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Dare I think ‘laminate’ ....

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by bassedsouth, Mar 9, 2019.

  1. I know that Laminated basses aren’t always spoken of in an endearing manner by some players / myself included but .....

    I have an old Czech ply bass that I kept at the coast for holiday practice years back. Subsequently I brought it back home and it’s been in storage for years. I always remembered this instrument as having an unusually good arco sound for a laminate and being very easy to get around on .Ive just pulled it out of hiding and slapped some old spiro mittels on and have to say that it’s got the potential to be a very good bass for jazz. It just has great playability and a very quick pizz response which is kind of addictive! Sure it doesn’t have the complexity, personality and finesse of my good carved instruments but I was thinking about Eddie Gomez who uses a ply bass that was Arnold Schnitzers main gigging bass -Eddie apparently fell in love with it and took it off Arnold . Then there’s one of my favorite bassists- Israel Crosby who seemed to also largely use a Kay. It’s a tough one to have to admit that maybe a bass like this could become a serious contetender amongst some good carved basses that I own. I’m interested if anyone out there may have had the same experience ...
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  2. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    I can't share the exact experience as i have never owned a hybrid or carved bass, but i can at least say i am nothing but satisfied with my Upton Standard Laminate to the point where i don't have much desire to even upgrade. As a jazz player, it delivers in every category and i constantly get compliments on the sound of the bass. If i was a heavy arco player, my thoughts might be different, but who knows. No one with a solid arco skill set has ever played this bass, including myself.

    I think at the end of the day, we can't over generalize on the quality of a hybrid/carved bass vs a laminate. It comes down to quality of build and the individual bass. In others words, you can't judge a book by it's cover. By dismissing a laminate before playing it, you might be missing out on a great experience!
    bassedsouth likes this.
  3. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    I would see how it feels to play a whole set or two with it, then check out the set ups on your other basses. If you really like it better for one reason or another then you don't need anyone's permission!
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2019
  4. statsc

    statsc Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2010
    Burlington, VT
    I also have a very good sounding Upton Standard laminate, as well as an old carved Tyrolean. After playing the Upton for a while, my ear “adjusts” to that as the standard, and I think it sounds great. Then when I pick up the Tyrolean, it’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s the sound!” Still, the Upton puts any of the other plywoods I’ve played (including old Kays) to shame!
    Chris Fitzgerald and bassedsouth like this.
  5. Rebop


    Jul 9, 2008
    La Honda, CA
    Most of the time I just love how a ply bass sounds in the mix. A lot of thump without all those pesky overtones. Like a punch to the gut with every note.

    Honestly I think most jazz combos sound better with a ply. Even when I'm listening to some great players using great basses there's something missing. It's almost a hollow, out of focus sound. I heard a great ensemble the other night on my local public radio jazz show, and when the bass player took a solo it sounded really bad. No oomph. Too much of the upper midrange to my ear and not enough fundamental. It seems to be a common theme with the modern jazz sound. Maybe gut strings could have helped. Even when he was comping I was thinking "why would anyone want to sound like that?"
    unbrokenchain and bassedsouth like this.
  6. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Let's not get carried away. Mingus and Red Mitchell sound better than anyone with nice carved basses. There are a lot of reasons why most of us opt for carved basses. The problem with a thread like this is you have a lot of people chiming in like the post above trying to justify going cheap on gear. If you haven't spent real time with both carved and plywood basses you are not making a choice you are making due. It great to keep a good attitude and work with the gear you have.
    Not practicing arco is going to hold back any bass player. End of story. Some of those bassists are still able to thrive in other areas, though I firmly believe they would do even better with arco practice as good some are able to sound.
    The most important place for way a bass sounds and plays is the practice room. Being an average double bassist takes hours and hours of tedious work, mostly arco. Few can muster the inspiration to do a enough of it on a plywood bass.

    Making an informed decision, after working with a few different set ups, to settle on a nice ply bass with character (and usually gut) can be a powerful artistic decision. Lots of great work can be made. Very few are up to challenge of those limitations.
    It is similar to the late, great painter Robert Ryman, a former saxophonist who spent time with Tristano. He did 5 or 6 decades working with only the square format and the color white. He produced an amazing body of work - few others could.
    Israel Crosby's name gets thrown around in these discussions a lot - I have NEVER heard anyone alive today sound like him. Making comparisons to bassists who played bass for a living before amplifiers is unhelpful to those trying to make due with a cheap bass.

    For anyone wondering if a ply bass is good enough for them, the answer is no. For those people who know it is good enough, the right carved bass would still more than likely step things up.

    You cannot underestimate good tools with the double bass. A cheap snakewood bow stepped things up for me after years of a basic bow.
  7. Rebop


    Jul 9, 2008
    La Honda, CA
    I actually agree with a lot of that, Damon.
    That being said, I don't think I'd bring my carved German bass to most of my gigs just because the way it sits in the mix. Same with my Czech Hybrid. I usually grab my prewar Epiphone for jazz and swing music and my CCB for anything that rocks a bit (both strung with guts).
    I would never use these ply basses if I was doing a gig where I needed to play arco (except for that time I did).

    I do think most people try to use their carved basses for the wrong kinds of music. Same with the plywood basses. Maybe that's why I have 6 flavors to choose from.
    damonsmith likes this.
  8. I think bottom line is the music comes first regardless.Eddie Gomez swears by what he calls his Frankenstein bass made from the parts of a couple of Kay basses and why not! He’s an EXCELLENT and studied arco player and still he chose a ply bass. His actual technical sound may be sweeter with a great carved instrument but his musical language , passion and feel won’t be any different . He chose to love his Kay bass and not let any of it’s limitation get in the way of his ability to express his music - I wonder if he actually even thought that it had any limitations in the first place
  9. ERIC A

    ERIC A Supporting Member

    About 10 years ago I purchased a very nice carved Bass because I wanted to experience what it was like to play a quality instrument. Well after about a year I sold it because I couldn't deal with the stress. I worried about taking it on gigs because I knew it was always the possibility somebody with Bang into it. On top of that my young Sons put their Matchbox cars through the f-holes and that about ending my relationship with my carved Bass. I bought a plywood Shen and have only played that since. The carved bass definitely sounds superior to the Shen, but people do complement the sound of my Shen all the time. So what's my point? I have no idea.
  10. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Asheville, NC
    Reminds me of the Jaco thing with electric bass. Yeah, the guy was freakin brilliant, but if I play bass guitar I don't want to sound anything like that :) But I've also heard this with DB, my bass teacher in college had two basses, a carved Juzek and an old Am Standard. The Juzek was by far the winner arco, but didn't come close to the big bloom of the AS for pizz. Could have been setup/strings but it was a big difference.

    Here here, Eric A! I don't have kids, but I live in a log cabin that was built in the 1800s and only has a wood stove for heat, no a/c. I play laminate basses because A: that's what I could afford and B: I'm afraid a carved bass would self-destruct in my house with all the extreme humidity changes. One day I'll have a carved bass, but I either need to move or build some kind of climate-controlled space for it. I also play at places where copious amounts of alcohol are being consumed by patrons who all seem to want to check out my "cello." I can relax with a Kay.

    I ran sound last night for a jazz trio (singer/guitar/doublebass). Guy was playing a carved Romanian bass with Evah weichs. As soon as he pulled it out of the bag and hit a note to tune I was blown away, so freaking loud. Realist pickup and acoustic image amp, but he sounded far better without the amp from where I was sitting.
    ERIC A and bassedsouth like this.
  11. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    His arco is about as clean as you can get from a ply bass, but, still pretty nasal sounding. Also, he certainly did not develop that technique on a ply bass, it was an artistic choice made later. I think it is a beautiful sound, if unconventional:

    I think the main issue with recorded jazz is not carved vs. ply it is whether you allow any amp/pick up DIs in the studio.
  12. If your priority is sound, then you will not look at changes in humidity and possible damage from shocks. I would be sorry and plywood bass to give to the mercy of children or friends.

    As for the first message, I can say the following. I am not familiar with K, but I am familiar with hybrid and ply Czech and East German basses of the second half of the 20th century. The ones made in 1960-1970 are excellent bass and sound really cool with good tuning. I am not surprised that you are impressed!
    bassedsouth likes this.
  13. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    I own two German-made plys because that's all that I could afford and for the gigs I do (blues, retro country, bluegrass, etc.) ply is the sound. It also saves on worrying about humidity and physical damage.

    I once played my repairman's $85,000 carved bass and a $20,000 bow and even with my ineptitude the sound was magical. With their owner piloting the bass, even more so :roflmao: The fine detail in the notes was mindboggling, making my ply sound like it was buried underneath a pile of wet blankets. However, $105,000 is more than I originally paid for my house and 50% more than my current annual income :whistle:
  14. that's a pretty good income...I hope it's all from gigs!

    More seriously, I own a well setup 50s-60s (likely 60s) Czech ply and it sounds and plays fantastic with guts...but it's not a carved bass.
    Dabndug likes this.
  15. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    That may have something to do with the way radio compresses/boosts music these days. The actual recording over a good system my sound considerably different.
  16. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    Did you guys see the original poster's location? I can't imagine taking a $105,000 bass & bow to a $50 outside summer gig in Jo'burg.....!
    bassedsouth and Dabndug like this.
  17. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    That's not Eddie's "Frankenstein" bass in the video. I'd know, as he got it from me. The bass in the video is likely a "bass du jour". Eddie dislikes traveling with a bass, and doesn't do it anymore.
  18. Dabndug

    Dabndug Supporting Member

    Sep 27, 2017
    Somewhere in Oz
    I'm always mystified by the inability of some people to understand the utility and, dare I say, beauty, of the laminate bass. There are many occasions when a relatively inexpensive and durable piece of engineering outperforms an exquisite work of craftsmanship.
    rknea, bassedsouth and james condino like this.
  19. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    The thing is you can make great music on a ply, but you're gonna sound and likely play better on a better bass. Israel Crosby made great music on a ply bass, but if he had Ray Brown's or Percy Heath's or Charles Mingus's instruments, to name 3 of his peers off the top of my head, it would have been even better. Sound does count for something and so does the response and tactile feel you get from a good carved bass. In the first couple of decades after WWII Europe was broke and gigs were plentiful, so lots of guys could afford good basses, and there's a lot of reasons they bought them.
  20. Bijoux


    Aug 13, 2001
    I asked the school where I teach to get me a good bass, and they bought a Shen laminated. I love that bass. It doesn't sound like my carved basses but it sounds great too.
    Knowing what I know today if I had to start over I would probably buy one of those and call it good.
    bassedsouth likes this.

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