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S-5 Swingmaster, what were they thinking?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by NWDwyer, Oct 21, 2010.

  1. NWDwyer


    Jul 22, 2009
    New York
    A few months ago my brother was delivering a floor clock, and he called me from the lady's house to tell me that she was selling an upright bass. She had just sent the local HS music teacher packing when he offered $350 for it. She was FIRM on the $500 price, and said it had been handed down from her mother who had bought it from a friend many years ago after it had been left as collateral on a rooming-house debt.

    After a few questions, I thought I knew what we were looking at and told him to pay her and send it to me. When I got it, it was a Kay swingmaster, blonde finish, about an 8 out of a possible 10 in condition. It was a 1941 model, before they were in Kay's catalog. The surprise was that it was an S-5, the 'thin" or "dance band" model with the engraved tuner plates and a nice macassar ebony fingerboard and tailpiece.

    I strung it up with Evah weich's, took out the wire tailpiece hanger, and am intrigued with it. What was the idea of a thinner body? It obviously has a few less cubic inches, and has a bit less presence at the low end, but has a really nice voice especially under the bow. I wonder what a "dance band" bass player would be doing that made a smaller instrument attractive?

    I would not use this in an orchestral setting, and maybe not even for bluegrass, but it sure is a nice old bass, and a bit easier to fit through a doorway! NWD
  2. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    No pics, no bass.

    Pics please.
  3. jtlownds


    Oct 3, 2004
    LaBelle, FL
    I owned one of these for a while. Mine was a 1939 model, and the tuning plates were engraved with "Selmer-Kay SlimLine". Blonde finish, with inlaid purfling around the front and back plates, and the f-holes. It also had a fully carved scroll (no glued on volutes). I have owned a long line of Kay C1s, and this bass blew them all out of the water. Probably the loudest Kay that I have ever heard.
  4. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    The thinner body shape meant easier transportation on a crowded swing band bus. Photos would be great to see!
  5. To add to what Steve says, also some people believe a thinner bass has more "point" to the pizz tone and that there's less room in the cavity for the sound to bounce around, giving a more cutting sound. No proof was or is given for this concept, in fact it doesn't sound sensible, IMO.

    Post pics or we'll kill you. :D
  6. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
  7. +1
  8. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
    Could the dimensions have something to do with passenger rail car seats or compartments? I can imagine that a bass that is a bit slimmer might fit into a specific well-known space on the Empire Builder or 20th Century—something few of us might recall. Let us not forget that the big bands—famous and local—used rail transportation much of the time. The interstate highway system had yet to be built in 1939 or even 1949.
  9. robobass


    Aug 1, 2005
    Cologne, Germany
    Private Inventor - Bass Capos
    This certainly could be the rationale. I was told this is why my Geiger bass was so thin (5-1/2" upper ribs). This bass doesn't have the bottom of a normally proportioned 3/4, but it really does cut through the mix well and has exceptional attack with bow or fingers. It is also nice to carry. I also like the idea about
    rail car compartments (maybe it would fit in the overhead?), but I think the attack issue was the reasoning.
  10. Bass


    Nov 10, 2003
    POST PICS!!!

  11. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
  12. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    During a short trip to Las Vegas a few weeks ago, I saw a contemporary Romanian version if this shallow depth style bass being played in a courtyard restaurant setting. My guess is that the on-site storage closet that this musician gets to use is kind of small. The bassist looked very comfortable standing with the bass, suggesting that this was a long term daily gig for him. I had a few of these when I carried more Romanian basses 8-10 years ago. All but one of them went to salsa band players. A few Chinese makers are producing this kind of instrument these days. They seem to get a lot of attention at the NAMM show.
  13. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
    Then there's this:

  14. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    Setting a sounpost looks like a wicked proposition with these things!
  15. drurb

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

    Apr 17, 2004
    I think it's done at build-time and, perhaps, is tacked in somehow.
  16. NWDwyer


    Jul 22, 2009
    New York
    I knew there was a chance of being killed for not including a photo or two. I have not shot a formal portrait but this should help.

    Attached Files:

  17. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    Wow, is that ever cute!
  18. eh_train

    eh_train Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 12, 2004
    Owner, Stand Up Guy Basses (Repair/Sell/Buy upright basses)
    Real purty, and nice shape! The top of the line Kays are quite a step up...
  19. You lucky mother. If it sounds and plays half as good as it looks, you did very well. Please drop by if you ever have it near Albany.

    drurb, I remember reading somewhere that the posts are glued in place.
  20. Rocky

    Rocky Banned

    Jul 21, 2000
    Los Angeles
    500 for that? You got a hell of a deal!! thats really sweet...

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