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Does shape really affect sound? [Traeger's book]

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Andrew H, May 19, 2005.

  1. I just got my copy of Traeger's bass repair book. As I was perusing it last night, I found an interesting section in which he claims that there is a notable difference in sound between violin-cornered and gamba shapes. My understanding of what he states is as follows:

    Violin corners allow more flexibility in the top and allow the ribs to move more, creating a "darker" sound (more low frequencies, fewer high frequencies).

    Gamba corners allow less felxibility in the top (create more rigidity?), and therefore move the ribs less, creating a "brighter" sound (fewer low frequencies, more high frequencies).

    As such, he recommends violin-cornered basses for orchestral (arco) work and gamba-cornered basses for jazz (pizz.).

    From everything I've seen and read (though I haven't heard or done A/B comparisons), most people think that shape is more cosmetic than anything. Traeger indicates that this is not true. I have not been able to find anything in the archives that indicates anything other than the idea that shape does not affect sound.

    Does anyone have any experience with or thoughts about this? If Traeger is right, where do Busetto-cornered basses fit into this? What would be the impact of this on less-expensive basses (hybrid or all ply)? Would gamba corners help create more high end in an otherwise tubby-sounding all-plywood bass? Or conversely, would violin corners help to "mellow out" the tone (counteract the stiffness of laminate sides?) on a plywood or hybrid bass?

    Of course, individual basses, manufacturers, materials, etc. will affect the sound of each bass -- but can some generalizations about shape/sound actually be made in the way that Traeger has?
  2. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    If there was some sort of scale to measure a bass as "dark" or "bright," I am all but certain you'd find basses of all shapes and sizes from one end of the scale to the other and everywhere in between.
  3. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    This is one reason why I wont buy this book. 1) I can make my own jokes and 2) I worked with many comeadians in the past when I did shows and concerts.

    Most old German, Bohemian and Vieneese Basses are Gamba shaped as well as MANY of the English Basses. The Italians used both but many are of the Violin shape. Prescott??..Thunder on on the stage !!

    So Chucky, A violin cornered Juzek/Wilfer is deeper than a Gamba shaped Gagliano or Tarr Bass??.. Wow..Then I need to have my ears checked...

    Those poor German Orchestras.. They only have Gamba shaped Hornsteiners, Klotzs, Tiers and Stainers.. Too bad they don't have some Violin shaped Crissies.. or they would really be jammin then....
  4. a. meyer

    a. meyer

    Dec 10, 2004
    portland, oregon
    Yeah, I leafed through the Traeger book last week, and was underwhelmed by his pearls of wisdom. He just loves to put bolts in things, don't he?
  5. Before any one characteristic that influences sound can be looked at individually it must be a given that all other parameters are kept equal. It is so common a concept that it is often left without saying. So I think if you take Traeger's statement for what it's worth and in a context of all other things being equal, for instance dimensions, wood quality, manufacturer, etc., it might have some meaning coming from someone of considerable experience. If you place the statement into a schenario where all other parameters could be anything, then you have the extreme meaninglessness of the comparison. If you have so many variables that are not kept the same, the variation there could be more influential than shape on sound.

    An example of where it might have context: Similarly sized and constructed Pollmann basses that differ primarily in violin or gamba shape. You might find differences between the two as Traeger suggests. Comparing outside one manufacturer with different wood stock, etc., soon becomes meaningless.

    What is meaningful is that Traeger points to a reason which is structural for the difference. The sloping, straight-sided gamba ribs are less flexible than the curvier ribs of the violin shape. It is reasonable that the more flexible design would support the lower frequencies better.

    There are gamba shapes that are rounder than other gamba shapes with the corners being nearly insignificant in difference to violin corners. Also there are violin models with sloping shoulders more like those on early gambas, so shape is harder to characterize so easily. The usefull concept is that a body shape that is more flexible supports lower frequencies better, all other things being equal.
  6. Whether Traeger is right about this or not is one issue, but mostly just a chance to pick a bone with his opinions. But another glaring issue is how we go about asking these questions and answering them. For instance you say what would be the impact on less expensive hybrids or plys? That would require keeping all other aspects the same and only changing the shape. Perhaps you could do that with 50 to 100 factory basses for each parameter and come up with something. There are several standard models that come in both shapes. But that is what is required to get an answer. For each question, you need another instance where there are matching circumstances except for the shape. The higher the number of matching circumstances the more meaningful the results.

    Traeger's statement is just his opinion after years of experience and design analysis.
  7. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Traeger's statement makes no sence at all. There was NO Jazz before the 20th century. There were no Symphony Orchestras before the late 18th century. The Basses usually had high Shoulders with or without Violin Corners.

    C-bouts... This is more important for flexing the top than just the type of corner.. Tight C-bouts ingterrupt the plates less than longer more open C-bouts.

    Wood Type; Poplar and Willow as used in Italy sounds different than Maple which projects a bit more than the latter.

    The entire construction of the Bass and it's materials matter. The Corners are one of the smaller points. I think they can be delicate and look nice but not so practical for a large instrument like the Bass. Most old Basses have had some or all of thier corners knocked off at one time and many have had replacements made. Don't get me wrong here, I prefer the look of the Corner but I have to think practically.

    As far as using the term "manufacturer" plz try using "Maker" instead. We are not nor is Chuck (I think) talking about Plywood, Hybrids or Chinese Basses in any shape or form. He is referring to Carved Basses.

    Again, without making any insults, when making comparisions about the Tone or Construction of a Bass, we must use the Original handmade Carved model and not the later made Plywoods and the like originally made to substitute for the more costly (in some cases) Carved Bass.

    Now, after playing the last two years in Orchestras, I think the Gamba Shaped is much easier to manage. No points to hit when Bowing or stab yor leg or Break off if you lean the C-Bout on a chair to save the edges. I used 6 Basses in the last 2 years and 4 were gamba and 2 were Violin Cornered. Tone is by the Bass and not by the Corner. The Gambas have less to worry about phyiscally. I can't wait to play my Mystery Bass as it is Big, well made and Gamba with a playable string length in the works. Then I will have one more Bass to dis-prove this "theory" with.
    allTimeFavorite likes this.
  8. jtlownds


    Oct 3, 2004
    LaBelle, FL
    First we had hour-glass shaped and round ended sound-posts, then teflon under the bridge feet, now gambas sound different than violin cornered basses? I'm sure that Silversorcerer is going to flame me for this, but here goes. I have not read the book, nor am I going to, so I well may be taking things out of context. If you pull the top plate off of a bass (both kinds) and look at the linings and corner blocks, you will see that there is not a hell of a lot difference in their shapes internally. Certainly not enough to make a difference in their tone. Larger bouts or deeper ribs will certainly make a difference, but shape? I seriously doubt it. I am sure that there is much valuable information in his book, but some of it in my opion should be taken with a grain of salt.
  9. Andrew H.:
    Ken Smith:
    Ken, I think Andrew H. and I might have been talking about plywoods, hybrids, etc. It would appear so from the post that started the thread. How would you know what Traeger is talking about unless you've read the book? It seems that he made a statement of his opinion based on a great deal of experience with many instruments over many years as well as some knowledge of structural characteristics. I didn't read it as being exclusive to carved basses of any particular make or manufacture. All I was saying was that for an all things equal comparison, it would be useful to compare instruments that varied only in shape and you are talking about instruments that also vary in every other way as well. It is changing the subject of the post in two ways;- we are no longer talking about shape alone;- we are not discussing anything that can be defined. Gee, when have I seen this before? We can't discuss shape without considering every other aspect of construction? Why not? This is typical. If one wonders if the shape matters, quite obviously one is going to try to compare two basses where that is the only difference. Otherwise it could be something else that causes the difference. But those things are not what this thread is about.

    In any case much of what Ken has said is exactly what I'm talking about. He doesn't have a gamba bass and a violin shaped bass that are otherwise equal, so without that he can't really offer much but his own opinion, which seems to focus on carved basses basses that are gamba shaped. Obviously there is some bias there.

    By the way, I have a gamba also. I think it was hand manufactured (is that redundant?) or carved, or maybe both, according to the maker. If you asked me, I would say the biggest factor is displacement and then other things come into play, but this thread is about shapes, curvature of the bouts specifically. If we intend to find out what difference shape makes, we keep the volume the same and look at shape.
  10. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    There's no doubt that Traeger has some non-traditional and even eccentric hypotheses, many of them adduced regretably as theory and not the stuff of conjecture. There's no way this particular hypothesis has been "proved" just by asserting it, just as there is no way anyone in this thread can be said to have disproved it simply by saying they don't think it's true. Hooting is droll but doesn't count as proof or dis-proof. I don't think it's very likely to be true but then again I haven't dealt with hundreds of basses and had the thought occur to me on the basis of that experience. Who really knows what he's perceiving as tonal difference?

    There may be a few more of these types of things in the book, but we've likely discovered and discussed most of them by now. Don't overlook the fact that there is still much very practical and useful information in there that doesn't register so close to the controversy red-line.
  11. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I have owned both Gamba and Violin Wilfers at the same time. At one time, during my dealer/hobby days, I had 15 Basses in my living room. Several were Wilfers and some with Juzek Labels. I owned two Big French Basses of a Similar size. One Violin and one Gamba. The Violin model was Brighter but the wood was not identical and I can't remember the size of the Bouts.. Medium I think.. One was a Bernadel (round back) and the other a Barbe (Flat back).. Same Meircourt stuff... I think the Backs also have alot to do with the sound and it's projection BUT, I bet the actual wood used is the most important factor combined with design.

    Like I said, it takes many factors to compare Basses and Corners are not really one of them. BTW, Do you really think Chuck or anyone else would write a Book about Plywood?

    Which Glue is brighter?.. How should you fill the voids between the layers?.. Cummon.. This is clearly about tone and Tone in the Violin world does not usually include Plywood. Let's not go into that again.. I too have had 100s of Basses in my hands. In my last shopping spree alone I played dozens between just two shops and I Played my first Bass in 1964. You can do the math.....

    Recently in a conversation with Arnold we discussed a similar subject and corners themselves are not as much factor in the sound as the size of the center bout. Bigger Bouts give you more room to Bow but seperate the top and Bottom more. Tighter bouts make it harder to Bow but may help vibrations. Too Bad you can't make a Bass one way and then Chop it up and make it the other way so you can compare the EXACT same Pieces of woods on One Bass with the exception of the Corners/Bouts.

    When you get the chance, check out the difference in the Corner Blocks between the two different types.. Then you will understand better how meaningless Chucks' statement actually was...
    allTimeFavorite likes this.
  12. -A wise way to view any second hand information.
  13. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    ....setting microwave time.... looking for a big bowl.... "hey, anybody care for some popcorn?"
  14. :D Shape Does matter.
  15. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    I prefer Redenbachers in a big pan with lots of first pressing peanut oil and sea salt scraped from the gills of 4 year old blowfish myself...
  16. In case not all of you know, my friend here, Ken McKay, is in the process of making a guitar (pear) shaped bass. Where do you guys think this shape with no, or at least, modified corner blocks, comes in to this thread?
    Oh, and how about Busetto's with violin corners on the upper bours and Busetto on the lower?

    I think i'll have somebody make me a bass with Busetto on the top, and guitar shaped on the bottom......
    I think i'll have a smothered green burrito with Busetto's on the sides.....
  17. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    My large Mystery Bass has Gamba Upper Corners and the lowere ones only about half Gamba and half Guitarish.. Looks like an experiment to let the Bottom section vibrate better. The Purfling is in tact there so I know it is not a mod or wear. Blocks and lining in this Bass are 'Tiny'.

    How about some prediction of the sound of the Beast.. Takin bets anyone?

    Here's the Bass im question; http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/MysteryBass/name_that_bass.htm
  18. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    I think the reasoning here is backwards. The ribs on violin-cornered basses have MORE curves. Curves in wood=stiffness. Therefore, violin-cornered basses should theoretically have a STIFFER body than gamba-cornered basses. That said, in my opinion, corner style is meaningless in the scheme of things. There are so many other factors that are way more important.
  19. A curved rib has flexibility in two dimensions and stiffness in the 3rd dimension perpendicular to those. Stiffness in one dimension increases with curvature at the same time flexibility does in the other two dimensions. What is stiff about the curved rib construction is compressibility from top to back. The S curve design of the ribs is what provides a specific type of flexibility in the instrument from top to bottom and side to side. The instrument can flex when squeezed, but only in dimensions that transfer energy to the top and back plates. In this way the curved ribs efficiently transfer the squeezing force of the strings to the flexing action of the top, which is pushed and pulled laterally and longitudinally by the flexing ribs.

    If straight ribs were desirable perhaps we should resort to a trapezoidal shape similar to that proposed by Savart.
  20. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    See Arnold, the Basses you gave me to play that sounded great were all wrong according to him. It must have been the Floor vibration that I heard and Not the Bass...lol

    Silver..; Why then have only the Ribs cracked on My Gilkes and Top and Back are like the day they were made 200 years ago?

    Oh, and don't forget the Thickness of the Rib, Wood species used, Grain cut ie; Flat/Qtr/Rift, and length vs depth of each rib...

    If the science was so easy to figure out then Strad and a few others would not be so unique.

    Maybe we should just go and practice with our free time..lol

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