Solo strings, orchestra pitch

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by shlomo, May 8, 2001.

  1. Giovanni Bottesini on three vs. four strings, from "Bottesini's Method for the Three String Double Bass" -

    "...if the Double Bass gains, by this fourth string, a greater extension of the deeper notes, this extension cannot be obtained without detriment to quality of tone, which naturally becomes impaired as the strings are increased in number.

    Those who doubt this fact need only make the experiment upon the instrument - this I have myself done over and over again. The question had, for some years, seemed to me of sufficient importance to induce me to experiment upon the effect of the fourth string on the best Double Basses that passed through my hands, particularly those of the celebrated Gaspar de Salo, who, in my opinion, and in the opinion of all connoisseurs, was the best maker of Double Basses. The result was always the same, and always bad; all those instruments, without exception, lost with the fourth string that clear and sonorous quality so necessary, especially in the low notes. Hence, we are led to this conclusion: that it is much better to sacrifice a few low notes to the perfect clearness and sonorousness of the Double Bass, than to sacrifice those qualities to the slight advantage of four lower notes obtained by the addition of a string."

    Okay, these days going back to three strings is not an option. Taking tension of off the table (Bottesini's whole logic behind the three-stringed DB) is a definite necessity. I basically have two questions. With the advent of steel strings, is the level of tension he's referring to here no longer relevant? Second, has anyone else used solo gauge strings in orchestra tuning to reduce table tension and if so, to what effect?
  2. By all accounts, how tension affects the sound of the bass depends on the bass. Using solo strings at orchestral pitch is not uncommon, but a positive reaction by your bass is not guarranteed; and unfortunately you can't judge the responnse immediately. It will take time for your bass to adjust to the lower tension. When I switched to gut-core strings, my bass seemed to initially lose some volume. It took maybe a couple of weeks to fully adjust.

    Another means to lowering string tension I've read about is the use of a raised saddle. The saddle is the piece of ebony at the bottom of the bass between the bass and tailpiece. By raising this and decreasing the angle of the strings behind the bridge, pressure on the top of the bass from the strings is reduced. If you peruse the instruments page at,
    you'll see Barrie mentions having some of those basses set-up with "tension-compensating saddles."
  3. The only time I've seen solo strings tuned down is by jazz/pizz players.
    I can't buy into your tension argument until someone reconciles it with the common urge among violinists to boost the 'A' over 440.
    In any event, Lou DeLeone, one of the pre-eminent luthiers, has his own method by which he can assure top-neutral by means of the sound post, regardless of what strings are used. I had the pleasure of spending two hours with him, during which he showed me his invention for measuring top deflection to .001". With it, he makes a post which will perfectly offset any particular string tension. I suspect what he's done is mechanize what the great luthiers have learned to do by instinct.
  4. Don, if violinists like to tune higher than A=440, it's to increase string tension thereby producing a more brilliant, singing tone (like a described in the other solo tuning strings thread). Violin strings are so small, I assume there's little or no risk of damaging the instrument with the increased pressure on the top.

    I'm not sure what you mean by, "assure top-neutral." And I don't understand how any soundpost can counter the choking effect of too much pressure from the strings on the top.
  5. Let's say I overspoke in describing what Lou does. He showed me what he does to put the top in the same position, after tension is applied, as when there is no tension. He and his clients have found this to produce superior tone and even to eliminate wolf tones. This is anecdotal, but then so is every word Bottesini said. He did not specify, and I am only guessing, as to what the sound post was doing in this case.

    Regarding tension, per se, some tension is built into a bass from the start. It can't all be bad. And until I know more, and this might take some time, I'm not ready to accept "taking tension off the table... is a definite necessity." Maybe later, but not now.
  6. The idea is this. Tension is inevitable, however there is a point where the tension restricts the table, and thus reduces tone. Where this point lies is a matter of taste. For Bottesini, Dragonetti, and other late 19th century players (even some rare 20th century ones) the line was crossed when a fourth string was added. Today, many players are against the addition of a fifth string for the same reason.

    My purpose is to understand the effects of table tension for myself. Firstly, because I would like to get the best sound possible, and would also like to solidify my opinion on the issue. Secondly, because my bass is not very well carved, and my poor table is showing signs of strain. I would like to prolong the life of my bass until I can afford the monstrous loan to acquire that elusive Prescott, hence the "necessity" aspect. Perhaps I should have clarified earlier.
  7. The tension/taste factor was the point behind my feigned question re violinists and A440+.
    Re 5 string setup: I remember seeing a major French orchestra in Carnegie Hall, and every single bass had 5 strings. Yet, being European, they adamantly opposed bridge adjustors for their interference with tone. Go figure.
  8. Right, the pressure exerted on the top of the bass from the string tension is neccessary in order to produce sound. Some bass lose volume and tone as a result of decreased tension, some gain volume and tone. I don't think it's so much a matter of taste as it is a question of what's best for each individual bass. Obviously taste or opinion is a small factor, but I do think each bass has an objective range of what sounds best.

    Modern basses are built for 4 strings; meaning the top tables and bass bars are designed for the pressure of four strings. In Bottesini's time, many were built for three. The part of the history your missing is that *a very large* part of the argument for three stringers was that acceptable sounding fourth strings were not being produced at the time. There was a problem with the strings, not the basses. To compensate, basses were not tuned in fourths. Many different tunings were employed. The tuning often depended on the piece being performed. I believe Bottesini tuned his three stringer G-D-G. If all of this interests you, I highly recommend reading _A New History of the Doublebass_ by Paul Brun.

    Regarding your bass showing signs of strain, you really ought to contact a good luthier for his opinion.
  9. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    I don't know where you guys are heading with this thread, but I'd like to relate here my recent experience in Barcelona. I went to a Sardana competition where four different bands known as coblas were playing the music while the dancers hold hands in circle and dance the sardana, outdoor. THe coblas uses pretty weird instruments: 1 flaviol (one hand flute) 2 fiscorns (?), 2 trombones, 2 tibles (small double reed), 2 tenores (bigger double reed), and a double bass. In all the four bands, the basses were of different shapes en pedigree (1 new, three old, 2 violin corner, 1 gamba corner, and even one without corner, sort of guitar shape, I could sent a photo...). Anyway, the point is that they all had three high action plain gut strings and they were surprizingly loud, both arco and pizz ! Any volonteer to go back to the good ole setup ?
  10. Many folk bands that use double basses have instruments with three gut strings. My experience has also been that the players are usually violin players who are relegated to the role for a given occasion, although there are some who are solely bassists. The variety of instruments and configurations is something else, no?

    Been to the luthier too. I might get a second opinion, seeing as how I'm clear across the country now. The strain is causing the table to cave slightly underneath the bass bar, so the left f hole is getting rather warped and some cracks are appearing in that vicinity as well. Most of the damage was done by the previous owner who, ironically, was in a Ukranian folk band and had the action jacked up to insane proportions.

    Aside from gluing the cracks, I doubt there's much a luthier could do. Unless they can bend the table back (something to see for sure) which would put my only instrument out of commission for some time and probably cost more than I'm willing to invest in this instrument. My logic is that at best I'll have a tension-reducing, tone-improving solution, and at worst I'll have a brand spanking new set of solo strings for when I need them.
  11. The is often an indication that the bass bar is coming unglued $$$$$
  12. (Was gonna start a new thread, but it seemed pertinent to this one.)

    I'm both a classical and jazz player, and use one bass with Evah Pirazzi's to do it all. It works beautifully.

    However, I'm now playing pieces in solo tuning. While I have no problem forking over the cash for new solo-gauge strings, I'm wondering if there might be any problems with detuning to orchestral tuning once a week or so for jazz. Have any of you done this? I see that Evah Pirazzis are made in a solo-gauge set, and I'll have them installed by a professional luthier (to check for any arising problems as well), but I'm just wondering if I might be doing damage to my bass - or if such a scenario would even work.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  13. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Houston, Tx
    I use solos tuned down, I have for a year and I have done it before, years ago. It is great and my bass seems way happier, FWIW.