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Public-school basses: blech!

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Mike Goodbar, Feb 13, 2004.

  1. Mike Goodbar

    Mike Goodbar Supporting Member

    Jun 6, 2001
    Charlotte, NC

    A bass teacher in town is leaving town for a month-long sabbatical and asked me to take some of his students in preparation for solo-ensemble contest in March. I've seen three so far, and their school-issue basses are absolutely abhorrent:

    A Kay with a neck-block problem, making the strings unplayably high (the bridge is already carved down to the nub).

    A 13-year-old who (I kid you not) is 6'2'' arrives with a half-size bass ("that's all the school had for me") on which the top is caving in.

    The worst, a smelly, grody Fiberglas BSO with a hack-job neck shim painted with brown enamel. The neck weighed more than the entire bass: the thing was so top heavy, the kid could barely hold it up.

    All, of course, have decades-old strings and come with ancient, warped bows that I'm sure contain the original horsehair.

    No wonder most kids quit playing by the time they reach high school. I can't imagine the lessons being very productive because the poor kids are fighting just to play anything higher than 3rd position! I've talked to educators about it, who cite budget problems. Unless the neck is broken clean off, they're not going to mess with repairing it, and I'm sure they'd rather buy two or three new clarinets than spend the same dough on one decent bass.

    Okay, end of rant. Commiserate, please.
  2. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer Supporting Member

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    When was in public school band (25 years ago or so), we had to supply our own instruments. Those who didn't own rented from a local retailer.

    Nice rant though. I don't recall ever seeing the word "grody" in print.
  3. Must admit, that makes the Kay I played on sound like a true gem. It had the back comming undone, all the strings were toast (at least 25 years old) and the finish was...a mess. The machines were in desperate need of work too. I would have done something for it myself, except students were not, under any conditions allowed to take their instruments in for repair. Despite all that, I'd like to point out that it had really decent tone.

    I hope you can encourage these kids to find a better instrument, bad equipment can squlech just about any great amibition.

    Also, a big question that I see is, can the first two basses be made reasonably playable by a good lutheir for less than the cost of new basses? By playable I mean minimum playabillity, because I think that is all the schools can afford on most instruments. (Sometime, take a gander at the band instruments-- they're pretty sorry too. However, their construction is such that they tend to last in better condition for a longer period of time. But after that, I gather that it can be just as bad.) If this is the case, do you think that there might be a way to raise some cash for that to be done, or that there might be luthiers/repairmen in your area that would be willing to donate some time? I know that is a big favor to ask of someone, but they might be willing to make a deal of some sort. It might also be possible that the school has some extra cash pocketed away, that could be petitioned for. This happened one year at my highschool and a bunch of bows got re-haired (salt and pepper, no less!)

    Also, are you in a position to get in somebody's face? I don't mean that in a bad way, but we had a wonderful woman at my highschool that was owed a couple of favors, and she was very good at calling them in at the right time. She also had some status outside the system and was in great position to walk in, tell somebody what was wrong, why it was wrong, get into the right person's face and tell how and when (almost always 'now') they were going to fix it.

    I don't know about budget cuts in other states, but the two/three I'm familiar with are axing the arts (and the sports as well, finally.) This could be the time for someone in the right position to stand up and get nasty. It could change the world for the three people your talking about.
  4. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    Why rant against Darwinian selection? These "instruments" are clearly meant to weed out the players who are not meant to be.
  5. My school has the policy of if it breaks , find another one stashed away somewhere. And on another note , If the bow needs rehairing , buy another glasser!
    :spit: :bawl:
  6. On another note , One freshman girl (good bass player) friend of mine has gotten her hands on the nicest bass in the school system (three schools , one teacher , one combined orchestra) Fully carved , beautiful flame , incredible sounding bass. I'm jealous :bawl:
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I think it's the same in the UK - so I read an article which said that children are not taking up instruments like Double Bass and Trombone as schools don't provide anything - the article was asking where orchestras in future will get their players?

    I think the answer is that they won't and apart from big Symphony Orchestras, things like theatres' pit orchestras will disappear to be replaced by taped music and/or a synthesiser.

    Recently, I helped out at a day organised for A Level students (16-18) who were interested in Jazz - so there were 40 - 50 students and NO bass players!! :meh:

    As you mention - there were a lot of clarinets, provided by schools....
  8. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

  9. Pause


    Jun 4, 2003
    Miami, FL
    It's the same at my highschool now... the bass that I play has the "Endpin of Doom." It just slides in - no matter how tight it is - at very inconvenient times. Any time is inconvenient, but it falls at the worst times.

    We have 8 basses, but only 5 of them are even in playable condition. I really doubt that the school would ever take the other 3 in. As there are only 5 bassists this year, there is no need to, but they shouldn't have broken instruments around.

    The worst part about all of this is that my school calls itself a Performing Arts Magnet School... but will not ever fix the instruments that the performers need to use so that the school can keep bragging about us. There are at least 2 violinists that can't play during the string orchestra period every day because their violins are broken, the school can't have them fixed. One's violin has only two strings.

    ... and my school is only 6 years old! :mad:

    I tried to take the electric bass home to try to fix it and I was told I couldn't because they were going to have it fixed over the winter break... well, after the break I saw that it was exactly where I left it, with only 3 strings and still not working.

    I hate the people that run that program at my school

    But after only 5 months on DB, I got an excellent on my bass solo at Solo/Ensemble :D

    and I'm done for now
  10. Laurence U.

    Laurence U.

    Oct 25, 2003
    Living in England as well, I can support your claims of a sad interest in bass playing. I am now in my GCSE year (tenth grade to all those in the states) and actually i have found the interest in 'real' music by both students and staff (non music department) to be awful. It is not all bad however, i am a nyjo bassist, and national youth chamber orchestra, as well as principal bassist in both my county (surrey) orchestra and jazz orchestra, and have found the levels of commitment to both instrument and music from the students and teachers to be inspiring, It is just such a shame that this enthusiasm remains such an uncommon trait..
  11. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Get a round file and bring it to school. Pull the endpin out and file a small notch in it. Not too deep- a sixteenth of an inch is probably enough. Just something for the thumbscrew to dig into.
  12. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Go up to your local auto parts store and get a hose clamp. Set the pin where you want it, apply and tighten the clamp. I recommend one of the screw-type clamps. You might put a layer of duct tape around the pin where the clamp will go.

    I would also mention that you should pull the pin and take it with you to the shop to make sure that you find the proper size.
  13. My local luthier told me that 25 or 30 years ago the NYC public schools all used Juzeks! He says you see them around pretty frequently. They can be easily identified because the kids would carve their initials into the shoulders. I guess they didn't appreciate having a good student bass. Of course, back then Juzeks weren't considered anything special.
  14. CamMcIntyre


    Jun 6, 2000
    My school corporation is very lucky. The first bass i played was a school owned Kay-the catch about this bass is the action was about half an inch high. I learned how to play [well sorta] on this bass. Has a great tone-but was a bear to play. It did make my hands/fingers very strong.

    I then got lucky-orchestra director/teacher buys an Engelhardt EM1 from a local guy who decided he'd stick to 5 string bass guitar. So instead of the kay w/ 1/2 inch action. I now get to play the EM1 w/adjustable bridge [granted-who ever did the adjusting didn't set them even] that has a K&K Bass Max Pickup, Golden Trinity Mic setup, and the accompanying pres. I like the way the bass plays and sounds. I don't have a clue what kind of strings are on it [purple silk wrap].

    At 1 of our middle schools there are 3 basses: Fiberglass [awful sounding/feeling bass], 3/4 Ply [forgot brand-flat back], and i think it's a 1/2 size ply that *looks* pretty good-i haven't played it. The other middle school has 4 basses except i haven't played any of them. Total in my school corporation i think there's 11 DB basses. Most of them need setup work.

    As far as the school owned bass guitar that needs work-i talked to the orchestra/string head. I checked intonation on it, and restrung it. Still needs work: rewire, def. truss rod adjustment, and soem other misc things. The middle school bass guitars to my knowledge are in better shape except for the action-still quite high.

    That's all
  15. appler

    appler Guest

    My school is pretty lucky. We've got about seven double basses, all full size, and three of them are very high quality. The strings are in great shape and we have roundwounds on two of the basses. The bow I use at school is a somewhat-warped German bow but it's easily playable. I sort of don't like going home to practice on my old Czech whose sides are coming apart, has cracks all up the side and a huge chip out of the headstock, bridge has been cracked and glued twice, tailpiece is loose, and my endpin is a piece of cork. Better than nothing, I guess. :D
  16. gavintheguy

    gavintheguy Guest

    Feb 5, 2004
    After hearing what others have posted I guess I am moderately fortunate. Just entering high school I have gotten a bass from school that surpasses all the others in the school. I am currently playing on a Emanuel Wilfer, don't know what model, but it is full carved with a spruce top with maple sides and a bookmatched flamed maple back. The only problem is that it is so scratched up it greatly takes away from the bass.
  17. greene


    Dec 19, 2003
    New York City
    Ideal Music
    They were Czech basses for the most part and yes they weren't considered much more then ok student basses. Schools were supplied via open bids which simply meant a particular school system put out applications to various suppliers who would then offer up a bid for supposedly their lowest price on a specific item and then have to send a sample to show exactly what they would be supplying. 25 or 30 years ago there wasn't much around if anything acceptable from China or for that matter anywhere else. Many suppliers traded instruments and just used their labels. I remember back when I used to work for my dad during the summers I would walk a few blocks over to Metropolitan Music (Juzek) with a bass or to pick one up for school bids. By the way, they would very often place their own labels in generic instruments so it might say Juzek or some other name like Jan Kohler but it reality all the basses came from the same factory in Czechloslavakia.
  18. greene


    Dec 19, 2003
    New York City
    Ideal Music
    We sold many Wilfers to schools in the last decade but they were for the most part laminate models. However these Wilfers look very much like the carved models in that they have a hand varnished look and not the usual high gloss look most plywoods have and the wood is incredible ... beautiful flaming.
  19. hateater

    hateater snatch canadian cream

    May 4, 2001
    Eugene, OR
    When I was in beginning band wayyyy back in middle school, I remember my school provided horrible equipment, so my teacher brought in some of his own gear. I remember for me and another student, he brought in a 70's p bass, and a US made new jazz bass. for amplification, he had a vintage fender bassman combo.

    As for the DB of the class, I don't know much about it, but I know it was his... and he made us stay far away from it (only let advanced students play on uprights). I remember it looked nice and sounded great... man I wish I could have played it.
  20. I love doing this...Go to your Supermarket, cleaning supplies..furniture polish....Dark Old English Scratch Cover!! This stuff'll make that bass look great.CAUTION: Don't put ANY on the basses E string rib or that edge of the top! This stuff will ruin your clothes, but scratches....ACES

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