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Cross bracing vs. x-bracing

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by opaik, Feb 17, 2003.

  1. opaik


    Feb 17, 2003
    I own an old German flatback double bass, full size, which was fallen upon by a drunk at a gig. It was broken up pretty badly and repaired, just enough to get back into action at minimal cost. In the process, the cross (parallel bracing) was replaced by x-bracing.
    It is now in the shop (Los Angeles Bassworks, Lisa), and we're trying to figure out whether to replace the original style of bracing, or leave the x-bracing as is. One opinion is that the cross bracing is stronger. Lisa doesn't think that this is a big factor here, in that the cracks in this bass don't seem to have much connection with everyday stress.

    Does anyone have strong opinions one way or the other? It will cost about a $1000 to restore the original bracing system, so my inclination is to leave it, since my understanding is that there isn't a tonal difference. Will much appreciate input.

    Dan Paik
  2. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    I am skeptical about the idea that there is no tonal diff. There are modern basses made that employ x-bracing and they are not known for exceptional tone. Of course, that idea is very anecdotal and doesn't mean that it is the x-bracing that is the culprit. There's gonna be very little empirical evidence in this equation. I'm curious what Arnold will say, he has a bit of Xperience with X basses.
  3. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    IMHO X-bracing is more stable. The brace wood crosses the back wood at a much less acute angle, and should, theoretically, hold up better to climate change and other factors. But I think the essential sound of a flatback bass is generated by the springy crossbar under the soundpost, which serves to both amplify and spread the vibration. I installed X-braces in a flatback I rebuilt, with very good results. But these days I stick to the old tried-and-true. So I guess I agree with my nemesis, Bowlback.
  4. Martin Sheridan

    Martin Sheridan

    Jan 4, 2001
    Fort Madison, Iowa
    Bass Maker
    I haven't had enough experience playing on X-braced backs to give you an opinion of the sound. There is at least one contemporary maker who uses this method and his basses are apparently well thought of because he's selling a lot of them. A friend of mine who is a professional symphony bassist told me that he thought they didn't respond as well in the upper positions, but he may have only played on one.
    The bass may be more forgiving if you play chiefly pizz? Recently I heard of a Prescott bass that has X braces original to the bass, so I guess it's not a new idea. The problem with cross braces is that they are made of spruce and the back is usually maple, and the two woods are expanding and contracting at different rates and that causes the cracking. The idea of the X brace is to prevent or lesson that problem. I've seen a few basses that have only the one cross brace that supports the soundpost, and though they were old basses the backs were in much better shape than normal. I'm planning on doing that on the two basses I'm making now. I guess that raises the question of why build a flat back if they seem to have a built in health problem? Because many of the best players I've known, including Gary Karr, think they have a more focused sound. I have heard and played on some really fantastic round back basses and own one myself, but most of the best basses I've known have been flat backs.
    If you're happy with the bass, I can't see any reason to change it back.
  5. A more likely reason is that flatbacks a A LOT easier and much cheaper to build than a carved back.
  6. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Has anyone ever experimented with alternatives to these bracing schemes? I guess I don't understand well enough the forces and stresses involved here. But in guitar luthiery you sometimes see elaborate girder things and I even saw a flying buttress once, I think. What about a metal brace attached with some kind of slot scheme, same idea as in tabletop fastening...

    Afterthought: Hey, I'm not talking about the German flatback that started this. I'm thinking in general, like.
  7. I guess I'll hijack this one a little more. Michael Kasha patented a Fan-bracing and X-bracing for cello and double bass (Patent #5,381,714). I saw and played a bass that the Hammond Ashley shop had replaced the traditional bass bar with the Kasha design. It played very well. I've seriously thought about using this as part of the repair on a bass that had a really bad bass bar crack.

    Search for Kasha and Double Bass
  8. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    I have a client with a very old bass which has a single, longitudinal brace on the back. It runs from the bottom to the back bend, and the soundpost sits on it. The brace looks to be about 3"x5/8" or so, and appears to be about a century old. The center seam is simply cleated. The bass sounds really great, but I don't have the cojones to try this scheme myself. I personally prefer round-backs, though it is easier to get a sound from a flatback. IMHO, the main reason is that most round backs are made too thick. I agree with Bob B. that flat-backs became popular mainly to save on material costs. Of course, there is also the historical connection to the viol family...