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Taking the huge step to a carved bass

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by boombloom, Aug 29, 2004.

  1. OK. I'm taking the plunge! I've got that sickening "whoops! here we go! feeling" like when the car is just about to start sliding on ice. I started playing electric bass around 1980. I bought a 50's Czech laminated bass about 10 years ago for $600 at a flea market in the parking lot of the international boxing hall of fame and I suddenly knew what Thor felt like when he got his hammer. I've never looked back to the electric. I've been very actively playing, mostly bluegrass--but also some blues and swing. This bass has really kept me very happy. It's the upright I learned on and it's all that I know. I've tried a couple different types of strings but kept the set up essentially the same as when I got it. I should mention that I'm self taught and can't read a note, but I'm enjoying a good deal of success on the bass.

    About a year ago I married a genuine paper trained concert pianist. She has friends with costly fancy instruments. They all really encouraged me to get a better instrument. She and her classical friends all told me that a better instrument would inspire me even more than my current bass, and that I wouldn't have to work so hard on tone so I'd be more free to concentrate on everything else.

    Now, I played laminated guitars for years and then got an old D18. I picked it up in a store one day, hit a "g" chord and something deep inside me said "aaaahhhh". That's what I call "aaaahhh" value. Then I took up mandolin and had a similar experience. But I've kept my laminated bass without any thought of going solid. After all, basses take up a lot of room, and they can be kind of pricey. And let's face it, I hear those solid instruments can be fussy and delicate. I live in a cold climate with a long heating season and I travel extensively by car with my bass to multi day camp-out outdoor events. I guess I've been kind of resistant.

    But I recently had the opportunity to purchase an 1850's German 3/4 bass for a very reasonable price. It was purchased with this summer's gig money. That was a very helpful rationalization. I've taken it to a luthier for restoration. That will likely soak up all my gig money for the next couple of years. Now I'm reading up on stings, set up, restoration etc.

    So now I'm posting this note to you all. I turn to the talk bass community for moral support and advice. I'm excited about this next big step. I'm eager, but I'm anxious. Any stories out there about bold new horizons opening up to bassists who have taken the plunge? No horror stories please, unless they have happy endings.

  2. Way to go boom....Take the plunge by going to the newbie links at the top of each area. Then come back and fire away with your questions. Good luck!!
  3. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Congrats! Gets some pictures and post some sound clips with Damon when you can.
  4. I've read newbie and other threads, talked to a bunch (herd? gaggle? school?) of bassists, put in the time with known luthiers. I'm sure I'll be back with questions as they arise. For now I guess I'm fishing for support. Anyone out there achieve an epiphany when trading up into the carved zone? I know I'm not the first to Walk This Road. Someone want to speak for the solid basses? Once Humpty Dumpty is put back together again, what secrets will he share with me?
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    A lot of that will depend on your ears and the bass. If you have a "target sound" in your head, you will next set about trying to get that out of your bass. When I stepped up to a carved bass, the first thing I noticed was a tighter, more focused sound with richer overtones. I love a "modern" sound with tons of sustain, so for me, it was heaven. If you're more of an "old-school" kind of guy who likes the more "thumpy" sound, some of that focus might actually annoy you at first. As far as moral support goes, you came to the right place. :)
  6. Whose playing rings a bell in your soul? In other words, depending on the genre, is there someone you'd like to pattern your playing after. You mention Bluegrass...I can't help you there, but in the jazz genre, there are so many player to listen to, that most people can start by listening to a particular person and start playing along with CD's ETC.
  7. Target sound is food for thought. I guess I'm going for something new and different--something that will bring stuff out of me that hasn't come out through my old Czech Ply Bass. I expect that I will have different technique, different sounds, different ideas and play different music on the carved instrument.

    I really do want to hear the experiences of others who have made the leap from plywood to carved. C'mon. I know you're out there!
  8. I also play blue grass and use a carved bass. Interestingly, though, when I go out and play at blue grass type events, I am one of the only ones with a carved bass. The other players think that I must be some great player and so they will watch me like a hawk until they see the truth. I think that the laminated bass is still the bass of choice in blue grass. But you have one of those, right? so you can use the laminated and the carved bass depending on the circumstance. But there are professional blue grass players that use carved basses. In fact, I believe that Mark Schatz has an old 19th century German carved bass.

    The thing that I think is most interesting about your post, though, is that your wife's friends harass you about not having a great instrument and not about not reading music. I think learning to read music is one of the most interesting aspects of playing bass - even though in blue grass music you don't really have to read music most of the time.
  9. I imagine that I'll continue to use the laminated bass for most bluegrass--it's got that great sound and it's so forgiving. I can take it to 5 day festivals with cold nights and hot days, keep it in the car, expose it to some rain and not freak out. I think I'll be very protective of the old, solid instrument--at least at first. Weather/temp/humidity are some of the worries I have in making the big transition. I wonder how much I'll want to take this precious old instrument out to gigs on cold, snowy nights or rainy days....

    I know very few regional bluegrassers using carved basses. In fact, very few full time pros. Carved mandos, fiddles and solid guitars are the norm, but very few carved basses at festival jams. Bub uses laminate, as does Tom Grey. (Gray?) Mark Schatz tried to buy the german carved bass I just bought years ago, but the folks I bought it from have been hanging on to it and just finally decided to sell. I would imagine that Todd PHillips is using something carved. He gets such an amazing tone.

    My wife and lots of her papertrained friends couldn't improvise their ways out of a paper bag. I don't expect they would lose their sightreading capacity if they learned to improv, and I don't think I would lose my improv if I learned to read. I just haven't gotten around to it yet. My wife, of course is ready to teach me. After all, it's just one clef, right? Maybe I'll get the urge when I get the bass restored. It's due back in December. By the way--I can already read jazz charts. That was a big step for me along the road.
  10. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    I'm little concerned that you have yourself a a bit over-heated on the whole issue.

    You ARE going to love the new bass and it WILL open some doors for you, but it's not going to make you a different bass player. The better bass, in 'opening doors', will not give you the contents of these 'rooms', but rather allow you to go get what is there. If you don't explore what is in these 'rooms' you'll sound much like you do on the plywood bass, for the most part.

    Also, you mentioned that you're going to be having a lot of work done on the thing, and it's going to be laying around unplayed until then. Expect some time to get the bass settled in and opened up when you get back from the shop.
  11. thanks for the thoughtful response. I've felt excited, but overheated is another way of seeing it. Certainly there's some anxiety as well. This is a huge investment and I'm thinking about the ways in which it could pay off.

    As for the "rooms" metaphror--I have wandered into many rooms of the house of bass over the years. I've never felt particularly underdressed at the party, but sometimes I think I've struggled to fit in sound wise.
  12. Top went on Humpty Dumpty yesterday. I'm going to go play rebuilt Humpty Dumpty tomorrow for the first time. The shop says it sounds great. Still some set up considerations to hash out.

    there has been extensive work to the top--particularly alot of rebuilding around the rim. There is new wood showing. My question to you all, as I've already surpassed the alotted budget (big surprise!) is how much finish work to do. Back and sides have had some fixes here and there, but the old finish is pretty much intact. The top will need a lot of finish work.

    Should I just go ahead and have the whole instrument refinished? Just the top? Should the new sections of the top be finished to look like the original sections, or would that be tacky?

    This is intended to be a player and not a collector or a restoration for resale. I'd be interested in your thoughts. No matter how you slice it, I'm very excited!
  13. a. meyer

    a. meyer

    Dec 10, 2004
    portland, oregon
    Do not have the whole bass refinished! Just have the luthier varnish the repaired areas to match the rest of the bass as closely as possible. A total varnish job is a waste of money as it is unneccessary and will reduce the value of the instrument.
    As to "tacky", I think repairs should be somewhat visible, or at least detectable. Repairs are part of an instrument's history; and anyway, you will want to be able to look at where all the money went!
  14. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    having the entire bass refinished is a little severe. as far as the top is concerned... what does your luthier think? if 80% of the top needs to get touched up, then re-varnishing just the top could be a solution. this is a "touchy" subject, and it depends on the skill of you luthier, and the bass. a 19th century factory Joe German bass isn't a master-art instrument (Vuilluame, Prescott, Maggini). if it is done well, it wouldn't neccessarily weaken the re-sale value. can you post some pics?

    but, if it's just needs the usual touchup i.e. edges and replacment wood, then skip a re-varnish...
  15. I recently made the switch from a 3/4 Czech laminated bass, more recent than yours (with dyed fingerboard). I also got one of those killer deals ($250) and sort of put the Fender away for a while. If I had not been presented with the unbeatable deal on the laminate I would have bought a carved bass first so the change was inevitable. I bought the plywood intending to upgrade as soon as I developed a reasonable skill level on the instrument.

    Now I have a larger 5 string carved DB, but I've only had it 3 weeks. Even in this short space of time I noice there is a much more varied, controllable and complex palate of tones that a carved instrument allows. The notes sustain forever with steel strings. My experience was that it allows more expressive and melodic character in the bass lines. It is easier to hear the notes so you are able to improvise more freely. There is more response to varied technique. You'll enjoy the difference even more if you play arco. Your expectations are not unrealistic really because there is much more to work with as you will discover. It is also more demanding of careful technique and at the same time allows and encourages it.

    I probably will not keep my plywood bass, although like yours it was trusty and durable in all the various weather, and it did have a sound that one can appreciate. It is difficult for me to imagine a situation where I'd prefer it and I think some carved instruments are quite durable so this is not as much a problem but just requires a little more attention. So far mine doesn't seem to mind the fickle Atlanta weather and it arrived when the temp and humidity change by the hour. Anyway, your bass is old so it should be well seasoned. As far as blue grass goes, I think almost all of the bassists that I have seen playing in the professional bands lately have had carved basses. What I like about my new 5-stringer is that it really expanded the dynamic range of the band. I don't overlap with the guitars any more and the mandolin is just way up on top. My new carved bass is larger also with longer string so I don't have to work as hard to keep up with the guitars in unamped situations. That's a real pleasure. If you are like me, once you start on the carved one, the "other one" will not get much use.

    I would encourage you to read music also. It doesn't take much work if you do a little every day. It's very helpful should you come up with an idea worth writing down. :)