Why do most double basses have a scroll

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner [DB]' started by Happy Camper, May 29, 2019.

  1. Happy Camper

    Happy Camper

    Feb 11, 2019
    All Double basses I've seen seem to have something akin to a scroll. Does the scroll serve a purpose? If so is it the mass/material properties of the scroll that matters? Is the scroll shape mostly decorative much like a gargoyle is a decorated water spout?
  2. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    It's decorative, and it's traditional. If you look carefully at one, you'll see it's quite a complex figure and usually regarded as a mark of the luthier's craftsmanship. Some basses have human faces, animals and gargoyles instead of scrolls. You see that a lot on violas da gamba, too.
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  3. Steven Ayres

    Steven Ayres Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2007
    Northern Arizona
    It's my understanding that in theory the mass of the scroll helps anchor the head end of the neck, supporting string resonance.
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  4. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    I'll wait here while you saw yours off to see if that theory holds water. :)
  5. RCWilliams

    RCWilliams Commercial User

    Apr 23, 2007
    Merriam Kansas (Kansas City)
    owner RC Williams Co. LLC
    I would suggest adding mass to experiment, easier and probably cheaper in the long run.
  6. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Ever try carving one? If you could, you would want to show off as well.
    neilG likes this.
  7. As does an extension? That’s a known quantity.

    To the OP: Like every other part of a double bass, the scroll serves multiple purposes — aesthetic, aural, the maker’s artistry, and many other things.
  8. Happy Camper

    Happy Camper

    Feb 11, 2019
    It seems unlikely that the scroll is purely decorative, it's such a big chunk of wood. I think a limiting factor on an NS WAV is that head vibrates like crazy which has an effect on the tone of the string unamplified. I discovered this whilst banging on the G string trying to discover cause of a buzzy sound by putting my hand on the head which dampened it stopping the buzz. A similar effect occurred in wedging a large/heavy roll of duct tape on the head (a heavy chunk of rubber etc. would probably be better but the tape roll was handy). The buzziness isn't transmitted through the pizeo so it's tolerable played amplified. But it would be most unacceptable for a purely acoustic instrument. I'd prefer Giger's Alien head over a scroll shape.
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  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    A fair number of gargoyles on attorneys general, too.


    Seriously though, I think there must be something to the idea of themes of the scroll having some effect on the sound. I know that with bass guitars, adding weight to the headstock can kill or move a wolf tone. It would be interesting to learn more about the mechanism involved.
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  10. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    And then there's Traeger's story of Glen Moore's lion head being knocked off, and the bass sounding better without it.
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  11. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    The main reason for the scroll on a double bass is so people can walk up to the stage during your gigs and scream, "Look honey- he's playing a cello...."
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  12. I think part of it's function is as a counterweight.
  13. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    I suspect that the extra wood up there helps to resist splitting of the pegbox, especially in the smaller instruments like violin.

    Since all basses have that chunk of mass up there, the rest of the design ends up being adapted to its presence, so if you remove it you may have adverse effects; but that is NOT the same thing as saying you have to have it up there. If no one had ever put a scroll on a pegbox, the double bass design would probably be slightly and subtly different because it would have evolved in the absence of the scroll, and the basses would probably sound about the same.

    I have seen pictures of high dollar custom basses with extremely abbreviated scrolls. I expect that, since the makers started out by not having a scroll, the details of the bass design accommodate that and they sound much the same as normal with-scroll basses.

    In fact, Condino, didn't you build at least one of these and show off pictures? if that's the case, do you have anything to comment about any subtle differences between a minimal-scroll bass and a normal-scroll bass?
    AGCurry likes this.
  14. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    I've built several with minimal scrolls.

    For me the main reasons are:

    -I don't like the overall design aesthetic of a traditional scroll
    -It saves me about 20 hours of build time= less money I need to charge
    -On a removable neck bass the smaller overall neck means it will fit in a P bass gig bag for transport
    -I've found no difference in sound.

    Here are two different versions of my older design, one in striped ebony + Tennessee hard maple from about ten years ago and another two years ago in ziricote + European maple. I'll try to get a few photos of my newer even more minimalist design this weekend.

    condino stubby scroll.jpg DSCN4590.JPG
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  15. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    So, when you do the final tweaking of the bass, there's no scroll there, so even if it did have some kind of effect, you are doing the final detailed work without it there, and so it's set up as a scroll-less bass.

    I suspect that as with many things about musical instruments, the decorative touches are really there because of


    and the supposed acoustical properties are justifications after the fact because we don't want to admit that it's done because it's pretty and traditional and isn't actually required.
    james condino, dBChad, neilG and 2 others like this.
  16. SBassman


    Jun 8, 2003
    Northeast, US
  17. Happy Camper

    Happy Camper

    Feb 11, 2019
  18. lurk

    lurk Supporting Member

    Dec 2, 2009
    Those check ease basses by David Gage have a removable scroll that is held by magnets. I've never owned one, but have done a couple of tours with rentals, and I couldn't hear or feel any difference with the scroll on or off. Looks nicer with it on though.
  19. Happy Camper

    Happy Camper

    Feb 11, 2019
    What are the tuners? I've seen them many times.
  20. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    These are Krutz, made by the KC Strings folks about ten years ago....and then about a year later blatantly copied by one of the Chinese companies that you often see now....

    I'm not much of a fan of either. If you want nice tuning machines, just go straight to the top of the class and buy a set of Sloan / David Gage; you'll never regret it.