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New aluminum upright bass!

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by marcox, Apr 27, 2010.

  1. marcox


    Dec 10, 2007
    Hi all,

    I just bought an Alcoa aluminum upright bass, although I haven't actually taken possession of it yet. I live in Phoenix and spotted it on Craigslist in Salt Lake City. Conveniently, one of my brothers lives there and served as my proxy buyer, aka bass pimp. :)

    He also took a bunch of pictures. I've attached a couple, and more are available here:


    To my uneducated eye, it looks like everything but the bridge is original, although I'm not sure if that's a factory-issue piece of leather under the tail wire. :) The seller said the fingerboard was ebony.

    Can anyone think of a reason *not* to strip this thing down to the sheet metal? Part of my attraction to these basses is the novelty/beauty/dull sheen of the bare aluminum. (No plans to polish it to mirror finish, like Johnny Atomic's showpiece.)

    I have a gig (with my musician brothers) to play at my grandmother's 90th birthday party in SLC in September. I justified this purchase partly because it means I won't have to rent/borrow a bass, just drive this beast one way. But I'm not sure I can wait 4 months to get my hands on it...

    Attached Files:

  2. musicbikeman


    Aug 10, 2009
    I think it would look really cool as a huge metal bass. That endpin looks a little strange to me...
  3. marcox


    Dec 10, 2007
    Yes, I'm guessing the endpin and tail wire will have to be replaced. We'll see whether my luthier can save the bridge and nut, both of which look (to me) like they have inordinately deep grooves.
  4. BassGreaser


    Aug 22, 2002
    Austin, TX
    i would strip all that off and bring it down to bare metal:D
  5. Congrats, marcox!

    And thanks, again, for helping me with my iTunes preferences regarding creating .mp3 files.
  6. Schoolhouse

    Schoolhouse Thomas Andres- Bass Makers

    Dec 7, 2006
    Northern Virginia
    As a musical instrument conservator and historian my opinion is that it would be a crime to strip the bass. Altering the original features GREATLY decreases the value of the instrument both as a document and an object of importance. Tom Wolf
  7. MollyKay


    Sep 10, 2006
    Southern PA
    Bass Hobby'ist

    Agreed 100%...I have one that is painted brown (not original). Heck if you want to strip an aluminum bass, I’ll trade ya. Keep this original finish…it is in better condition then most.

    I was going to strip mine only because it was repainted flat brown. If I had an original finish in that condition I would NOT strip it…but then again that is like pot calling the kettle black (we striped a 1953 Kay TV-1 gold bass, but the finish was in awful condition, Johnny Atomic gave me **** for doing that).

    Do as you wish…but that is my two cents! :D
  8. salcott

    salcott Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    NYC, Inwood.
    The condition and general coolness of the finish would make stripping a really bad idea, IMO. You've got a nice looking axe there; why mess with it? Get it fixed up and play it.
  9. Wallyphonic


    Jan 21, 2007
    IT WOULD BE A CRIME TO STRIP THAT BASS! I think it's very rare to see one in that nice condition. Please Don't do it!

    I would always pay more for an instrument that had the original finish over one that had been refinished.
  10. ctregan


    Jun 25, 2007
    Syracuse N.Y.
    If you want metal, find a different bass to strip. Its rare to see one in such good condition.
  11. marcox


    Dec 10, 2007
    Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I'm a little surprised at the strong sentiment in favor of leaving the finish alone. It's not that I don't understand the reasoning, I just didn't think folks cared much one way or another for old metal basses. :)

    Preservationists, rest easy: It'll likely be months before I get my hands on it, and you've given me a lot to ponder in the meantime. And Mollykay, I'd be interested in chatting via PM or offline about a trade.

    My brother is hunting for a label, serial number or other means of dating the instrument. Any suggestions other than pointing a flashlight through the f-holes? I've ordered the back issue of American Lutherie magazine that has James Condino's article in it, hoping to learn more. See, I'm not some heritage-hatin' philistine!
  12. rdhbass


    Jun 28, 2003
    Springfield, mo
    seriously those are rare to have one, you need to appreciate the antique value. A non-player would even like one.
  13. You could apply what I call the "Back to the Future" approach to making these types of decisions.

    First, you sit yourself down (close your eyes, if that helps) and imagine that it's six months from now and you already have stripped the thing down to the bare metal five months ago. Really try to imagine that that it's a fait acompli. Then ask yourself how do I feel about having done that?

    Generally, you'll get a little rush of feeling that has a positive or negative feel to it. Often, that's enough to tell you right there.

    If that doesn't quite do it, then do it the other way around. Imagine that it's six months from now and you passed up the opportunity to strip it down five months ago, and now it's too late to do it (for whatever reason). See how you feel about that.

    Generally works for me, anyway.
  14. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    In order to reproduce that faux wood grain finish and look, AlCoA used a 50 step patented process that actually used a direct transfer method of laying fine grain spruce against the painted aluminum to mimic the grain lines in a final step. I've got copies of the whole process and a stack of internal company papers and notes discussing everuthing back in the day.

    What's wrong with bein' a "heritage hatin' philistine"???????? Don't let the philibashers tell you how to live your own life.

    There are plenty of folks around here who will sit in their cubicle all day and criticize your choices no matter what you do, while they sit around all jacked up on their frappacinno typing away.... I've seen plenty of nice AlCoAs left original and I also know a fellow who (HHP???) who bought a nice one for a couple of hundred dollars, went his own direction, polished it out like a pimped out Airstream trailer for a 1950s auto trade show, and then wound up selling it for about 40 times what he paid for it in a high zoot LA rockstar shop down on the strip. You can see it regularly in a VERY famous and very cool rockstar's band on tour and in a video or two where it works great, sounds great, and is perfectly appropriate. The only thing his heritage lovin' philistine friends say to him these days is, "%@$#!!!! I sure wish I was on it enough to be sitting with a huge pocket full of rupees and seeing all of my hard work and vision up on the stage livin' the dream....."

    It is your bass, do what you want to with it. Eventually they'll all wind up in the recycling bin or landfill. Are you going to play the thing or just look at it. if it is just for the visual, you can do WAYYYYYYY better than just stripping the paint. The chopped, lowered, and pimped out one that I've been talking about for a few years is in the works as we speak....

  15. Metal bass with a wooden endpin. O the irony.
  16. Not iron-y: it's aluminum. ;)
  17. Wallyphonic


    Jan 21, 2007

    If anybody out there has a pre-war Martin guitar with nice original finish, you should really strip that sucker and paint it silver sparkle like Taylor Swift's guitar!

    A friend of mine had a '53 telecaster that somebody spray painted flat black in the 70's. That was way cooler than the original finish.

    ...and man, if I owned the Mona Lisa, I could make that chick look way hotter than she does now! ;)
  18. I'd love To have a polished Alcoa, but that's a nice original finish. I'd have a hard time justifying stripping it.

    Trade that one for one that's already stripped or has been repainted.

    The only downside is with one with original finish you KNOW whether it has any dents or damage. Repainted ones could possibly have bondo covering dents.
  19. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    What's the price range of these old aluminum basses?
  20. swinginfish


    Dec 23, 2009
    I've one just like yours, but the finish is much worse. While all are free to do as they like w/ these things, I must admit to being hesitant to remove the nearly destroyed faux finish because what does remain is truly remarkable. I know it would look interesting if just the raw aluminum, and stunning if polished, but I can't seem to bring myself to do either, preferring (for now) to focus on figuring out which strings work best on the thing, and getting the set-up to meet my needs. Your call what you want to do w/ it.

    BTW: I managed to download a copy of the patent blueprints for these things, and have personally reworked the fingerboard and wood insert onto which its attached. Gotta say the Alcoa basses, while sounding like aluminum, are incredibly well made. Seeing the thought that went into their construction - and the great execution of plan increased my respect for the intended and realized product.

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