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P.M.S. (Double Bass)

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by KSB - Ken Smith, Feb 20, 2005.


  1. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Pfretzschner, Morelli and Schnitzer...... No.. Not a Law firm..lol

    This Bass just came back from MAJOR Surgery at Arnolds Shop. I must say he out-did himself on this one. He re-graduated the Top and Back besides all the repairs. The Top was un-even and the Back was 1.5 the necessary thickness as compared to Italian type measurements.

    The Maple on the Back, Neck and Ribs are 'extremely' hard and dense. More like our own hard rock Maple in the USA. Arnold thinks this is High Altitude Growth. The Bass being as old as it is and the condition of the Bass after about 85 years or so places the age of this wood (after cutting the tree down of course) at about 100 years old considering the air drying processes back in those days and the healthy condition of the Bass with the exception of user-damage and past poorly done repairs.

    The sound is amazing. Huge, Clean, Deep, Colorful and a breeze to play despite its slightly longer than usual String Length (for me). Out of all the Basses I own, this is the easiest to play. It's not quite the quality of Gilkes or Roundness of Martini but.. It has it's own colorful sound. This is a Bass that can be used anywhere and I will take it to rehearsal on wed. and Concert on Sat. to give it its first 'road test'.

    I could not believe the tone of the Bass. A German Bass with the tone of an Italian?.. How could that be?.. It only has Obligatos on there now because it's the only set I bought with an 'E/C' Ext. string. Imagine how 'plush' it could sound with Flexs or Orig F.C./Flex model Strings.. I would like to try a Perm Ext 'E/C' and 'A' String with Flex 'G' and 'D' if I had them (that works and sounds good on the Gilkes)...

    So I now have an Arnold Schnitzer Dimensioned Bass made from the Corpse of a German Pfretzschner/Morelli. It has Arnolds own Bass Bar design, which he can go into detail if you ask him.. maybe? It also has a Graphite inlaid bar in the neck similar to what we do with our Smith Basses. This evens out the sound and allows the neck to be carved thinner. Oh, and a nice Ebony Fingered 'C' Ext..

    The String length is now 42 3/8" (less 1 1/2") and after the 'Block Cut' the Top is 44 1/4" (less 3/4") with a slightly deeper 'Neck Set' for all the right reasons. He did a beautiful job of that Structurally as well as Cosmetically.. The Neck is betweel a 'D' and 'Eb' at the Heel but closer to a 'D'. Not a factor at all when you play the Bass. All the notes seem to be in the right place.

    I will post the Link of Pics here in a few days as well as leaving a Link on the page to see the 'Before' Pics.

    Before; http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/MorelliBass/MorelliBass2.htm After; http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/MorelliBass/MorelliBass.htm
     
  2. AMJBASS

    AMJBASS Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2002
    Ontario, Canada
    That sounds great! I am looking forward to seeing some pictures of the bass. I am also looking forward to hearing how the restoration is going with the "Mystery bass"! Let us know how the rehearsal goes with this bass.
     
  3. 5stringDNA

    5stringDNA

    Oct 10, 2002
    Englewood, CO
    Very cool Ken. You seem to be the bass whore of the DB world. ;) What are primary differences in sound between teh german and italian basses anyway (still a noob).
     
  4. PJEBassist

    PJEBassist

    Aug 3, 2004
    Paducah, KY
    That gave me a good chuckle.

    -Jake
     
  5. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Yea, Arnold got a kick out of my 'name' for the Bass when I told him about the 'math'. That makes this Bass a one-of-a-kind...Lol..

    German vs. Italian sound,,,,

    Well there are about 3 types of German Basses typically in my mind. 1) Factory/Shop made.. all carved to a single dimension without regard to the wood and assembled and/or with parts made by different workers or sub-contractors. 2) Similar to the above but dimensioned during the making or after receiving the parts to the desired thickness. 3) Fully handmade Basses one at a time made to the specs desired but also/maybe made to specific dimensions without regard to the tone of the wood.

    Most Italian Basses are like #3 and less uniform looking from Bass to Bass. Often they are made by workers or apprentices of the shop especially the Scroll. I have seen many nice looking Italian Basses with the Ugliest heads imaginable. Arnold had one there for repair yesterday. My personal opinion is that the Master of the shop could make several Violins in the same time it took to make one Bass and with a fraction of the wood. The Apprentice would make the Basses and use the lowest grade knotted woods available if not the down grades/leftovers to make this less economic Double Bass.

    With this in mind, many German Basses are Heavily wooded being too thick in spots and/or being un-evenly graduated. They also have heavy/thick internal Rib linings as well as the outside linings so commonly seen on 20th century German Basses and the like. This makes the Top crack when excess movement occurs rather than the Ribs cracking. They think more 'robust' than 'tonal' in their design but senseless about the future of the wood movement. The sound is often stiff and un-even. The older Basses have matured and been repaired a lot and are much more mellow but are built for power mostly and not sweetness as far as tone goes.

    Most Italian Basses I have played have a sweet colorful sound. The moment I strung up my Martini for the first time I heard the color 'blooming' in this 85-year-old handmade Italian bass. I played a Gagliano in NY that could bring tears to your eyes. I never even got close to crying form the tone of any German Bass...Until now!

    The English copied the Italians but with one exception. They used better and cleaner woods and often of beautiful figure on the Backs. My Gilkes has a sweet almost Italian Sound but has the best wood one could ever hope for. It is almost 200 years old and the Back and Top is just like 'day one' with the exception or 'user wear', no Cracks!...... Not too many Italians in this condition that I have seen but the tone of a good Italian Bass will make you forget about the cracks after the first few notes.

    The end is near.. I promise.... Can of worms your question was.. Sorry.. gotta finish...... Ok?.. ......ok.

    The Morelli 'labeled' Bass was interesting and I learned a few things from this restoration as well. The Scroll and rear button are beautifully made. I have seen the Identical button on a Pollmann Bass from 1951 or within 95%. This is the same shop making these heads and in the same town IMO. The Scrolls are farmed out to a 'house/firm' that makes them for all the area makers. The shops build the Basses in-house or with some 'farming-out' and mounts the subbed-out Scroll just before finishing. The Top of the Morelli was machine carved with the old style German duplicating machine and hand scraped afterwards. You could see this by looking closely at the scars in the Top after opening the Bass. The Bass Bar was NOT a separate piece but wood left in by the machine and shaped like a Bar out of the 'Top'. It was also placed against the wing of the F hole. The Bass had a 5/4 sized Bridge which help push the other F hole on the 'G' side of the Bass to cave-in a little. The wood of this Bass was great wood and with relatively little damage with the exception of Rib hits and evident falls and knocks that the Bass had taken in its 85 year life if not it being older.

    The Quality of the wood and the potential of the Bass was the cause for such an extensive restoration. I estimated 5-8K cost when I first got the Bass and I was right. The Bass needed a lot more work than I had imagined but the pressing out of the top went easier than expected helping to balance the estimate and do other work to improve the sound and structure. Both Blocks, upper and lower were replaced, new Bass Bar, upper Rib/Block area cut and new Button grafted above the Purfling. Inlaid plates at both ends of the Back and lower Top inside the Bass to fix old damage and strengthen the plates. The internal lining was reduced in thickness from about 4mm to 2mm because the Bass already had 4mm 'narrow' external linings and over-stiffness' was a concern. The Top was re-graduated to even out and properly thickness for optimum tone like that of an Italian or other handmade Bass. The Back was 14mm in the center and had to be reduced all over with a 'full' re-graduation. The wood being so hard caused Arnold to have to continuously sharpen his plane as it dulled quickly during graduation carving.

    Etc, etc, etc........ You don't want to hear any more I bet at this time BUT.. The Bass now has a Sweet singing tone.. It Rings out on every note.. It sounds like an Italian Bass now more so than a German bass and that’s a BIG+ to me. This goes to show you that if a Bass is in decent shape and made with decent wood but factory made, it may have a new life around the corner if the economics add up......
     
  6. AMJBASS

    AMJBASS Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2002
    Ontario, Canada
    Thanks for taking the time to write all of that Ken! I am very interested in instrument restoration, and your Morelli is quite interesting indeed! Looking forward to more....
     
  7. godoze

    godoze

    Oct 21, 2002
    Ken, when do you sleep ?
     
  8. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

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

    JohnThomasson Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2003
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Mesa Boogie, DR Strings, Fender, Source Audio & Fishman
    Here is my "G.A. Pfretzschner".
    http://homepage.mac.com/thomasson/PhotoAlbum15.html

    There are some similarities, but a few key things are different, especially with your restoration. Mine has a mensure that is slightly over 42-1/2 inches. It doesn't have a label, but it does have a stamp that says "G.A. Pfretzschner Markneukirchen."
     
  10. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Very nice Bass and it does look similar. Without all the dimensions posted of your Bass and 42 1/2" being the original String length, I would speculate it was one size smaller as mine was almost 44" from the start. G.A. Pfretzschner was a Famous Bow maker (only) but his name appears in many Basses imported to USA. Maybe C.F. Pfretzschner III (3rd generation C.F.) made these as well as the Morelli brand just like the Wilfers had made all the Juzek Basses for Metropolitan Music in NY and exported them for the US Market. I have seen the exact same Scroll Button on an older Pollmann Bass as well. There was probably a Scroll maker in Markneukirchen that supplied all the shops for decades. This is what's known as 'Cottage Industry".
     
  11. JohnThomasson

    JohnThomasson Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2003
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Mesa Boogie, DR Strings, Fender, Source Audio & Fishman
    Arnold did a great job on your bass. I would love to hear it and have you compare yours (pre-restoration) to mine. I would sink that much into mine if I knew I would get the same results. I would like to get a nicer bass in the next couple of years and the “upgrade” would be cheaper. My problem is my bass is inconsistent. Sometimes it sounds amazing and sometimes it is just OK. It usually does not open up until I have played it for 30 minutes or so. Then it sounds like a different bass. It is more open and louder at that point. Sometimes it sounds that great right out of the bag and sometimes it never gets “in the zone” on the gig.


    John
     
  12. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    You can hear mine 'post'-restoration but "pre" is not possible..lol

    I would have to see and play your Bass to give an opinion. Pics don't do it for me as far as judging goes.

    Possibilities do exhist and in the right hands, great things are possible.
     
  13. jmpiwonka

    jmpiwonka

    Jun 11, 2002
    its funny that you mentioned the lawfirm style of naming with the luthiers of your bass, it made me think of medeski martin and wood because people joke about them using the lawfirm style name and the bassist chris wood plays a 1920's pfretzchsner.
    some ok bass shots here from a show.
    http://gallery.mikewren.com/mmw2004-12-02
    they play at tonic in nyc march 7&8, chance for anyone to go see some great music.


    ken, are all these basses shop basses or were some of them fully handmade as well?
    if it were handmade would it be labeled differently?
    i'm assuming wilfer's and juzek's were all shop basses too?
    will the problem with the uneven graduation be predominant in all these basses, or is it more of an individual bass situation?

    one last question, and i don't know if you even played one or not, but how did your morelli compare(before and after restoration) to one of the new standard basses, lascala hybrid or carved.....i'm thinking you probably haven't compared them but i'm asking anyway.
     
  14. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    First off, Juzeks "ARE" Wilfers. They made them. Juzek is just a brand made by Wilfer for the Juzek family. John Juzek made a few violins in the beginning but 'never' made a Bass........

    And yes, I think they are all shop Basses mostly. E.Wilfer does not have the demand now that Anton and Wenzel Wilfer had from the 20 thru the 70s so they are more likely handmade mostly but the tone it the important thing here. I have played their Bass at this past NAMM Show.. I'll keep my PMS Bass.. It's 10x's better...

    I could not play the Morelli Bass when I got it because the sound post was out of the Bass and was too long. It had not yet been fit. I heard it breifly when it came in but I heard a loose piece of wood in the Bass. Then I noticed the post was inside the bottom moving around so I loosened the tension.

    Now after Arnold's majic, the sound is huge, deep and mature. You should ask Arnold to make that comparison between his Basses and this one. A Bass, 80-100 years old, now re-made by hand to the top specs possible is no match for a Plywood Bass in my opinion.. Not this Bass anyway. His Basses sound great but this Bass is a Top Class sounding Instrument now and will become my 'working' Orchestra Bass for the time being.
     
  15. JohnThomasson

    JohnThomasson Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2003
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Mesa Boogie, DR Strings, Fender, Source Audio & Fishman
    I assumed you had played it before you had it restored. Therefore you would have an idea how it sounded "pre-restoration" compared to a different bass.
     
  16. jmpiwonka

    jmpiwonka

    Jun 11, 2002
    i was thinking more along the lines of a hybrid and hoping to hear about a fully carved one.......
    i guess the question is more along the lines of an older shop bass, compared to a newly(and properly) made carved bass.....but yes i'll just have to ask arnold how he thinks they compare when it is time for me to buy a bass of my own :hyper: , i'm worried i won't be able to get my hands on many older carved instruments(which is what i'm thinking i will like) when it is time to buy, but i know arnolds basses are highly repected so they are an option i'm considering even though i wouldn't get to play one before.

    i wanted to clarify that i wasn't expecting you to compare a laminated to a very well built old carved bass.
     
  17. Nice job Arnold!

    Ken, I think you did the right thing having it regraduated.

    Those damn plates are so shiney, they'll look in a few years...give it some of the east coast salty air and that will speed things up.
     
  18. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Ken, I moved to PA awhile ago. I am quite far from the nearest Fishing hole.. Salt water that is...

    Anold pointed out the need to re-graduate and I gave him 'carte blanche' "Arnold, do this Bass as if it were yours" .. Well, he knows I was going to play it so the neck specs and bridge stuff are sort of my type of set-up but even so I am not done tweeking it yet. I will play it awhile as is and then put some finishing touches to the set-up once I get more familiar with the Bass.

    Arnolds Basses: I have played One Fully Carved Bass and it was very impressive. If my memory serves me correctly it was the LaScalla. It did not sound 'brand new' either. I was quite suprised when he told me it was just completed. I have also played one or the Standard type Plywood models.... Arnold made a comment some where like this "It Eats Juzeks for Breakfast".. Something like that... Well for Jazz playing, which is how it was set-up.. It Smoked..... Power, Pumping lows.. Growl.. A killer bass for maybe double the asking price... Many older carved Basses made in Shops like that of the Wilfers/Juzeks etc. cost 6-8k on average from I have seen and many of them need that much work on them to make them work!.. This Bass that Arnold has now is out the door for a fraction of the cost of an older German carved shop Bass and will often do the same job as good or better.

    Now his handmade Basses; I have seen 2 in progress but being 160 miles away, I have never had the pleasure to play one. I would just trust the testimonials of the pros that Buy his Basses. I was lucky to have Arnold put some of his personal touches on my old German Shop Bass and Boy.. what a difference. If you know how many Wilfers, Juzeks, Pollmanns, Pfretzschners Etc, etc, etc, that I have played in the last 40 years, your head would spin. I have NEVER played a Shop type or any German Bass for that matter that Sings like this one. Even Arnold was suprised at the results and he has probably seen more Basses than I have by far......Arnolds Basses from Scratch are made better than this one, but at least I have a little of his Magic in mine..
     
  19. Good move Ken!
    Great job Arnold!!
     
  20. Heifetzbass

    Heifetzbass Commercial User

    Feb 6, 2004
    Upstate, SC
    Owner, Gencarelli Bass Works and Fine String Instruments, LLC.
    Ken-

    For some reason all I get is the "before" set, not the after...

    am I missing something?

    I too have a Markneukirchen bass, however it is a few generations before yours, and it has more of a typical "Italian" sound as well. I am very happy with its sound. I would have to spend MUCH more money to compete with it. It has no pedigree, but I love it.

    Congrats,
    Brian