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My New Bass - Six Week Owners Report

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Hector Wolff, Aug 27, 2003.


  1. I thought it was time let you know how I liked my new Sam Shen Hybrid Bass (setup with Helicore Orchestra strings).

    I had extensive experience with only one other bass in the two years I've been studying. That bass was an 80 year old, fully carved, Tyrolean flat back, on loan from my teacher.

    The short story is that the Shen Hybrid is much closer to my teacher's bass, than I had ever hoped. I'm not saying that the Hybrid Shen is as good as the this old, fully carved bass, it is not quite as mellow, nor as smooth in the lowest register, but it is close, and I am told it will improve with age.

    When bowed, it does have the tonal characteristics I was looking for in an orchestra bass: it has an even volume across all the strings, both in half position and up at the octave. It has a warm and "woody" tone, that has ample overtones, in short it's sound has character.

    The upper register notes on the G and D strings, are smooth and mellow all the way up to the octave, very close to the fully carved sound. The A string is slightly less smooth and mellow, with a hint of "growl" to it in the lowest positions. The E has a rougher tone in the low positions, more "growl" to it. The tonal change is progressive, and doesn't sound jarring, or out of place. It is just part of the "character" of the instrument.

    When I first played it at home, I felt that the bass wasn't very loud, it certainly didn't boom. I got the feeling that the laminated version I auditioned, was louder when I was standing over it playing. Then I had the chance to hear my teacher play on it, at home, while I stood maybe ten feet away, and it sounded quite loud and clear. It projected nicely, so I have no doubts about being heard.

    Physically the instrument is beautiful. It has a medium-dark cinnamon color, that has a very subtle variation in darkness across the instrument (which I really like). The finish is thin enough to see the grain texture in the finish surface, and it is somewhere between satin and glossy. It is like what I've seen on other quality instruments, not the thick, super glossy, poured on finish that is often complained about here. The top table has nice even and straight grain, and a really nice job of purfling, that shows up well (real wood inlays, thin dark, thick light, thin dark). The round back, and ribs (which are laminated) have a veneer of nicely flamed maple. Even the neck has some flame to it (I auditioned an instrument that had a lot of flame, while mine has less). The ebony finger board has subtle thin streaks of dark grey at the bridge end. The end pin that comes on the bass is not only nice looking, but is solid and works well. (Solid brass, cork lined, a thick indented steel rod, a screw on rubber tip, and a brass locking nut.)

    Jeff Bollbach, who first turned me on to the Shens, did the setup for me. He fitted a new sound post, bridge, and multistrand steel tailpiece cable. He reworked the nut and while he trued the fingerboard, he completely reshaped it to get rid of the E bevel, turning it into a round board. Jeff, true to his "Luthier Rant" (see his web site), installed his one piece machined adjusters in the bridge, and relieved the top table, where it meets the saddle, eliminate the potential for cracking there. He also did a great job on stripping the neck and giving it a very natural, penetrating oil finish. (God, I loved how the bass smelled for the first couple of weeks!)

    The physical adaptation from one instrument to the other was effortless, I was comfortable the moment I got it home. The only difference was that the vibrations in the left hand, from the E string, were stronger than I was used to. I may, in the future, experiment with other strings, and have Jeff install a real ebony tailpiece. (It seems this instrument deserves it.)

    My sincerest thanks to Jeff Bollbach for his fine work, his kindness, dedication and patience. I doubt I was an easy customer, as I was full of questions and worries. Also my thanks to John Sprague, for his kind help along the way.
     
  2. FidgetStone

    FidgetStone

    Jun 30, 2002
    Allen, TX
    Congratulations Hector.
     
  3. Bow: I have heard my bass played with a high quality, wooden bow, and it sounds a little deeper and smoother. (I play with a Glaser fiberglass bow strung with horsehair.)

    Action: The action on my teacher's bass was very low, there was absolutely no effort requred to stop any note. Unfortunately, when playing forte, passages with the bow, or when playing forte pizz, I could sometimes get the bass to buzz. When Jeff set up my new Shen, he struck a great compromise,I can play double forte, anywhere on the bass, and there are no buzzes, yet the all the notes are easy to stop, anywhere, even at the octave.

    Bottom End Power: What I didn't mention was that the bass, though it does not "boom", does have a strong bottom end. When you finish a passage in the lowest positions on the E string, you can "feel" the notes.
     
  4. John Sprague, thanks to you and the Sam Shen organization, for making basses like these available at these prices. I know your basses are not cheap, but you do get a lot of bass - and sound quality - for your money. This is true of the fully laminated (IMO)and the hybrid.

    Thank you Jeff for passing on your experiences to me. Would never have found John or Shen, if not for your advice. You were certainly right on the money when you told me (who was convinced that I could not afford, and did not need the hybrid version)that the differences between the hybrid and fully laminated, were very noticable for arco work.
     
  5. Nice to read a "Happily ever after" story, to balance all those about "my ebay surprise".

    Kudos to all the honest, concerned folk involved. Isn't TalkBass a great community?
     
  6. John Sprague

    John Sprague Sam Shen's US Distributor

    Mar 10, 2003
    Rochester, NY
    Sales Manager, CSC Products Inc.
    Hi Hector,
    We're thrilled that you're happy with your 180! In this business we get alot of normal orders, 2 of these and one of those, etc... But the best rewards are when I get to talk with a luthier of Jeff's caliber and we work together to pick out an instrument that meets specific criteria, and then hear that the owner of the instrument is a happy customer with a bass he or she will enjoy for years to come. So thank you for sharing your experience and for the nice words, it's greatly appreciated!

    Unfortunately, at the time Jeff called, I didn't have a heavily flamed neck for you. I related to Jeff at that time that we have seen greater stability over the years in the low-flame and clear necks than we have with the heavily figured variety. I like to keep the heavily flamed necks here at our office in Fairport a little longer than usual just to make sure it isn't hiding any surprise movement when it sees a new climate. I know you wanted the figure, but there's an advantage to the less garish.

    Much respect to Jeff, and best of luck Hector. We're all NYers, if you gig this bass around at all be sure to send me a schedule.
     
  7. John,

    You mean I'm supposed to learn to play, it now?

    I've, been spending most of my time just sitting looking at it!