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Unidentified VERY OLD Bass, looking for info.

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by mojoluthier, Mar 1, 2016.

  1. mojoluthier


    Feb 17, 2007
    Petaluma, CA
    I have been wheeling and dealing basses for 25 years or so, but haven't had much experience with genuine vintage instruments. My long time friend Dalton Dillingham passed away this last year and his estate has chosen me to distribute some of the better parts of his lifetime "booty". I have four of his basses and also, coincidentally, 4 bows. Two of the basses I know well, as he bought them from me, but two others are over my head to identify.

    One he believed to be a genuine Ruggieri, though he also said it was made in the late 1500's which is contradictory. It is 7/8th by today's reckoning, black with age, and has a flatsawn top. I have no idea what it actually is, and will post pictures later perhaps, it is not the one I am asking about here.

    The other oddball is a 5/8ths, is my favorite of the 4, and has some unusual features. It has been converted to a 5 string (high C) and has the extra tuner on the tailpiece, so could be retro-engineered easily enough by trimming the add-on edges off the fingerboard. The back was carved with facets radiating from the kerfed bend in the upper bout, the place where flatbacks usually bend. The carve is in high relief at the crease. My photo skills do not show it as I wished, perhaps I'll try again. The other odd thing is the shape of the head, which does photograph well.

    I am looking for any information about the maker and era of this bass, as well as its value. Thank in advance for sharing your knowledge.






  2. That's really interesting. The seemingly random blend of design elements makes absolutely no sense to me.

    Do you know for a fact that it's an old bass? Coal dust residue in the corpus, that kind of thing?

    My wild-ass, Hail Mary pass of an idea is English circa 1900, maybe somebody's first build. That's not based on fact or evidence, just a gut feeling.
  3. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    Interesting old bass. Check with Ken Smith- he will definitely have an opinion!
    Petaluma- do you live in Dawg's neighborhood?

    Bruce, it is good to see another guitar nerd turned to the bass side!

  4. eh_train

    eh_train Commercial User

    Jan 12, 2004
    Owner, Stand Up Guy Basses (Repair/Sell/Buy upright basses)
    +1 on wondering whether it's genuinely old.

    The body looks rather like a Hawkes Panormo to me, but the neck is definitely oddball. And, if you look at that scroll, it has very little wear on it. Maybe a new neck on an old bass? If so, they might have done a much nicer job of matching the styles...


  5. mojoluthier


    Feb 17, 2007
    Petaluma, CA
    I do know David. He's come around a few times, and he did buy a bass for his son Sam, a few years back.

    I picked up the double bass about 25 years ago, and I get around on it ok in the sixtwofiveone stuff. I have reading skills, and that got me into real trouble when I picked up the fiddle about 15 years ago. At the moment I have a "jazz" trio in which I play guitar, and I also have regular chamber music in my shop where the violin is my weapon of choice. Been a while since I've had a bass gig, but I've got a few (15) basses to choose from if it comes along.
  6. I know nothing about identifying upright basses because I'm fairly new to the scene and haven't done my historical explorations yet, but I just want to say that I adore the look at that thing. Looks absolutely wild. drool

    EDIT: It's value? The next 75 years of my life being played for an hour a day with no exceptions. :crying:

    EDIT #2: What is that knob under the curve of the head? Does it serve any functional purpose? I've never seen that and must know
  7. Steven Ayres

    Steven Ayres Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2007
    Northern Arizona
    That's the ball of the added center string, which tunes at the tailpiece. Kinda looks to me that the head was built for the conversion, with the scroll grafted on.
  8. mojoluthier


    Feb 17, 2007
    Petaluma, CA
    That's the ball end of the added fifth string, which in this case is actually the D string. The machine tuner is in the tailpiece.
  9. Oh, how cheeky; today I learned.

    I love Frankenstein instruments. You have a real treasure on your hands :)
  10. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    Looks Romanian/Hungarian to me, and not very old.
    bassmanbrent likes this.
  11. mojoluthier


    Feb 17, 2007
    Petaluma, CA
    Opinions certainly do vary here! Dalton told me things about this bass 15 years ago, long before I ever thought I'd be selling it, which I have mostly forgotten. I do think he thought it was way over 100 years old, and Italian. He told me what he paid for it and when, but all I recall is that it was when he lived in Nashville (perhaps 30 to 50 years ago) and that it was not cheap. What I actually know is that this is a much better instrument than you probably guess. The best Newer Romanian bass I've owned/sold was an Enesco Workshop bass with high aspirations (sold for $7k ten years ago) and this bass is much more interesting. This bass is fairly light in weight, though it is a 5/8 so it should be, and has a great bottom end, especially considering its size. I imagine there is a smaller person somewhere who will be delighted to discover it. Wish I knew what it actually is.
  12. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    Romanian/Hungarian makers are so good at making convincing-looking "old" basses that many experts are routinely fooled. There are a number of factors that drew me to my conclusion: the varnish, the pieced-together back, the Carpathian-looking maple, and the scroll, which is neither here nor there in design, something those guys do to throw off suspicion. I'm not talking about commercially-made Romanian instruments, rather those that are made to look old and "Italian-esque". Of course I would not give a firm opinion without inspecting the instrument in person. By the way, is the interior stained, does it smell vaguely spicy?
    geoffbassist likes this.

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