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Vintage King Mortone

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Dave Burrill, Sep 18, 2003.


  1. Dave Burrill

    Dave Burrill

    Sep 18, 2003
    Hi, Folks.

    This is my first post here, and I'd like to ask a few questions concerning my DB.

    I purchased this DB around 20 years ago with the intention of backing up some "old-time fiddle" and Bluegrass music. Knowing absolutely nothing about Uprights, I plunked down my $350 for this old, dusty thing at a local music store and proceeded to "teach" myself how to play it. It had old flat-wound steel strings which necessitated my wrapping my right hand fingers with masking tape, but hey, it was cool and the old bugger sounded quite big. After about 2-3 years, I started playing bass for a Christian Praise band using an electric bass, and the old King ended up being a decorator item.

    I've since decided to "do something" with it and have (finally) restrung it and have started thinking about possible restoration for it.

    Structurally, the DB is (from what I can see) very sound. And, aside from, what I would consider, normal wear and tear for something as old as this appears to be, the finish is actually in quite good condition and has a nice, subtle shaded (sunburst?) tone. There is a beautiful decal on the back, up at the heel of the neck that says it's a King. The tuning machines do not match, but the right hand machine has "Mortone" etched into it (be nice to find a matching machine for the left side). At one point, the bass had been owned by (I believe) San Diego State Teachers College (now San Diego State University), this information coming from the initials "SDSTC #______" being etched into one of the tuning machines and into the wood at the bottom of the bass next to the peg. There's an adjustable bridge and the fingerboard hasn't had a finish on it for years. All in all, it's not in bad shape.

    However, it appears that it's gonna need a neck reset real soon as there is now a gap between the neck heel and the body. I switched out the strings to nylon in order to relieve some of the tension (still sounds good, though). Also, the neck appears to have been broken/repaired professionally a long time ago.

    Whew! Sorry to be so long-winded. Questions....

    Given all that info; is the bass worth restoring? Where do I find a serial number? Are there any luthiers that you could recommend in San Diego, Riverside, LA area? What is the approximate cost of a reset? What is the value range of old Kings in, I would say, Good+ condition?

    Thanks in advance for any replies. Again, sorry to be so long.

    Thanks,

    Dave
     
  2. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Kings are legendary as being about the best plywood basses out there...better than some cheap carved basses, even.

    Restored it could be worth over $3000, so yeah it's worth doing.
     
  3. mpm

    mpm

    May 10, 2001
    Los Angeles
    Hi Dave, where are you in relation to the Upland/Claremont area?
     
  4. Dave Burrill

    Dave Burrill

    Sep 18, 2003
    brianrost,

    Thanks for your information. Puts my restoration project into a whole new light. Great news

    mpm,

    Actually, I live in Hemet, over in Riverside County. I guess I'm 'bout an hour, give or take, from Claremont.

    Thanks for the replies,

    Dave
     
  5. mpm

    mpm

    May 10, 2001
    Los Angeles
    Well, ok PM me and we'll talk, either of my local luthiotic friends would be able to do this project, and I particularly love their names, James Brown or Linc Luthier, hey, it's California...
     
  6. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Maui
    California, home of the funny namers. There used to be a Bay Area photographer named F Stop Fitzgerald.
     
  7. tsolo

    tsolo

    Aug 24, 2002
    Ft. Worth
    You made that up...
     
  8. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    Yes, it is a very good idea to spend the extra bucks and get a new neck put in. Have you "luthiotic" guy set the string length between 41.5 and 42 inches. The original string length is a bit too long, and it would not be difficult for you to adjust to a slightly shorter string length.

    Here's a question to Ahhnold, Brainstetter, and Jeffers- should he scroll graft?
     
  9. I did an neck/scroll graft a couple of months ago on a King. I left the string length as is (43"). If you want the bass to be in tune with itself, you have to shorten both the length of neck AND the distance from the neck to the ff notches. The neck is only half of the equation.
     
  10. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    A neck graft should cost close to 3k. IMO a precarved scroll and neck is in order.
     
  11. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Maui
    NAPOLEON TSOLO...there are many pages on F-Stop on the web. Google is your friend.
     
  12. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    Allright, Bob, what the hell are you talking about? I understand the bass' geometry, and the equations used to get a desired string length, but how will the bass "not be in tune with itself"?
     
  13. Calm down Nick. Perhaps "out of tune with itself" was a bad choice of words. What I'm saying is that you have to maintain the Neck Length/Body Stop ratio (usually 7:10), or the relative positions of the notes on the fingerboard will be different than they were originally. And...you have to carefully calculate the heal thumb stop as part of the process or your "D" neck might not actually be a true "D" any more.
     
  14. Bob, how is this measured?
     
  15. The Body Stop is the distance from the upper edge of the top to the bridge center. The Neck Length for this calculation is the distance from the nut to the upper edge of the top.
     
  16. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    While the 7:10 rule works for the violin family, it doesn't always work for the basses.

    Neck Length + Body Stop + 1.25" = String Length

    Works like a champ.

    Yes, with a 43" becoming a 42", the positions will change. But, most players find 43" uncomfortable, and if a 43" neck is going to be replaced/reset, why not bring the string length down closer to 42"? A "D" heel could still be achieved...
     
  17. I find the 7:10 works more often than it doesn't. However, I am concerned with the ratio, not the particular numbers 7:10. What's with the 1.25" added to the neck & body length? A fudge Factor?

    I think this whole business about 43" string length being too big for most player is a bunch of bull. I've played a large 7/8 with a 43" for years and I don't find it any more difficult to get around on than my other bass with a 42" sl. You are talking about 1" over the full playing length. The actual hand stretch is minimal. The biggest obstacle in playing a 43" is mental. Someone tells you it's too big and you believe it without ever trying one to find out if it is or not. That King that I did the neck graft on (leaving it at 43") sold to the first person who looked at it.
     
  18. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    The 1.25" addition is to compensate for the projection angle of the neck/fingerboard.

    Glad to hear you are comfortable with 43". Not everyone is...
     
  19. Agreed. Those players should be buying a bass that was made with the string length they want by the maker. Unless the maker was totally inept, the string length was designed to go with the rest of the bass as a whole. I choose to leave instruments the way the makers designed and built them.
     
  20. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    While I'm usually one of the first to spout the "Luthier's Prime Directive"[don't do what can't be undone], there are instances in which the "makers" intent may need to be altered. Most every old valued bass started out life as a monster-where a 43 in. mensur was for lightweights. Over the years as players needs changed the stringlength gradually came down. Not for "mental" reasons but for very nuts and bolts technical reasons. Personally if I were actively playing right now I would go with a big string length because it would suit my needs. But for players who are pro or trying to go pro and have to face huge amounts of playing and technical challenges the shorter string length is crucial.
    No disrespect meant to the King, but these basses are cookie cutter instruments and I don't think there is anything wrong with altering them.--and how many million dollar fiddles have had their original mensur changed to meet modern needs?