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Ernst Heinrich Roth 1956 Old School Bass Build under $600

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Jon Fiala, May 8, 2016.


  1. Jon Fiala

    Jon Fiala

    Feb 9, 2016
    Madison
    So I began my journey to pursue the Upright bass career after playing Ella Fitzgerald's "lullaby of birdland" within my Black Jazz Ensemble course at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Richard Davis, a jazz master awarded bassist, critiqued my rendition and asked me if I could play the Double Bass on this piece. Having never touched a double bass, I asked one of the other bassists on the fly if I could borrow his double bass for a song. I then played it and developed a love for double bass, while impressing my colleagues as well. Immediately after I the ensemble ended that day, I went and rented a double bass which would be kept at the school. I soon learned that the commute was very difficult, and I wanted more time on the double bass to play at the level necessary for collegiate level improvised Jazz.

    My first stop was at a Madison area music store. There I played a gorgeous Shen SB 150 bass with a dropped to the board action. I learned that setup is everything there and played this bass for quite awhile in the showroom floor until the price tag for this chinese hybrid bass astounded me, (being over 2800 dollars). Looking up in a slight haze from this price I noticed that on the ceiling was a beat to hell circa late 1800's gamba styled bass. I inquired about this bass to the owner of the store, and while he said he couldn't part with that bass(having been with the store for over 50 years), he could show me a couple of basses at his Appleton location that I could look at. He warned me though that these basses were in such disrepair that they would be used to make wall pieces or flower pots after being chopped up. Appleton was quite a drive so I did not want to waste either of our times, so after hearing that this bass he thinks was the best of his "junkyard" selection would cost only $150, I almost was going to cancel the trip. Luckily I didnt...

    I arrived at the shop, and the sales clerk I was supposed to talk to wasn't in yet, so I perused their sales floor and found another beautiful shen(I do believe their hybrids look and play killer, but it could be that I've only played 3 of them and lucked out). Finally after waiting for half an hour playing this awesome $4000 bass, it was time for me to see the junkyard dog of a bass they had waiting for me. My first words were, "that's what you think should be scrapped!" Having built muscle cars all of my life, I understand that though something doesn't look the part yet, doesn't mean that its junk. The neck was solid to the body with no repairs, there were a few cracks on the top that were more cosmetic then anything, the edges were chipped, and there was a chunk out of the bottom of the top which caused a lift from the seal. The finish needed to be redone, and it needed parts, but that's it. I immediately took out the 150 bucks and went home with my first upright.
    back of buttercup. First picture of buttercup.
     
    Rezdog, ColdEye and Sam Sherry like this.
  2. Jon Fiala

    Jon Fiala

    Feb 9, 2016
    Madison
    Doing a bit of research I learned that this bass was with the Appleton School district for 40 years, and then was sent in for its final repair at the music shop I acquired it at. It ended up costing the school too much money in order to repair this instrument for the school to keep it so the store kept it in its junk yard for 20 years until the day I bought it from them. Turns out that this is a 1956 Ernst Heinrich Roth hybrid bass, created for a student market being made of a hybrid construction. After talking with the local Lutheir who specializes in double basses, he basically stated that if this is what they refer to as 150 junkyard basses, then he'll head up and buy 5 of them that day.
    After a careful examining he declared that this bass was in immaculate condition on the interior, having a solid bass bar, and a really rugged build, like that of a Wilfer(though it is still up to debate weather these are of wilfer origins or actually built by the EHR shop). Seeing that I could probably handle a lot of the minor repair myself, he told me exactly what things to do to save me money, and what would be difficult that he should probably do.
    At the end of our conversation it was determined that I should refinish the bass, then bring it in so he could plug the non-end-pin wire bracing hole(which was an unnecessary feature to save money on these basses during construction), then he would reseal the bass and patch the chunk that was missing on the top, seal any structural hindering cracks on the top, add a nice end-pin to it, and re-slot the nut. It was also determined that later on, a fingerboard replacement would be necessary for comfort due to the thinness that years of touch ups had done to this fingerboard. However, he said that it would still be playable, but it would be like playing a high orchestral setup instead of a smooth low jazz set up, which is more my style.
    In total, I ended up spending around 350 bucks for the repair, and also a French Despiau bridge blank($50), a poorly cut genuine ebony tail piece($10), a set of lightly used Obligatos($25), and a new kevlar tail wire(free because he prefers steel for his basses).
     
  3. Jon Fiala

    Jon Fiala

    Feb 9, 2016
    Madison
    Sanding the old finish down to see if a cool effect can occur on the bass with slight flaming over the actual wood's grain... buttercups sanding 1.
    This took hours of light sanding to complete...
    fully sanded bc back.
    I left the top's original finish as is. Firstly, it shows the beautiful patina on this genuine spruce carved top, as well as preserving a light finish on it to keep the tone true. The plywood back I didn't care about due to its durable nature and god awful finish on it before. I would've used a chemical stripper on the back if it happened to a solid or fully carved back, but in this case sanding worked great(although took forever)
     
  4. Jon Fiala

    Jon Fiala

    Feb 9, 2016
    Madison
    The label pictured with a branded stamp at the top Buttercups label.
     
  5. Jon Fiala

    Jon Fiala

    Feb 9, 2016
    Madison
    After matching the min-wax stain as close to the tops finish as possible, I decided to use a separate stain and lacquer. For people trying to refinish the ply on their upright bass, this is definitely a recommended method. Firstly, it has to be an oil based finish on these old basses which is covered by this method, second it is the easiest method with the least opportunity to screw it up. Thirdly, it is the fastest method as well. All you do is apply your stain using the method provided on the bottle, let this cure. After it has thoroughly cured in the color you want, seal it using their brand of lacquer, preferably their aerosol lacquer. To give it an even, but also old school brushed look, I used a brush after spraying the lacquer to achieve a brushed look, as well as using a semi gloss lacquer to give a vintage sheen. I sprayed the entire bass with this semigloss clear lacquer to provide the same sheen to the sides, back and top(though very lightly did the top because it was already protected by the original untouched finish). I finished the top after the repairs with the lacquer so these photos show the pre-repair finish finished BC back. finished bc front.
     
  6. Jon Fiala

    Jon Fiala

    Feb 9, 2016
    Madison
    Got the bass back from the shop, then went to work installing the bridge, then doing my first upright set up. First off, I ended up polishing the tuners right before it went to the shop so these pictures are of the polished tuners, then of the sanding and finishing of the back of the neck using tung oil(went from 350 grit... to 1000 grit, and finished with 0000 steel wool) tuner bc image.
    As you cab see, I polished the open areas of the tuners and plate while leaving the corrosion in areas that would not be affected by heavy use. This gives it a nice appearance which would have developed if the bass didn't sit untouched for 20 years. I then oiled the gears with a gun lubricant I got for free at a hunting expo, which makes the tuners glide like butter. tung oil bc image.
    It was quite surprising how much flame was on the audience side of the neck. This was without using any stain, and now that the neck had been finished, it made the play-ability later on much smoother and more comfortable.
     
  7. Jon Fiala

    Jon Fiala

    Feb 9, 2016
    Madison
    Taking a bridge blank of highly figured maple and cutting it down to the right size without a band saw is quite the task. Later on, when I invest in a thicker fingerboard, I will definitely invest in a professionally installed bridge. Regardless, the instant I finally strung it up having installed the bridge, tailpiece with Kevlar cable and cleaning it thoroughly, it was all worth it. I was amazed at how well it played without any adjustment from the first set up, and to my amazement, it sounds and plays better then the Mathias bass I rent from the school. first picture of buttercup finished.
     
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  8. Jon Fiala

    Jon Fiala

    Feb 9, 2016
    Madison
    The addition of the very well crafted end-pin with a rubber stopper on the end made the bass very enjoyable to play. It only costed $65 bucks for the end-pin and installation, so if you have a thin end-pin with no rubber stopper on the end and intend on playing lots of jazz gigs, just invest the money because it is well worth the comfort gained. The next order of business involved designing and building my own piezo pickup to keep this build under the 600 dollar mark, and so that I could play on more contemporary jazz pieces requiring amplification such as a couple Erykah Badu arrangements. After spending just under 10 dollars at radio shack, I was able to buy two piezo buzzers, a quarter inch input, and shrink tubing to hide the wires in a professional way. I placed one piezo under the bridge's G side(which I later would remove due to feed back at higher volumes) and one I made into a wedge using hobby European birch plywood(which I cutup in multiple sections placing one on top of the piezo, and three to fill the gap in the bridge underneath it). I suggest looking up wiring diagrams for this, then watching Upton Bass's video on installing the rev solo pickup for both are very educational towards making this an effective build.
    piezo build 1.
    piezo build 2.
     
  9. Jon Fiala

    Jon Fiala

    Feb 9, 2016
    Madison
    Finally it was show time, 3 concerts in 2 days ranging from 200 to 800 people. I will write a review later on how the bass performed in more detail per peoples request, but for now I will keep it short. There wasn't a single problem with the bass, and many people talked to me after the show admiring the sound the bass produced. Not only did it look incredible compared to what it once was, but it also performed on a wide array of songs such as Ella Fitzgeralds "Lemon Drop" (A lightning fast scat song with a very fast walking bass line based off of Rythm Changes), a Bossa(Girl From Ipanema), Dealin' (having three bassist each with a 32 bar solo bassed off of Eb(difficult when considering this bass has rather deep relief in its neck) and many more. Throughout it, the bass and pickup alike produced a rich full bodied bass tone with great ease. dealin photo. girl from ipanema.
     
  10. eh_train

    eh_train Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 12, 2004
    Toronto
    Owner, Stand Up Guy Basses (Repair/Sell/Buy upright basses)
    Hi John,

    Nice bass at an amazing price! Glad to hear you have it up and running...

    One concern: In the last close up pic, the top of your bridge (where the strings cross it) looks to be about twice as thick as is usual. This area should be nicely tapered on the side facing up, from the "heart" to the top of the bridge. That'll allow it to vibrate a lot more...

    Cheers,

    Paul
     
    Jon Fiala likes this.
  11. Jon Fiala

    Jon Fiala

    Feb 9, 2016
    Madison
    Thanks! And yes, I am aware of this(and it is potentially even 4 times the thickness it should be). My reason for not repairing this is for the simple fact I need to invest in a nice planer which is suitable for this task specifically. My thought is I will not complete this task because I plan on having my luthier do a proper bridge set up after the new fingerboard is installed this summer. I'm excited for this though because it already sounds very good, and this adjustment will make it sound even better. Thanks for the response!
     
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  12. salcott

    salcott Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    NYC, Inwood.
    Good luck!
     
    Jon Fiala likes this.
  13. Jon, I use a belt sander for that job...one of the few times I use power tools.
     
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  14. Jon Fiala

    Jon Fiala

    Feb 9, 2016
    Madison
    Ha, didn't even think of that, got stuck in a rut I guess. What thickness do you sand it to(general range)?
     
  15. 4mm-ish at the crown, with a nice gradual taper, and gently bellied out at the centerline for strength.
     
    Jon Fiala likes this.
  16. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Great read, great project, great bargain, great outcome.

    That is a tool which owes you nothing, maestro. You don't ever have to lose that bass!
     
    Jon Fiala likes this.
  17. oldNewbie

    oldNewbie Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2016
    Were you and that bass with the African Music Ensemble opening for the Jones Family 4/29 at the Memorial Union ? Sounded great , really, especially if you are still sorting things out , you are surely on the right path. And your singers were fantastic , singing difficult intervals in the harmony arrangements. Well done.
     
    Jon Fiala likes this.
  18. jsf729

    jsf729 Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 2014
    Central Maryland
    I like the cut of your jib young man!
     
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  19. Jon Fiala

    Jon Fiala

    Feb 9, 2016
    Madison
    Yes and no, I did perform at the concert but unfortunately that wasn't my bass at that concert. We had three concerts in 2 days which required me to play 3 different upright basses due to convenience(starting to appreciate people who haul their uprights everywhere). The one at the concert was a friends upright which is really killer, set up with orchestra height string height, strung with wound gut strings, and is a true gamba(fully curved ribs). Fortunately I can say that when the other bassist used that bass the night before (while I played my project bass), people actually said my bass had a very similar tone(mine being strung with Pirastro Obligato's on top of that).
    Also, thanks for the comment! Our singers are phenomenal and did a great job harmonizing.
     
  20. oldNewbie

    oldNewbie Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2016
    A friend saw the bigger show the previous night and was really blown away . That is a great group and considering it's a course , not at a conservatory and not everyone is a music major , really superb. You all and Prof. Davis have a lot to be satisfied about . BTW I hope you stuck around for the Jones Family. That was how to connect with an audience .
     
    Jon Fiala likes this.

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