RS Williams & Sons Toronto

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Chris Quinn, Jun 29, 2005.

  1. Chris Quinn

    Chris Quinn

    Jun 29, 2005
    I have just acquired an RS Williams & Sons acoustic bass. I was curious to know if anyone has any knowledge about these instruments. The oval shaped stamp on the back of the pegheag just above the tuners says; "RS Williams & Son Co Ltd Makers Toronto." I can not find a serial number on this bass. The tailpiece currently on the instrument appears to be made of metal. The taipiece has fine tuners as well.

    -Would this be considered a good quality instrument?
    -How old might this bass be?
    -Should there be any kind of serial number on the bass anywhere? If so, where?
    -Did the company simply stamp their name on the back of the peghead or did they actually build these basses?
    -If the RS Williams Co. did not build these basses, who did? Did more than one builder provide basses to the company?
    -What woods were used in these basses? Is it a solid top or a plywood top?
    -When did the company stop issuing basses with this stamp on it?

    Any help would be appreciated.


    Chris Quinn
  2. Francois Blais

    Francois Blais Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 1999
    Québec, Canada
    Hi Chris.
    Are you Chris Quinn from Quinn Violins in Minneapolis?

  3. Unless you can post some pictures, about the only thing I can tell you for sure is that the tailpiece sounds like one of those Thomastik metal ones with the fine tuners.
  4. Chris Quinn

    Chris Quinn

    Jun 29, 2005
    Hello Francois and Paul,

    Thank you for your replies.

    I am not the Chris Quinn from Minneapolis. I am originally from Montreal and now live in Toronto. I play bluegrass professionally. My main instrument is banjo, but I also play mandolin, guitar and acoustic bass.

    I may be able to get some digital photos of the bass. When I do, I will try to post some in hope of finding out more about this bass.

    Thank you.

    Chris Quinn
  5. Alexi David

    Alexi David

    May 15, 2003
    a search for "R.S. Williams & Sons" on the internet brings up various late 19th century trombones, cornets, etc. Even found a violin. Looks like they used to stamp their name on instruments made by others, like many places still do today. Let's see the pics!
  6. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    From the Henley Book I have learned that Canada has makers back to 1750. RS Williams dates from the late 19th century into the first half of the 20th. They employed makers from several countries and were the biggest Dealers of their time in Canada of older instruments as well. From one label, it appears they "Varnished and completed" the violin. This points to importing in the 'white' as well as possibly making instruments in the shop. I can't tell from looking at a Bass if it was made in Canada, Germany, France or what ever. If the used several methods then one would not believe the Basses were entirely produced in Canada.. Or were they??

    Quality is reported as good so Pics and specs will help to judge it better. If a good Symphony player evaulates it, that would be best.

    Remember that Juzek used several shops and workers in Czech and Germany and exported them to Brother Robert J. He employed many workers from Germany and Czech as well in NY and they NEVER made a single instrument there. J Juzek NEVER made a single Bass in his life and 1000s exhist with his label. I doubt a single Violin, viola or Cello imported into NY and sold by Juzek/Metropolitan was even made by Juzek himself.

    Business is Business. No need to get your hands dirty if you don't have to !!!
  7. The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto has a collection of musical instruments that hasn't been on display in many years. That collection includes a Matteo Gofriller double bass that I was fortunate to see and play back in the late '70's. After discussing this bass with Bob Branstetter (he's building/ has built a Gofriller copy from Chandler plans), I swapped a couple emails with the R.O.M. librarian, who told me of a 96 page illustrated book entitled "Musical Instruments in the Royal Ontario Museum", published in 1971. One of the co-authors was one Richard Sugden Williams, 1834- 1945. (Either the dates are wrong or Mr. Williams lived to be 111 years of age!) From the librarian, a quote from that book: "Unless otherwise noted, all instruments are from the collection of R.S. Williams."

    Last I heard, the R.O.M. is scheduled to fully reopen in 2006 after renovation and the construction of a large addition. Some of the instruments may be on display in new galleries, although at the time of my last contact with the librarian they did not have a curator on staff knowledgeable in old instruments.
  8. I think it's funny how people obsess about whether so and so made instrument by hand, whether they used apprentices, outsourcing, etc, or whether they imported in the white. It seems to me that if they were trying to provide basses at multiple price points they might employ all these methods. Presumably a German, Czech or French factory bass that has been tweaked and finished by the Master is better than a similar instrument finished by the Factory, etc. So if it sound's good enough for someone to put their name on it?...

  9. DonQuartz


    Dec 18, 2004
    The only double bass in the R.O.M. is from the R.S. Williams collection of instruments and it is supposed to be a Gasparo di Salo bass that was once part of Dragonetti's collection of instruments. There is a picture of it in the Elgar book. Dragonetti left it in his will to his friend and student, the Duke of Leinster. Dragonetti refers to it in his will as "the very large double bass of Gasparo di Salo". The R.O.M. has many other artifacts associated with this bass that include documents from the Duke.
    The worm damage on this bass is profound and has been that way for many decades. It would appear that R.S. Williams gave up on trying to repair this bass with its worm damage sometime early in the century and gave it to the museum instead. It would not be possible for this bass to take any tension from its strings in its present condition. The wood in the bottom bouts of the top is very spongy and fragile.
    The basses made by the Williams company were known as "Echo" basses. They were made from laminated wood and are roughly the equivalent of a King bass.
    The 1971 book in question, "Musical Instruments of the Royal Ontario Museum" was authored solely by Ladislav Cselenyi, the former musical instrument curator of the R.O.M.
    Here is a good article on the Williams company;
  10. Chris Quinn

    Chris Quinn

    Jun 29, 2005
    Thank you all so much for your thoughtful insight. Thanks especially to Paul O'Connell for taking time to visit me and give me his thoughts on this bass. It appears that this bass will need some significant repair, but it will be worthwhile.
  11. DonQuartz, thanks for the clarification. Your information is obviously more complete and current than mine.

    In the late '70's I was acquainted with a man in London, Ontario who did setup and repair work on violin family instruments in his home shop. He sometimes had old, valuable instruments belonging to institutions or individuals on his bench, and would invite me to visit when he had an interesting old bass in the shop. At one point he was contracted by the ROM to assess the state of preservation of some instruments in their possession, as they did not have a curator on staff. I guess with the passage of time my memory has become foggy, and I've confused instruments and occurences.

    Interesting link too, thanks.