William Lewis and Sons

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by esvsteamship, Feb 22, 2004.

  1. I searched the forums, and although there wasa thread about these basses two years ago, there wasn't a lot said about them.

    On the William Lewis and Son's Website, I found out that they are a part of the Selmer Company, and that their basses are maufactured in Germany. The model I am considering looking at says this:

    I'd like to point out that although I really like the sound of the Christophers, they don't carry a hybrid in the 1/4 size-- which is what I feel I may end up playing.

    So I'm asking for anything anybody knows about these basses, or a comment on my logic of; a hybrid is probably going to be better than the plywood.


  2. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Beth, your inquiries seem to be based on the assumption that DB are fungible items. They're really not. Buying a DB is not like buying a Peavey amp.

    a) Do your very best to play the one you're trying to buy.

    b) Second-best is playing a similar instrument -- i.e. plywood if you want plywood, hybrid if you want hybrid, carved flat-back if you want carved flat-back -- set up by the seller you want to buy from.

    c) Anything else is a pig in a poke. Budget at least several hundred dollars for repair and setup and be prepared to find out that the pictures look better than the bass sounds.

    Good luck.
  3. Cal Reeves

    Cal Reeves

    Feb 8, 2004
    William Lewis & son was a importer based in Chicago in the 70's and eventually was bought out by Selmer. The guy that ran the company was let go and started his own repair and sales business out of his home in (maybe I shouldn't tell his location)

    He might monitor this Talk Bass forum and reply.

    Cal Reeves
    Retired Bass Player
    New retriever trainer
  4. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    beth, why do you think you are going to end up with a 1/4 size?
  5. Hmm, I hope this logic isn't too convoluted.....

    Alright, I haven't grown much at all since ninth grade, at which time I was 4'8" and about a half. At that time my half-size bass was too big. Not like leaps and bounds too big, but there were problems with getting the right note and in tune. (For reference, I played a Scherl and Roth.) However the other bass I played at the time was a Kay, that due to structural issues did not sound as good, but was much easier to get around on. Now, there is much debate as to whether the Kay I played on was a half-size or a quarter size. One of my teachers even thought it was a three-eighths. Well, whatever it was, it was smaller, and I liked that feature of it. (It didn't sound too small either. It didn't sound as big as some basses, but it didn't sound like a cello either. All in all, very decent considering it's sorry shape.)

    If I could pinpoint the biggest points that made it easy for me to stop playing, one of them would be the fact that my bass was just big enough to make things uncomfortable. (Yes, it was properly set up, which made such an improvement!)

    If I could find a 3/8 size, I'd do my best to buy it, but I've only ever heard of one. I think that would bring me the best of both worlds. I've also heard of an unsual technique in which the lower bout is made a size larger than what would normaly go with the upper bout. I can't afford custom work.


    I think, and I could be wrong, but the quarter size, properly set up (and I'm thinking about one of those graduated tailpieces, apparently they bring out some volume.) could be more than enough bass for me.

    I'd like to point out that I'm not going to completely bypass the half-sizes. I'm absolutely looking at them! But I don't want to fall in love with the sound of a bass that is too big, and that I can't get a smaller version of. :(

    I've got a wait though, I'm going to go shopping (if things go well) on my spring break, and I want to have done as much of my research beforehand. That way I can look for the right things and ask the questions that need to be asked. And figure out how much money I need to sock away to buy exactly what I want.

    And then hopefully, at the end of summer. Taadaa! I have a bass!

    Hope that answers all your questions!

  6. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    The smaller version wouldn't sound the same anyway.

    You'll have to forgive us about trying to keep you from being fixed on a 1/4. The fact is, even a 3/4 (or a 4/4 for that matter) isn't really big enough to do what we are asking it to do in producing and projecting low frequencies well. So, the reason you see 1/4 basses as mostly student models are they are basically learning tools. I am not even sure physics will allow a really loud, great sounding 1/4 bass.

    But, the most important thing for you is that you play. Play something. Play anything. And, you are taking the right approach in your selection. Patience and persistence will pay off for you.

    A couple of other questions and comments to fuel the discussion:

    1. Are you studying at all right now? If not, how much study have you done on DB?

    I ask because it matters. I am 6'3" and wear a 36" shirt sleeve. The span of my hand is well over 9". Yet, I sometimes think my 3/4 bass with a very modest 41+" string length is too big. Whether it is keeping my fingers at the correct intervals (Simandl), getting over/around the shoulder or dealing with the lower bout and my legs as I try to bow the E string.

    Basses are big and clunky. It is just who they are. Part of the love affair is wrestling them around, and they can be frustrating. The longer I work with my teacher and practice, the less this becomes an issue. Getting your body in a relaxed and comfortable state conducive to making music all the while wrestling a wooden crate larger than yourself takes some time.

    2. What do you think is the greater issue with the larger bass? String length (scale) or the size of the body?

    If it is the body, I think you can over that issue by adapting your stance and bass to fit your body. Many shorter players use a bent endpin to lean the bass back enough to effectively play the bass. Look into Rabbath if this interests you.

    The scale may be a little more problematic. If you can't span two semitones in hP, you just can't. I can see how a 42" string length may wipe you out. But going all the way down to a 1/4 might not be necessary. A 39" or 40" scale may be very usable for you once you exercise your hands into shape. Again, keeping a two semitone span is still something I have to conscious of even with my mitts. If you aren't playing regularly, anything is going to be very uncomfortable.

    I am not trying to to persuasive. Again, the important thing is that you end up with something that makes you want to play. I am simply trying suggest that you keep all circumstances in perspective when you think through this.
  7. Chasarms,

    I studied bass for about two and half years, and then decided not to play in the last three years of highschool (I did try to play my senior year, however in an earlier trun of events they accidently messed up my schedule). Right now, due to a very strange turn of events, I am coaching a fellow college student in order to help him pass his Strings Tech class.

    And that's why I'm here. My past came a calling.

    I can actually make decent noise, and semi in-tune noise on the smaller three-quarters size the school owns (it may be a five eighths, but bass sizes seem somewhat arbitrary to me.) However, more than a few scales on that and the tendons in my wrists and back of my hands are not happy with me at all!

    Having been a student, I know that getting into the right hand positions isn't the most comfortable thing in the world. (A lot of students here use a hand position in which their fingers are nuckles are crunched up and their fingers stretched down-- it looks painfull, I however use the Simandl positioning.) However, I don't think that my hands should burn after I play-- isn't that feeling reserved for uncalloused fingerstips?

    It is very important to me that I play in tune, and if I can't play in tune on a half-size, I will go down to a quarter size. Therefore, in my research I want to make sure that I have some higher quality options in that size too.

    This seems like an oppurtune moment to ask our resident lutheirs if there is a way they set up basses to make it easier for small-handed folks to play them. Would I benefit from a shaved neck, a particular type of fingerboard dressing, these strings or those strings? (May I take this time to point out that if I did end up with a quarter size, I'd be terribly dissapointed with the string selection.)

    Chasarms, you seem pretty convinced that I can make a half-size work despite a five inch hand-span and a four-foot ten frame; I'd like to make a half-size work too. If I can figure that out, then as you pointed out on a different thread, that opens some options.

    Ladies and gentlemen, tell me how it's done!!! :D

    Finally, and this may be of some importance, it may not be. I play on a stool, but I would like to have the chance to play standing as well, I seem to be able to support the smaller bass better. My method may be incorrect for that though, I was never trained for that...hmmm I think I'll go look around for a thread on that.
  8. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    I won't, but check out www.KristinKorb.com. Here's a pic of Ms. Korb standing next to two short guys and a tall one. (Our Own Chris FitzGerald plays with the tall guy.) From what I am told, Ms. Korb is not more than three inches taller than you, Beth, and she plays 3/4.

    Heck, Gary Karr no giant himself. I was noticeably bigger than him in high school, and I'm 5' 9.5"

    I think you're psyching yourself out. I also think you felt sore because you need to work on technique with a teacher. But that's me.

    Over and out, as Mr. Branstetter would say.
  9. D-oh!

    I forgot to tell you about the little -tiny car that little-tiny me drives. It's a 1985-86 Nissan Sentra Coup. I have checked out the threads about fitting big basses into small cars, but this one might present a bigger challenge than the half-backs.

    I've got to work with my size, and how much space I've got in my car/dorm. Not a whole lot. Besides, and this is really the point of this particular post; a three-quarters size is too big for my hands to play in tune. I can stretch as much as I want, and it doesn't work.

  10. sean p

    sean p

    Mar 7, 2002
    eugene, oregon
    beth, it sounds like the primary problems presented by the larger basses in your situation are string length-related (as opposed to body size-related) (the bass body - not yours!).

    there are ways to reduce the string length on a bass. the first that comes to mind for me is to have a 'long' nut cut, which replaces the nut at the current spot on a bass by either sitting on top of the fingerboard (though this would require the new nut to be very thin and this seems to me prone to cracking) or replacing the last inch (or whatever length you need) of fingerboard. i'm not sure which way a qualified luthier would want to do it, but the gist of the thing is, the new nut is positioned further 'down' the fingerbard (still in contact with the scroll/pegbox - the nut is just 'longer') and this shortens the string length. a section-mate of mine in the local community orchestra did this to his own bass and reduced the string length by 1.5".

    perhaps this is a possibility for you? (or am i even making sense?)

    sean p
  11. You are making sense, but a three-quarters size is just way, way too big for me. Even a half-sizes string length is a bit off. So the slightly longer nut might be an option to make the half-size more comfortable until (hahahaha) my fingers grow due to a radioactive sludge spill.

    I'll keep that in mind, and you know, it could actually make a 5/8th workable, but I don't know.

  12. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA

    There are a few other threads here discussing the idea of a false nut. I think it is more common as a means of taking a huge 4/4 bass with 43"+ string lengths and making them more playable.

    It seems like reasonable practice in those cases, as it is likely that any other player interested in the bass would want to keep that modification. As for making a 3/4 play like a 1/4 or small 1/2, I'm not sure.

    As interesting as this discussion is, the only thing that is going to help is for you to get out and play some basses. The only reason I am even participating in this thread is to encourage you to be as open-minded as possible about the search.

    As mentioned, bass sizes are not universal. We tend to size them based on string length, and even that is all over the board. Some 1/2 size basses may feel great to you. Others might not.

    Here is a list of the distances of a two-semitone span in hP for various string lengths. As you ascend the neck, of course the span narrows. But as you ascend even higher, you have to deal with the upper bout.

    35" - 3.61"
    36" - 3.71"
    37" - 3.81"
    38" - 3.91"
    39" - 4.01"
    40" - 4.12"
    41" - 4.22"
    42" - 4.33"
    43" - 4.43"

    As you can see, the differences are actually fairly subtle but significant over the whole span of available lengths. But, the difference between a 1/4 and a 1/2 is going to be around or a little more than a quarter inch or so, depending on the string length of the actual bass you are playing. The extent to which that quarter matters depends on the bass and the player.

    Play some basses. Then play a few more. Think about it. Ponder it. Meditate on it. Play a few more. Think about it. Play some of the ones you have already played again. Ponder it. Have someone else who can play the ones you are leaning toward. Listen to them. Meditate on it. Play them again.

    Then decide.
  13. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    A 5/8 bass is an anomaly. I think it is something someone made up for a bass that was on the larger side of a 1/2 because no one wanted to buy a 1/2. :)

    The following was originally posted by own own Bob Branstetter. Notice the absence of a 5/8 bass.

    Bob wrote:

    Although basses are not truely standardized as far as sizes go, here are typical string length and body length for a given size (from the George Boran book Making a Bass Viol).

    Size - Str. Length - Body Length
    4/4 1100mm (43.3") 1200mm
    7/8 1075mm (42.3") 1133mm
    3/4 1050mm (41.3") 1100mm
    1/2 965mm (38.0") 1020mm
    1/4 900mm (35.4") 935mm
  14. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Interesting thread. Here's a data point that may be useful: My 4'9" nephew plays a 1/4 size bass and will probably move to a half-sized instrument in the next few months, according to his instructor.

    Hand span doesn't seem to be an issue; when he comes over he likes to play my 3/4 sized instrument. I take the peg down all the way, hold the scroll to help stabilize it, and after a minute he's playing in tune, alveit with a few stretches that look more like shifts to me.
  15. I'd like to thank everyone who has commented on this thread-- my research is flying along, and I understand a great deal more about Basses in general, and more importantly (to me) how I'm going to make one work for me.

    I've put together some excel worksheets to keep all this info organized, and it has really helped me find out what I need to know before I go into a shop and begin to play.

    I understand that the prevailing wisdom is to go out and play as many basses as possible, but since the area I live in carries mostly BSOs imported from I don't know where, I'm going to have to travel outside Eastern Washington during my spring break in order to do that; so I want to have whittled it down to reasonable choices worth giving a very detailed look-over. (But I do intend to keep a wandering eye out for the bargain of the year.)

    I'm delighted to know that there are things to be done to make a small bass sound bigger and a big bass play smaller. These are things that could change the whole spectrum of what I'm able to really consider a viable option.

    With all of this info, I hope to make the most out of my shopping trip (can't wait, btw.)

    Does anybody know of a place in Portland Oregon that I should absolutely go visit?