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Is a carved bass worth it?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Libersolis, Aug 13, 2005.

  1. Libersolis


    Sep 9, 2004
    Austin, TX
    Forgive me for asking this question, as I am sure it has been asked before. I am currently looking to upgrade my student equipment to something more professional. I have recently been hired to do a well paying jazz gig one to two times a week and I am finding that my plywood bass isn't quite cutting it for this, the way it did for my initial introduction and instruction on the acoustic bass.

    That being said, it seems that there are many differing opinons on this board concerning the purchase of fully carved instruments. Some praise them, while others recommend plywood or hybrid instruments. I live in Charleston, South Carolina and at the moment I do not believe there is a place where I can go try out and play many basses. I am looking at something in the 3 to 3.5 k range. Any suggestions are more than welcome and are greatly anticipated. I am very excited about moving to a different level of bass, but I want to make a sound decision I will be happy about, and possibly purchase something that will appreciate in value.
  2. I went with a hybrid (Christopher), and it was a big step up from the plywood (Englehardt) I'd been playing. I got the hybrid because it was the most bass I could afford at the time, and because I'd heard some arguement that plywood has more front projection than carved basses, which sound richer but spread the sound out more.

    I use the hybrid for unamped jazz gigs, but it sound great amplified as well.

    That said, and hindsight being 20/20, I probably would've scraped a little longer and gone with a fully carved bass. I dug the arco sound of the hybrid so much more than the ply that I started working out with the bow seriously again. Now I'm hitting a wall tone wise and wishing I had a carved bass.
  3. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    I'm now a hybrid guy (New Standard La Scala, carved top, solid sides, lam back). It serves me very well for all of my playing.

    I've played gigs on crappy carved basses, and I've played gigs on very good lam basses. It really has a lot to do with the individual bass and the player. Michael Moore is an example of someone who makes beautiful, sublime music on a "low end" bass. Another is my friend Bob Harrison, a brilliant bassist who still plays a beat-to-sh*t old Kay that he bought when he started out with Joe Farrell many years ago.

    That said, I ain't going back! ;) My current bass outperforms a lot of carved basses that I've played, for my purposes. The answer for you is the same as it is for everyone; find the bass that allows you to get your sound, and buy it. In your case, that might mean a little road trip.
  4. Libersolis,
    I lived in Columbia for University, grad school and seven years afterwards in the construction industry. The temperature and humidity extremes in South Carolina may play havoc with a fully carved bass. Ken's suggestions are also right on target. Additionally, get in touch with Arnold Schnitzer at New Standard to check out his hybrids and laminated basses. The tone and playability of his laminated basses are beyond belief. If you find yourself in the Richmond VA area you are more than welcome to play my fully carved 3/4 Juzek as well as my laminated N.S. Cleveland and you may gain a new appreciation of a good laminated bass. Either way you may make a better decision as to the sound that you are seeking.
    Jim Henderson
  5. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    In the southeast, Ronald Sachs in Atlanta has one of the best selections of in-stock basses that I've seen. Last time I was there, he had a good range from economical laminated to expensive fully-carved basses.
  6. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    The range in humidity from NYC to Augusta GA isn't enough to make my carved bass hiccup, that's a non-issue. The only truism that I've found playing a bunch of basses over the years (Thanks to the guys at Dave Gage and their largesse) is this:

    Good sounding basses sound good; bad sounding basses don't.

    That should be your MAIN criterion for picking a bass; you want to make sure it's in good repair or repairable in the range of its worth, you want to make sure it's easy for you to get the sound out of it without a lot of work (set up, size etc.) and you want to be comfortable with whatever you have to do to afford it. Nothing else really matters; not price, not maker, not age, not cosmetics, not lineage of ownership.

    I owned (and was happy with) a Kay M-1, I played it from about 1984 or 5 til and sold it around 1990. It was about 25 or 30 years old when I bought it and the sound was substantially unchanged from when I bought it until I sold it. My carved bass is just a Mittenwald factory bass, now it's about 80 years old. The sound has so substantially improved over the last 10 years, it's like watching a child grow. I love the way my bass sounds.
  7. Pcocobass


    Jun 16, 2005
    New York

    I'm very happy with my Kay M-1. For jazz, it sound great. I also like the fact that I don't have to worry about climate changes. The winters in NY can be pretty severe and reak havok on a fully carved instrument (if you're not very careful with humidifiers and what not).

    But Ed is totally right. You need to try out a lot of basses and make sure you buy something you're gonna love. Some shops will let you "test drive" an instrument before you purchase it. This is a good idea, too.
  8. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Though I'm far from the experience of an Ed Fuqua, in my limited experience, I've found that Ed is absolutely right. Buy a crappy carved bass, and the tone will suck. Buy a good one and it won't. Given a choice of an entry level carved or a high quality plywood, I'll take plywood.
  9. Jeremy Allen

    Jeremy Allen Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2002
    Bloomington, IN
    No one will say that a plywood would be preferable to a world-class carved bass when it comes to, say, playing the Koussevitzky concerto in front of an orchestra. But I'm often shocked at how good a sound can come out of a plywood bass: back when I had a 1960 Kay M1 as a "beater bass," I would take it on (jazz) gigs and my bandmates would annoy me by saying "Hey, is that a new bass? It sounds...'woodier' somehow than your [$10,000 carved] other one." Of course, the two basses didn't come close in quality under the close scrutiny of the studio situation, but still. And, I was recently playing a plywood bass owned by my university in the pit of an opera, and this crappy old Meisl (which had tape on the fingerboard from some student who was trying to learn the positions...) sounded ridiculously fat and loud in the pit. It was really a pleasure to play.

    If I were looking for a bass in your price range (which is an awkward one, after all--a bit too expensive for plywood, and too low for good carved stuff), I'd definitely give Arnold Schnitzer's "New Standard" series a try. From the reports (and it seems that we've had a ton of them around here), they far surpass carved basses in the same price range. In fact, I would generally run away from a carved bass in the $3--3.5k price range...
  10. jmpiwonka

    jmpiwonka Supporting Member

    Jun 11, 2002
    i think i saw on someone's website on here (cough*nick lloyd*cough) that he had shen willow basses for 3500, perhaps you should give him a call.
  11. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    This echoes other comments made here. Asking if a carved bass is worth it is like asking whether the cost of an 8-cylinder engine as opposed to a 4-cylinder engine is worth it. Which 8 and which 4?

    While this analogy may not hold strictly, the point is not to be enticed by the "fully carved" aspect. Beware of poorly constructed, poor-sounding entry-level carved basses. A good hybrid, and apparently some fully laminated models, can be far, far more desirable.

    IMHO, the carved basses that are clearly "worth it" are the ones that typically are just outside to well beyond the price range of the good laminates and hybrids spoken about in this and other threads.

    Over 35 years, I went from a Kay C-1 to a really fine hybrid to a fully carved bass. My carved "child" definitely requires more care and babying but I'm not going back!
  12. j.s.basuki

    j.s.basuki Supporting Member

    May 14, 2000
    3 months ago I bought a fully carved bass made by Bjorn Stoll Germany, it is a very very good bass with a good price too , pls check www.nestler-instrumente.de
  13. If 3.5K is your max, don't expect to find a carved bass.
  14. Bass looks great. I'm not familiar with the maker. Pollman is the only maker ( I thought ) that had that edging.
    How are the prices?
  15. Well I don't know about that.

    I paid 2000 British pounds for a fully-carved Chinese-made bass and another 500 for setup, so that translates to roughly 3.5k US dollars once you factor in that everything is cheaper anywhere than Britain.

    I had an experienced player with me to help out, and he reckoned this was a better bass than his Wilfer which was worth roughly the same if not more.

    So it can be done for that money, although how my bass would stack up against a good ply or hybrid I wouldn't know. I like it though!
  16. j.s.basuki

    j.s.basuki Supporting Member

    May 14, 2000
    The cheapest one is around Euro 4,900 for a German hand made carved bass, solid maple back , solid carved top spruce,the quality really excellent . Please contact Stefan may be you can get a special deal .
    Mine is 3/4 and has a very warm and big sound , I strung it with Thomastic Spirocore Mittel and install Bass Master Pro from K&K electronic.
  17. j.s., please fill out your profile.
  18. j.s.basuki

    j.s.basuki Supporting Member

    May 14, 2000
  19. Go up to the top of this page, click on My TalkBass...follow directions.....
  20. PB+J


    Mar 9, 2000
    arlington va
    Here's my honest experience. I'm a part time player, gigging about once a week most weeks, so that tells you I'm not as experienced as many people here. I had a Kay plywood bass for years: more recently or he last four years I've used an englhardt. There's a lot to like about an engle--tough, cheap, and I was able to get a good sound out of it for jazz, and country and some alt. rock type stuff. It paid for itself many times over. It's a workhorse

    I began to feel two things about the enlge--one, the neck was too small. But two, it took too much work to get a good sound. I was always working harder than it seeemd to me I should be on gigs. As I tried other basses I realized that in general, a good carved bass just sounds more easily--it's more responsive, it's got more depth to the tone. It's just more expressive.

    Recently I test drove a bunch of carved basses, including a juzek ($3500) a couple Eastmans' ($3500 and $4500) and a Shen ($5000) as well as a bunch of others. All the carved basses were better than the engle in the sense that they got more sound more easily. None of them blew me away, none of them seemed worth the money, frankly, except the Shen, which was markedly better and a real joy to play, and which I bought. (ouch!)

    In my opinion--and it's a humble opinion--there's no reason a ply bass can't be an excellent bass. The top is just a vibrating material, and there's no reason why a ply toop couldn't be designed to sound great. I bet what people say about the Clevelands for example, is true. (If there had been one near me to try I'd have been happy to try it.). But a Cleveland costs a lot of dough, as any good bass is going to. It's not your workhorse englehardt ply.

    So bottom line, is a carved bas worth it? Depends on the bass, but as a broad generalization, which is not always true, I think a carved bass is likely to be more responsive and more likely to have a deeper, richer tone