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Prescott "Church" bass

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by flint, Apr 16, 2006.

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  1. flint


    Aug 24, 2004
    Could someone educate me on what the difference is between a Prescott "chuch" bass and his regular basses? The cincinnati bass cellar has one and it's low price makes me think that there must be some dramatic differences.

  2. "Church basses" were larger than 'cellos and used by Puritan Ministers North of Boston to accompany themselves to intone Psalms. Untrained singers and keyboards were forbidden along with any instrument incapable of sounding the distance between wrongly named "enharmonic" such as the less than quarter tone difference between Eb and D#, which few without ear training can hear. It was too "impure" for the house of God to tolerate such ignorance. Today's American musical ear couldn't care less.

    DOUBLE BASSES are two times (double) the depth of "church basses". Prescott made 207 DOUBLE basses, but hundreds of "church basses". In 1860 with the advent of brass reeds carefully tuned and enhanced with a virbrato (actually a tremelo) to hide conflicts in the scientific trash known as the tempered scale (such as piano and organ), completely destroyed the need for either DOUBLE bass or church bass, since the successors to the Puritans (Congregationalists and Baptist) fell whole hog for the howling success of the bastardized "tempered" scale of the keyboard. Stupid Americans will backhandedly admit they know about this farce with the flip remark "Ya can't beat strings". -- Don Carrigan

    See the NHHS Article on Prescott at my website.
    Click here: http://home.earthlink.net/~prescottviol/data/NHHistSoc101.jpg
    You will have to click on to page after page to read the whole article.
    Church bass picture, click here: http://home.earthlink.net/~prescottviol/Photos/1819NEngChurchBassMapleMFA.jpg
  3. I can't understand why the tempered scale is called "scientific trash". I can understand why you call it trash, Don. I can even understand why you call it "bastardized". But I don't think "science" or any type of real "scientist" had much to do with it. Science is a methodology for asking questions and hopefully finding answers. By the time the tempered scale was adopted, the "science" of harmony was pretty well discovered and mathematically understood. Harmony, like any property of nature, is discovered by science. It can't be arbitrarily changed by science and no scientist would ever even entertain that notion. That mathematical nature of pure harmony (harmon is greek for "joint") was observed in ancient Greece by Pythagoras. More understanding of how it related specifically to strings was discovered later by Mersenne in the 17th century, cavity resonance by Helmholz later on, to mention a few. How the pure "just" or "Pythagorean" harmony became supplanted by the tempered scale had nothing to do with any science I know of. If the church got hung up on pure harmony and later lost their hang up don't go hanging that on science, please. Not unless you can site some scientific enquiries into the matter that explain your viewpoint. The whole arbitrariness of the decision to adopt a mathematically incorrect harmony to satisfy a need for instuments to be able to play with other instruments sounds more like something a government or church would have done. As far as science goes, harmony belongs to wave behavior and the mathematics that describe it.

    Other than the brutal bashing of science without cause or understanding, I find your explanation of church basses and double basses informative. Although it is implied, perhaps unintentionally, that a double bass being twice as deep as a church bass to be the genesis or explanation of the name "double bass", which certainly is a leap of faith. Beyond that there is a troubling tone to your post that suggests that there was somehow a "scientific community conspiracy" to corrupt pure harmony and that somehow pianos and organs were involved also in this conspiracy? Like I said, I hope you are joking. :)

    When you say today's American musical ear couldn't care less, that's putting it a bit broad. I, for one, am an American ear. I have always found the major 3rd of the tempered scale to be a terrific problem in that system (and it isn't the only one). The major 3rd (tempered) sounds so wrong (particularly if there is a little distortion) that many rock guitarists decided to leave it out of the chord and instead play chords with fundamentals and 5ths only (the tempered fifth is much closer). Of course without the tempered scale we might be reduced to playing everything in one key, and the horns couldn't play with the strings, and the bagpipes;- well, we could drone on and on. It's mostly a social / cultural issue. I think science could care less. The harmons only are observed in equal divisions of the fundamental. That is what science practiced by Pythagoras found in nature. There is no way under the sun to change it and it holds for all frequencies, whichever one you wish to pick for the fundamental;- which is another issue science didn't get involved in. Changing the standard pitch of a note called "C" has no scientific cause or mathematically meaningful consequence. It does however cause havoc with musical instrument design and manufacture.
    RSBBass likes this.
  4. Dear Silversocerer,
    I regret I must resorting to insulting language to make a point, but it worked! I got your attention. Socrates used to slap his students to force them to remember important points.
    Scientists insist there are 13 chromatics in an octave. What would you say if the Pope told Michaelangelo to restrict himself to only 13 colors? No need for cobalt blue and burnt sienna and all those superfluous colors. The church scientists say there are only 13 necessary colors, so if you use any more we'll burn you at the stake!
    The same is true of the musical scales. There are only three (3) count 'em, three "perfect" intervals that NEVER change pitch, do, fa and sol of each key. EVERY OTHER PITCH CHANGES EVERY TIME IT'S PLAYED! re, mi, la & ti are higher going up the scale (ti is very much higher), and a little flat coming down the scale. The EVERY ACCIDENTAL is subject to concept and interpretation every time it's played. Count Basie never wrote F#s. He wrote Gb instead, because most of his work was bluesy. The tempered scale is a crock! Avoid it when every possible. I think you can begin to see the impossibility of nailing down each, every, all and any pitch to a nice comfortable predetermined pitch. Music is an Art, not a Science.
    Don Carrigan
    Photo: Me and my 1820 Prescott bass viol. Click here below:
  5. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Nice post Silver. You may have seen that I tried a related post here. Despite our posts, Don persists in laying this on the "scientists" as if scientists have some evil motivation to spoil art. In his last post in reply to yours Don says, "Scientists insist there are 13 chromatics in an octave." Scientists insist? In fact, Don seems to think that just describing the physics and acoustics of music is misguided in and of itself. No reasonable scientist would sensibly attempt to quantify and codify the creative artistic process. Don does not seem to appreciate the distinction.

    As you noted, "Of course without the tempered scale we might be reduced to playing everything in one key, and the horns couldn't play with the strings, and the bagpipes;- well, we could drone on and on." Gee, I guess I have been enjoying all that music throughout my life never realizing how crappy it is supposed to sound to me and how awful it must be for folks like Don to experience it.
  6. Well, I kind of let this post slip by, but thanks for the timely response, Don. I'm not insulted, I just felt science was a little mischaracterized in your post. Not that it is free from dogma, but I'm not going to get into what qualifies as a "planet". I was off following that link you posted about Abe Prescott and I read the whole of that history. Pretty fascinating stuff. Prescott definitely had the coolest looking f-holes. You can just feel the new freedom of America in those subtle design differences. What an interesting life as well. Given his methods, I guess the more radical restorations of his instruments such as the one recently done by Lou D. are justified to keep the instuments in active use. So you have educated me to an extent today and I've seen that photo before, but I never remarked on it. Your Prescott as a 5 stringer is truly a beautiful creation.

    But I still have to ask you what scientist or scientists maintain that there are 13 chromatics in an octave? I studied quite a bit of science and have never heard of that in any study of sound in physics. Now when I took a course in elementary harmony, that was where I learned about equal temperament. The instructor was a ballerina who did her doctorate on Stockhausen. I don't think she was a scientist. Mostly a dancer, music scholar, and a very open minded person. Her name was June Schneider. She probably wasn't too much of an equal temperament proponent either, I wouldn't think. She was all about free sound as music. She'd probably like Radiohead.

    Anyway, I think a scientist would agree that music is art. Sound and acoustics is science. Wave behavior is science. To the extent that harmony is wave behavior, it can be described mathematically and studied scientifically, but If I were to ask my former organic chemistry professor, Dr. David Goldstein, (who by the way is an accomplished classical pianist as well as scientist) if the tempered scale was the result of science, he would mostly likely laugh and say it seems more like the work of bureaucracy!! And truly, I think it was. Everything in it is almost right and nothing is really right. So it destroys the whole of harmony.

    I think I get what you mean about those three pitches. I always explained it concisely: the 1st is the 5th of the 4th. The notes, or intervals I should say, of the scale were derived from a mathematical series 1:2, 2:3, 3:4, 4:5, 5:6, 6:7, 7:8, 8:9. If you take 3/2 and multiply it by 4/3, you get 2/1, which is a mathematical way of expressing the 1st is the 5th of the 4th. In that series 8:9 is the only whole step interval, and it is based on a harmonic relation. It is approximately equal to the square of the twelfth root of 2. And that is the interval that was chosen to create the equal temperament scale. Putting a bunch of "half steps" arbitrarily in the sequence to even out the intervals is what the tempered scale is. That is no scientific basis for any scale. There are mathematical relationships that can describe equal temperament, but that is different and definitely not science. Pitch is relative. Harmony is absolute. It's why you can't really tune a guitar. Someone was asking me what I was talking about and I replied that the frequency of the major 3rd of G is not the same as the frequency of the 5th of E. The B string can't be tuned to both at one time. Way too much information.

    Anyway, I think you are mistaking scientists for the church. When you mention "church scientists", well that one is new to me. Scientists never had anything to do with the scales past Pythagoras, and he pre-dated modern science by a millenia or so. He did have a religion, but hardly a church, and he did characterize harmony as being unchangeable and thus ruled by the "Gods". He had nothing to say about pitch. The relationships described by scientists might be useful to music, but use is technology, not science. If someone is trying to pass off equal temperament as "science" my take is the two are mutually exclusive.

    There are some things that currently frustrate me about the way music is taught, and I think there is room for many improvements that would result in more interesting music and stronger music. The even tempered scale needs to be presented for what it is, which is an approximation of the truth in the context of a total lie. Another thing I detest is the "click track". Like changing the tempo is some kind of crime. I would whole heartedly endorse a rethinking of the rules in the interest of greater artistic expression.

    FYI, I did have a teacher who was trying to teach me to hear equal temperament and play it on the bass with a bow. May as well tie frets on it too. It just didn't come natural to my ear. I was always playing notes that were relative just harmony. That's just the way I hear stuff. I got a different teacher who knows more about what he is teaching now.:)
  7. I think there are many players, most in fact, who bend the pitches to sound "right" regardless of even tempered scales. Certain electronic instruments have a very "sterile" sound because they are stuck in even temperament. That's the way I hear it. But you get a group of folks playing on fretless instruments with strings;- they aren't going to be able to "hear" the equal temperament because it is just "wrong" harmonically. I think that is what Don is trying to relate. Obviously he misunderstands what science does. But I do resonate to his vibe on even temperament. And you have to admit, that even tempered major 3rd has always sounded like a__ in a bar chord. How close or far off an interval it is from just harmony is usually pretty evident. The best composers have sort of worked around it. That's what a rock power chord is. It's a work around because the major 3rd sucks in equal temp. What a shame too. I love my fretless basses so I can gliss to a real major 3rd and there is just no approximation that strikes that chord like when you hit that M3 dead on high up. With frets I stay away from it.:meh:
  8. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    BTW, rock guitarists play two note chords not cuz of troublesome thirds but just that they are easier to play than three note chords.:bassist:
    Who da Ville likes this.
  9. There's more truth here than Jeff Beck would admit.

    Truthfully, if you are talking about Joe coverband, most likely you are right. If you mean the guys like Ritchie Blackmore, well probably not. The deceptively simple structure of "Smoke on the Water" is played wrong by almost everyone who covers it. The missing 3rds is paramount, but the inversion of the 5th is also, as is the upstroke strum. Put it all together, it would be easier to play wrong than right. We are so off topic now that we could be canned for it. The really good rock guitarists know what they are doing. Most of them were classically trained somewhere along the way. Blackmore is just one good example.
  10. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    Wasn't that intro played on a distorted Hammond B-3?
  11. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Let's have some fun. I have attached an mp3 file. It contains two five-second segments of a major third "chord" with a fundamental of 440. One of the segments is based on the equal-tempered ratio of 1.25992; the other is based on the just-intoned "pure" ratio of 1.25. Which is which?

    Attached Files:

  12. Greg Clinkingbeard

    Greg Clinkingbeard

    Apr 4, 2005
    Kansas City area
    KC Strings
    They are sounded as in the order you wrote them.
  13. Stan Haskins

    Stan Haskins

    Nov 17, 2005
    NY and Miami
    ON first listen, without analyzing it, I have to say the first one (without the beating) is the "pure" third - the second is the tempered.

    HOpe I'm right - what do I win?

    :ninja: (Note to self: if you're wrong, go back and edit post so everyone will think you're not dumb):ninja:
  14. bpclark


    Apr 30, 2003
    West Central, OH
    What Stan said.
  15. Stan Haskins

    Stan Haskins

    Nov 17, 2005
    NY and Miami
    Dude - I think that's cheating.:rollno:
  16. Well Les, I guess you made your point. These both sound like I've gotten disconnected! On careful listening, I can detect that the interval is too sharp in the second five seconds, and that is the one that is the equal temperament interval. The ratio of 4/5 or 5/4 inversely is masked by whatever that preset sound is (do they call that analogue dialtone?). So my vote is the opposite of clink's.:meh: I think if you play it on a Classical guitar it is more obvious. Put some distortion on a Strat and it is unbearable.

    U.T., The first licks are strat upstrokes according to an interview with R.Blackmore. Deep Purple often used the Hammond synchronized with the guitar, but not on that one. I think Space Truckin' intro is what you are flashing back on.
  17. The second of those sounds 'wrong' to me. On the other hand, real music is not made up of sine waves.....
  18. bpclark


    Apr 30, 2003
    West Central, OH
    No, it was agreeing :D
  19. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    BINGO! I'm really impressed as well! Indeed, the first five seconds is the just-interval, while the second is the equal-tempered. Indeed, real instruments do not sound chords consisting of two sine waves but those sounds are characterized by harmonic series. If I get really ambitious, I can try to create one of these out of two harmonic complexes, one with a fundamental of 440 Hz and the other with a fundamental of either 1.25x that or 1.25992x that.

    Thanks for playing!!! :)
  20. I was thinking you were going to hold us in suspense until you had a statistically significant sample of TB'ers!

    You know the more I listened to it, the more irritating the second 5 seconds became. But it takes about 2 seconds before my ear really "rejects" it. So even while I'm listening to it there is some "learning" happening. I'm actually surprised I could tell that easy with a sine wave. I can't use those to tune with because they all sound out of tune to me. I'm going like somebody please hit a string or I get out my little Korg job that really cheats. But I never trust it all the way. I always go back through the harmonics and usually change a couple of strings slightly by ear. I have a new Korg thingy that has marks on the readout so you can adjust the pitch to the real M3 or m3 (that one is off in equal temp also, but for some reason I don't find it as bothersome) version of the pitch in question. Go figure. I sort of look at equal temp like I do a lot of "conventions". Most people just ignore it and go with their ear, if they are even aware that there is a convention. People who play electronic instuments or fretted instruments all of the time are disadvantaged. The power of music is in resonance. Let's all chant like Gregorian monks for a few moments now .....(Cue bagpipes)

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