)
  14. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    Bruce, was Patitucci using the AMT? I'm guessing he was, plus possibly a bit of Realist.
  15. bassbaterie


    Dec 14, 2003
    Houston Texas
    Director, Quantum Bass Center
    I've never had a pickup for my bass although I have plans to get one soon. I was just wondering about the acoustic sound for orchestral playing.

    Arnoldschnitzer will probably know - where are the experimental basses? Are they able to be sold and played, or do they mostly end up in luthiers' storage lockers? What have you seen and played?

    Any photos?

    Anyone played on a carbon-fiber instrument?
  16. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Yes. They stink.
  17. mpm


    May 10, 2001
    Los Angeles
    I heard a carbon fiber bass at the ISB Convention last June. Very 'weird' sound, and hard to describe...Like the BG realm, there might be some application of that technology to DB, the 'full' composite DB is...uh,...well..."different" sounding.
  18. Just curious... what type of "things" are you referring to?
  19. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    Agreed [emphatically!]. But they can be pleasing to the eye-see attachment.[Sorry, I know that this has been posted before, but it is worth a second look]
  20. Jesus!

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