Information on my 200 year old French Bass

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Contrabates, Aug 7, 2005.

  1. Hi there,

    I'm new to the forums but I've been enjoying all the postings. I looking to see if anybody has thoughts a bass I've owned for while. It's approximetly 200 years old, cello shaped and the stamp inside says "GAND PÉRE, MIRECOURT. I've done a little research but found very little in terms of who actually made it. I know that Bernadel and Gand were connected but the "PÉRE" is a mystery as far as who it pertains to.

    I'm also planning on get the shoulders cut down and I'd love to hear thoughts about too. It's VERY difficult to play in the upper register a the moment! Other than that, the top and side are in great shape and it sounds truly incredible.

    FYI. The varnish on the bass is not original and neither is the scroll so there is very little that's historically important left. If they were original I wouldn't be considering something so drastic. Thanks and looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

    Attached Files:

  2. That thing looks cool. Seems a shame to cut it down, but you gota do what you gotta do. Have you asked any dealers or repairers to give you a before and after ballpark appraisal? If it is worth the same cut (well), than why not do it unless for sentimental reasons. If it were me though, I would leave it as is and just not use it for solo material. Can you reach the Bb above octave G? If so, you're covered for most playing situations.
  3. Charles Shores

    Charles Shores Commercial User

    Jul 26, 2005
    Charlotte, NC
    Owner: Guitar Barre
    Ah! Don't cut it! I think if you cut the shoulders down it will lose some of that incredible sound.
  4. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Gand Pere = C.F. Gand. See here;

    Gand and Bernadel is much later. Nice Bass. Probably after 1820 but I cannot be 100% sure of the dates/names he used. I will look in Henley later. BTW, A good Cut-Job will not be cheap.

    Talk to Paul Biase in NYC, he has cut a few Basses. I don't know if he is taking many big jobs these days but it's worth a shot.
  5. That bass reminds me of a bass owned (at one time at least) by David Moore of the LA Phil. I haven't seen him use it lately but for several seasons it was the only one he played. I think his was English though. I just remember it was kind of purple looking on stage.

  6. Thanks very much for the feedback and the info. Ken- thank you very much for the response. The C.F. Gand link is exciting to read. I'm going to look into that further.

    I bought the bass in LA in 1994 and heard that it had come over from Germany several years before that. It could well be the same bass.

    Re: cut down. It going to be done by David Gage and he has inspected the bass pretty thoroughly and all indications are that it will be smooth. It's taken me two years to come to this decision and not without some trepidation. I have the bass on the market for sale (US $20,000-any takers?) but feel that the cost of the cut down will not only make this instrument playable but will also make it easier to sell down the road. Admittedly, I do get varying opinions but generally speaking people who see the bass first hand feel that this will be the best thing. I'll keep you posted as things progress...
  7. Naw, it's not that bass. The time frame's wrong. I saw David Moore playing the puple cello shaped bass a couple of years ago. He bought it in England I've heard. Thanks for the history though.
  8. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I just went through both my Stainer (100 years old) and Henley Books. Gand worked in Versailles and later in Paris. None of the Labels dates him from Miercourt. He was "known" as Gand Pere but that name does not appear on any of the Labels in my books. Mirecourt, near Germany was know for many commercial copies of great French and Italian Makers as well as near by Germany.

    This is all I could find. Some dealers may have actual 'French' Violin makers books. Although his Father was originally from Mirecourt, this can be an attribution to his Father but not actually being made there. Like I just mentioned, the authorites on French making can tell you more.
  9. Martin Sheridan

    Martin Sheridan

    Jan 4, 2001
    Fort Madison, Iowa
    Bass Maker
    It might be a Herman Lowendal? I had one that looked just like this one but it was made in Germany and had an amber colored varnish. I sold it to a real tall dude. At one time or another Lowendal had factories in Germany, England and France. However if David thinks it's 200 years old that would exclude him as he is 20th century. It certainly has a Mirecourt look about it. The last of the Bergonzi made a bass like this that Vuillume had lengthened to make it playable. Many Mirecourt copies were made of this altered bass. They always have a false button below the neck and the cello curve below that, but with sloping shoulders in imitation of Vuillume's alteration.
  10. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I believe Lowenthal is from the mid 19th century (from 1855) and into the early 20th century. He travelled to USA and the UK and made high shouldered Basses like the early English. As a matter of fact, a UK dealer sent me pics of one he thought looked like my Gilkes. The shape did partially but the workmanship on the corners, FFs, Purfling, Scroll and Varnich were typical Commercial German and no where near the Finest of the English.

    Lowenthal (Lowendall) came to mind but I didn't want to dis-credit the French connection. I have seen his Cello shaped English model and one that was cut. Since yours is re-varnished, anything is possible. Is your Bass purfled? More pics of the Back, Ribs and FF/corner details? This will help if you have the interest for us to tale shots at it.
  11. I'm conflicted on this. The traditionalist in me says leave it alone, especially if it sounds great. On the other hand, I swoon when I hear Lou Kosma's Lorenzelli (Elgar Looking at the Double Bass, page 94), which has been radically cut. And now we know that Gary Karr's famous so-called "Amati" is really two basses, probably French c.1800, cut and fitted together.
    As for playing upper register, have you tried lowering the bass so that you can hinge at the hips and lean forward with a straight spine, rather than imposing unnatural and unhealthy bends in your spine?
  12. I will take some more pics of the bass and post them asap. It is purfled and is really nicely crafted. It could be german but I doubt it. The Gand Pere Mirecourt stamp is embossed into the ribs of the instrument (although not the top or the maybe...). I once went through some old bass books and found a picture of a Mirecourt bass that looked very similiar but who knows...

    I have tried many a different technique as far as getting around the shoulders-from sitting to raising it and lowering it, standing square, standing back from the bass etc. etc. and Don, I know exactly what you mean about feeling conflicted about it. Really, I was hoping to sell it and not have to make the decision but right now, after speaking with everyone from Timothy Cobb to Mark Helias, Mark Dresser and David Gage among several others, it seems like a not so hateful a thing to do. The bass has no real historical importance, the work is going to be top notch and most people who have seen the bass beleive it will sound as good or better after the job is done. Seeing the cut down job on Ken Smith's Gilkes was also very encouraging. That bass looks beautiful and I'm sure it sounds as good as it looks.

    I want to be able to play this bass or a bass of similar quality and financially I can't justify keeping this one and buying something else. As strange as it sounds, it's worth spending 5 or 6 thousand dollars on something I own already and have a bass that plays well instead of shelling out 10 or 12 thousand on another instrument and having something that was good or possibly even really good but still not comparable to this french this bass would then continue to collect dust either in my home or in a shop and not be played which would be a shame. It's a tough choice and this is a decision that I haven't made lightly. Here's hoping....
  13. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I would do the exact same thing as you. As a matter of fact I have a very old English Bass (Mystery Bass) under the 'Knife' as we speak. It too will get cut to a playable size. The Gilkes was cut in the 19th century. If I had it original now, I would cut it to look more like the shoulders of the Martini. The Bass must be playable to have any value at all. At least to the one Playing it anyway...

    Unless there is something wrong with the Bass or the sound is not what you want, altering it to suit your taste is the way to go. I enjoy playing Basses b4 and after as I have been thru this quite a few times myself.

    Best of luck with your new old old Bass.
  14. I met Mark Helias at Gage's 1 or 2 Wednesdays ago. Were you there?
    You certainly talked to good people. Their comments and your reasoning are persuasive. I say do it, and sleep well.
  15. There is a very old French bass at the Cite d' Musique that looks very similar in outline to that bass, but has a different varnish and a lions head scroll. It is very large though. Bernadel operated both in Paris and Mirrecourt according to Elgar (FWIW), So 'Gand Pere a Mirrecourt' seem spossible if this is true since they partnered up in the late 1800's. It seems like several French makers operated out of both Paris and Mirrecourt at different times. maybe at the same time if they had factory basses and handmade basses. What does the Pere mean when used after a makers name anyway. I've seen that used with a lot of french makers like Barbe, Pillement, Bernadel, etc. What gives?
  16. That's fascinating Don. Who determined this and how? I always thought Karr's bass looked french. I bet this will increase the interest in French Basses from this point forward.
    How did they splice two basses together anyway? I don't get it. Is the top from a different bass than the rest, or is a bottom half upper half thing?
  17. The bass spent at least 2 weeks in the lab of a dendrochronologist (spelling ?). The top, C bout and lower ribs are from one bass, the back and upper ribs are from another. The original purfling veers off the edge of the shoulder where it was cut. Some purfling is 3 lines, some is 4. The tree for the original section of the top dates from mid 1400's. Other sections are mid 16th century (I think) and also 1700's, where the lower bout of the top was widened. A group of luthiers was there, coming to consensus about nationality and date of final assembly. David Gage, Dustin Williams, 2 or 3 others. It was in ISB. I've already tossed my copy, so I stand to be corrected on some details.
  18. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I think this means 'Father' of that school. Each "Pere" after the name you see is usually the oldest of that School within the French. Gand and Bernadel worked in Paris. All Gand Pere died in 1845. There are several Gands, Bernadels, Pilliments and Barbes. Pere is the oldest in each case.

    On dating the wood, this doesn't tell the whole story. Panormo once took a Slab from a Pool table and made 20 Violins from it. It could be 500 years old as dead wood before he ever saw it. Old Doors from Churches, Beams from Buildings ets, have been used to make Violins - Basses. The Dating only tells you 'about' how old the wood can be and not the Violin or Bass.

    Also, nothing will increase the interest in French Basses unless they sound good. A Pilliment Pere, Bernadel, Gand or even a Derezey must have a sound b4 it has a value. Being popular doesn't improve the sound.
  19. Reuben


    Aug 8, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    Hey y'all,

    I have played the instrument in question and I must tell you, I'm totally in favor of cutting it. It's a truly great instrument that will only be improved by making the upper register more reachable. In all other aspects it's a top-quality bass. When I first played it I thought "no you should just leave it alone," but after about 1/2 hour I said, "OK, I get it now. This is a drag..."

    Anyway, just weighing in...

  20. Thanks for all the feedback guys. It's been really informative and great to hear where other people are coming from. I think I learned more about pedigrees and makers in two days than I have in the whole time I've been playing the bass.

    Ken, thanks for the vote of confidence and I looked at the photos of your Martini. It's really a beautiful bass. I did some comparing and the dimensions are not very similar but with regard to the shoulders it would be a great example. Your website is fantastic and thanks for posting all the measurements. The Gilkes is much more similar to my bass and it's just nice to see how good it can look after a cut down. Is the Gilkes easy to play in the upper register?

    Re: Helias
    I wasn't at Gage's with Helias so unfortunetly we didn't meet. I've known Mark for several years though and have studied with him off and on. He's a great guy as well as a ridiculous bass player.