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Wanabe new upright player: I've read the FAQ, still have questions...

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by micahwc, Mar 9, 2016.


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  1. I've read the FAQ for new players and I've researched several of the suggested beginner basses online. I currently play electric bass (fretted and fretless), electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and I have played clarinet, bass clarinet, and various percussion instruments in the past; so I have some musical background.

    I'm trying to narrow my choices down a bit. I live in the middle of nowhere so I will likely have to order a bass without trying it first. There is one music store in town that rents orchestral instruments and they have 1 double bass that I will be looking at tonight.

    I live in an area that has frequent sudden and often times drastic weather changes. We have literally gone from 70 degrees and sunny to 20 degrees and snowing in less than a day, and then been back to the 70s in another day or two. It's pretty humid in the summer here, and really dry in the winter. So a bass that is not sensitive to weather changes would be really helpful.

    I'm still trying to nail my price range down a bit. I can do about 1500 fairly easily, but could do up to around 5000 if I finance it or save up for a bit first. For me there is no question of "sticking with it", I know I want to learn double bass and I have learned a lot of instruments over the years.

    In this price range I am looking at the various Gollihur offerings. The laminated Estle Louis, their Englehardts, the carved Estle Louis, and their carved Bulgarian bass. For the upper end of my range I really seem to like the Wan Bernadel and Giovani Battista offerings from String emporium. I am also interested in their Thomson plywood and hybrid offerings. I also like the Shen Willow.

    I am interested in both Pizzicato and bowing, so I'd prefer an instrument set up decently for both. I'd also like to eventually start being able to do some gigs with a double bass should the need arise; I currently gig electric bass, and on occasion electric and acoustic guitar.

    I suppose the first thing I really need to do is pin down a price range.

    My questions. Of the beginner quality basses on my short list (Englehardt, Estle Louis, and Thompson) which do you recommend and why?

    Of the higher quality basses on this short list (Shen Willow, Gollihur's Bulgarian, Wan Bernadel, and Giovani Battista) which do you recommend and why? (I understand that $5,000 is relatively inexpensive for a double bass, but its a significant amount for me.)

    I am open to any other suggestions you may have. Thank you for your time.
     
  2. Steven Ayres

    Steven Ayres Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2007
    Northern Arizona
    Like you, weather stability and low maintenance are important to me. I've been playing an Englehardt ES-9 for over ten years, and had very good reactions from big-city pros who've rented it for local stage work. I've recommended and set up an Estle for the local college, and it's doing good work for students there, with nice build quality. The key with these lower-end basses is close attention to the setup, then giving them a lot of work to open them up sonically.
     
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  3. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Chicago
    I have experience with Shen Willow, Battista and Wan Bernadel. They are all good basses. The Shen is a flat back while the Wan and Battista are round backs. You may have fewer problems with the round back design long term, especially considering your weather conditions. That being said, a friend has been playing a Shen Willow for many years in Chicago tough weather environment without back issues.

    Based on my preference for round backs ( for fewer maintenance worries) I personally would go with a Wan if choosing between the three. A student of mine bought a Battista and it really is a killer bass with a large sound. It has fairly large upper bouts which are harder to get around on, for me at least, than the Wan or Shen. My luthier gave it and the Wan very high marks.

    Good things have been written on the forum about the Thompson basses, so do a search. I have experience with student's Englehardts and while they can sound pretty good pizz, I've never been sold on the shape of their necks or curve of their fingerboards for bowing. Of course those things can be addressed by a luthier, but at some expense.
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2016
  4. sevenyearsdown

    sevenyearsdown Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Sanborn, NY
    I live in a similar climate in Buffalo, NY. The old saying here is, "don't like the weather, just wait 20 minutes". Cold and dry winters, thick humid summers. It isn't a huge problem for plywood basses so long as you get a humidifier where you store the bass. I wouldn't worry all that much about the weather effects on your bass as long as you are prepared to take a few steps to combat the dryness of winter.

    Any bass is going to respond to the changes in humidity somewhat. It's a giant piece of wood, glued to other giant pieces of wood.

    $1500 - $5000 is a huge difference. You can get a ton of bass for $5000, especially for a beginner. Heck you can get a ton of bass for $3000. It's hard to give advice on models with such a big range.

    Find a luthier within a reasonable driving distance. You will need one.
     
  5. I wouldn't recommend any of the basses on your list, because none of them seem like the silver bullet you say you need.

    Instead, I'd suggest that you consider a hybrid. I had a Shen SB-150 that I used as a stage bass for a while and it worked well for me. Nice carved top, durable plywood round back and ribs, good workmanship, nice substantial neck compared to the skinny Engel neck that makes my hand hurt.

    With all due respect to the Gollihurs, whom I'm friendly with but have never bought from, they're not the only retailer who ships basses. If you do have a bass drop-shipped, but lack a friendly nearby luthier with whom you have an existing relationship, you're stuck with the setup the bass had when it shipped to you. No bueno. It might be better to make a quest out of this, especially if you're prepared to drop five grand on your first bass.

    Rent a car. Buy a plane ticket. Plot a route. Have fun with it.
     
  6. vanderbrook

    vanderbrook Some days, I miss frets...

    Aug 21, 2001
    Denver, CO, USA
    Denver is a six-hour drive away. There are a couple of bass luthiers in town; I bought (actually, am renting-to-own) my Shen SB-150 from Robert Ross. Check out Gollihur's double bass luthier directory (Gollihur Music - Upright Bass Specialists: Instruments, Pickups, Preamps, Amplifiers, and Accessories).

    When I bought my previous bass, I drove from Denver to Kansas City, played a couple of basses, and drove home one weekend. The next weekend I drove to Seattle, where I bought my bass.

    Buying a bass sight-unseen should be a last resort. You have other options.
     
    Jake deVilliers and Jeff Bonny like this.
  7. Have you called on this yet?

    Full Size Upright String Bass
    [​IMG]


    Find out what it is and where they bought it. Having a case like this helps in more diverse climates.
     
    micahwc likes this.
  8. That was posted less than a day ago. This is the first I've seen it. I just sent an e-mail.
     
  9. I have no connection with the seller, but those cases aren't exactly inexpensive, so factor that into the price of this instrument and the purchase price of a different instrument.
     
  10. I wouldn't call $400 expensive for any sort of doublebass case, more like overpriced for an item that fails as quickly as those tend to.
     
  11. Note I specifically did not say expensive. I said hard cases are a good idea in rough climates and that they, regardless of quality, do not come cheap. I generally don't recommend polyfoam cases for anything, but I do think it is better than some of the crappy bags out there.

    I have 3 of the poly cases and they are exclusively used for storage of cheap instruments. Gigging rigs need higher quality cases built to survive and function for years - and those ARE expensive.


    Odds are this is an ebay special, but seeing as it is local it is worth following up on.
     
  12. This was the response:

    Hey,
    Thanks for responding! I believe it is laminated wood with brass strings. No repairs are really needed. Plays great.
     
  13. Walk. It's what we derisively refer to as a CCB, or Cheap Chinese Bass, which are notorious for sounding bad and playing worse. In certain cases, they implode. Goodbye, money.
     
    Jake deVilliers, micahwc and carl h. like this.
  14. Yeah, the add said, "Plays well in its current state", and the reply to my email mentioned, "no repairs are really needed". Both of these seem like red flag statements.
     
  15. turf3

    turf3

    Sep 26, 2011
    Shen, Shen, Shen, Shen.

    Either one of the all-laminate or one of the hybrid models.

    If you have to pull the trigger sight unseen, that is the only thing I would recommend. There are a number of retailers who ship basses. Try to suss out how thoroughly they will set it up. Make sure you have an adjustable bridge and reasonable quality strings.
     
    Lee Moses likes this.
  16. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    I suggest that you check out Upton's offerings. Take a trip as KFS suggested or consider shipping. I think they represent the best option for sight-unseen trigger pull if you decide to go that route. Still best to lay hands on them first.
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2016
    geoffbassist likes this.
  17. MrLenny1

    MrLenny1

    Jan 17, 2009
    N.H.
    Any plywood bass with a good set up and adjustable bridge
    should serve you well.
    Weather extremes may loosen the sound post at most.
     
    geoffbassist likes this.
  18. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    I'm not sure what you mean by "any plywood bass," but even with a good setup and adjustable bridge, some ply basses that are available will not serve one well. That includes some that don't fall into the CCB category. I seems that the OP is steering toward decent choices, though. Ply basses are rather impervious to weather extremes and those typically don't pose substantial concerns. To the extent they are affected, the sound post could become too tight or too loose with the former being of greater concern. There are other ill effects that could be caused as well but, again, it's typically of little concern assuming one has a decently built instrument.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2016
  19. Remyd

    Remyd

    Apr 2, 2014
    St. Louis, MO
    Hate, hate, hate the idea of buying a DB sign unseen (either new or used). I personally want to hear/feel/taste/smell an acoustic instrument and you can't do that unless you're there.

    If you insist on new, I can't recommend Englehardt enough; I love my 30 year old C1 so, so much. The current EC1 is like $1500 new with $200 shipping and the nicer models are only a couple hundred more. People say really good things about Shen laminates in that price range, but I've never played one. I played a newish Upton once which I really liked, but they start about $2500, and I'm sure the one I played was twice that at least (didn't ask).

    I don't know that I would buy a new bass at all given the above. You can get a pretty serious used instrument for that budget; there's a carved European hundred-year-old gamba bodied monster with an extraordinarily meaty dark sounding bottom end at my local shop for $2800 that I've been drooling over. After having played it, I would have the setup tweaked, adjusters installed, different strings, etc, prior to purchasing. Can't justify it because I play mostly roots (pizz with hardly any arco). Also I'm poor.

    If your budget is at all flexible, and it's that substantial, travel costs should just be part of the deal. BWI to LAX is only like $400 which is ABSOLUTELY worth it to check out a high dollar bass. You can get the setup tweaked at the same time by a serious luthier that will have your personal style in mind. Failing a trip, "fine tuning" setup will be a concern unless you trust your local guy to get it right.

    Budget money for a set of strings and a pickup. Total can range from $200 to $500+ Also budget about 1000 hours to review string/pickup opinions on TB.

    Budget money for a bow. They're expensive and paying less than a couple hundred dollars for one is a mistake. Get a bow case. Really, get a bow case; it's a mistake I only needed to make once.

    Budget money for shipping; it can be expensive as well. I had a buddy who was moving from a city halfway across the country and had to transport his bass separately. He said that it was cheaper for him to fly in ($250) and rent a cargo van for the drive home ($350 plus gas) than to have a crate built and shipped the same distance ($800) or to rent a case and ship ($1000 total)
     
    PauFerro and Groove Doctor like this.
  20. Well, I wasn't able to go try the one at the local music store last night. I may just have to call and ask them what kind it is for now. I can probably get over there on the weekend and try it out. As far as bows are concerned, I think I am looking to spend around $300 on a bow. For strings I will probably either start with Diaddario (brand loyalty as a chromes player) or Thomastic Infields (never heard bad things about them).

    Flying to try a bass isn't an option for me. My schedule is too hectic for that; and because of where I live there are like two connecting flights to go anywhere, so the cost of airfare is considerably higher than it should be. A possible option for me is to rent the one from the local store for now and go to either Denver or Seattle at some unknown point in the future; but I'd rather just buy one instead of "wasting" money on a rental since I know I will keep at this. I will also check with them about lessons. I've been entirely self taught for most of the instruments I play (except for clarinet and bass clarinet decades ago). I don't think lessons could hurt any.

    I am not opposed to buying used, but I wont do it without seeing the instrument in person. While I am not a double bass player yet, I am familiar with wooden instrument design and have built guitars in the past; so I know some of what to look out for.

    Thank you all for the help.
     

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