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Gamba Italian Basses..

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by KSB - Ken Smith, Feb 27, 2008.


  1. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I am starting this thread to bring to light the subject of the Gamba shaped Italian Bass. Not the more famous Violin models or the Cornerless Guitar models but the Gamba models that are often overlooked as even being Italian.

    Many of the Gamba model Italian Basses I have seen are from the Neapolitan School of makers. These include several Basses attributed to the various members of the Gagliano family, Ventapane, Fabricatore, Desiato, Tarantino and Loveri. Most of these are Gagliano School followers as well. Alessandro Gagliano is also the father or the Neapolitan School of makers.

    From other Italian Schools and individuals there are Gamba Basses from Grancino, Rastelli, Postacchini, Sgarbi, Albani, Cavani, Caspani, Tecchler, Platner, Pedrazzini, Antoniazzi, Monzino, Ferrarotti, Santagiuliana, Botti, Valenzano and many others.

    One interesting Bass of note was owned by Jazz legend Percy Heath. The first time I saw that Bass was around 1969 or so in a Shop when I was just a teenager and was told that's a Landolfi, Percy Heath's Bass. Years later I hear from another Bassist that the same Bass is thought to be a Testore. Most recently, the Bass has been attributed to Ruggeri.

    I have seen many other Basses from the Italian School that were Gamba shaped and more often than not, without an accurate attribution. How accurate are the ones listed above that I have seen either in person or on the web? Who knows! Some are what they claim to be and some are attributed I am sure. One thing though is for certain, the Italians made many Basses of the Gamba form. The Italian Bass identity so often associated with the Violin cornered Model is not the only identity this country has to offer. Some of the names I have listed above are 200-300 years old while others barely a century old. This proves that the Gamba shape is one used for centuries by many Italian makers and for some, almost exclusively.

    I have shown pics side by side of the Homer Mensch Attr. Gagliano and my Carlo Loveri before and here they are again below. Shown first is another old Neapolitan Bass that I once owned bearing a handwritten label of what seems to be a fictitious name, Raeffael Guadininni.
    [​IMG] 722153. [​IMG]

    The most common stigma I see with a Gamba Italian Bass when trying to ID it is dealers quickly calling it German, Bohemian or Czech Bass not to mention Hungarian, English or even French.

    What we should do here is open our eyes and look out for these 'Black Sheep' Double Basses from Italy that have been overshadowed for centuries by the more stylistic Violin cornered models.

    If you know of any other Gamba Italian Basses, have one yourself, seen one on line or even have related stories of interest, then please post it here and show us some pictures or even web links if possible.
     
  2. ispider6

    ispider6

    Jan 30, 2005
    I met Percy shortly before he passed away. He was such a kind man. He insisted that I try out his bass which he himself described as a Ruggeri. I gave it a whirl and it was a very nice instrument. I didn't really have any time to become familiar with it (just pizz'ed a few notes) so I can't honestly attest to its quality. I recall it had a lovely reddish-brown varnish and was on the small side.
     
  3. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I just saw that Bass the other day. I was on my way back from Jeff Bollbach's place with my newly restored Loveri and stopped by Kolsteins as he is less than 2 miles from Jeff's. Pretty Varnish on that Bass but it was tucked in the corner of the vault so I didn't bother to play it.

    Also, I just added Albani to the list as Maury Clubb has just posted pics in my forum, same thread. I will share them with you here. I don't think Maury will mind.

    attachment. attachment. attachment. attachment. attachment.

    The design under the Back Button is very interesting. The Scroll I am told is not original but 19th century S.Germany, just above the Tirol where this Bass was made in Bolzano. The tuners are the exact same ones (smaller gears) that came on my Mystery Bass when I got it. I have seen these on some old Mittenwald Basses as well as an old English/Italian Bass. The gears date from 1850 and before. On my Bass, 3 of them were 100% identical while one looks maybe 5% different. My Guess is that the Bass had 3 of them and in later years when converted to a 4-string, the Gears were still available and a 4th was added but made in the same shop some years later. This Bass also has two different Gear sizes but the same exact Worm handles.

    This will be a 'slow growth' thread being that we are looking for old Italian Basses in the Gamba form whereas in this Forum, most people have more commercially made Basses ranging from Germanic or Chinese Carved, Hybrid or Plywood.

    Still, isn't it nice to look back at the Basses made that were not affected by commercial production and Italian as well where it all started 450 years ago in Italy?

    I think it's a treat when someone like Maury offers to share pics of a Bass as rare as his. Tirol Italian Basses are rare as well. With this region being shared by Austria, Germany and Italy you never know what might turn up. A few weeks ago while visiting Arnold I saw a beautiful old Fussen made Bass. Looked Italian to me but was actually from the German Tirol from over 300 years ago. A big violin cornered bass with an original Scroll, wide unusual FFs with tabs almost Maggini/d'Salo-like. It also had blackened reddish brown Varnish like we have seen on some old Italians but then again, this wasn't Italian. It was made just north of Italy.
     
  4. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    Does the purfling running off the edge like that indicate it has been cut down? Seems odd that a maker bothering to put in 5-layer purfling would have knife cuts running off the edge. But if it has been cut, and that purfling indicates the original curve of the top, it must have been huge ...

    Does the purfling strip run all the way down the centre of the back?

    Love the scroll, too ... Do you have a CU from the front?
     
  5. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    This might be a 'cut' Bass. I don't see the purfling in the center through the button though. If there is any Purfling running down the Back like there was with my Loveri, I would assume then it to be a cosmetic repair from the seam opening up.
     
  6. MJC

    MJC

    Feb 24, 2008
    Seattle
    The purfling does go down the back of the bass but is somewhat obscured by the aged seam, old glue, and dirt. A reputable source has told me the bass body was not cut down but is the original shape.
    Also, I don't have a CU of the front of the scroll yet.
     
  7. Mike Arnopol

    Mike Arnopol Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 4, 2005
    Chicago
    Owner of MAS Soundworks
    In my experience, I have seen probably more gamba than violin corner Italian basses. As far as attribution, the bass world is the worst in case of attributing makers. I don't know of anyone's appraisals that I trust. I knew a kid that brought a bass to a VERY big NYC dealer for an appraisal. The dealer told him it was German and offered to buy it. The kid sold it to him and the dealer not only sold it as Italian, but had information on the maker, year it was made, etc. I find it very curious when I go to a dealer and he has names and dates on every instrument. I had two classical teachers in high school. Both in the CSO. One had an instrument that had Wurlitzer papers saying it was a Maggini. This bass was gamba corners, nicely carved round back and one of those German trellis designs below the button in purfling. This bass looked German. I talked to one of the most respected bass experts in England and he laughed about it. He said that it was the most valuable German bass in the world. My other teacher had a bass with papers saying that it was a Gasparo DeSalo. This bass was gamba shaped with a deeply carved back and the crudest workmanship I've ever seen. Nothing vaguely like the real DeSalo's that I've seen in England and Toronto. I'm a bass geek. Relatively poor, but still a bass geek. Touring around the world, I've gone to every top dealer I could find just to see and talk about nice instruments. My wife and I were in a top dealers home in Italy. While he was showing me instruments my wife was having tea with his wife. His wife had opened a drawer to get something and forgot to close it. My wife peeked over and it was full of (fake)antique labels.
    I love the double bass but hate the business that puts the name du jour on any bass just to give it enough of a pedigree to command the biggest buck.
    Enough of my rant. Even on gamba cornered instruments the Italian features stand out.Italian scrolls are like no others. Linings are different on Italian instruments. Wood choices are another. No self respecting German or French maker is going to use slab cut wood with knots in it.
    Thanks, Ken for yous interest and passion. I drool over the instruments on your site. And I'm continually getting more educated. I found it fascinating that that one bass was accurately attributed to Hart ( I think it was him ) and not Fendt. I see an English instrument of that outline, age, and with the double purfling and think---no brainer---Bernard Simon Fendt.
    Very cool to learn new stuff.
     
  8. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    First off, when you get a minute, fill in your profile. It will help us all know each other better. On the English comments, I am not sure I follow you.
    On the Italian Gambas vs. Violin corners, I have seen more Violin than Gamba but plenty of Gamba Italians. Many of them have no names to attribute to. Most likely not made by a Violin maker of any repute or even a carpenter possibly.

    On the BIG name attribution/Appraisal game it is still going on. A few instruments in recent years have been sold out of Italy and London as Italian and they are either Hungarian fakes made recently or English made copies from the 19th century.

    I just bought another old Gamba Bass but it needs a restoration. I wont have it for about a month. It may be Italian as well. The smoking gun? Slab cut Rib wood! Also, I have seen other 'known' Italian Gambas with a similar shape. At first glance it looks Czech/Bohemian/Germanic of a sort. Put corners on the same Bass and the opinions change. Anything of a handmade shape close to this (not a Germanic Shop Bass model) would have been made neater all around. This Bass is nice but too individual looking I think to pass for a Czech region Bass.

    Like you said, so many Gamba Italian Basses walking around homeless and never knowing their family or where they came from. It's a sad part of the Bass world..:bawl:
     
  9. VicDamone

    VicDamone

    Jun 25, 2000
    Michael Arnopol? If your who I think you are I'd like to say how much your recordings have meant to me. I find your intonation and lyric absolutly stunning. Those works by Jim Anderson are some of the most outstanding examples of the instrument recorded I've ever heard. You should be proud of your accomplishments.

    I look forward to enjoying your work the next time you visit the San Francisco Bay Area.

    Vic
     
  10. Jeremy Allen

    Jeremy Allen Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2002
    Bloomington, IN
    He's Mike Arnopol, man! :D
     
  11. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Sorry, I retired from playing in NY by 1987/88. I don't know many of the guys that came up since then. If I didn't know them then, I wouldn't know them now, sorry.:confused:

    No disrespect meant. :bag:

    By the way, I'm Ken Smith man and I have my profile filled in!:spit::bassist:
     
  12. Jeremy Allen

    Jeremy Allen Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2002
    Bloomington, IN
    I'm just bustin' your chops, Ken (as usual!). I recently became aware of Mike through his work with Patricia Barber, and I'm a big fan of his playing.

    It is, of course, my duty as a moderator to echo Ken's request that everybody fill in their profile. Not that we'll treat anybody differently if we know they're a respected veteran pro bassist instead of a 16-year-old beginner, but...well, we just like to know how many grains of salt we should take!
     
  13. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Hey, I am a retired 20 year Bassist Veteran, a Veteran Bassologist (what ever that means) and a current re-starting Symphony Bassist (an a lil Jazz on the side) and I don't get any respect so why should he?:bawl: Profile or not of course..lol:D
     
  14. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Ok, back on topic.. Anyone have anything to add on the actual topic at hand?

    By the way, Jeff Bollbach just did a beautiful job restoring my Loveri Bass, mainly the Back. Have a look at the Before and After;
    [​IMG][​IMG]
     
  15. Mike Arnopol

    Mike Arnopol Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 4, 2005
    Chicago
    Owner of MAS Soundworks
    Pretty bass, Ken. No offense taken. I'll fill in my profile, guys. Living in Chicago and my main gig for the past 20 years being vocalist Patricia Barber, I'm probably a bit under the radar.
    In the early 90's when the British pound and the dollar were nearly one to one I was going to England, France and Italy buying basses. I've never had instruments of the caliber of your collection, but I've had some nice ones. I'll list a few:
    Bass from Vuillame's shop
    While Vuillame didn't make basses himself, he hired many top Luthiers to make basses. I used to know at least 4 , but I can only remember Maucotel and I think one of the Gemunders. This bass was very similar to Charlie Haden's. You can tell the difference between Mirecourt and Paris basses by the graduation and complexity of varnish. It's interesting that the Paris basses typically were graduated 6mm across the whole top.

    William Tarr
    One number higher than the one in Elgar's book. Same shape. Actually a disappointing bass. The top was pine, but very hard. So was the sound. The bass had virtually no cracks.

    Perfect Paul Claudot carved back.
    Amazing flamed maple back. Typical Paul Claudot violin shape.

    Prescott
    Full size, Busetto corner. The bass hadn't been played in I would assume 100 years. Found in a church. Restored by Gage. The string length was originally over 44". Re-necked with graft to bring it down to 42" Amazing condition for a Prescott. Interesting note---some cracks were repaired with hand made wood screws from the outside!

    Xavier Jacquet
    Typical orange with black outline.

    Actual English made Hawkes Panormo
    Most of the Hawkes Panormo basses that claim to be made in England were actually made in France. They sound like French basses. The English one sound like English basses.

    I still try to stop in as many shops around the world as I can. My experience is that there are very few experts on bass pedigree, and the ones that are experts are definately not always truthful.

    My thanks to Ken for so m,any informative posts.
     
  16. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    On Vuillaume, it was George Gemunder that worked for him. Also, Honoré Derazey made Basses for Vuillaume. Yesterday I had a photo session with Duane Rosengard and my J.Hart Bass. We discussed many things including his Giuseppe (Joseph) Ceruti Bass which is beautiful and I got to play. It was originally a 3-string. On the French I learned that they were 50 years or so earlier switching over to 4-string than England was who had many 3s well into the 20th century. On Vuillaume, Duane mentioned he had seen Basses earlier by him than Gemunder or Derazey and these were possibly made by Vuillaume himself. Also, Vuillaume never made a 3-string as all the known Basses by him or his shop are originally 4s.

    On your Pine Topped Tarr, my J.Hart Bass is Pine as well including the original blocks, all of them. The bottom block and a corner block were just replaced but I have the originals saved as well. My Martini is also a Pine Top but domestic Italian. The Hart we believe was imported southern yellow pine from USA. Nothing hard about the sounds of these Basses. Oh, my Prescott was Pine Topped as well including the blocks and cross Bars. More Pine than you think out there in Basses so don't draw any early conclusion based on that alone.

    Ok, back to the Gambas, Goomba or not..lol
     
  17. Mike Arnopol

    Mike Arnopol Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 4, 2005
    Chicago
    Owner of MAS Soundworks
    My comment wasn't about pine, really. Many of the finer Italian and English had slab-cut (or not ) pine tops. It was about the nature of the pine used for the Tarr. As you would expect, it wasn't a thick top. You could just tell that this top was very stiff even just pressing on it. Just that one piece of wood. I got it for a great price and did well selling it. ( in other words, I didn't like the bass but knew it would sell.) I was shocked, because all of the English basses I'd played were much darker in sound and more responsive to play.
    Best English bass I've ever played was a Lott in London.
     
  18. One of the times I met Robert Meyer (who has an amazing orchestral CV going back to the 1940s: http://robertmeyer.wordpress.com) - I remember him saying that when he started playing there were still "some old duffers" playing 3-stringers tuned G-d-g.
     
  19. christ andronis

    christ andronis

    Nov 14, 2001
    Chicago
    This is coming from a total amateur as far as knowing basses, but Ken, your first pics that you posted show basses with more of a taper to the shoulders. Is this common to gamba-type basses or to a peculiar school? I've got my carved Christopher (which to me is just fine thanks) gamba that had to be modeled after something other than the ones in your photos cause the shoulders are wider than yours.

    BTW, Mike, really enjoy your playing and plan on seeing you at the Green Mill some Monday night.
     
  20. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    On the 3 Basses listed in the first post, they are all from the Neapolitan/Gagliano School. The first one seems original to me in its shape. The other two were originally much bigger but were cut down in the 20th century. The 3rd is my Loveri and the Cut is labeled by the Luthier/Restorer and dated 1937. On the middle Bass, that was Homer Mensch's Bass and was known as a Gagliano but has never been certified as such from what I have heard. Maybe at the last sale, it was documented as a Gagliano 'School' Bass.

    Upper bout shapes and Gamba corners are not connected to each other. We see all shapes of upper bouts regardless of the model of the Bass whether its a Violin model, Busetto, Gamba or even Cornerless Guitar shapes.

    The two parts are not connected to any one style or model.
     

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