Left-handed upright bass

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Marc PG, Aug 5, 2021.

  1. Marc PG

    Marc PG

    Jul 25, 2021
    Is it fine if you get a right-handed upright bass and you change the order of the strings, in order to make it for left-handed players? Does it still sound good?

    I mean, since the majority of electric basses are not symmetrical, it's more complex, but double basses are symmetrical...

  2. Ed S

    Ed S

    Nov 14, 2019
    Not sure what you mean by "DBs are symmetrical." Sound post is on one side, bass bar on the other.

    If seeking optimum sound in an orchestra situation, I would imagine you would want it set up correctly for LH, but I have a good friend who plays LH on a RH bass - just strung in reverse, and it sounds fine. It is an old beat up Kay, and he plays BG/oldtime/folk.

    On a side note, I often find it challenging to watch another RH bassist play. Just doesn't look right/register in my brain. But w/ my LH buddy, standing next to him makes perfect sense - it is like looking in a morrr! ;)

    LH basses are rare, and converting a RH upright would be quite pricey.
  3. Marc PG

    Marc PG

    Jul 25, 2021
    Well, but your left-handed friend plays a RH with the strings in RH position. What I mean is: I have a RH upright bass, but I'm LH. Would it be okay if I changed just the strings? Same RH bass, played as a LH person, but with the strings for LH...

    I don't know if it's more confusing...

  4. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    That's not what he said, he said his friend plays a plywood bass strung as a left handed bass even though internally the structure has not been switched. Which is just what you're asking. His friend is playing bluegrass and other old timey type music.
    But you missed the IT'S NOT SYMMETRICAL part, the internal structure of a double bass has a bass bar on the side of the belly plate where the lowest strings are and a soundpost on the side of the belly plate where the higher strings are; it's done like that to reinforce the best projection for those frequencies. If you reverse the strings without reversing the internal structure, you lose something in the sound.
    rwkeating and lurk like this.
  5. Ed S

    Ed S

    Nov 14, 2019
    Thx, Ed. I thought I was being clear...

    And to clarify - given the bass in question and the style of music, this datapoint provides NO info as to fine tonal quality. But the guy is IMO a very good, fun bassist for the style of music he plays and his "reversed" bass doesn't detract from his efforts. He's one of my fave bassists - actually one of very few bassists I like playing with. But I doubt he'd know how to hold a bow if you handed one to him.
  6. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    I still fail to see the point.

    It's easy to understand right-handed tennis players holding the racket in their right hand, or right-handed carpenters holding a hammer in their right hand. But most musical instruments are two-handed and each hand has challenges. It seems to me that fingering is just as hard as plucking or bowing, so left handers playing a standard bass would have an advantage in fingering, and maybe a slight disadvantage in plucking or bowing. Why not quit thinking of basses as "right handed" or "left handed" and just learn to play a standard bass the standard way? Left handed pianists and saxophonists don't play mirror image instruments.
    Blackjac97, Cal03 and lurk like this.
  7. lurk

    lurk Supporting Member

    Dec 2, 2009
    I'm guessing that the OP plays another instrument already and wants to keep plucking LH and fingering RH. If you insist on doing that, get a left-handed bass. They exist. Gollihur sells them and others do too, so there must be used lefty basses floating around. It will sound much better due to everything Ed Fuqua says above. You will enjoy it more.
    longfinger likes this.
  8. If you swap the strings on a double bass without fitting a new bass bar and sound post in the appropriate place, you’re plucking away from the bass bar, which impedes tone and attack.
    longfinger likes this.
  9. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Well, I tell you what, if you're playing bass guitar or regular guitar at the level of a world class professional, left-handed, it MIGHT make sense for double bass too. Otherwise, given how much stuff you've got to learn anyway, it seems simpler just to get a normal bass, a qualified instructor, and train your hands to do what needs to be done.
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  10. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    I wonder about the fingerboard shape as well. Wouldn't it want to be made opposite to the curvature for right-hand playing?
    Jazz Ad and lurk like this.
  11. LHbassist

    LHbassist Supporting Member

    Apr 4, 2003
    Reno, Nevada
    Well, this, is something I'm pretty familiar with. I am a Luthier, and specialize in string bass work. I'm re-barring a hundred plus year old bass at the moment. I have my personal Lowendall bass, and I reversed the bass bar on that instrument. I did that in 1997, after purchasing it as a badly neglected, and then broken instrument. It had a 'left in' bass bar, meaning it was literally carved around, and not a glued in, fitted separate bar. I was playing a 1951 Kay M-1, NOT re-barred, strung lefty, and setup to be amplified. It worked well in that regard. I did many gigs with that Kay. There was always something not right to me, sound wise. And I know how to set these instruments up. It played great, strung with Spirocores... but... The lower notes, never had the type of 'push' 'growl' or fundamental I was wanting to hear. I work on a lot of Kay basses- and they sound very good, and are popular enough to NOT re-bar one, unless it's pretty beat up, or damaged in some way REQUIRING a new bass bar. The way the top vibrates and is braced, was worked out Centuries ago by the great masters. The soundpost, creates a nodular
    'dead' zone at it's contact point, and it's kind of like a wave you'd see around an earthquake on a map. The bass bar supports the lower pitched more massive strings. Modern steel strings have more tension than the gut strings commonly used before the 70's onward. If you simply plane the board on a righty bass, and have a new bridge made, and the nut recut or replaced, you MAY find the sound the particular bass produces to your satisfaction. If you are serious about having a great sounding, performing bass that you will likely not sell, I suggest buying a new left handed build, say from Gollihur. The difference, is absolutely worth it. The REAL reasons you don't see many lefty uprights- Orchestras HATE lefty players.. for reasons I won't go into here.. second, there is low demand, and poor resale value. Tradition, is the third. I own a flatback Juzek, in need of restoration in my home right now. I'm hesitant to rebar it. I'm almost 70, and have few upright gigs now. It is prudent, not to do things like a major structural change to an old, possibly valuable instrument. So- it sits unrestored for now.
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2021
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  12. dperrott

    dperrott Commercial User

    Oct 3, 2005
    Jersey City
  13. mikeGJ

    mikeGJ Supporting Member

    Jun 7, 2007
    Grand Junction, CO
    Did Paul McCartney rebuild Bill Black's (Elvis) bass, or was it already lefty?
  14. marcox


    Dec 10, 2007
    Are we sure Macca ever played that bass? I’ve always assumed it was a heritage/preservation purchase.
  15. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Well, I saw a video of McCartney fiddling around with an upright (it might have been that one) and it was obvious he had no idea what to do with it. So I'm betting he has not had an upright modified for left hand playing.
  16. Frits


    Sep 21, 2007
    Belgium (Europe)
    As a lefty double bass player, I play in a classical chamber music ensemble (as only bassist), in a bigband and gypsy jazz quartet and it doesn't bother if you' re right-handed or left-handed. I have estabished a list of over 50 left-handed double bassists worldwide, which even includes some pro jazz players such as Chris Jennings, Joris Teepe, Jennifer Leitham or Erik Roobaard. So there's plenty more lefty upright players out there than we think!
    If of interest to you, please also check my lefty double bass players group on fb:
    Facebook Groups
    lermgalieu likes this.
  17. I just found out from my Bing Homepage blurb that today, Aug 13, is International Lefthanders Day.

    About 11% of the population is left handed, so it makes sense that about 11% of the string instruments being made now and moving forward in time, be lefty.
  18. GretschWretch

    GretschWretch Supporting Member

    Dec 27, 2013
    East Central Alabama
    Would you extend that percentage to brasswinds and woodwinds as well? How about percussion?
  19. That is not something that "I" extend to them. If builders and buyers are willing to find each other, then I'm happy that they do. Why would you feel the need to interfere with them finding each other?

    Also seems to me that most percussion is uni-directional, just reposition to play one way or the other.
  20. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Well, there's an underlying assumption here that I don't buy: that instruments are inherently "right handed" or "left handed". Stringed instruments assign challenging tasks to each hand. Are you really going to tell me that using your dominant hand for fingering (as in left handed person playing a standard instrument) is a bad thing? Seems to me it would be a GOOD thing. if anything we could make an argument that right-handers ought to play reversed string instruments. How did the standard orientation of stringed instruments arise, anyway?

    Should pianos, harmonicas, saxophones, trumpets all be reversed? How about French horns where right handers and left handers alike finger with the left hand? Should right handers have reversed French horns? Should manual transmission shift levers be on the left for left-handers?

    I can understand using a hammer, or writing, but stringed instruments don't seem to ME to have an inherent dominant hand.