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Old Basses

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Sumguy7787, Feb 7, 2006.


  1. Sumguy7787

    Sumguy7787

    Jan 12, 2006
    I've been looking through this section part of the forum and have been taking a look at all these old basses. I can't help but wonder, why do old basses sound so good? Why do most players prefer and play basses that are very old?
    I've been very curious why bass players prefer aged basses over new ones. If I'm wrong correct me, but it seems that old is the way to go.
     
  2. Well I'm no luthier, but I have some experiece with vintage acoustic guitars, and it's all about the wood...how it ages, etc. Certain things happen to the top wood especially, the spruce. It's resonant properties improve along with the rest of the instrument. But with a bass, much more so than a guitar, structure is important. It has to be a well made instrument and been reasonably well taken care of or the restoration could be huge. I'm amazed how much work can go into a bass restoration. With a guitar, you might fix a crack or two and re-set the neck, but that's usually all there is to it. A bass can be like re-building a house. :eek: Old is good, but old aint cheap. ask anybody who plays a Strad violin.

    gomez
     
  3. Old woods are helpful, but another factor in playing an old instrument is that it has been used. Especially great instruments have been played by top players for hours a day for years. Just like a player gets used to playing a passage, a bass gets used to playing a passage. The bass body gets used to resonating each and every note, and consumately sounds better.
    A good analogy would be an opera singer. They have very challenging pieces to learn, but just learning the notes isn't enough. They need to practice the part so that it becomes physically possible. A role must grow into their voice, much like the maturation of a double bass. An old bass that has just sat would be very similair to a new bass made with aged wood. While this could be a great instrument is hasn't had much "training" so to speak.
     
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Nah - it's just because all DB players are old farts who bought their instrument 30 years or more ago and don't see why they should change now - besides they can't afford a new one, on what they're getting paid!! :D
     
  5. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.

    Yeah Bruce, you are right. I bought my Dodd 206 years ago and can't afford a new one. I wonder if it's still worth what I paid back then in King George II era. I can't even remember the currency we used then. Talk about memory loss...lol
     
  6. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Prolly two or three chickens back then.
     
  7. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.

    Ok, so that's about $20-$30... Really? That much? Wow, I better get some insurance. I thought it was the Strings that had the most value... Geezesh..:eek:

    Speaking of old, my Gilkes is just about to go under the knife! Arnold and I were just discussing it. To be serious about this original thread, there are very few new makers that match the old masters of yesteryear. Most new Basses in the 5-15k range are just adequate working tools. The few great makers today are in the 20-35k range or so. Those Basses in 200 years will be the great Italian equivalents of tomorrow.

    If you get to play a 100-200 or more year old English or Italian Bass in current good repair you will see what all the talk is about. I have an Italian Bass just under 90 years old that will KILL when it's 150-200 years old. You can hear its youth when played as it's so springy in its tone. The older Basses have mellowness than cannot be duplicated without natural aging from what I have seen in my lifetime.
     
  8. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I always thought it was mostly attrition. You'd have to be pretty mental to say to yourself "Gee this bass sounds really bad, I think I'll sink a lot of money into keeping it healthy." So most of the basses that sound great are still alive because they kind of always sounded great. Sure, that greatness has continued to mature. But the reason every owner down the years kept putting money into keeping it healthy was because of how it sounded right then.

    If you only water the plants that have pretty flowers, soon all you have is plants with pretty flowers.
     
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Unless you believe in Intelligent Design? ;)
     
  10. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    If God starts making basses, I'll sign the contract for one.
     
  11. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I think it was Voltaire who said he could not beleive in a God that so commingled the Organs of Pleasure with those of Waste Disposal.
     
  12. jmain

    jmain Oo, Uhn't uh, Yes! Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2005
    Alexandria, VA
    Strapped in for the ride?
     
  13. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Ok......... Back to old Basses.... I live with them and with new ones as well. My personal experience includes English, French, Italian, German, Bohemian/Czech and American Basses from new to over 200 years old. I have played them, owned them, worked on them and sold them. No Mystery here at all. Just open your eyes and ears and listen to what I say and describe.

    On TB, I work for free!! Do not mock me. I do have other things I could be doing but I love Basses so I squeeze in a few posts when I can.
     
  14. Sumguy7787

    Sumguy7787

    Jan 12, 2006
    Lets say you crack your bass and get it fixed. Will the bass sound better after the fix than before the damage?
     
  15. bierbass

    bierbass

    Sep 5, 2005
    Knoxville, TN
    I'm not sure that I buy the attrition theory. Reason being, their was not as much demand for basses 150-300 years ago simply because there was not a need for but 1 or 2 bassist in an orchestra. Therefore fewer basses made, fewer basses from that time period. Many more violins could be produced from same wood as it would take to build a bass. So it was market driven. I also have a hard time believing people would discard an instrument just because it didn't sound as good. We weren't a "throw away" society 200 years ago.
    Don't get me wrong, there are vintage dogs out there that modern instruments blow out of the water. I tend to believe older instruments sound better because of the age of the wood and how they've been played, the bass opens up when its made to vibrate in the same manner over a period of time.
     
  16. Kam

    Kam

    Feb 12, 2006
    Minneapolis, MN
    I've heard rumors of some modern basses having the wood thinner at certain points to make it sound older, though it makes them more prone to cracks down the road. Is there any legitimacy to this rumor that you gents know of?
     
  17. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    It would be an interesting topic to research; I don't think that people would discard a bass 200 years ago, my thinking is that 125 or 80 years ago that it would not be a bass that got more than the cursory repairs.

    Sure the sound opens up, but are you telling me that the only difference between a Panormo and a Palantino is that one is older and has been played more?
     
  18. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Well how often do you see musicians taking an axe to their instrument as soon as you get it?

    An old instrument can be restored to sound better than it did when you first got it mostly because old, bad repairs get cleaned up. Bad glue jobs, too much linen, heavy cleats etc. That crack that was sealed just enough to get to the gig gets repaired so that it almost disappears.

    There is nothing magic that will make a bass sound substantially "better"; as basses age and get played in, they develop a richer, more complex version of the "voice" that they originally had.
    No amount of riding turns a cart nag into a thoroughbred.
     
  19. tsolo

    tsolo

    Aug 24, 2002
    Ft. Worth
    You do have a way with phrases. I actually understood this...
     
  20. My luthier says the glue in older wood instruments eventually dissintegrates. He's restoring an 80-90 year old Czech/German bass for me and has had to reglue some joints. Perhaps they were loosened up by all the sanding required to remove a coat of white paint and a coat of varnish someone applied in the past. Anyway, what's your experience with standard time frames for re-gluing?