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Upton "Carcassi" DB -- Review

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Sam Sherry, Jan 13, 2006.


  1. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    I’ve been playing an Upton Romanian “Carcassi” model recently.

    46 body
    8 3/4 deep
    Lower bout 25 ½
    C bout 16
    Shoulders20 3/8
    Scale 41 ½
    Overstand 1 1/16

    The Short Version: This is a big bass notwithstanding medium-sized shoulders. It’s well-made and sounds good. The bowed sound is very even throughout; I hope that the low E develops more volume for jazz. It’s a very solid instrument but not overbuilt – pretty light, in fact. I like the setup and dislike the “antiquing.” The Uptons are great (but they’d better be great because I am their lawyer).
     

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  2. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Timber: The top is a 4-piece plate of medium-density spruce with normal ring-count variations. It is well-quartered judging by the edges. The sides are very well-quartered maple with modest to moderate flame. The flat back is a 4-piece plate of well-quartered maple with good, attractive flame. There is one point which appears to be much closer to a knot than I would have wished if I were felling trees for my double-bass. The fingerboard is good-but-not-showcase quality ebony: Good color, modest color variation, one small knot right on the edge. The nut and tailpiece are ebony and are fine. The neck has a two-piece heel and there is a corresponding ½ splice on the bottom of the scroll. The neck is dead on quarter and otherwise undistinguished wood except for one flamey spot that looks out-of-place. Overall, this is not showcase wood but it is cut very well, which bodes positively for the long term.
     

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  3. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Luthiery: The carpentry is spot-on. All joints are tight. All seams are tight (and Upton opened the bass for tone-improvement work when they got it). The back-cant is intact. It’s a pleasure to have a solid bass with no questions or stories.

    The purfling is even and generally tight if not at the ISB-showcase level. The scroll looks even from side-to-side and is nicely finished except for file-digs at 12:00 on the inside of the volute (where your thumb would go if this were a violin). I like the way the peg receiving-holes are drilled into the peg-box without going all the way through to the other side. It’s a subtle, classy touch which also leaves a stronger peg-box.

    The finish is antiqued oil varnish. I dislike antiqued finishes generally and this is no exception, although we’ve certain seen uglier on more expensive instruments. A lighter ground might have brought out more flame.

    The hardware and setup are very good. I like the Upton end-pin; I’ve used this model for the past year without problems of any sort. The machines are 52-to-1 Sloan copies and they sure are smooth The nut is perfectly low. The fingerboard is planed very well. In adjusting to a board without a bevel I’ve had to re-think my E-string attack to avoid rattling, but having made the adjustment I am very pleased with the growl. There are no choke spots. There is sustain well up into the stratosphere. The bridge is dead on quarter and nicely tricked-out. The adjusters are very smooth.
     

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  4. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    I have played this instrument on an unamplified trio gig, a noisy jazz duo gig, a folk-singer recording session, a bass & guitar duo practice, a bass & tenor duo practice and surprisingly frequent practice alone. I lent it to a big-name jazz touring group for a night; the player said that by the standards of road rental basses it was tippity-top (which reflects more on the circumstances than the instrument).

    Strung with one-year-old Spirocore Orchestras this bass bows really well. My honkin’ $55 1950s French bow from ShopGoodwill.com yields nice definition – a very even sound through the registers with plenty of bottom but appropriate clarity. The instrument speaks quickly even on the E and there are no wolf-tones. I imagine it would be even sweeter with orchestra strings. I bet this bass would be a great candidate for an extension.

    Playing jazz, the bass has medium-loud natural volume. While shopping for this bass I played three flat-back basses, a Jacques Gagnon 7/8, a Juzek and a large Abraham Prescott bass. Both with Obligatos and with Spiro Orchs the “Carcassi” presents as louder to the player than any of them. (The Gagnon sounded like a packing crate. The Juzek was mundane. The Prescott was extremely cool but the sound was not an epiphany.) This is the biggest bass I’ve ever owned – I’ve played viol-shaped basses exclusively for the past twenty years. Its medium-sized shoulders make it no problem to play in thumb positions. The combination of big bass and flat back yields a somewhat darker sound than I’m used to, but still with plenty of definition. I am hopeful, if moderately skeptical, that bowed long-tones and time will bring out more volume on the bottom. I’m contemplating switching to a Spiro Stark E; on the other hand, it’s possible that a soundpost tweak might accomplish the same goal.

    This instrument hung for seven thousand dollars. Based on what little I’ve seen it looks like the Uptons are in the ballpark. Similarly-shaped instruments are on EBay drop-shipped in cardboard boxes for $3,500 but Gary told me that he pays more than that based largely on wood quality, and that doesn’t consider the attentive Upton top-to-bottom setup, pro hardware and the interior work on this particular bass. It's worth noting that a Carcassi model instrument is available from a well-known Long Island bass shop for considerably more.

    Overall this instrument is a lot of double bass. I am lucky to have it and looking forward to a long musical partnership.
     

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  5. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Carcassi basses look funny. But in a good way.

    Thanks SAM'L.
     
  6. MarkRubin

    MarkRubin F L T

    Mar 14, 2005
    Austin TX
    Looks identical to the Wultur Carcassi model bass marketed by JR Music to me. Is that so?
     
  7. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    As with hair extensions, "A gentleman never tells."

    Seriously: There are several string-instrument factories in Reghin, Romania and they all have tangled skeins of family and employment connections. On top of that there's the stew of Romanian-sounding import-names . . . I don't know which factory made this instrument. I do know that the Uptons opened it up and did work on it when they got it.

    Hey Mark, nice to see you. I lent you my former EUB when The Youngers of Zion came to Portland.

    Folks, Mark plays a MEAN tuba. You want big bottom? Mark delivers.
     
  8. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    Based on the tuners used and the general construction including the scroll details, I'd say that this bass most probably comes from the same workshop as the Calin Wulturs. I've only had those high ratio tuners on one of the 10 or so Calin Wultur Carcassi models that have passed through my shop. Did they say where these tuners come from? You are undoubtedly getting some good value added by having Upton go through and regraduate a few things. I really like this model. I've even been helping a Chinese shop come up with a workable version. This is a design that works really well in a lot of situations.

    The Carcassi models built by Barrie Kolstein in New York are built individually and tend to show much more of the assymetry that you'd get building freehand. I'd love to visit sometime and play one. They are, of course, way out of my personal budget for now. I remember reading an old Strad article from 1980 or so about James Van der Mark (Sorry for the spelling) receiving his Carcassi from Sam Kolstein with Barrie looking on. Webcrawling the other night I found a midwestern builder who makes a version of this model for about $12,500.00. It would be fun to play his instruments as well. I'm sorry, but I can't remember his name.

    It took me a while to get used to the unusual outlines of this model with the very wide C bout and fairly narrow lower bout. I played 3 different successive Calin Wultur examples on gigs until I sold them out from under myself. I play another brand now for gigs, but sell a lot of these Carcassi models. I don't have any in stock right now, so I don't have an immediate commercial interest in talking about these basses. I really like them. I'm glad that this design is gaining acceptance regardless of who makes it.

    Congratulations, Sam!

    Steve Swan
    Retailer for Paesold, Kolstein, Calin Wultur, Mathias Thoma, etc.
     
  9. shwashwa

    shwashwa

    Aug 30, 2003
    NJ
    i have a very nice romanian shop bass and i have a bass from the long island shop which was hand made, and there is no comparison.
     
  10. Nice bass Sam! It has enough quirk to be cool. The player makes the bass not the other way, make it sing, brother:bassist:
     
  11. MarkRubin

    MarkRubin F L T

    Mar 14, 2005
    Austin TX
    Indeed.

    Found that out when I went there to visit a maker a few years back. Saw lots of basses in the white in shipping boxes addressed to well known Cremonese shops in fact. Caveat emptor as they say.

    Well, if it was a JR bass, I can safely say the 2 I've encountered were very well made and sounded badass, after our shops set up. Good value for the dough I felt.

    Thanks for your kind words, BTW. We try our best.
     
  12. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    I put a Spiro "Stark" E string on last night. Yeah, baybee! I am a very lucky guy.
     
  13. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    This morning before the NAMM show officially opened I got by the JR Music Supply booth to try their basses with fingers only (not a bow or rosin in sight!). Of the three basses on stands, the Carcassi flatback was my clear favorite. It sounded very big and meaty strung with Spirocore orchestra strings. Unlike last year's deluxe presentation, the flatback on display was their standard basic model. I liked the color of the varnish and the contour of the neck. Some lucky store owner is going to be happy with this particular one. I have found the flatbacks to be very consistent in response and tone.

    Steve Swan
    Retailer for Paesold, Wilfer, Gill, Kolstein Calin Wultur, etc.