Double bass sizing

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Conner Nagel, Dec 9, 2020.

  1. I am starting the process of purchasing a double bass and would like advice on sizing:

    I am 6'4, my hands are fairly large but not enormous. I played double bass in middle and high school but am now in my late twenties and have only played BG since. I will be primarily using the bass for bluegrass and jazz. I do not expect to do much bowing or any orchestral music. I prefer standing to using a stool and will often be in settings without amplification. I know 3/4 is the standard but am wondering if a larger bass would better suit me. I also plan on gigging with it somewhat often and don't know how big of a difference the sizes are when it comes to transporting. Any and all feedback is appreciated.

    Thank you and long live the low end!

  2. nogbert


    Jul 18, 2010
    Denver, CO
    Im 6'3" and have spider hands (i can span my thumb and pinky across the diameter of a standard frisbee and grip the inside edges) and play a 3/4. 3/4 is by no means small or anything. If anything for people smaller than us it is just too big.
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  3. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    The other thing to consider is that while 3/4 size basses may be the standard, there’s nothing “standard” about double bass sizing. You could find a small 3/4 or a large 3/4 and everything in between. See here for some good reading re: bass sizing on the Gollohur site.
  4. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    No reason not to be open to the idea of a 7/8s. I'm 5'11" and I would be open to one if it played comfortably.

    But, you'll find many more 3/4 basses and there would be no issue with you playing one of them either. Shop for the bass, not the brand or specs.
  5. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    The difference in sound between 3/4 and 7/8 is more about timbre - the voice of the instrument - than about volume. 7/8 basses are more often seen in orchestras than on bluegrass or jazz stages, because the deeper voice of the larger basses is suited to orchestral music, where forays into thumb position are not so common.

    What you want for bluegrass and jazz is a good pizzicato thump, and maybe some growl. A decent 3/4 will provide that without the challenges of the bigger bass. Bass soloists often play even smaller instruments.

    But it's your choice, of course. Good luck!
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  6. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    As we bass nerds like the deep low end, too much of a good thing can sometimes get lost in the mix. A little bit of midrange honk cuts through far better. There are a couple of rooms here in town where my American Standard is completely lost, but my old Kay with guts kills it.

    Connor, where are you located. We might be able to recommend a few shops where you can try out a bunch of basses and the right one will pick you.
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  7. Ed S

    Ed S

    Nov 14, 2019
    I'm 6'3" w/ reasonably large hands. Never thought of my 3/4 as too small.

    Just got a 7/8. Physically it IS noticeably larger. Not so much getting around it, but moving it about in my house, I just have to be a tad more careful not to hit walls/furniture. Haven't taken it out of the house yet, but I imagine I'd experience the same thing. W/ an upright of any size, it is not uncommon to feel somewhat cramped in many performance spaces - the 7/8 would be just a little bit moreso. I'm sure it will fit in my hatchback just fine.

    It is a little larger when bowing - just a tiny adjustment getting around to the G string. Some folk have said their 7/8 made thumb position a challenge, but that part of the fingerboard is terra incognita for me.

    My 7/8 has a bigger sound, but my 3/4 was plenty loud - and if you are going to mic/amp, it may not matter.

    There are A LOT more 3/4s out there than 7/8s. When you start shopping, I'd suggest you just concentrate on finding the bass in your range that speaks to you - w/o even thinking about whether it is 3/4 or 7/8.
  8. Everything said above is right. Bigger bass would possibly be louder and sound nicer. But I feel we are omiting the (only?) good reason for a smaller bass, and that would be a place in your car. As a bass player, you are constantly moving somewhere with your bandmates. Do you have big enough trunk? The clubs, at least in my place, are usually down some small stairs. In Prague Czech republic where I live, most of the clubs are downtown and cars can't park downtown unless they pay a noticeable fee for parking. So I'm often going by mass transit ... I think this practical reasoning is the general reason for 3/4 overwhelming the bass world since jazz started. I might be all wrong of course... perhaps the times had already changed.
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  9. GretschWretch

    GretschWretch Supporting Member

    Dec 27, 2013
    East Central Alabama
    This^, plus there are some niche genres of music that in certain contexts might make a fractional bass the first choice. Small venues like coffee houses, ensembles where a 3/4 might overwhelm the other instruments. But for high-profile orchestral, jazz, or country gigs, 3/4 is the default setting.
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  10. I see you're in Cinci - go to the Bass Cellar and try everything. I am 5'5" and I prefer to have a smaller instrument. I like my string length between 39" and 41" (my bass is just shy of 41 but I've played some killer instruments that are in the 39" range). String length and body size correlate but there are definitely big instruments with shorter string lengths, and vice versa.
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  11. Ed S

    Ed S

    Nov 14, 2019
    Bored with work, so I decided to pull out a tape measure. Didn't try for any terrible precision, but these should be pretty close. 1st column is 3/4 Englehardt ply, 2d column 7/8 Upton hybrid:

    21.8# - 24.2# weight
    7 3/4" - 8 3/8" rib depth
    20 1/4" - 21 1/2" upper bout max width
    28 1/4" - 28 1/2" lower bout max width
    33 1/4" - 35 9/16" fingerboard, nut to end of FB
    42 3/16" - 42" fingerboard, nut to bridge (mensure?)
    3 15/16" - 3 15/16" fingerboard width at end
    72" - 72 1/2" overall height


    So the 7/8 is considerably heavier and deeper front to back. Of course, I imagine a good portion of the weight is due to wood being heavier than ply. Top bout an inch+ wider, but bottom bouts quite close.

    I was surprised the fb on the 7/8 Upton was so much longer (guess I'd better get working on them high notes! ;)), tho the vibrating length of the string is very close.

    I was surprised the overall length of the instruments is so similar. The Upton FEELS taller and I feel as tho I am not extending the pin as much whether standing or sitting. When I extend it as far as I'm used to, the nut is WAY over my hairline.

    I think the extra inch depth and top bout width is what makes it feel larger bowing. But I'm not sure what is contributing to the sensation of greater overall height.

    BTW: I asked my wife for a specific definition of mensure, and she gave me some fiddle specific answer, and didn't feel like going through her notes. I searched these forums, and saw the answer of nut to bridge. But try giving it a google, and see how much DOESN'T show up! Weird. I wouldn't have thought I could google any word and get so few results.
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2020
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  12. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    To me, the mensure is the most important measurement overall. I wouldn't buy or not buy a bass based solely on this metric, but it's the one that I will care about the most over time. It will play a role that can't practically be fixed with setup. We talk a lot her about how much tension or stiffness various strings have, longer mensure is going to be a big factor in that is kind of a fixed variable (I know that you can create a false nut, but I wouldn't buy a bass on purpose that I knew going in I would want to do that to in order to make it more playable for me.) A bunch of other factors like over-stand and tailpiece setup can be a factor too and those things can be more practically changed with lutheriery, but again, if I were to make a purchase decision on a bass I would want to be pretty inspired by how it was when I bought it.

    I played a 7/8 bass for about an hour in a shop once that made me all tingly inside and got me thinking about buying it. It felt great and it sounded great. If I was in the market and I fell in love with a 7/8 instrument and was comfortable getting around on it, I wouldn't hesitate. I can't imagine it not fitting in a car or on a stage that my 3/4 bass did. I do understand wheeling it around downtown and the risk of whacking it on doorframes would be an inconvenience that I took on, but if it played and sounded right, I'd personally take that trade-off. Getting to the gig is always a hassle for doublebass players, but we do it because it's worth it once we're there and I am happier and play better on nights that I'm connected with my instrument as I'm playing it.

    My assumption is that I would find a 3/4 bass with either a slightly shorter mensure than my current one and/or one that handled tension better. Honestly, I've thought about this and my criteria would be to find a bass that felt and sounded the way that I wanted it to strung with S42 Spirocore Mittels. My current bass really doesn't wear them well and most of my angst really comes down to working around that fact. But, that's my criteria, you'll have your own.

    Play as many basses as you can and you'll know when you've found yours. Don't buy specs.
    Conner Nagel likes this.
  13. GretschWretch

    GretschWretch Supporting Member

    Dec 27, 2013
    East Central Alabama
    Nothing is on Google until somebody uploads it to Google. In this respect Google is no different than the shelves at your local grocery. This also is a major reason why, in spite of the opinions of ignoramus educators and politicos, everything will *not* be on Google. Ever.
    Conner Nagel likes this.
  14. Ed S

    Ed S

    Nov 14, 2019
    Sure, but I'm often astounded at the number of "hits" I find on searches I expected to be quite obscure, so it surprised me that in the first several pages I only saw one response to an article and a couple to Talkbass threads.

    I was curious - and, as usual, bored w/ work ;) - so I thought I'd check Traeger. No "mensure" in the index, and a quick skim revealed no mention in the sections on false nuts, bridge placement, etc.

    I've heard it described as a "ratio" WRT the string length, and also as a simple measurement of length - nut to bridge.

    I'm not at all expert, and I'm not questioning anything any of the experienced folk have posted here. But it strikes me as curious that I've not readily been able to find a clear definition.

    And when you do go, try that "pirate" bass and report back! :D
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  15. paulunger

    paulunger Supporting Member

    Sep 1, 2002
    Fort Worth, Texas
    Yes, the Cincinnati Bass Cellar is awesome. I love Andy and all the guys there. I know for a fact that they have a killer "Bob Spear" bass there that is a full 3/4 size bass but with a 39" string length.
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  16. Ed S

    Ed S

    Nov 14, 2019
    OK, like I said, really bored here, and likely of no interest to anyone other than me. But I'll toss this out there and please tell me where I'm wrong.

    Roy, The Violin, It's History and Making
    Index p736 "mensur" - see Diapason, stop
    p732 diapason - length of free vibrating string from nut to bridge. Divided into 2 parts: 1. the "neck" nut to upper edge of top plate; 2. the "stop" plate edge to bridge. Common neck to stop ratio for basses - 7-8:10.
    Weisshaar/Shipman, Violin Restoration, A Manual for Violin Makers
    image on p163 - "mensur" is horizontal line (not string length) from nut to top edge of plate.

    James, Practical Acoustics of Instruments of the Violin Family
    image on p17, text p18 "stop or mensura" - measurement from bridge to top edge of top plate.
    Measure from plate to nut is "neck length"
    Also notes, "These measurements are often confused by musicians, but it is important that they are defined precisely, as they imply totally different aspects of the instrument." ;)

    And Webster's unabridged says "mensur" is an abbreviation of "mensuration"...

    I don't want to get into any pi$$ing contest w/ anyone, I just found this curious. These relatively respected sources don't even agree on the damn spelling, but they DO seem to agree that "mensur[e]" is something different than simply a measure the vibrating portion of the string.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2020
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  17. GretschWretch

    GretschWretch Supporting Member

    Dec 27, 2013
    East Central Alabama

    It also might be called vibrating string length. But I believe with bass, unlike the other bowed strings (and leaving aside for the moment the Suzuki fractional sizes), the mensure is all over the place, depending on the particular instrument. That may be why you are not finding references, because there is no standardization.

    If I may ask, what search terms were you entering into Google?
  18. Ed S

    Ed S

    Nov 14, 2019
    "mensure" and "mensur".

    The books I looked at specifically discuss all members of the violin family - including bass. They suggest specific lengths for and ratios between what they call the mensur/neck and the stop. My understanding is that that ratio is important in order to end up with an instrument that tunes/plays consistently throughout its range. As you note - results in some fractional instruments having poor sound. Also, some standardization of that range is reflected in the ability of players to shift between different violin family instruments. And I suspect that MOST makers (since Strad, at least ;)) simply rely on measured lengths from their patterns. But this is all stuff I readily acknowledge I am not able to discuss intelligently.

    My main observation is that I found several cites saying mensur IS NOT the entire string length, and none (other than forum posts) saying that it is. But it seems as tho folk around here are writing as tho mensure = string length nut to bridge. I'm curious where they got that definition/usage from.

    I'm a lawyer, so precision in the definition and use of words matters to me. Some might consider it nitpicking or pedantic, but I'm interested in whether we all mean the same thing when we use the term mensur[e]. Moreover, if we simply mean "vibrating string length" of "string length nut to bridge", why not say that?
  19. Jason Hollar

    Jason Hollar Jazz & Cocktails

    Apr 17, 2005
    Central Pa
    My first DB teacher told me “you’ve got to find a bass that fits your hand.”
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  20. GretschWretch

    GretschWretch Supporting Member

    Dec 27, 2013
    East Central Alabama

    Is this something like what you are looking for?

    Pirastro - Strings Handmade in Germany since 1798

    I agree that lawyers, along with scientists, want a term to mean one thing and only that one thing. No slop and wobble in meaning allowed. No Humpty Dumpty either.

    I personally have used the word "mensure" in TB posts often, and always as a synonym for "vibrating string length," never total string length. Mensure also is a more economical term than either of the alternatives you mention. Why use a phrase when a single word will do?
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