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Smaller Basses for chamber or solo work

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Steve Swan, Nov 2, 2004.


  1. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    I'm getting in trade a smaller Bohemian bass from about 1850. I tend to play large 3/4 or 7/8 size with 42" string lengths myself, so my question is this. Do some players keep a basses basses in different string lengths and sizes for different playing situations?

    Several professional guitar players that I know have a selection of sizes and scale lengths (and degree of lightness of build) for various playing applications. Some guitar players only use one instrument strung one way and that's it. Todd Phillips has done some quiet trio (mandolin and guitar) recording with an old 5/8 German bass (Ca. 1900?) and was very happy with it, even though it was quite a change from his 1920s Juzek 3/4.

    Steve Swan
     
  2. AMJBASS

    AMJBASS Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2002
    Ontario, Canada
    It doesn't hurt to own a couple basses IMO. A smaller instrument is easier to get around(in most cases) especially into thumb position. I don't have much experience with different scale lengths, but if you have good ears it shouldn't take long to adjust.
     
  3. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I only have one bass, I think if I had multiple scale lengths to deal with I would go nuts.

    If you're somebody like Gene Levinson or Julius Levine, I imagine that you look for basses that will fill the various requirements of your performance life
    1. a bass that blends well in section
    2. a bass that speaks and projects well for solo work
    3. a bass that blends well in smaller ensembles

    I imagine that a lot of those sounds are like pretty much anything else, you look for the instrument that gets to the sound in your head (for each situation) with as little effort as possible. For some folks I imagine that's still just one bass.
     
  4. Steve

    A lot of people who play jazz also, keep a bass set up for pizz play. I think that's pretty common. If one has a prescott or something like that for orchestral use, it might make a lot of sense to get a smaller, lighter and more responsive bass for chamber work, which could also double as a solo bass if it projects enough. It's best to match the scale lengths as close as possible, or make them very different so as not to confuse. A good 3/4 bass will work for most situations adequately with a change in technique and maybe different strings. I say, it can't hurt to have options if you can afford it. Sounds like the bass you're looking at will hold its value as well.

    Jon
     
  5. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    1920s Juzek? I didn't know Juzek was buying Basses that early. The oldest Wilfer/Juzek I have seen was 1936. Is that Bass llabeled as such? Just curious.......

    On the Solo thing I hear that the minimum String Length for intl. competition is 40". I don't see that much of a difference between 40" and 41-41.5" for solos unless that's your main thing. Then yes, get a good 40" Bass.

    I just sold a Solo Italian Bass at 40.5" ( http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/SoloBass/solo_Bass.htm ) and I could reach the Bridge. I also have an Italian full 3/4 Bass with a 41.5" string length ( http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/MartiniBass/martini_bass.htm ). I can easily play all the notes in the Dragonetti as well as play it in an orchestra and be heard above most other Basses. I have an English Bass with barely a 41" length ( http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/GilkesBass/GilkesBass.htm ) but the shoulders are way too high and with deep ribs throughout to be used as a Solo Bass.

    I have a newer 7/8 Shen with a 42" length, huge sound and easily reachable for solo playing due to the Sloulder/Rib design ( http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/ShenBass/SHENBass.htm ) but 42" may be pushing it for some solo playing.

    I think one could find a powerful 3/4 or 7/8 that could be used for both as well as for Jazz. I would rather play one good Bass on everything then play and maintain several different sized/purpose Basses.

    I have two sons playing Bass besides me and my impulsive quest to find a Bass as good as the 18th century Italian I sold after I retired from Playing in '88. Until then, the hunt is still on...
     
  6. BassGreaser

    BassGreaser

    Aug 22, 2002
    Austin, TX
    I'm 5'6, and I was thinking about getting a fully carved 5/8th sized bass just for jazz/pizz playing, and keep my Strunal 5/20 for more rock'en stuff
     
  7. Ken

    Ideally, yes. for chamber music, however, the tonal characteristic and total sound level produced are a big factor. More so than the scale length. I play a small 3/4 for orchestral and chamber music, and occasionally jazz if its unamplified. Although my small bass produces enough sound for orchestra and jazz, I have to be careful not to overpower the chamber music group. The big problem is all of the low mid energy my bass puts out. Generally though the smaller basses have a smaller sound as well.

    Jon
     
  8. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Well, on the older type Basses the size and proportions vary greatly. Especially from some schools of making. I like to hear myself when I play wether there are 3 ,4 or 5 Basses in the section which is what we have with the two Orchestras I am playing in.

    I thought my small 3/4 Solo Bass was just too small for the Orchestras and the larger 3/4 Martini was just about as playable but with more power. The older Italian Solo Bass was so much sweeter but limited in its application, so I sold it.

    I have used my old Mute (Brass slide with tubing) on the Bass whenever I need to be softer. This turns an Orchestra Bass into a Chamber Bass in just seconds!!

    The more you play the same Bass, the better and more consistant you will be, IMO.
     
  9. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    Edgar Meyer's old Italian bass seems fairly small. He seems to get a great big balanced sound out of it, but not as a section player!

    My big basses take some effort to move around on stage. I have to move in and out of a microphone as a vocalist. I've tried smaller basses, but I can't seem to get that big Milt Hinton sound with any of them so far. It makes my continuing hunt for the perfect bass more fun that there are so any different sizes and build weights to basses.

    Steve Swan
     
  10. Alex Scott

    Alex Scott

    May 8, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Try a Goffriller, I think that is what Milt Hinton was using.
     
  11. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    When you talk about the big sound from Edgar and Milt, I am assuming you have heard them live and un-amplified!! If not, there is no way of telling the volume of either Bass from a miked, amped or recorded sound.

    BTW, Milt NEVER owned a Gofriller!! He was swindled with the name when he was touring with Cab Calloway back in the old days.
    Dealers did that on occassion with musicians than could not tell Italian from German or French when looking at an older Bass. I knew two other Jazz Greats claiming to own Italian and a Stainer Bass that were just nice old German Basses. I saw Milt's Bass at Kolstein's about 4 years ago. Looked like a nice late 19th century German Bass but Barrie claims it to be French but I can't remember the name of the maker. Either way, it was never an Italian Bass and only in his last few years did he find out as no one ever had the heart to tell him. The first time he showed me his Bass, I just nodded and kept my mouth shut. That was around 1973 or so.
     
  12. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    On the one bass thing v. many basses. Changing instruments and string lengths is not such an issue if you do it all of the time. My father plays 17 instruments and has not much issue with an instrument unless he hasn't played it for a while, and with a little bit of time (in minutes or hours) he is back up to speed. The exception would be playing brass if he hasn't for a while...
     
  13. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    I never got to hear Milt Hinton play gut strings in person. He has a magnificent sound on record during the late '50s and 60s. His big, lush tone is very inspirational to me.

    I was lucky enough to hear Edgar Meyer warming up in the trees at Grass Valley with Russ Barenburg and Jerry Douglas when they were out here playing a music festival about 10 ears ago. That little Italian bass sure sounded great under his sure touch. Todd Phillips has spent some time with that bass when he visited Nashville. He was pretty impressed.

    I only heard Ray Brown and Charles Mingus live in the 1970s when they played amplified with steel strings. Their recorded gut string sound is what I like best. Sometimes I wish that I'd been born 20 years earlier.

    Steve Swan
     
  14. Ben Joella

    Ben Joella

    May 31, 2004
    Boca Raton, FL
    While on the topic of small basses...

    Does anyone know what the general limits are in the area of rib depth? It seems to make logical sense that you could make up some of the chamber size of a smaller instrument by making the bass with deeper ribs. If any, what are the sonic drawbacks?
     
  15. Brian K

    Brian K Supporting Member

    May 21, 2004
    Toronto, ON
    I don't know what you mean by general limits, but my Pollmann solo bass has 9.25" ribs. Easy to get around, big sound. I love it.
     
  16. Agreed. I keep different basses strung for specific uses. I'm at 3, have had as many as 7, from 40.75" to 43.0".
    String length is much ado about nothing. As I've said before, teachers routinely demonstrate things on their students' basses, regardless of size, with little problem.
     
  17. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    The Josef Muller bass made it down from Seattle yesterday. It's a converted 3-stringer with a slim little neck and a 39 3/4" string length. Although I'm used to a 42" string length, it plays beautifully, the scales finding their way under my fingers without any trouble at all. My girlfriend, a budding violin player, thinks that she'd like to take up the bass now! I put on some Eurosonic ultra light gauge strings for a gut string feel. I may play it with a vocal duet on a gig or two before it leaves.

    Steve Swan
     
  18. LM Bass

    LM Bass

    Jul 19, 2002
    Vancouver, BC
    Much as I love Edgar Meyer's playing, I wouldn't say he is a very loud player. I got to hear him and Gary Karr in the same summer, and Gary is LOUD! (Venues were different as well). Both players are amazing, and this is just one rightfully humble bassist's opinion.

    re: scale length, I play my student's basses all the time, and I adjust fairly quickly. But I really need to get a 41.5" or less mensure. My bass is just too damn long at 43"! :hyper:
     
  19. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Steve, can you post some pics of the Muller Bass? Full details and the scars in the scroll from the 3-4 string conversion if possible. Muller reportedly made other than string instruments as well.
     
  20. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    I won't be able to take any photos until the weekend. Along the length of the scroll, the D string tuner is spaced very close to the A tuner and is squeezed up against the very top of the narrow pegbox. The way the outside surface of the pegbox sweeps inward above the A tuner, there is no way that the D tuner can even come close to lying flat on the surface. It doesn't look like anything other than 1/4 plate hatbox tuners have ever been on this bass. The current set is the type available from Germany with nice ebony rollers. I haven't had them off to look at old screw holes yet.

    The nut width is only 1 7/16", which would have put 4 plain gut strings very close together. It's close with the Eurosonic ultra lights, but manageable. I've been having a ball playing this thing for the last two days.

    Steve