Old bass for repair

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner [DB]' started by Balazs86, Sep 27, 2021.

  1. Balazs86


    Sep 27, 2021
    Hi All,

    I was about to make an experimental instrument out of a 20” bass drum and 14” tom (cut and glued together so that it gives a “snowman” shape :) ). For the back I intnded (and still intend) to use the original plastic skin of the drums (reinforced at the sound post) and for the top carved wood.
    Since even the tuner machines I make myself (being a metal turner) this would be an almost no-cost project (although I admit with dubious outcome).

    At that point I ran into an old bass which is said to be from the 1600(!). For the owner it is only something occupying the room and want to get rid of it for around 150$. However it is still a lot of money compared to zero (here in East Europe). I try to add some picture and I’d like to know your opinion if it is worth investing into it (for home/hobby use with friends, no big gigs etc)? Is it really possible that the body is still sound and bears the pressure (of the neck and at the bridge) after 400 hundred years? Or is it hidden gem maybe (once made playable)? :)
    I searched this forum and found no comparable thing.

    If worth, I would rather save the pains of carving the neck, fingerboard and head myself (although the latter would have been a no-scroll minimal design) plus I’m pretty sure the sound of this genuine instrument will be still better compared with that of my (inverse-)banjoesque drum-design...:)

    Thank you (and feel free to comment on the above, original project as well)

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Sep 27, 2021
  2. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    Regarding the original project, in the bluegrass community I've seen and heard a number of hybrid double bass -necked steel-washtubs (both round and tub shaped washtubs) fitted with a plywood top. The necks are frequently just two 2x4s nailed face-to-face together and shaped a bit, long enough to run through the wash tub to the tailpiece for support, with a flat 1x6 or 3/4"-plywood fingerboard shaped with a flat-paddle peghead and fitted with home-made, larger-than-life old-guitar-style friction tuners. I've seen some salad forks and other interesting appliances used for tailpieces. These are often strung with wacker-type strings over home made wooden nut and wooden bridge.

    These instruments can be pretty successful, but they still don't produce tone like a wooden double bass. The tone is noticeably like a metal trash bin (yes, even much more metallic sounding than my Alcoa :D ). They might be loud though.

    If you are targeting drums because you have them, that's fine, but if you're starting from scratch you might want to consider wash tubs for the body. For certain genre and venues they would be pretty acceptable.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2021
  3. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    That thing is rough! Impossible to tell from the pictures, but I tend to doubt that it's really that old... it looks like a do-it-yourself project from maybe 120 years ago.

    Only you can decide whether the work (a lot of it) is worth it to you, and you probably won't know whether it fails or succeeds until you are done.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2021
    notabene likes this.
  4. stefaniw80401

    stefaniw80401 Supporting Member

    May 18, 2004
    Evergreen, Colorado
    Looks like some poor gypsy's bass. Is the top arched, and does it have a bass bar and soundpost rattling around inside?
    KUNGfuSHERIFF likes this.
  5. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    it is no hidden gem. Probably a folk instrument. yes probably quite old, but nowhere near 400 years ... and certainly a HEAP of work to get it working as a playable instrument. It has been lying around dusty for a reason. Sorry to say, it won't be an "investment" (in my opinion of course).
    KUNGfuSHERIFF and AGCurry like this.
  6. GretschWretch

    GretschWretch Supporting Member

    Dec 27, 2013
    East Central Alabama
    I would be interested to hear how this sounds. Homemade, almost certainly. The neck is tilted off-center, the cello shoulders, the upper bout being almost as wide as the lower, the "minimalist" f-holes. This bass to me just screams "jug band."
  7. Even if you put in the HEAP of work mentioned, it still might not have a very satisfying sound. It's a pretty huge risk, even at $150 in my opinion.
  8. Balazs86


    Sep 27, 2021
    Thanks for all your valuable opinions! No miracles happen then, seems like. Anyway, I may have look one day to check out if it has a bass bar or sound post in the body because so far I have also seen only these pics. The thing is that it is rather rare that even such a low level piece comes up on such a low price.

    But for now I think I keep going with my original built and see what comes out. I admit that will not be a double bass for sure.

    I have met, Don (?) with those washtub constructions. Indeed I had at home those drums mentioned. And anyway I preferred using wood even if nothing precious just plywood. Having the already curved was a big advantage. The only “novelty” if I may say is the plastic resonating drumhead back of the body. One day I may even experiment with swithcing the sides and have some real resistant membrane for the top and a wooden back to have it really like a “bass-banjo”. Might result in a peculiar sound...
    Going through some interesting conversations here on sound posts and bass bars (where many contradictions appeared as well, regarding funcionalities but still some picture became clearer to me) I tend to do it without sound post (hence relieving the pressure from the back skin though at the same time losing the resonation thereof) and one or two bass bars. If I’ll be there I shall experiment with the different ways (no bow used). If this is of any interest here I can post the results as a peculiarity on this forum once I am ready.
    dhergert likes this.
  9. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    May 20, 2022

Share This Page