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Vintage Italian masterplywood

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by C.Veltman, Nov 20, 2001.

  1. Hi again :)

    Sorry about the provocative headline ;-)

    A question I have been asking myself is how can some of these old/vintage basses sound so good ?
    Many have numerous repairs, are refinished, ribbs soundpost bassbar bridge neck/shaft are new.
    Some only have the body left although it can have been rebuilt too...
    Lot´s of them have soundpostcracks !!! (Although repaired)

    There are instruments wich have so many repairs they could be looked upon as laminated !
    Not even the wood is of very high quality.
    I have noted that highly skilled luthiers such as Peter Elias choose medium grained
    spurce for some of the tops...
    Some Italian masterbasses are made of "fruitwood" while others have slabcut wood.

    It seems to me the Contrabass can handle a lot of "abuse" in comparssion to other
    violinfamily instruments.

    How can they (vintage basses) still sound good after all these severe surgerys ?
    Is age the important factor Nr 1 ?

    Care to share your thoughts on the subject ?


  2. I never heard of a soundpost crack.

    But to address some points, the more an instrument is played, the better it sounds. So consequently there are very old basses which were made by some of the greatest luthiers ever. These instruments started out great and got better. An old instrument which has gone unplayed will not sound as good.

    Regarding repairs, some things are common. Bassbars and fingerboards wear out. Soundposts may wear out too, I'm sure. As for other repairs, I think great sounding instruments which have seen extensive repairs are a real tribute to the orginal luthier, and even more so the repairman. And think in some cases cracks and their subsequent repairs might even make a bass sound better. This is just my own theory but generally, older basses sound darker. Darker sounding basses are generally more coveted. I believe cracks and repairs change the way a bass vibrates, subsequently dampening ovetones. The result is a darker sounding bass (as a matter of fact I'm going to smash the top plate of my bass right after I finish this post.)

    For some great information on alternate woods search the 2xbasslist archives for a recent post by Barrie Kolstein on the subject. Basically, the best wood was saved for violins which are not only smaller, but require less wood so materials go further, and they fetch a lot more money. So other wood had to be used for basses.
    This is the reason for the use of fruitwoods and poplar and willow. When these soft woods are used for the back and ribs, parts which require hard woods, they used wood cut on the slab which is stronger than other cuts. But I don't know the difference between slab cut and quarter-sawn.

    Frankly I'm glad these alternative woods are used for basses. IMO it ads greatly to their mystique and individuality. Some of these woods are prettier too. While flamed maple is very attractive, I think the slab-cut willow sides and back of my bass are simply gorgeous.
  3. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    I'm with you on the variety of woods used in basses. I've owned 9 carved basses, and I've loved every one. My DeLeone is pine and sycamore. I've found another DeLeone I'd like to restore, also sycamore, but cut in a way that the grain pattern is unlike anything you've ever seen. The uniqueness dovetails with my rejection of Karr's current preaching about standardization. Ugh!
    John Feeney (Orch of St. Luke's) has a bass made out of birch. Beautiful sound and looks.

    As for repairs, flatback crossbars have to be replaced periodically. It's the nature of the beast.
  4. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
    I played on a fruitwood (maybe pear?) Ariente bass last year (made c. 1830) that had a tone that was just breathtakingly rich.

    It was an exceptionally light instrument too, because the wood is apparently less dense than the traditional hardwoods.

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