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Kay bass in the orcherstra?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by JAS, Jan 22, 2006.

  1. JAS


    Jul 3, 2001
    My only bass is a 50s Kay that I think sounds pretty good for orchestral music even with Spirocores on it. I mainly play jazz, but I recently got asked to do a serious orchestral gig that is too good for me to turn down, so I am practicing my ass off.

    My question is...are there any serious orchestral players that have ever showed up to a gig with a Kay plywood bass? It also is blond, so I am a little worried that I will look out of place. Should I be concerned about this? Will the sound and look of the instrument not work well in a serious orchestral situation?

    I really don't want to borrow another bass for this gig because I am already comfortable with this one.
  2. Do you have any other strings you could put on it? Some Orig Flex could help darken it up. I think Spiros just really sound like a chainsaw on a plywood bass. Unless your Spiros are really really old (which would darken the sound) I would try to change strings. I doubt any professional players have done anything more than a regional orchestra, or an outdoor gig with a Kay. They are very nice basses when they are kept within their limits. I wish I had some extra strings I could send you, but I currently do not.
  3. The blond color may really stand out in an orchestral setting, but the really important issue is arco sound.

    Unless you are auditioning for a permenent gig in a professional orchestra, I don't think you should worry about the make or color of your bass.

    I would be concerned about my arco technique and my sound.

    From what I've heard the spirocores (from a classical point of view) do not have a very pleasing sound when bowed. The first thing I would do is change to an arco string. Your sound would blend much better with the section, if you were bowing Pirastro Flexicores or D'Addario Helicore Orchestras, or probably even Obilgatos.

    I would choose a steel string with about the same tension and guages as your current set, so as to avoid having to have your set up adjusted.
  4. lhoward


    Apr 27, 2003
    Western NY State
    I've only seen one orchestral player using a Kay (although I'll bet there are/have been others). He was the principal bass with the Buffalo Philharmonic in the mid 1980's. I went to a concert the BPO gave at the high school in Bradford, PA about 1987. It was a few moments after the musicians came on stage that I realized he was playing what looked like a C-1 model, but it was definitely a Kay. The bass sounded amazing well although I never talked to him about it. (I went to that particular concert since the Bradford HS auditorium has great acoustics.)

    A couple years later, I took a bass to his brother, who was a luthier in Buffalo, and I recall that he mentioned that his brother used it when the BPO did concerts in the rural areas near Buffalo. I don't think JAS should be concerned about the bass being blond, performance is primary. But maybe he'll have more fun. (Bad pun, please forgive.)

    I'll just mention one thing I've tried with Spirocores and that is using about 1200 grit emory cloth very, very lightly to 'polish' the flat winding in the area where the bow normally contacts the strings. It did help the arco sound quality, not to the a point of comparison to, say, Flexocore original's (which is what I compared the Spirocore's finish to), but better. Depending on one's skill to polish the string without removing any significant amount of metal, potential damage of thinning the flat winding beyond what is needed can be minimized. Practice on an old set of Spirocores could be useful.
  5. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    I would add that if you match volume, articulation, note lengths and pitch with the section and keep the bow closer to the fingerboard you should have no problem blending. I've played next to Spirocores that blended and Flexcors that stuck out. It has more to do with the attitude and sensibilities of the player. I actually am very impressed with someone who brings a non-traditional setup into an orchestra and blends in.